I’m always up for a bit of positive disclosure and I am quite open about my disability. Yes, I don’t owe anyone my medical history, but I like to think that as an occupational therapist my experience of disability shapes my practice to add authenticity. As well as also making sure that I am using my experiences to not be inherently ableist as systemic ableism is embedded within the structures that we work in.
So, when I was asked to help in a seminar at work around cerebral palsy I was all for it. Using my experiences of cerebral palsy to make others critically think, I’m up for that any day! Yet, when students thought I was there solely because of my experiences of CP and didn’t realise I was an occupational therapist, I started to critically think about whether I am too open about my cerebral palsy. Is the fact that I’m open about my disability affecting how I get viewed as a professional? Well, the idea is that I want it to in ways, let me explain…
As I’ve become more confident to use my disability within practice I’ve become less worried about how other people view my practice. When I was a student I worried about disclosure a lot I hosted an OTalk on this I wrote assignments on this and did a lot of reflecting. Meaning that because I’d done so much reflecting on it in the past and now that my disability has become a massive part of my work and the work I do with AbleOTUK I’d thought I’d got the balance right. But, this response in that seminar made me think and reflect on what I want this to look like in the future.
What’s making me question this the most is that within the seminar I didn’t specifically disclose anything about my CP I was just answering their questions about a case study of a child with CP. Therefore, although my answers were shaped by my experiences I wasn’t explicitly talking about myself.
Next year, I plan on doing my PGCert meaning that I will be qualified a lecturer and as a lecturer do I want people to see me as someone that’s delivering the CP content because of my experiences with CP or because I’ve worked dam hard get there?
This left me having a big internal debate. As yes, first-hand experience is invalid and of course, nothing about us without us. My disability does define me and I do want my disability to be acknowledged as that a massive part of who I am. Yet, I also don’t want my degree and all my hard work, in general, that happens for anyone to be in that position to get undermined either. This is a hard one for me and I’ve been planning this post for weeks, and I can’t come to a definitive answer.
As yeah, future students don’t need to know my life story, not that I’m saying that would be the case because I still need to have a lecturer-student professional relationship. Yet, without my disability, I wouldn’t be the occupational therapist I am today who even now as a graduate teaching assistant talks to students about ableism. In fact, without my disability, I wouldn’t have been in that seminar at all. So, why would I ignore my disability?
It’s so hard because I acknowledge that although I can reflect on my time in paediatrics through the lens of an occupational therapist and certainly have more knowledge of theory and approaches. I have barely any experience working as a paediatric occupational therapist therefore in this situation it was my experience of disability I was drawing upon the most. Yet, I want to be seen as a disabled occupational therapist whose experiences of disability and as an occupational therapist play equal roles when I’m at work and I don’t want to be seen as less of an occupational therapist. But, how do I do this without contradicting every other piece of work I’ve done over the past 3 years where I’ve talked relentlessly about my disability being an invaluable tool?
Maybe this is internalised ableism, I’m a new member of staff and in this case, it could have just been a misunderstanding. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if my disability will shape the way I get viewed as a future lecturer and not in the way I want it to. But, then I’m not being my true authentic self and the occupational therapist that I’ve fought so hard to be. I don’t know where this will leave me and the beauty of this journey is that I now have the time to reflect and figure it out along the way before getting my PGCert. I just hope this doesn’t change the face of a practice that I’ve fought so hard to make work.
Thank you for reading,