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whentaniatalks: Disability Discrimination - My Story

Friday, 22 May 2015

Disability Discrimination - My Story

Hi Everyone!

There are two work place related topics I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. Those of disability discrimination & Institutionalised Bullying. I didn’t want to write them whilst at the respective jobs but wanted to post both simultaneously. As a result I had to wait until I’d left both jobs (March) & then life just got in the way! 

I worked for my employer, a music service for two years. I had no problems regarding the wearing of my glasses for the first year. The funding then switched from the government to a private company. This might not be related, but it would be a big coincidence if it wasn’t. I hope I can explain the ins & outs properly - there’s a lot of ‘he said ‘x’, then she said ‘y’!

The first I knew of my glasses being an issue was when my line manager told me that a head teachers at one of the schools I taught in had made a comment to him about why I was wearing sunglasses. I was told that I needed to speak to each of the head teachers to explain why I wear my precision tinted lenses. I was outraged! I was also not prepared to go into detail about my medical conditions. I decided to speak to each of the head teachers, to tell them that they could always approach me if there was ever anything they needed or wanted to talk to me about.

Each of the head teachers were as confused & uncomfortable as I was! One of the head teachers was furious & offered to write to the service on my behalf. He also said that if any of his staff or students made ANY comment, I was to direct them straight to him. That was very reassuring to hear. I had thought I might be over reacting about the whole thing. I had recently started teaching at a new school. I had already spoken to the other head teachers, but I couldn’t see the one at the new school making such a comment. I was REALLY confused & very stressed! My IBS flared up dreadfully. It wasn’t the new head teacher either though - that was an awkward conversation!

When I spoke to the head teacher of my new school, he picked up on my stress instantly. He said to me “you thought it was me, didn’t you?” I didn’t know what to say other than that I didn’t know what to think about the whole thing! He was lovely about the whole thing & put me at ease. He told me that he “just assumed you wore them for a medical reason.” The school is very switched on about dyslexia & a few of my students used coloured overlays or had their music printed on coloured paper to help them read it. So I went back to my manager. This is where it gets interesting. Remember I said that a head teacher had made a comment about my glasses to HIM, well…

My line manager changed his story rather - he told me he would need to speak to the deputy head of the service to find out which head teacher it was who had commented on my glasses, because she had told my line manager about the comment. Hmmm… So we’ve gone from a comment being made to my line manager, to a comment made to the deputy head of the service not my line manager. My line manager told me he would get back to me once he had spoken to the deputy head of the service. Guess what??? That’s right - he never did!

After my knee operation last Easter I was required to attend an appointment with Occupational Health. This was just a tick boxing exercise because of the time I had needed off work. I requested that it take place sooner rather than later. This was so I could raise my concerns about the discrimination I had been subjected to because of my need to wear precision tinted lenses. The OH doctor was very understanding. He was appalled at what my employers had done, likening it to someone in a wheelchair being told to explain why they need their chair. This may sound a bit drastic, but if you peel back the layers someone in a wheelchair needs the use of their chair for a medical reason to allow them to lead their lives to the fullest, just as I need my glasses to allow me to live my life to the fullest because of a medical condition. The OH added words to this effect, as well as reminding them that I require all written communication to be in the form of black text on a white background as they had been sending me forms & information with coloured text & backgrounds that I was simply unable to read.

I had never been self conscious about my glasses until having to deal with this. It took place over the best (well, worst) part of an academic year. I felt awkward around my colleagues & frustrated with my bosses. It made me feel awkward in my personal life too. When I started blogging post-knee op I used a photo where I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I wanted to fit in so without realising I created a persona around my blog. Until writing this post, I hadn’t realised that my experience at work had made me feel like this! It wasn’t until I started meeting other bloggers (wearing my glasses) that I realised I was being accepted for who I was. No one cared that I had coloured glass in front of my eyes. They didn’t think I was odd & they didn’t avoid me. I wasn’t made to feel ’different’. I have made some amazing & really supporting friends through blogging. Not once have my glasses been commented on. You can read more about my journey back to acceptance in my Embracing My Differences post.

So the message here is two fold:
  • Disabillity discrimination comes in many shapes & forms. None of which are ok!
  • Disability discrimination isn’t just about being treated unfairly in the work place. It has repercussions that can severely affect a persons life. I feel lucky that the lack of confidence I experienced lasted for less than a year & that I was not more severely affected.

If we don’t stand up against disability discrimination (or any type of discrimination for that matter) it will just continue. We need to challenge the thinking of those who discriminate in order to change the perception that this behaviour is acceptable. Will you stand up to discrimination?

Tania XX


At 11 June 2015 at 12:41 , Anonymous Beth Griffiths said...

Eugh so sorry that you had to deal with this. Disability discrimination is the worst. I've been lucky in that I haven't had any issues since leaving high school where I had to deal with when I first started using my chair. Once I stood up for myself they realised they were in the wrong but still no one should have to deal with that

Beth x
Mermaid in Disguise

At 11 June 2015 at 14:39 , Anonymous Tania Jayne said...

You're so right Beth! I'm so sorry you've had to go through it too. Unfortunately I think we are in the majority. People often don't even realise they're doing it, which says more about them than it does about us! I've had some experiences where customers have made stupid 'sunglasses' comments & then when I politely explained that they weren't sunglasses, they try to make me feel awkward! As though it were my fault they were being inappropriate & rude! Xx


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