This week I started a part time position with Youngcare as its Grants Administrator. It is my first office job, and that presents a whole set of unique challenges for me. On my first day I was fairly confident that I had the skills for the position, I just worried about everything else.
The first point of concern was that I didn't think I could manage a full day in the office, as toileting is the issue that I plan my entire life around. Once you factor in transport to and from the office, which is a good 25 minutes from my home by car, (and much more via the public transport that I must use) a standard 9am-5pm office day job requires at least ten hours of me not going to the toilet (except in emergencies). This in turn means that I have to refrain from eating and drinking during those hours as much as possible. This is obviously not an ideal situation for my body.
There is also the matter of getting to and from the office. The most affected part of my brain as a result of my Cerebral Palsy is learning how to navigate the world around me. I cannot read a map, nor do I have any sense of direction. I also have trouble with spacial and depth perception. In order to grasp these concepts to complete a round trip from my home to the office, I have to translate these deficiencies into the types of analytical problems that I'm most familiar with. This process is long winded, daunting, and incredibly frustrating for me. In total, the commute took me nine hours to plan out so I could understand it properly.
In order to solve these potentially unsurmountable problems, I am extremely lucky to have an understanding employer, and a very helpful support network. Firstly, to mitigate issues of personal care, my line manager, and the CEO agreed to break up my time in the office into two 4.75 hour working days, rather than a single standard day. This in turn has meant that my time away from food consumption and accessible amenities is reduced into a more manageable 7 hours. Additionally, FRG and I did a round trip to the office and back last week as part of planning the commute, so I was able to grasp exactly where I was going, how I would get there, and how I would tackle any potential problems that I might encounter during my first day.
For most people their chief concern on their first day at work would be to find colleagues that share mutual interests, or whether their supervisor would be genial rather than dictatorial. While these were important concerns for me too, they ranked low on my list of priorities compared with the challenges highlighted above.
Failure to recognise obstacles such as access to transport and personal care for a person with a physical disability are among significant reasons why employment rates are significantly lower on average for us crips compared to the rest of the population.
Successfully navigating my first day at an office job was to me a major achievement in my life thus far. As a teenager I remember thinking to myself on a number of occasions that I could never have an office job, and manage it on my own. The risks were just too great. What if I needed to go to the toilet, and could not be supported to do so? What if I missed a curb, and tipped out of my wheelchair on my way to work?
On my way home from my first day, I pulled into my train station to find FRG waiting to greet me. I wheeled off the ramp, then pumped my fist in the air. As we hugged I wept. Something so easy for the majority of the population was a great personal fear for me, and I had conquered it. It was just the first day, and I probably have over forty years of office work left, but I have proven to myself that I could do it. I will continue to do so over and over again.