Strengths not weaknesses

During Disability History Month, three members of the CSP DisAbility network share their experiences

In the workplace
In the workplace Strengths not weaknesses

Aileen Curtis is a physio specialising in pelvic health at the Royal Marsden cancer hospital.

She says: ‘My disability is Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. A type of connective tissue disorder causing hypermobility, fatigue, digestive problems, circulatory problems and chronic pain. I was recently diagnosed with dyslexia and I also need to wear a hearing aid.’

Do you think your disability complements your skill set as a physiotherapist? 

I hope my disability helps me to be more emotionally intelligent, to think outside the box and to help me to relate to my patients with compassion and empathy. From a patient’s perspective I notice that some patients acknowledge that I’ve had challenges too and therefore relate to me better. Having dyslexia has made me more aware of clear communication for others with communication difficulties as there are few resources targeted for this group of people.

What matters most to you as a physiotherapist with a disability?

My strengths can be used and appreciated more than my weaknesses.  If the work environment can be modified then it will benefit everybody.  I would like to see that everyone is treated fairly without having to feel any shame or that they are a burden.  

What do you think our places of work can do to be more inclusive of disabled practitioners?

Places of work can be more inclusive; providing managers with training to consider staff with disabilities, undertake stress assessments and create an atmosphere of inclusivity with a pragmatic attitude to overcoming problems. I have benefited from the support of the buddy system and the disabled staff network.

Aaron Fowler qualified as a physiotherapist in 2013 after graduating from the University of Hertfordshire.

Following negative experiences relating to his disability during interviews for physio roles, Aaron took a break from the profession before returning in 2019. 

He explains: ‘I got my registration back with the HCPC in 2020 and now work as a physiotherapist on an elderly rehabilitation ward at Wokingham Hospital.’ 

Aaron has a visual impairment called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a deteriorating eye condition that causes tunnel vision, night blindness and can lead to a complete loss of sight. He describes his eyesight as ‘being like looking through straws. I have very tunnelled vision but what I can see in front of me, I can see clearly.’

Aaron says ‘adaptations I have at work help me to do my job, including magnification software on the PC and a handheld magnifier. Due to my lack of peripheral vision, it also helps me to be familiar with an environment I am working in.’

What matters most to you as a physiotherapist with a disability?

As a profession, we continue to grow and become more accessible for people with disabilities. As a member of the CSP DisAbility network, we hear from members who leave the profession because they feel upset and frustrated that they do not get the support they are entitled to at work due to their disability. I hope this changes.  I hope people in more senior positions will focus on what a physio with a disability can do rather than focusing on what they can’t do.

Tell us about a time when you had a positive experience of being welcomed and included as a physio with a disability

My current managers have been fantastic and supportive. My manager called me before I started my role to see what they needed to do and what they could help with regarding my access to work assessment and making sure I had all the equipment in place I needed before starting my job. This was so refreshing and made starting my new job so easy!

Erin Power is co-convenor of the CSP DisAbility network and is the interim AHP professional lead at NHS Solent.

Erin trained at Cardiff and has worked in a variety of roles and specialities, with her clinical interest being oncology and palliative care.

Erin says: ‘I am neurodiverse which is a mix of dyslexia and Aspergers in my case. I have a slower processing speed for all incoming information be that written, verbal, numeric or visual. Equally, I am slower at producing that information in turn because I think in a non-verbal, abstract almost visual way and so it feels as though

English is my second language. If a picture paints a thousand words, I would say that at times I can find maybe 20 to describe it verbally and even less to find it as written English. It’s incredibly frustrating to know you have so much more to convey but can’t find how or if you do manage to it takes so much extra energy and time. I rely heavily on finding systematic processes to support my memory and the prompt of others for time keeping.’ 

Has your disability influenced your career choice of career or physio speciality?

A strength of my disability is that it allows me to see the bigger picture while keeping the fine details too. This means that working in a holistic way is very natural to me and so a career in physiotherapy and particularly my specialisms of neurology, oncology and palliative care were an obvious choice to turn my disability into a positive.

Do you think your disability compliments your skill set as a physiotherapist? How?

My disability calls me to cut to the heart of the matter and to be clear about what is achievable. I have always found this to be an advantage when working with patients as they want to know the root cause of their issue too and they often respond well to the honesty in my approach. In particular I think they can see that I do everything I can to help but I also walk alongside them with kindness as they reconcile with the things that cannot be changed and support them to find a way forward. I think they can tell that I walk that path often myself.

What do you think our places of work can do to be more inclusive of disabled practitioners?

We have to challenge the unwritten, unconscious bias and expectations that we place upon others, we need to meet those with disabilities with kindness and take a strengths-based approach that talks about what can be done and what can help. We have to remember that not always seeing it doesn’t make it any less real to the individual and we absolutely must pull disability away from performance management – they are most assuredly not one and the same. 

Number of subscribers: 1

Log in to comment and read comments that have been added