Disability History Month Blog: Jennifer Bell
Here at NTU, we’re celebrating Disability History Month 2020 with a programme of activities that provide everyone in our community with an opportunity to come together to increase our understanding and show support for disability equality.
The second of our series of blogs, which draws on the lived experiences of our colleagues with disabilities, is written by Jennifer Bell, acting Chair of the Disabled Employee Network (DEN).
Here, Jennifer describes her transition to using an electric wheelchair and how the support from NTU colleagues and being part of the DEN has been invaluable in helping her with this change.
I’m Jennifer, acting Disabled Employee Network Chair. I’ve been a member of the DEN since 2015 (although I’ve worked at NTU within Student Support Services since 2013) in part, because I didn’t know what it was or even that it existed. It’s now something which we as a group are vehemently committed to and are working continually on as a network.
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) back in 2005 and whilst I’ve always struggled with mobility difficulties, amongst quite a few other debilitating symptoms, I only needed to start using my electric wheelchair in 2015.
I can honestly say, the transition to using an electric wheelchair was, in some ways, quite liberating! I no longer needed to think or worry about how much pain I would be in manoeuvring around on foot and how far the distance to a toilet was without my legs giving way and if it involved going up and down any stairs. I could just remain in my chair and motorise myself around the building, independently – freedom! However, this has inevitably brought other challenges (again, things that I was completely unaware of and would never have even thought about until I had to start using my wheelchair). For example, I’ve had to grapple with getting in and out of busy lifts in an object the size of a shopping trolly (and even after five years practice, I still struggle with reversing backwards out of a lift without catching the wheels!). Also, getting to grips with electric doors (which open towards you), movable objects such as recycling bins, locating the accessible entrances in each building, as well as still having to map out the quickest route. And making sure I avoid anything that involves any hint of a step or even a raised pavement, for that matter!
Support from colleagues
One thing I’d like to highlight, which has been a constant source of support, and at times quite overwhelming, is how my colleagues at NTU have accepted me and have embraced my disability and differences. If anything, people have often gone out of their way, as well as above and beyond, to support me. I guess, from their point of view, one day I was stood up in the kitchen making a drink, the next I was wheeling around in a motorised wheelchair – but no questions asked, I was just accepted.
This, unfortunately, has not always been the case in some of the other organisations I’ve worked for, possibly because my disability was more ‘hidden’ and ‘invisible’. Not many people knew about my MS and there were no ‘obvious’ mobility aids in use when out and about in the office, or when needing to access a disabled car parking space or disabled toilet. Although of course, those debilitating symptoms I experienced daily were still very much there.
How being part of the DEN has helped me
This is another reason why I want to promote and continue to support the work of the DEN group. For me, the opportunity to be a part of this group has been completely invaluable in supporting me at work and my transition to using a wheelchair. It has given me confidence and raised my awareness on everyday issues faced by disabled people, as well as a sense of inclusion and a voice. Not to mention feeling like I’m being listened to and affecting change for people for the better, and also trying to remove the fear people may have around stigmas associated with disclosing a disability, especially within the workplace. NTU is the only place I have ever worked at where there has been a network like this for disabled employees.
Visit our Disability History Month 2020 page to find out what we have lined up this month to celebrate the achievements of disabled people, and use this opportunity to develop your own disability awareness.
Disability History Month Blog: Jennifer Bell
- Category: Current students; Staff