Disability in the workplace
Posted: 5th April 2018
Catherine Cobb BEng (Hons) TMICE MIHE
Traffic Signals Graduate Engineer
My name is Cath and I’m an Engineer…a disabled engineer at that. I lost my left leg to cancer at the age of 7, and from the day they gave me my very first artificial leg I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
But I encountered barriers when pursuing my goals. my first barrier was school, I went to see my school careers advisor for him to turn around to say ‘ahhhh Cath, you have 2 options, the first option it secretarial work so you can sit down all day or you can go on benefits and let the state keep you’. This just made me more determined to be an engineer.
I applied for many jobs only to be told ‘oh I couldn’t possibly employ you, you haven’t got very nice legs’ or ‘can you carry the tea?!’.
Working in a machine shop in a male dominated industry was also challenging, I would be expected to do more than my male counter parts plus they would ask me to fetch and carry things that were far too heavy for me, but I did it none the less. Why they wanted to break me was a complete mystery to me! I only wanted to work with them as an equal.
Working at Amey turned my life around, I told them at my interview that I was disabled and they never blinked. They are the only company that I have worked for that have helped me in every aspect of my career with them.
Companies could do more for the disabled employees if they literally just sit down with them and just talk, ask them what needs they might have. We don’t bite honest!
Companies benefit from employing disabled people as we see things in a way that others don’t, we can see where the hazards are and how to deal with them quickly and safely. Disabled people show true commitment to their employers and continue to do so every day as they are grateful for the opportunities they have been given but to be fair you should overlook their disability and employ them on their merits, as Amey did with me.
I asked a colleague of mine what it was that I brought to the company, she replied…’you, just you, I don’t see you as disabled’.
Have discussion groups say once a month to highlight if there are any problems that need addressing. Perhaps the disabled person to keep a log of things they struggle with, I know I have a problem carrying my laptop to which I did talk to my manager about, it was sorted immediately. Companies could also consider support groups of a variety of disabilities, Limbless Association for example.
Having a confidant helps me in my work place, someone I know I can talk to honestly and openly if I have a problem. Companies would benefit in training staff in how to recognise when someone is struggling as most disabled people are stubborn and will bottle their feeling up inside so they don’t want to cause a fuss.
As an Amey Scope Ambassador as part of the ‘End the Awkwardness’ campaign my role is to educate people on how to approach a disabled person and how to talk to them…quick tip…talk to them just the same as anyone else!
If I can inspire just one person to achieve their goals by my life experiences then it’s all been worth it. Some people think they lose a limb that their life is over… it’s not, it’s the start of a brand new one… I don’t consider myself as disabled, I’m just Cath with a piece missing! (not necessarily my leg!).
Contributor: Catherine Cobb is a Traffic Signals Graduate Engineer at Amey. Catherine is also an Amey Scope and Inclusion and Diversity Ambassador.
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