Hannah's employment journey
Hannah tells us about her employment journey - from the importance of disability coordinators to having to recognise her own talent and self-worth.
I became disabled in 1999 when I was 15. I was in year ten at high school. It was GCSE options time, and I kind of had an idea what I wanted to do. I would have liked to have been a teacher like my mum.
I contracted a virus that damaged my spinal cord. It wasn't long before I was in Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool for about a year and a half. Disability had cast doubt over my future for the first time.
My school experience
I completed my GCSE's in hospital, and I was really pleased with the results. I got an A*, B and a C. I eventually did A Levels from home and realised lots of things were still possible. The examiners came to my house, and the prospect of university didn't seem as unlikely as I thought it might have been. But there were difficult times in my late teens, times when I barely left the house. It sometimes felt like my future was firmly on hold.
I managed to achieve three 'B's in my A levels, and I really enjoyed doing Law. Particularly the criminal side - not the slightly dull side of contract law! Support of academic staff and family encouraged me towards doing a joint honours degree in film / TV and crime studies at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Working with Leonard Cheshire
That was my first contact with Leonard Cheshire as they loaned me all my IT equipment. In terms of aspirations, I just wanted to keep up with my friends, and I wanted to be doing what they were doing.
My sister was also doing a degree, so there was massive competition! It was good-natured sibling rivalry, but it spurred me on, and we both got 2:1's!
I thought about becoming a Researcher for television. I spent time at Oxford Road Studios in Manchester, but travel from Cheshire was problematic. Accessible trains?! That's another story…
Working in criminology
I decided to go and see a work psychologist at the jobcentre. She asked me what my interests were and what I enjoyed doing. I decided that I really liked criminology and that I'd love to work in that area. I thought it would be valuable to get some work experience with the police, so she organised a visit for me at Cheshire Police headquarters.
At the time, Cheshire Police had a disability coordinator that worked there, Veronica Milligan, and we're still friends today. I think she contacted every department in the police and luckily one got back to her! There needs to be more people like Veronica involved in the process, more employment advisors externally. The positive culture towards disability at Cheshire Police has also made all the difference to me.
Getting that important yes
Karen Watkins and Nick Adderley managed the Research and Development department at the time, and they emailed Veronica back with the all-important 'yes'!
The department researched different types of crime, and it was really interesting. I was there for six weeks and did a project on alcohol-related offences.
It was great because I don't think my colleagues had worked with a person with a disability before. I had my voice control system, and my Dad came to train up all the IT staff. They were curious, interested in the support needed and incredibly welcoming.
A work trial came up after I finished the six-week project. Inside I felt, "I've got this, and my confidence soared."
My employment journey
I was in an office with mostly non-disabled people, and I loved it! Others in the office found it funny when I used my Dragon voice recognition software, especially when training it. I had to dictate nursery rhymes into the microphone, which was highly embarrassing! It was a positive learning experience for all of us. I made some good friends just being there for those six weeks.
I worked in Human Resources for a while. Then they approached me about a role coming up as a Resourcing Assistant - a six-month contract - was I interested? I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I was then put in touch with Access To Work and employed an assistant to help me at work, which was amazing!
I soaked up everything they threw at me. It helped that we had a disability coordinator, a switched-on IT team, good colleagues and a job I enjoyed. After this, I got a job as a vetting officer in the Department of Criminal Justice, where I still am over a decade later!
Cheshire Police have been fantastic employers. I've had periods of sickness, but they've been so accommodating. They've recently visited me at home to work out a plan to get me back into the office after Christmas.
Recognising my own worth
Throughout my employment journey, there have been pivotal figures: the Dean of Manchester Met, the work psychologist, Veronica Milligan, various managers at Cheshire Police, my Access To Work assistant, and my family.
I remember my old boss Blair Wilson saying: "You got the role on your own merit. You work here because you're good at your job, not because of your disability."
What can I say, good people, are hard to find!
Still Locked Out
Governments and businesses have adapted to the challenges presented by the pandemic. However, many key barriers to disabled people finding and staying in meaningful employment unfortunately remain.
The government must act now to ensure that disabled people aren’t left behind both during and after the coronavirus pandemic.