I’m Georgia, I have just finished studying Occupational Therapy at Sheffield Hallam University, and oh yeah, there’s something else you may need to know in order for this blog to make sense… I have Cerebral Palsy which affects my speech and all 4 limbs (this being the short explanation of course).
I chose to study occupational therapy because my own occupational therapist played a big role in my life growing up, I remember always being interested in the role and being fascinated at how diverse it was from helping me with seating to helping me at mealtimes. I also chose this degree as I’m a bigger maths lover and have always loved problem-solving, yet I knew I wanted to go into the healthcare sector. So, what better profession than occupational therapy?
So, a few years before my studies I started getting into disabled activism- I’ve always known that I would never ignore my disability and that it would shape my future career in some way. When I started my studies it really sparked my passion to become more heavily involved in disabled activism and after doing a few guest posts here and there I knew I wanted to take this further. Therefore a few months into my studies I started my own blog, Not So Terrible Palsy. My blog has been a big part of my journey at university and has enabled me to make sense of university life as a disabled occupational therapy student.
Also, I’ve used my blog in order to make sense of the ups and the downs. A big advantage of my blog is it enabled me and my supervisor to organically create a role-emerging virtual occupational therapy placement (which was designed and underway before the pandemic hit, may I add).
Then a role-emerging area of practice is where an occupational therapist goes into a non-traditional area of work i.e a school or a charity and scopes out an area of need. Being disabled I am involved in a lot of disabled online communities which has helped me become more confident as a disabled woman. Yet, I realised that the occupational therapy profession didn’t realised how impactful online communities and online healthcare is for disabled people so I decided to create a placement where I used my blog and raise awareness of this area of need as after all engaging in online communities is a meaningful occupation. I got to talk on podcasts, create and deliver a webinar, write weekly blogs and even write an article for OTNews– the magazine published by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.
I’m particularly proud of what I managed to achieve on this placement- I was in disbelief when I found out that my placement had gained an international reach! Not long into the placement, I got offered the role of Global Students Ambassador and Digital Production Director for Occupational Therapist Without Borders where I now raised awareness of the profession by connecting with occupational therapists globally. That’s certainly not what the girl who broke down on induction day was expecting…
Although I am really fortunate to have had some amazing opportunities throughout my degree, there certainly have been low times.
As a disabled student, I’ve had a lot of hurdles or ‘unexpected battles’ as I call them to overcome. For example, within any healthcare role, effective communication is extremely important and you cannot pass placements without demonstrating this. Therefore, due to having a speech impairment, I have found this really emotionally challenging- more challenging than I thought at times and that I’d like to admit. However, I have been able to use my blog to get a chronological view of my communication challenges on my placement which has allowed me to make choices in order to enhance my future career.
For example, I was very fortunate that I had a placement in assistive technology that enabled me to learn more about Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC). In which I now have found the confidence to download a text-to-speech app and use this in practice when needs be. This enables me to confidently and effectively communicate with service users.
Other emotional barriers have been around disclosing my disability when in practice. I don’t want to disclose as it’s not about me and I am very dedicated to delivering person-centred practice, however, with my disability being so visible at times I have to disclose. For example, with my speech impairment, I have to explain my situation before meeting anyone within a professional capacity to ensure that people feel comfortable asking me to repeat.
I know that no matter which route of practice I’ll go down that I will still have barriers to face going forward. For example, my independence as a practitioner is going to look very different from the independence of an able-bodied practitioner but I’m okay with that. Just because my independence looks a little different to others doesn’t make me any less of a professional and what I have in my tool kit is 21-years of experience of a disability that I can use as and when appropriate.
In the future, I’d love to keep advocating the use of online communities as a meaningful occupation as well as still promoting the need for virtual placements to improves access for disabled healthcare students. I’m quite ambitious and I do have many other things that I’d like to achieve as a qualified practitioner for example I’d love to work in pediatrics and potentially do more research in the area. However, I’m aware that finding a job as a disabled practitioner isn’t going to be easy yet this is all a learning opportunity to enhance my personal and professional development enabling me to become a better occupational therapist.
Do you have any tips on finding a job as a disabled practitioner? Please let me know any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for reading my story.