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Court in the storm

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When the rape of a Manchester woman with learning difficulties came to trial in 2012, everything hinged on her memories of the ordeal.

In the cold light of the courtroom, under intense scrutiny from the defence barrister, her muddled mind began letting her down. Timelines became skewed, details foggy and responses inconsistent. Yet somewhere inside was the now proven truth about the cruel attack she endured.

Enter Louise Sheffeld, a registered intermediary, accredited by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to support vulnerable witnesses. “A man she knew had been to her at in the afternoon, with his dog,” she says.

“He’d sat outside drinking cider and she was inside, talking to him through an open door. He returned that evening when it was dark without his dog, went into her at and sexually assaulted her.

“The barrister was flitting between the afternoon and the evening and I could see she was getting really mixed up. She couldn’t tell the difference between which event he was
talking about.

“I intervened and spoke to the judge, and then the jury stepped out. I asked if I could use a different approach to help her understand exactly what she was being asked.”

An intermediary is an impartial servant of the court whose role is to ensure children and vulnerable adults are able to give coherent and accurate evidence.

In this instance, Louise explained the four facts from the afternoon – the man, dog, cider and sunshine – to the woman and wrote them on a piece of paper. On a separate sheet, she wrote the evening’s key words; dark and man. The sheets were placed at opposite ends of a table.

Every time the barrister referred to a time period, Louise made an exaggerated hand movement to draw attention to the relevant piece of paper.

“From that point on her evidence was crystal clear, consistent and utterly compelling. She knew exactly where his hands had been and how her clothes had been taken off and could describe the assault in vivid detail. The jury took two hours to convict the man.”

Intermediaries for vulnerable adults – including those with brain injuries – are currently only the right of witnesses in a criminal court. Much to Louise’s concern, criminal court defendants and vulnerable adults in civil courts are not entitled to intermediaries.

“People with acquired brain injury are statistically more likely to be the victim of a crime, but also to be accused and convicted of crimes, so we need intermediaries all round.”

Hate crimes in England and Wales against people with disabilities surged by 45 per cent to 3,629 in 2015/16.

Meanwhile, disproportionate amount of brain injured people in the prison system is well documented.

Various studies put the proportion of adult prisoners with a history of traumatic brain injury as high as 60 per cent. Neutral intermediaries on either side of the courtroom divide are therefore needed, says Louise.

As one of the first cohort of intermediaries trained in 2004 following legislative changes, she has seen many examples of the power of the role to ensure trials are fair.

“Most intermediaries are speech and language therapists or occupational therapists like me. Some are also teachers and social workers. We bring together legal training with our understanding of communication.

“A barrister might have a series of ‘do you’ questions, for example. If they’re reeled off one after the other, a vulnerable person might develop a pattern and say ‘yes’ even if that’s not what they mean. That’s the type of questioning we’d intervene on.”

Intermediaries are strictly impartial and must never talk about the details of the case with their client beforehand. They do take them through a courtroom familiarisation process and look to eradicate anxiety where possible.

While access to intermediary services is limited by a current lack of legislation, there are signs that things could change.

“The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 mentions intermediaries for vulnerable defendants. But this section of the legislation has never been enacted. It’s written about in the law but has never been rolled out.”

Recently published Criminal Practice Directions (CPDs) – supplemental protocols to court procedures – also reference intermediaries for defendants. So far, however, Louise believes current guidelines fall short. Although intermediaries are not a right for defendants, access to them is increasingly being gained via the Human Rights Act.

 But a CPD introduced last year stated that only in exceptional circumstances should a defendant have an intermediary throughout a trial.

“This in itself is a problem. You have a brain injured defendant sitting in the dock. He sees the backs of the barristers’ and solicitors’ heads and the judge and the jury.

“He might have six weeks of evidence, with different witnesses coming in and out and all of this information to take on board. Then he goes to give his evidence. He might not have a clue what’s going on and could be so easily led.

“Having an intermediary there while he’s giving evidence is better than nothing, but what about the weeks leading up to it when he’s been sitting listening to stuff that he’s not understood – stuff that he’ll be cross-examined on?”

The reason for this apparent unfairness in the criminal justice system is obvious to Louise: “To be really cynical, I think it’s a financial argument. The MoJ has trained intermediaries for vulnerable witnesses, not defendants. So, it would have to fund the training to meet a sudden rise in demand.

“Currently there are only about 120 registered intermediaries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That’s 120 people for every child and vulnerable adult involved in a crime.”

The average cost of intermediary assignments could also spiral: “An intermediary for a witness will do a half-day assessment, then write a report, which is another half a day.
A witness will then give evidence over a day or two.

“A defendant’s trial could last six weeks, so the costs of providing an intermediary for a defendant and a witness are poles apart. It’s not fair for vulnerable defendants but it’s cheaper.”

The push to get a fairer deal for vulnerable people in the courts system is also hindered by good, but misplaced, intentions by judges.

Various training courses are available to the judiciary in how to better understand the challenges faced by people with brain injuries.

“This can be a double-edged sword. We find that when an intermediary request comes through, judges that have been through that training will think ‘it’s okay, I’ve done the training, I can handle this’.”

Such training may be adequate in explaining the basics, says Louise. They will learn to give the vulnerable person frequent breaks and to avoid pre-ambles like ‘I put it to you that’ in questioning. Yet it is not detailed enough to explain the many nuances of eliciting factual information from vulnerable people.

“For example, tag questions – where a statement is made to set the scene, followed by a question – are generally avoided because they are seen as leading you to a certain answer. Actually, tag questions can be helpful if handled correctly.

“When the delivery is properly paced, slowly, with pauses, it helps the person to become orientated and delivers the question in chunks. That would be something like, ‘you live in London (pause), with your daughter (pause), what is her name?’

“The danger with a bit of training is that it covers things with a broad brush. There have been three-year-olds cross-examined in the Old Bailey after intermediaries were refused because the judges said they’d done the training. The transcripts are shocking.”

The case for intermediaries in the criminal justice system is also muddied by misconceptions about appropriate adults.

“I feel really passionately that case managers and therapists working with people with acquired brain injury should know about intermediaries.

“I’m also a case manager and have used intermediaries four or five times when my clients have been arrested or in danger of it. I’ve been told so many times by case managers that ‘we’re just going to get an appropriate adult instead’.

“They do a good job but are not trained communication specialists. They are concerned with the general wellbeing and rights of the individual; have they been to the toilet, had regular breaks or been offered a phone call? They are not focused on how questions are being posed.”

In the civil courts, a number of factors are conspiring to create demand for intermediaries; although, to date, only one civil case involving an intermediary has made it to court.

That was in January 2016, with Louise supporting a vulnerable claimant. She has had a further seven written reports accepted by civil judges on cases that have been settled before trial.

The new discount rate could play its part in bringing more intermediaries into civil courts. When victims of life-changing injuries accept lump sum compensation, the amount they receive is adjusted according to the interest they can expect to earn by investing it.

Courts apply a calculation called the discount rate – with the percentage linked to returns on the lowest risk investments, typically Index Linked Gilts. In March this year, this rate was lowered from 2.5 per cent to minus 0.75 per cent.

Compensation pay- outs will rise as a result. With more to fight for, defendant and claimant teams will potentially be looking to bolster their armoury with the use
of intermediaries.

“I think it’s likely that we’ll see more defendants pushing aggressively to hear what the claimant has to say. In the civil case I was involved in, the defendant wanted the claimant on the stand as they thought he was making his story up and wanted to expose him as a fraud.

“We need more claimant solicitors to ask for intermediaries and to see putting the claimant on the stand as an option, rather than a risk.

“Currently many solicitors see it as being far too dangerous. They need to know that it can be done safely and fairly.

“I think we will see the emergence of more specially-trained civil court intermediaries in the future. They would need to be very knowledgeable about the civil litigation process and understand the objectives of different parts of the case, but I think it will gradually happen.”

Louise also envisages a role for intermediaries in other courtroom processes: “In future intermediaries could possibly facilitate expert witness assessments with the claimant. Often the experts for the claimant and defendant will get very different results, for obvious reasons. Perhaps an intermediary could ensure these assessments are fair.”

Legal view: Why the vital role of intermediaries can no longer be ignored

John Davis has been representing people who
have sustained life-changing neurological injuries for
over 30 years.

The senior consultant at law firm Sintons and Fellow of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers urges lawyers to wake up to the value of working with intermediaries on cases.

He says: “In many criminal cases a registered intermediary will be the difference between a
witness being able to give evidence in court or not and an intermediary can often play a vital role in helping
to make the criminal justice process accessible to vulnerable people.

“By contrast, in the civil justice system, there is no general acceptance by the courts of the valuable role that intermediaries can
play in assisting vulnerable people, such as claimants with cognitive difficulties after a brain injury, to give evidence in court.

“There is little justification
for the different approach between the civil and criminal courts and, in my view, lawyers need to recognise the importance of intermediaries and to become willing to involve them in their cases.”

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Interviews

We’ll be soaring again soon

It’ll take more than a global pandemic to stop Accessible Dreams drawing up plans for more empowering trips in the not-too-distant future, as NR Times reports.

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Two of the most powerful ingredients of Accessible Dreams’ work are the very things that are restricted right now.

Travelling to exciting horizons, and being able to hang out with friends new and old once there, are at the heart of the experiences the group creates.

And at the time of writing, one is currently impossible from the UK, while the other is enabled only in a world of separation, screens and clever apps.

But Nicola Cale, who runs Accessible Dreams, sounds surprisingly chipper when NR Times calls her.

Partly, she’s been bowled over by the enthusiasm and ingenuity shown by people in the group’s vast social ecosystem in staying connected and supporting each other.

But also, it’s given her a chance to reflect on the importance of the organisation’s work – and she can’t wait to help more clients onto the adventure trail with renewed vigour soon.

Accessible Dreams welcomes people with serious injuries and often complex disabilities into life-changing overseas experiences, like skiing, surfing and safaris.

Many individuals it works with would otherwise have given up on the possibility of such adventures because of the challenges created by their condition or injury. In reversing this, magical things can happen.

Nicola, who runs the organisation alongside fellow director William Sargent, says: “Going out and being in a different environment stimulates the brain differently. Being on the mountains, for example, already changes your outlook, so if you have a brain injury or disability and your world’s become a lot smaller, to change your environment is really important.

“So too are the opportunities to socialise with others in a group which looks beyond disability.

“Making friends with other people who may be struggling with different challenges in life can be empowering and help clients to better deal with their own difficulties.”

​Through its annual trips, Accessible Dreams enables people to rediscover, or even discover for the first time, the social benefits of group travel and exploring the world alongside the challenge of the physical activity.

“The main thinking behind it is to show them that life can be good again. While a person might not be able to ski or surf in the same way they used to, we want to help them discover they can still do it.

“We’re not focusing on disability, we’re looking at what we can do, what can be possible. We want to show people that their dream is accessible and make adventures which are often assumed to be beyond reach become reality.”

Coronavirus travel restrictions unfortunately led to the group’s annual safari trip being postponed, although Nicola is hoping surfing can still take place later in
the year.

And, with skiing still scheduled for February and March 2021, planning and the search for new opportunities behind the scenes is in full flow.

The three services offered by Accessible Dreams – organised trips, helping people to plan their own holiday and supplying a crew member ‘chaperone’ to join a holiday – are still proving as in-demand as ever.

Despite all future travel being clouded in uncertainty, Nicola believes the current enforced isolation has only galvanised people in their desire to see more of the world.

“I have a theory, I can’t prove it, but it’s a theory of mine, that good brain chemistry can build new neural pathways. If you’re stressed and your daily routine
is the same all the time, you’re not making new connections in your brain, whereas if you’re going out doing new things, your senses are heightened.

“So it’s important that we continue to focus on that huge difference travelling can make and look to the future to get our plans back on track for later this year and next year onwards.

“Taking people on holiday, or using our resources and connections to help is absolutely something to look forward to and be excited about.”

Over the course of the many trips organised so far, Nicole has witnessed a steady stream of success stories from people who have fulfilled personal dreams, while changing their outlook on life.

On the most recent skiing trip, which saw 66 people visiting a French ski resort, a man who suffered a brain injury several years ago, which left him with very limited powers of communication, went skiing for the first time since his injury.

That huge achievement was compounded by the fact his support worker and friend was also able to join him.

“This particular guy used to be in the Army and we knew he was an adrenaline junkie before his brain injury.

“So we arranged for him to ski down the mountain in a sit ski. We found out that his support worker used to be in the military with him, so we arranged for him to go in a sit ski too.

“That was a special moment. It’s a cliché but you could see him light up, he was visibly brighter in his eyes, and also more upbeat afterwards.

“We also have a blind man who has now been on four ski trips with us and has learned to ski standing up. It’s incredible that he’s learned this new skill.

“That feeling of exhilaration, the speed and perception of danger – even though in reality it’s the safest it could be – has a really special impact on people.”

While the trips are primarily for the benefit of the person with the serious injury or disability, they can be equally important for family members and support workers too, says Nicola.

“You can see sometimes they’re a bit nervous about going on trips, so that’s why we offer the range of services we do, either arranging the holiday, helping to arrange someone’s own holiday, or having someone to send with you.

“Seeing a loved one being able to ski or surf and seeing the difference that makes to them, can be very emotional.

“I had one lady recently tell me that going on one of our trips with her son helped her to let go a little bit as a mother and to realise that people really did care – and that it was OK for her to take a step back. I thought that was brilliant.

“Her son also said about travelling as a group, ‘We went as strangers and came back as friends’ and that’s exactly what we want to achieve.

“We see it as building a community of people who have mutual experiences and common loves, and we have set up a WhatsApp group for people who are travelling so they can keep in touch afterwards. That’s been a really nice more recent addition to what we do.”

Each trip organised by Accessible Dreams is meticulously planned according to the bespoke needs of the participants.

“We want to take people to places that are unusual and appealing, but on a practical level, we make sure that whichever adventure we go on, there is a great hospital or medical centre nearby, and of course make sure the resort we go to meets our needs exactly.

“The ski resort in France we visit now knows us. They’ve got great resources, but we’ve also made sure their ski instructors are clued up on brain injury and have taught them about brain injury awareness.

“Also, we add in other aspects which are tailored for the group, such as having a rest day after a travel day.

“These are the sorts of things that package holidays don’t really factor in. So we might make a holiday for ten days instead of seven to allow some extra time getting over fatigue.”

Plans are also underway for trips, including those within the UK, that provide a more relaxing alternative to adrenaline-packed holidays.

Nicola is also hoping to arrange high-octane day trips as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

“If someone wanted to do a skydive, for example, we could look at that.

“There are also opportunities for cycling or walking holidays closer to home and we’ve got links to some adapted properties in the UK which could help with that.

“Also, we ran a fantastic ‘sensation’ vacation to France, with some alternative therapists joining us.

“We had good food, aromatic essential oils and all kinds of other things that indulged the senses of taste, touch and smell. That’s something we could look at doing in the UK once we’re allowed to move around again.”

Accessible Dreams has long been in the business of overcoming seemingly unscalable barriers. It looks like the current crisis will be just another challenge it rises to and ultimately leaves for dust on the road to another adventure.

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Interviews

The MS secret that sparked a movement

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“It’s not the cards you’re dealt that matters, it’s how you play them that counts.”

For Jessie Ace, this is a mantra that inspires her every day.

It has helped her overcome her career dreams and confidence being shattered by her multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis, and underpins the positivity that now enables her to inspire so many others with chronic illness around the world.

Through her DISabled to ENabled podcast, Jessie has built a global following of people who turn to her for inspiration, after turning around her life and outlook since being told she had MS at 22.

When the news was delivered, she had just graduated from university, was embarking on a career as an illustrator and had even clinched a book deal.

“I suddenly felt I had lost my purpose,” she says. “I had a degree that meant nothing, the business I’d spent two years painstakingly building up was gone, and I couldn’t be an illustrator which was my dream and what I had loved doing since I was a little girl.

“At first I woke up one morning paralysed down my left side, completely out of the blue, but then later I lost use of my right hand too.

“It was the worst time of my life. As a student, I had these ideas that great things were going to happen, but then it was all over.”

Then came the bewildering search for answers.

“The worst part was not knowing where to turn, or who to turn to. The lack of information about MS in general was really bad, but there was nothing for young people, nothing for a young person to relate to who had just been given this devastating news.

“I knew nothing about MS and the doctor who gave me my diagnosis just told me to Google it.

“There wasn’t even a leaflet, or any advice, recommendations on who to speak to, nothing.

“As you can imagine, I found every negative story there was through my searches online and it was very scary.”

Finding other young people experiencing what she was going through also seemed impossible.

“There are local MS support groups out there, but that did not feel like the place for a 22-year-old to be.

“Everyone else there was much further along in their MS journey, people were in their 50s and some were in wheelchairs, and the outlook immediately became really scary.

“The idea of what I thought my future would be really freaked me out and I became really depressed about it.”

Determined to get on with her life, Jessie took a job as a glass collector in a local club, then went back to university as a student ambassador, before finding a job as a graphic designer in fashion. But all the while, she kept her MS totally to herself.

​“I didn’t tell anyone. You would look at me and think there’s nothing wrong with me as I don’t look ill. That is the thing with hidden illnesses like mine.

“I didn’t want to be pitied, or for people to make judgements, or to say ‘don’t lift that chair’. I just wanted to be me.

“I realised that the five people closest to you can shape your outlook and those around me gave me the support I needed.

“When you have a bad day, to have people close to you telling you that you can do this, you can get through it, tomorrow will be better, is so important.

“I also came across a book called ‘The Miracle Morning’, which helped me to build a positive mindset. My whole perspective on life began to shift.”

Spurred on by her wish to help support young people in her position, and with her new-found positive approach, Jessie began to share her experiences online.

“The way I got started building my confidence was by sharing my story on Facebook Live videos about four years after my diagnosis, while working on a wedding business. I’d never told anyone really about my diagnosis, so that was a scary thing for me.

“I mentioned on a video one day that I had MS and the response astounded me.

“Brides-to-be started asking for my advice for how they could navigate their wedding day with an invisible illness, how they could ‘pretty up’ their wheelchair or even how they could disguise their oxygen tank into their wedding dress.

“Before I knew it, people began reaching out to tell me about their illnesses.

“They said they had not shared their stories with anyone before, because they thought people wouldn’t get it. It gave me an opportunity to help others and helped me come to terms with my own illnesses.

“That was when I realised that my story was bigger than me and that my experiences could help people.” From there, Jessie’s podcast was born, alongside a Facebook group inspirationally-titled ENabled Warriors, which helps newly diagnosed people and provides a forum for those who don’t feel like they fit in with traditional groups.

Through its uplifting approach, thought-provoking content and often celebrity guests, the DISabled to ENabled podcast has become a hugely popular outlet for people young and old, with a loyal and growing following across the world.

“It absolutely makes my day to hear from someone that the podcast has helped them. I have been where many of them are, where they feel it is the end of everything, but sometimes it is just knowing that someone understands, and is there, that can make all the difference.

“Most podcasts like this are American, and I know a lot of people like that we are in the UK.

“Changing the support available for young people with MS is something I feel very strongly about, and we do have a lot of young people who interact with
us, but also a lot of older people too.

“I think for older people they perhaps haven’t had the chance to access something like this, so I know it has been welcomed.

“I want to help people have the confidence and the voice to share their experiences and their stories in the right way, as I know from my own experience how much this can help.”

Jessie, 29, is also teaching people how to make their own podcasts and plans to create a course which helps people to express themselves through writing, social media and the global online community.

She is also about to launch a book for people to use as a diary and planner, to keep a record of relevant information for themselves and medical professionals.

“I’ve created this for people to keep track of how they feel, their medication, hydration and the exercise they’ve done and there are daily sheets to complete.

“This can be really valuable to take to hospital appointments or your healthcare practitioner, instead of having to remember what you did on this specific date, you can have a record of it. It will hopefully lead to more productive appointments and outcomes,” she says.

“I have also taken inspiration from the book that helped me so much, The Miracle Morning. You can visualise how you want your day to go and the person you want to be.

“There are a series of ‘I am’ statements which can help shape your whole outlook for the day – to keep in mind that ‘I am confident’ or ‘I am full of energy’ can help you adapt mentality and give you a renewed focus, instead of thinking you are tired or today isn’t quite what you’d hoped.”

Having established herself as a prominent MS campaigner, Jessie has also become a writer and illustrator – reviving the dream she thought was lost – for many of the world’s biggest MS charities including the National MS Society, MS Society UK, Shift.MS and MS-UK.

She has also illustrated for Momentum magazine, MS Matters and New Pathways. From the dark days of her diagnosis, for Jessie, the future is full of positivity.

“When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t cope. I believed my life was gone. But now, it does feel great to be able to share my experiences with people who are just as scared as I was, and show them there is a way through, you can do this.

“Anyone who knows me will tell you I love quotes, and one that really resonates is ‘It’s not the cards you’re dealt that matters, it’s how you play them that counts.’ I think that’s really important.

“Having MS is not the end of anything, although it may seem it, and you are still capable of doing absolutely anything in life. Sometimes you just have to be a little more creative to learn how to do it. Once you get past that, don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

“Never let anything stop you from what you want to do.”

Listen to Jessie’s podcasts at https://mmini.me/dtepodcast. Her book and planner will also be available via the website https://mmini.me/blog following its launch in April.

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Interviews

Working your way back after injury

Returning to work after a brain injury can be a long and daunting road. Here brain injury survivor Dean Harding discusses his own experiences with Irwin Mitchell employment lawyer Emilie Cole and occupational therapist Mandy Richmond.

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After being assaulted in 1998, Dean Harding’s life was turned upside down. Years of rehabilitation followed to help him cope with his traumatic brain injury. But the world of work seemed a place he would never return to, believing that he “wasn’t capable”.

However, the birth of his son 17 years later changed his whole outlook on life.

“I didn’t want him growing up thinking, ‘why isn’t my dad working?’,” remembers Dean.

“Most people work, or they’re supposed to. It gives me a sense of feeling like a ‘normal’ person, although I’ve still got my disabilities.”

Dean was given a job as a peer support worker with Headway London; helping other people whose lives had been affected by brain injury.

The fact he was now in employment also enabled the purchase of his first house. For Dean, providing for his family in this way, and overcoming his own personal battles, were huge achievements.

“Because of the disabilities, it’s portrayed that you’re useless, you can’t do anything. I don’t know if he was trying to kickstart me into doing something, but my neurologist said I would never have a meaningful job. To me I’ve now got a meaningful life, so I sort of blew him out of the water,” he says.

Emilie Cole, (pictured above, to the left) an employment specialist with Irwin Mitchell, says the ability of someone with a brain injury to secure a job which also takes into account their needs and requirements, is a huge boost.

“The psychological element is probably more important than anything else, that sense of being purposeful, productive and contributing towards society,” she says.

Dean agrees. “I feel more normal. I feel like a member of society. So I can join in conversations where people are talking about work. I just used to sit there and I couldn’t get involved in the conversation because I didn’t work. And now I can get involved.”

Through her role as an occupational therapist, Mandy Richmond works with many people with disabilities to encourage them to return to some form of vocation.  

“I think the best is if there’s a fit between the individual with a disability and the work itself.

“So to me, if there’s a right fit, the psychological benefits would be amazing. If there’s the wrong fit however, if the hours are too long, if their start time is too early, that person with a disability can actually feel under pressure.”

Emilie believes being honest with a potential employer from the first dealings with them is an important place to start.

“I always advise clients to be open and honest and disclose their disability from the outset, then you can talk about what reasonable adjustments you need to support you in the interview and application processes, because legally under the Equality Act you’re covered as an applicant. 

“So not just once you’ve got the job, but also if there were things that need to happen in the interview and with the way the application form is set up to make it easier for you to have a successful potential application, then you should communicate that. And luckily most employers seem to be quite good at that initial stage, in my experience.”  

Once a person with a disability has secured employment, their employer, through the Equality Act, has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support them in the workplace, to remove any substantial disadvantage they face.    

Emilie says: “Often it’s essentially an objective decision. What tends to happen is that occupational health will be involved, medical professionals will be involved, but it will unfortunately come down to the employer to look at what those adjustments are and whether they can reasonably action them in terms of the workplace.

For example, things like a staged return, later start time, earlier finish, breaks, all of that. That should be reasonable in any workplace, quite frankly. The difficulty is sometimes the mismatch between an employer understanding or taking on their responsibilities under the Equality Act and actually doing them to the benefit of that individual.

“Legally once an employer is on notice of your disability, then they have to make reasonable adjustments. But in real life, employers actually expect you to tell them what you need. So if you put it in writing and make it very clear to them what changes need to be made, they’re going to then look really bad if, in six months’ time, they haven’t made those changes.

“And unfortunately that’s where I will frequently come in and try and persuade them as best I can, and often we are able to do that. Sadly in some circumstances we can’t, and that’s where we end up going to the Employment Tribunal.”  

Dean can understand such a situation from his own personal experience.

“From a brain injury perspective, you don’t want to be told you can’t do something. There are many people who have just come out of hospital. They don’t realise the impact of what their brain injury is going to have on them but they want to go back to work full time,” he says.

“They just want to go back to the life they had before, because they can’t come to terms with their new life, that changed forever in 30 seconds, and they’re not willing to accept.

“They can end up in a vicious cycle where the mental health deteriorates, then it has an impact on their family life, and the family life then becomes fragile and broken.”

Mandy agrees. “The individual has to be aware of their own limitations before they can put themselves into that workplace environment. But you get lots of people with post injury who are desperate to get back to work.  

“Very often [brain injured] people I work with have their accident and immediately want to return to work and will actually do that, [but then] cannot cope.”  

Emilie says: “We do have this culture now where a lot of jobs are very stressful, very demanding, and if you can’t cut it, it’s ‘if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen’. I think a lot needs to be done to educate people that actually with someone with a disability, you need to work with and support them in doing that job and not just sort of discard them.”

Mandy adds: “Over the course of my career, of about 25 years, there has been a very positive shift in the UK, towards having a greater understanding of people with disability. I wonder if that also came through from the Paralympic sports and the growth within that industry and people’s attention drawn to that. Although things are not perfect, it’s certainly moving in the right direction.”

For Dean, his life was completely transformed through securing employment, and particularly in such a rewarding role.

“The role I’ve got as a peer support worker as part of the casework team, was made for me. I love it. I go into hospitals and support the families and the person, when they’re tearful I can give them hope. They think, ‘oh, so there is light at the end of the tunnel’. It took me years to get where I got, 17 years to get a job. So never say never.”

Dean, Emilie and Mandy’s discussion was part of a podcast series from Irwin Mitchell. Let’s Talk About It, podcasts for people living with disability – https://www.irwinmitchell.com/letstalkaboutit

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