Being a Senior Tuberculosis Consultant with MS.

Kathy Fieckert has multiple sclerosis (MS) and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). She is a full time wheelchair user but that hasn’t stopped her becoming a senior tuberculosis consultant and working all over the world in the field of infectious diseases.

Name: Kathy Fiekert

The employment/study you proved possible…: 

I’ve studied the following qualifications:

  • MSc in Control of Infectious diseases
  • Diploma in Community Health & Development
  • Diploma in General Nursing
  • various certificates (e.g. Tropical Medicine, basic medical laboratory examinations, relief and development programme management, etc.)

I am currently working as a Senior Tuberculosis Consultant at the KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation (providing consultancies and assistance to Ministries of Health worldwide).

Your disability in your own words…: 

I have Multiple Sclerosis and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (a congenital disorder of the connective tissue causing joint instability, hypermobility and frequent dislocations). I rely on a wheelchair full-time.

What did you need to do in order to make this employment/study possible alongside your disability? What obstacles did you have to negotiate and how?:

It takes tenacity and creativity. My job requires long hours and a lot of long-distance travel. Accessibility is often a problem, but I have discovered that people abroad are almost always very keen to help and find creative solutions to overcoming accessibility issues. The biggest worry when traveling is that the wheelchair and assistive equipments survives the airport luggage handling and gets to the destination without damage. However, there are loads of brilliant new mobility assistive devices available (e.g. My wheelchair folds small enough to fit into the overhead locker, and I have a power assist attachment) – I have dictation software on my computer to prevent repetitive stress injuries (typing on the computer) to my hands. At university there were many assistance options available to help disabled students (e.g. longer time for written exams, or a writer one could dictate to).

It is important to get well informed as to what is available and what ones rights are-then being persistent in asking for it! 🙂

What advice would you give to someone just starting this journey?:

Inform yourself, what your rights are and what is available out there. Keep pushing the boundaries – that is how we improve access and possibilities for everyone (it is gettting easier).

Don’t take no for an answer – if you want to do it – do it (it might take several tries, but do not give up).

Do not hesitate to ask other people for advice (especially people who have similar hurdles to overcome – it is often the little tips and tricks we can teach each other, that make all the difference).

Share your experience with others.

Your education provider.:

I have studied in many places (including India and Ethiopia) – but my post-graduate studies were taken at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London.

You can find Kathy Fiekert on Linkedin.

Studying Special Needs and Inclusion Studies with a Visual Impairment

Lacey is completely blind and is studying Special Needs and Inclusion Studies.

The study you proved possible…: 
I am halfway through an under graduate degree in Special Needs and Inclusion Studies.

Your disability in your own words…: 

I am blind with no light perception. 

What did you need to do in order to make this study possible alongside your disability? What obstacles did you have to negotiate and how?: 

The theory of the degree isn’t challenging from a disability perspective but making the university aware of your disability really helps to make the process of accessing the course run a lot smoother in general. One obstacle for me is applying the degree I am studying into practice. Because my degree involves the potential to work with children or those with challenging behaviour or communication difficulties, I have had to be realistic and make quite clear that I need to get a placement where I can be an effective worker. Other than that, encouraging children to be descriptive when describing a project they are working on or getting a child to spell out a word when reading are useful tips. I am naturally an quietly spoken person so working in small groups where I can get to know the people really helps me to participate, regardless of the situation. Also, using employment/volunteering support really helped me over my uncertainty, because even if they don’t have much knowledge on disability, they can help in talking to organisations which makes the disability excuse a little less plausable if you’ve got the university behind you. . However, selecting a university where the disability and volunteering and academic staff are supportive is the most crucial thing to get right. If you apply for a university and you get the impression that they don’t appear very accommodating, the chances are that they won’t be making your life any easier if you are having a disability related problem. 

What advice would you give to someone just starting this journey?: 

I could advise a lot of things, like preparing ahead, communicating with lecturers, being organised, but these aren’t always possible and let’s face it… I’m still learning half of what blind and visually impaired students advise.But the most important thing is to be yourself. Ask for help when you need it, and politely refuse offered help when you don’t. Other than that, start the journey with an open mind and be prepared for anything. Also, it is ok to admit that you are still learning and sometimes, an answer to a problem or a way round an accessibility issue is an unknown to you in that exact moment. And most importantly, study something you want to do, not just because it’s something disabled people can do. 

Your education provider.: 

University of Wolverhampton.

Studying Nursing and Being a Carer with Mental Illness and Low Vision

Emma-Louise Little works and studies in Melbourne Australia. She has low vision and various mental illnesses. Below is her entry to Proved Possible:

Social Media Links:@eatwell.feelwell

The employment/study you proved possible…:

I’m in my last semester of Nursing and hope to specialise in Mental Health. I also work part time as a carer in a nursing home.

Your disability in your own words…:

I was born with congenital nystagmus and was classified as legally blind. I am now 20 and deemed as “low vision” but still have various difficulties with my vision on a day to day basis.
I also suffer from various mental illnesses; Anorexia Nervosa, Schizoaffective Disorder (bipolar subtype) and Post traumatic stress disorder. I have been in and out of hospital since the age of 11, and have just recently been discharged from another inpatient stay of 14 weeks in hospital and received TMS and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy).

What did you need to do in order to make this employment/study possible alongside your disability? What obstacles did you have to negotiate and how?:

With university, I am in contact with the Disability support services there. They provide me with additional vision aids, private rooms and extra time for exams as well as enlarged documents which all help a lot. I also always have my computer with me in lectures which have the lecture PowerPoint on it so I can see the notes and what they are talking about etc.
With work, I’m very fortunate to have a very supportive and understanding manager who is very mindful of my disabilities and is flexible with my roster when needed. Sometimes it is hard to come by someone so accepting and lovely, but it is possible!

What advice would you give to someone just starting this journey?:

As corny as it sounds, seriously never give up on your dreams and aspirations. Never take “can’t” or “no” for an answer. ANYTHING is possible- it make take having some extra support, having some extra adjustments, but there’s always a way around obstacles.
A motto I live by is: “prove them wrong”. It’s the best, most satisfying feeling in the world. You can do this. x

Your education provider.: Holmesglen Institute. (Melbourne, Australia)

If you are in or have completed higher education or are in or have been in employment, why not contribute to Proved Possible?

Being a Commissioning Support Officer with a Visual Impairment

Meg is registered blind with no vision and works as a commissioning support officer for her county council.

 The employment/study you proved possible…: Commissioning Support Officer for a County Council

Your disability in your own words…: I’m registered blind and have no vision.
What did you need to do in order to make this employment/study possible alongside your disability? What obstacles did you have to negotiate and how?:

I work as a Commissioning Support Officer for a local council. My area is in physical disability and sensory impairment which means looking at how the council spends money on people with disabilities. It’s interesting work as it involves listening to the voices of people with disabilities, carers and professionals and then working to ensure that these voices are heard by the people that matter.

In terms of looking for employment, you have to be adaptable, resourceful and resilient. Many people with disabilities have different opinions about how and when to disclose your impairment. I personally don’t mention it until I’ve been offered an interview which means making sure that there is no reference to my disability on my cv. I then ask about the interview process rather than immediately plunging in to ask about adjustments. During the interview itself, it is useful to volunteer your work arounds and solutions you use to complete tasks. Make a point of emphasising how adaptable that makes you as a person. Adaptability is a skill most employers look for. I found that unsuccessful interviews and applications help you build up a portfolio of experience that serves you well when applying for future jobs. I had an interview where I was purely asked questions about my guide dog. I answered them all well but neither the dog or I got the job! Life isn’t a textbook and we become stronger people for it.

When I left school, I decided to take a gap year. I had enjoyed the German exchange I participated in through my German A Level – in fact, I loved it so much that I decided I wanted to live there! I arranged an appointment with the Headmaster of the German partner school and told him about my wish to teach English. He was kind enough to agree that this was a good idea; not only that, but he arranged a flat for me to live in during my year abroad. He also found me a mentor and agreed to pay me a small wage each month. That year was one of the best in my life and I found teaching English as a foreign language to be incredibly rewarding. I’m a big advocator for gap years. Providing you have a plan of what you want to do, they are a great idea. It’s a way for you to develop character-building experiences before job hunting or going back into education. If you want to take a year out, my advice is to research it, plan it,, and work to make it happen!

What advice would you give to someone just starting this journey?: 

Consider a favourite quote of mine:

‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself only, what am I? If not now, when?’

Being a Teacher and a Wheelchair User

Sarah studied a PGCE at the University of Nottingham and became a lecturer/teacher at the same time as a chronic digestive disorder led to her needing a wheelchair.

The employment/study you proved possible…
I studied a PGCE and I am now a college lecturer / teacher. I was in a wheelchair while at university, on and off for the first several years of my career.

Your disability in your own words…: 
I have a chronic illness which has confined me to a wheelchair for several years. 

What did you need to do in order to make this employment/study possible alongside your disability? What obstacles did you have to negotiate and how?: 

Having been able-bodied and physically active up until age 22 then suddenly chronically ill and disabled it was a horrific adjustment to make. I had to adjust within my own mind which was hard, and to adjust to people looking at me as though they were wondering whether I was “all there”. There were places I used to go to which were now inaccessible. However generally speaking in academia and the workplace, people were very accommodating and helpful.

To succeed I became more confident and outspoken; I think I was trying to prove to myself and others that I wasn’t on the course / in the job out of pity or positive discrimination, but rather, because I was actually really good at it.

What advice would you give to someone just starting this journey?:

There will be times when you don’t get onto a course, or you don’t get a job. It happens to everybody. The chance of it may be higher because of your disability, but you are quite capable of working, so keep trying and you will succeed. Temporary work is a great “foot in the door” so take every opportunity you can to be employed (actually that’s good advice for anyone, disabled or not).

Also, be realistic. It’s nice to think that anyone with any disability can do anything, but if you’re visually impaired, don’t set your heart on being a lifeguard, and if you’re in a wheelchair, rethink the plans to become a firefighter. There are many great jobs around if you pick wisely.

If you have a disability and have been\are in employment, or have studied at degree level; why not submit to Proved Possible?