Touching Lives - March 2006
My story - An adult perspective
“When I’m asked how cerebral palsy has affected me, I always have to think about my answer carefully, because there is very little that I can’t do”, Julie says.
And when you learn that Julie is a working mother of two, living in Surrey with her husband, daughters aged nine and 13, two cats and a hamster, you realise that this must be true!
Julie’s cerebral palsy was spotted just a few days after she was born. “My walking is very slow and I tire easily, and my arms and hands are affected which makes things like writing difficult. The part of my disability that really impacts on my daily life is my speech impairment. People who do not know me very well find it difficult to follow what I’m saying and I often have to rely on those that do to translate for me.”
But none of this has prevented Julie from getting what she wants out of life - even if it hasn’t always been easy.
Julie grew up in Nottinghamshire and attended a school for disabled pupils. “As a young disabled person about to leave school, opportunities for the future seemed rather bleak.” Julie recalls, “My school did very little to inspire their students academically.”
Fortunately for Julie, a psychologist at the school had spotted her potential and set her on the road to academia. Julie went to Coventry to study A-levels at a residential college for disabled people, where she met her now-husband Michael, who also has cerebral palsy. “After leaving college we both went to University - me in Hull and Michael in Warwick. We spent the next three years travelling back and forth to visit each other.”
After graduating, Julie began looking for work quickly found a job at a rehabilitation centre for disabled people. Progressing up the ladder, however, proved trickier. “I had been working at the centre for two years and I decided to apply for the post of Deputy Manager. It took me three attempts before I finally got it.”
Two years later, Julie and Michael started their family, and in June 1992, daughter number one came into their world. ^”I remember lying in hospital the night before I was due to go home with my newborn baby thinking ‘Oh my. What have I done? How will I manage?’”^
But once they arrived home, the Turners settled comfortably into family life. In 1996 Julie gave birth to the couple’s second daughter, and when she started pre-school, Julie’s mind turned towards getting back into work.
Julie had experience in working with other people with disabilities, and thought that volunteering would be a good way of easing herself in, and building up skills to enhance her CV - but it wasn’t that simple.
“I was shocked by the attitudes I came across. Able-bodied people just seemed unable to see past my disability and I had to fight to give my skills away! For example, I went to look around a day centre for people with learning difficulties. It seemed to go well, but a few days later I received a letter of rejection that reduced me to tears.”
Fighting for rights
Julie successfully challenged this decision, and made a valuable contribution through her voluntary work there. In 2002 Julie found herself again fighting for her rights, this time through The Disability Discrimination Act.
In 2001, Julie applied for a job as a Teaching Assistant at a college for students with learning difficulties. She was interviewed, and although she did not get the job, was led to believe that she would have been second choice.
However, when Julie asked about opportunities for volunteering at the college, she was surprised by the response. “Amazingly, they said that they did not need any volunteers. This was after I’d been told what a good idea it was and that they were looking at other ways of utilising my skills.” Julie was puzzled by the mixed messages, but didn’t pursue it further.
A year later the job was advertised again. The selection criteria were almost the same, so Julie decided to re-apply. It was somewhat of a surprise when she received a letter stating that she had not been short-listed for interview.
Julie recalls, “I was very upset. I knew full well I had the right qualifications and experience. This time I couldn’t just sit back and accept their decision.”
Julie sought the help of the Disability Rights Commission, and was assigned a case worker to look at whether the college’s prior knowledge of her disability contributed to their decision not to offer her an interview. The Commission agreed to fund Julie’s legal representation at an industrial tribunal. “I am told that this does not happen very often, so I was over the moon.”
After twice postponing the hearing, the college offered Julie an out-of-court settlement, purely financial without any form of apology, which she rejected. A second offer was made, this time with an apology, but also a ‘no publicity’ clause attached.
“Being able to publicise this case was important for me because ^I hoped it would encourage other people to bring discrimination to the fore. It also sends an important message to employers - disabled people will not tolerate discrimination.^” A third offer, allowing Julie to speak publicly about her experience, was finally accepted. A real victory for herself and the disabled community.
Julie is now employed as an outreach worker for her local Direct Payment Scheme, which allows disabled and vulnerable people to make their own care arrangements. The role is varied and Julie loves it, but her disability does present some challenges in the work-place, so Julie is helped by a support worker. “This has put me on an even footing with other professionals. I no longer have to worry about how I will be received, and I can carry out my work without relying on colleagues for help.”
At home Julie is fully independent. “I can do most personal and domestic chores, albeit a little slower than other people, but if it takes me ten minutes to chop an onion, that’s just the way it is.”
Michael works from home, so between them they are able to juggle the school runs and general care of the children. Free time is precious and mostly spent with the girls, but Julie does manage to find some time for herself. “I’m a big reader, I like working in the garden, love eating out and getting together with friends, and travelling. I also go to the gym and swim once a week…” As Julie says, there really is very little that she doesn’t do.