Tag Archives: discrimination

A Face For Radio …

micI was both overjoyed and terrified to be invited on to the BBC Radio Wales breakfast programme on Monday.

It would be a wonderful opportunity to speak about the short-fare taxi case I’d been involved in and the discrimination disabled people face, but it would also mean I would be speaking live to an awful lot of people.

A taxi collected me first thing; we passed a pleasant journey until he asked my why I was going to be on the radio. ‘Erm, it’s about a taxi driver. Bit awkward.’

At the BBC, I was issued a pass and told to wait. I spent the time admiring the huge Christmas tree and spotting semi-famous names rushing past me. I was then collected and taken to a holding area, overlooking the reception.

I struck up a conversation with Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, who had held her own alongside Nicola Sturgeon in the Brexit debates over the summer. She was waiting to appear on the ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ programme. She is quite possibly the most down to earth, friendly politician I have ever met, surpassing even the amazing Jens Stoltenberg, alongside whom I had marched with in Oslo in 1994 when Norway voted about whether to join the EU or not.

I was finally collected (the taxi was early) and taken to the radio studio and shown the host through a window. I was talked through what would happen. ‘Are you ready?’ they asked.

Erm, no? I was ushered into the main studio where the host chatted about me being on next. And this was it. I was live.

What happened next is a blur, but I listened back later in the day. I think I covered the main points and also mentioned the tricky issue of employment and MS, a real passion of mine. However, I was thrown a curveball when I was asked if I thought Brexit had made a difference to the level of discrimination disabled people face and whether it was acceptable for parents and children to park in disabled spaces.

After it was over, I had some thumbs-up from the staff, said goodbye and jumped in to a taxi back home. He asked me why I was there, and I replied, ‘oh, I was on the radio.’

‘What about?’

Hmm.

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Justice … At Last

carmarthenRegular readers will know I’ve been involved in a case after being refused a short taxi fare in Carmarthen.

Events took a nasty turn when the taxi driver claimed I had lied, which led to the Carmarthenshire Council Licensing Committee requesting I turn up in person yesterday.

I’m not quite sure what I expected, but it wasn’t what followed. After a sixty mile trip from Cardiff, I was shown around the Council chamber before the Committee members arrived. Ah. It looked just like a court room. I was shown where I would sit – all on my own – and then the long row at the front of the hall where the 15-odd Committee members would take their seats.

I was instructed how to turn my microphone on and off, so only one person could speak at a time. Then I freaked. Just a little, but enough for the nerves to bounce around. The members filed in. The case history was read out, including a defence letter from the taxi driver I hadn’t heard in full before.

I was astounded to hear him brand the entire case a ‘fabrication’, which had caused him no end of distress. According to him, I had merely asked for directions, and being the helpful cabby he was, he duly told me. I then decided not to take a taxi, instead telling him I would walk, ‘as it was a nice day’.

I was asked if I wanted to reply before questioning began, so I posed a rhetorical question – ‘would someone like me, with MS, and extreme heat intolerance as a result, decide to walk up a steep hill with a bag and suitcase on one of the hottest days of the year, after an excruciatingly hot and uncomfortable train journey from Cardiff due to a previous cancellation, so two train-loads of people were crammed in to one and there was no air?’

Then the questioning began and it wasn’t pleasant. I was asked to describe the MS treatment I was on, which I did. I was asked to name the date of my last treatment, which I did, although I have no idea why. I was asked to explain how MS affected my every day life. Until I finally cracked and asked why my MS was being so closely questioned. What on earth did this have to do with a taxi driver refusing a short fare? When taxi drivers are formally bound, on being given a license, to agree to take any fare, no matter what the distance.

CCTV images were described to the members. They show a period of almost a minute when I was talking to the driver. A minute is a very long time to hear, ‘up the hill and take a right’. I was seen fumbling in my bag and was asked what I was doing. I answered that I was pulling out paperwork to show the meeting I was going to, then a card I carry in my wallet, which states that I have MS and may need assistance.

Finally, a statement was read out from the receptionist who was on duty at the hotel I was checking in at. She remembered seeing me arrive in a ‘distressed state’ and she had asked me if I needed help. I had explained to her that I had been refused a taxi. Surely this was irrefutable proof? But. The statement ended by saying that after a couple of minutes I went outside.

One Committee member pounced; ‘And why, if the day was so hot, did you then leave the hotel and go outside?’ He sat back, obviously satisfied with his powers of deduction. I asked him if he knew the hotel. ‘Of course’, he answered. I replied, ‘then you know that just outside there are a whole bunch of trees – a beautiful shaded area. Far cooler out there by the trees than inside the hotel? On such a hot day?’

Which took us back to my MS being on trial, not the driver.

Eventually, after being ushered out of the chamber for the members to debate the outcome, I was called back in. They had ‘no hesitation’ in accepting my evidence and that the driver ‘was made aware of my health problems and that his further refusal amounts to a serious aggravating factor’.

One final note. The Committee wanted to suspend him for three weeks. I argued for one. Why?

As I said to the press yesterday, I am not a vindictive person and this was never about punishing someone financially. If I had done, I would have sunk to the level this driver did, when he concocted a web of lies about me and what actually happened. Would I have been a happier person if he had been deprived of three weeks worth of fares in the run up to Christmas?

No. I would have been happier, back in August, if he had accepted my fare. Failing that, an apology and a deeper understanding would have been nice.

Press about this story – BBC and Wales Online. 

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My Parallel Life

smileI often wonder what my parallel life would be like.

We’ve all been there; the dangerous fork in the road at diagnosis.

On the one hand, there is the weight of societal pressure – MS is ‘other’, it’s incurable and  it’s quite often progressive.

On the other hand, there is the relentless, miserable push to fight back, beat it, win the battle that always weighs heavily on our minds.

What should we do?

Conform to that first pressure?

In my case, if I’d done just that, I would have meekly accepted the year-long systematic bullying in work. I could have said, ‘thank you’ when they sacked me for having MS. Of course. I would quite possibly have taken their sage advice, ‘but surely you can live on benefits now?’ ‘We simply can’t have you here, you’re a liability, don’t you understand that?’

Fair play to them, after a meticulously well-planned and devilishly malicious campaign (by three grown adults, I mean, really?), I took my P45 and left. And quickly slid into a black pit of utter despair.

Conversely however (fair play to them) they handed me back a reason for picking myself up. I discovered I still had a single shred of dignity and decided to fight back.

Fast-forward from that awful day in October 2012, I am living a life I love. I took my employer to court and won. Not much, but just enough to take The Teenager to New York to show him where I lived when I was 19. Bizarrely, as part of their settlement, they didn’t ask for non-disclosure. Perhaps they knew I would never sink to their level and to this day, I have never publicly named their company.

Instead, I chose a different life. I kicked back against everything I was expected to be – grateful, humble, diminished. I decided to draw up mind-maps of what I wanted to achieve, despite it all. Funnily enough, I did the same when I was 17 – travel, learn languages, have kids and work out how to wear a beret with panache. I failed the last one. Badly.

So now, at the grand old age of 41 (but apparently I look six months younger), divorced, single mother and living with MS, I take absolute pride in how far I have come. In my ex-boss-led parallel life, I would be scratching around for crumbs of comfort, falling helplessly into a routine of abject nothingness.

It may not be the life I envisaged for myself (those grand plans of hosting literary ‘salons’ in a plush, velvet room in Paris, learning how to make the perfect Martini, doing something – but it’s better than the alternative).

I am not fighting back. I’m not in a war with MS. I am just deciding that what I do now should mean something.

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Grace Under Fire

everything will be ok in the endA year ago today, I was called into the boardroom at work and fired.

No warning, no procedures followed, this was simply the culmination of a terrible year of systematic bullying which began shortly after my disclosure of MS. According to my employers, MS had made me a liability in the office and I was told to leave.

Looking back over that horrific day, I can see just how far I have come. I am no longer that cowed, bullied, humiliated person who got in her car and drove home in a daze, stunned by what had just happened.

This all took place during my MS diagnostic process, itself a torturous time of relapses, waiting, scans and more relapses. So not only was I facing up to a new life with a degenerative illness and all that entails, I was also at my lowest ebb from the relentless bullying meted out by my colleagues.

At first I was too tired to fight back. Bullies are clever. They slowly dismantle your self-esteem bit by bit. Undermining you, they make you doubt yourself and your capabilities. They shift the goalposts so often you can’t keep track. When that doesn’t break you, they will ostracize you, spread lies about you, snigger as you walk past or suddenly stop talking when you enter the room. School yard tactics maybe, but incredibly effective in the workplace.

Fast forward another few months and my employers settled out of court after I launched tribunal proceedings. I’ve been asked many times why I have never named the company or sector I worked in. I’m under no legal obligation not to do so, but I am not a malicious person. To do that would mean sinking to their level, playing them at their own tactics. Why bother? I have walked away with grace, with my head held high.

Instead, I now campaign for MS and employment rights and I try to help others going through similar situations. Isn’t that a better use of my energy than holding on to bitterness and regret? The few times I think about my ex-employers, I feel saddened that these people felt it necessary to bolster their own fragile egos by deliberately inflicting pain on me when I was in such a vulnerable position. I needed support and help back then, not merciless bullying.

That which does not kill you can only make you stronger? A well-worn cliché maybe, but so very true.

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MS, DLA And Work….

MS, DLA and WorkLet’s get one thing straight. DLA is not an out-of-work benefit. In fact, it helps many people with MS stay in work.

The Government and media’s growing focus on ‘fairness for taxpayers’ leads many to believe that disabled people are a separate group who contribute nothing to society.

A Freedom of Information request, published in August this year, stated that the number of working age people receiving DLA is 1,839,000, of which the number of those in employment is 386,000 (21%). There are 127,000 people living with MS in the UK with just 50% of them claiming some form of DLA (63,680).

Working with a variable and unpredictable illness is difficult enough in a recession-hit economy and with hardening, right-wing attitudes towards anyone disabled, it’s no wonder the figures for those with MS in employment are so shocking:

  • Fact – more than 75% of those with MS say their condition has impacted their employment and career opportunities.
  • Fact – up to 80% of people with MS stop working within 15 years of the onset of the condition.
  • Fact – up to 44% of people with MS retire early due to their condition (the European average is 35%).
  • Fact – people with MS lose an average of 18 working years.

As DLA is phased out and replaced with PIP, people with MS will be forced to submit to humiliating re-assessments to check that we are indeed still living with a degenerative, incurable illness. Note the word ‘incurable’. Perhaps the Department of Work and Pensions should be renamed the Department of Miracles?

Working with MS means coping with reduced dexterity, cognitive impairment, limitations in mobility and overwhelming fatigue, among many other symptoms. Coupled with some employers lack of knowledge and understanding of MS and it’s easy to see how staying in the workplace can seem like an uphill struggle.

I’m fortunate. After a hideous year of relentless bullying by my previous employer and colleagues which ultimately led to me being sacked for having MS, I now work for someone who has taken time to learn about the condition yet is also aware of the strengths I can bring to my job.

DLA can make a real difference to people – just ask David Cameron, our venerable Prime Minister. The multi-millionaire (and son of millionaires and son-in-law of millionaires) once claimed it too…

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