Wednesday 12 August 2015

Freedom From Convention

To varying degrees, life, the way society is structured, our laws and processes, all to some extent limit people with disabilities, and particularly in my experience with epilepsy. It's a frustration that almost every single individual who has epilepsy lives with on a daily basis, and probably for the rest of their life. Even individuals like myself and my friends, are still prevented from doing jobs, not obviously an issue for someone with epilepsy, because of organisational 'convenience'. To say it's frustrating would be an understatement. Constantly told that you can't even apply for a role is hugely demoralising, because it's human nature to have a role in life.

If you can't express yourself through your career, then how do you express yourself in a valued way?

I find it interesting that art is considered 'a therapy' for people with disabilities. But the reality is that it could be far more that just a therapy, the next great artist could be disabled and creating incredible paintings. They need the tools and the conditions to do it in though.
I believe everyone has an aptitude in some way, but it's not obvious when there's processes in place that value certain aptitudes in life and smother other individuals from being able to express theirs. Steven Hawking for example, despite his disability, has found an outlet, which has allowed him to change the world. But imagine, if instead of the technology that enables him to express himself, he was prevented from speaking. Imagine if he was treated differently and if it's possible that there could be other incredible minds in similar situations that don't have a voice?

I was never going to be an incredible intellect despite a very high IQ, but have found other outlets for my own aptitudes. I have a reasonably good sporting ability and the ability to draw. I have as it turns out, a strong spacial awareness, because as I now know from the testing which was done because of my epilepsy, I have a very visual brain. So it has allowed me knowing that, to develop a strategy for studying and to improve my memory. But because of the limitations I'm faced with, I can't help develop new ideas in jobs where my love of finding solutions and developing strategy, because exam conditions only suit certain ways of learning, or even simply because of legal discrimination.

The frustration that creates, for anyone who is in my position, stems from that desire to find an outlet to express abilities and aptitudes. My bike is therefore not only a tool for tackling stigma, but the outlet which is free from laws, exams, controls etc, which would otherwise prevent me from expressing myself through it. Riding is a way of feeling satisfied in myself, that I'm pushing my abilities to the limit, that I can achieve my own potential in something.

We might not know where our potential lies, but when we live in a society where we have a situation manufactured so that certain individuals can't even test that potential, then it becomes discrimination.

Take for example, the ease by which so many organisations can discriminate against a number of disabilities, by putting 'driving' as an essential requirement. Not least epilepsy.
In the UK, there is absolutely no law that prevents this from happening. I had hoped, that I could help, by becoming a Councillor in Glasgow. But unfortunately, individuals which are so well talked about in the media at the top of political organisations are far more interesting for the media to cover, than young potential politicians, with a hope to make real change for people who could need it the most. So the conditions weren't favourable to be elected because I stood for the Scottish Labour Party.

The one aptitude, if you could call it that, that my epilepsy has created in me, that wouldn't have otherwise been there however, is resilience. So I'm keeping fighting to try and affect change in a small area, that could be life-changing for some. I'll continue to use any influence I have to affect change in the law around discrimination on the basis of convenience for organisations to hire someone with a driving licence. A job for example within Business Development, or ironically commonly within Sport, could be filled by an extraordinary candidate, like so many friends I know with epilepsy. They could be more qualified, more apt and doing the role than those people who actually apply and because of that, those companies would be missing out.

It has to change, however much work it may take to achieve that change.

So as long as I have a pulse, I'll be working towards that change and other projects like breaking the women's 24 hour track cycling WR. The resilience that epilepsy nurtured in me is something I'm incredibly thankful for. It can't be taken away from me and if I have it, then I believe I have a duty to use it for good.

We can break down barriers that prevent people from achieving their potential, but in order to do that, we have to make sure that those who can change the laws, processes and conventions, understand what it's like to walk in the shoes of those who are let down by the system.