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Wednesday, 07 January 2015 00:00

Let’s Talk Discrimination in the Workplace

I work at a job I absolutely love and adore.  

I love all of my co-workers, I love the people, I love the ‘perks’ and just what I do in general.  I have been at this organization for 7 years and have had 3 bosses and 1 “filler boss” (maternity cover) while one was away on Maternity Leave and many co-workers have come and gone,  (It’s not a bad place to work, but when you’re in a small town, it’s hard to find good employees at a non-profit.)

A few years ago we had a “Filler Boss” who came in to fill a Maternity Leave position for a year.  
As a ‘disabled’ person I always get kind of nervous meeting a new boss, or starting at a new place – because honestly – you don’t know how people are going to react or respond to you once they find out that you have Usher Syndrome.  I didn’t think it would be this bad though.  
Never in my life have I ever been treated so bad and lowly as I was during the 9 months he was there.  And I have a big sister.

After the first introductions to the staff my pregnant boss explained that I had a hearing loss and talking with my back to you just did not work.  More or less giving a respectful heads up.  

Immediately after she left it was apparent he did not pay attention or care about her advice.  He would constantly walk up behind me and then start talking – getting upset when I wouldn’t respond or would walk away.  He also would startle me.  Even though it had been explained to him I had Usher Syndrome and what that was, he still would walk up in my blind spots and startle me and act like it was a huge shock when I would tell him not to.
It was incredibly frustrating and embarrassing.  But I figured he was just a moron and just didn’t get it.  Because let’s face it, there are ignorant people out there, and no matter what you say or do, they just don’t get it.  But it just got worse.

Every other year the company attends a job fair of sorts and volunteers were needed.  I needed the extra hours and cash so I volunteered to go.  Never having gone before I was unsure of the dress code.  Casual? Business? Business casual?  
So I asked. 
I was told to cover up my cleavage.  That was it. 
I’ve grown up a busty girl, no matter what I wore I have cleavage.  And trust me, I didn’t show it off.  I was so self-conscious and embarrassed about being big breasted that I would do anything I could to cover up.  So obviously this comment upset me, and was really not warranted.  Not only was he a male saying this to me, he was a male boss, but this was also spoken on the main floor of the organization and was overheard by many people including other staff who were equally as shocked.
After thinking about it, reading policy, laws and encouragement from family, I filed a complaint. 
His response word for word handwritten on a letterhead was “I am sorry I hurt your feelings.”

Whatever.  He’s a dick.  So I figured that was it.

Then he began to ask me into his office with the lights off.  He would have one of my co-workers come get me, and I would go to his office and he would be sitting in there with just the computer screen on.  The first time I refused to enter he acted like he was confused.  I had explained my Usher Syndrome plenty of times before this and explained the whole night vision thing.  So once again, I told him I didn’t have night vision and that I wouldn’t be able to find my way to the desk safely. But not only that, it was inappropriate for him to ask female employees into a dark office.   He told me to turn on the light. I responded by saying if I can’t see your desk, how am I going to find a light switch?  Get up and do it yourself.

I’d love to say that from then on out, he would have the light on.  But no, every time I was “summoned” the light was off.

Eventually he took away all of my job duties, so I was only able to do the bare basics.  There were programs I had created and implemented with a very high success rate (they were one of the highest attended programs at the time.)  But because he didn’t feel I was capable he passed it on to another employee.  He also explained that technically doing these programs was not listed in my job description, so I wasn’t allowed to do half of the duties I was currently doing.  

The he got my co-workers involved, and they were told to report to him every time I did something wrong, made a comment…anything really.  If I rubbed someone the wrong way, they were to report it to him.  I still don’t know what the point of this was.  I don’t know if he was keeping a file or what.  Eventually I began to record all the work I was doing, keeping track of times I was doing certain things, and wrote down every single conversation I ever had with him.  I had to.  I didn’t know if anything I said or did was going to be used against me in some way, shape or form.

I began to feel sick about going to work, and hated going.  My fiancé had to pick me up from work one day because I had an anxiety attack. I was seeing spots, couldn’t breathe and shaking like a leaf.  Once I was out of the parking lot of, it stopped.  My family eventually made me go to my family doctor.  I’ll admit, I was hoping he would put me on stress leave and I wouldn’t have to deal with this anymore.  But he thankfully didn’t.  He gave me a series of tests, all of which came back showing that I was depressed and had sever anxiety.  He wanted to medicate me, but I don’t like taking pills.  So he suggested I go to counselling.  The lady I had was amazing and gave me some very useful suggestions.  But I think even just having someone who wasn’t family to talk to really helped.  She and my doctor would periodically remind me that I could take pills to help with everything, but I felt that if I did that, it would be letting him win.

After some urging from my fiancé and family I filed another complaint, and this time I submitted to the board as well.  I included my job description, all my programs (the one’s I created as well as other regular programs.) along with the stats from each program, all my employee reviews, all emails between the jerk-off and myself and whatever I could think of.  I mailed a copy to the head of the house of the board chair, so I knew he would get it and gave a copy to the acting boss.

He quit.


Monday, 24 November 2014 00:00

Falling Into The Darkness

This was another day in my life when Ushers Syndrome had well and truly won.

I’d had my shop for three years after struggling with the demons in my head after taking my redundancy. I’d started a shop selling wallpapers and soft furnishings, I’d had a huge build up of emotions. I’d ran the shop for three years, but Ushers was taking over.

It was becoming harder and I was now on the waiting list for a guide dog.

The shop landlord wanted me to commit to another three year lease and also to increase my rent. The time had come to sell up and ship out. My heart was heavy, anybody that knows me will be sure to tell you I don’t do things half heartedly, either all or nothing as if i have a massive point to prove. Turns out all my Usher / RP friends feel the same, as if they struggle for acceptance in the normal world. But what is the normal world?

Back to the Thursday 13th of June 2013, I’d managed to sell most of my stock and had a date to be out of the premises, it was in the two weeks time on a Saturday. I’d managed to sell off lots of stock, but had to get rid of the fittings shelvings etc, this had all been made up in the shop and was too big to take out of the front door. I’d sold some of the display boxes I’d had made for my wallpaper. I’d sold two lots of twenty boxes (these were pretty heavy and made from MDF).

My shop closed at 17:30, so i made arrangements for the display boxes to be collected after that- as you can imagine, middle of June it was a lovely night and quite dazzling on my damaged eyes. I told the guy to bring help but he didn’t and if the truth be told, I didn’t feel comfortable about the whole thing from the word go. The only way out was to slide them along the floor, out the rear fire exit door, then lower them off the flat roof the the van below (which was ten and a half feet). My partner and her father arrived. They watched on the ground as me and the other guy slid them along the roof tied ropes around them, then proceeded to lower them down. It wasn’t easy but we did it.

Thank goddness I thought, took one step back and fell ten and a half feet, I hadn’t seen the hole in the corner. It was a rectangle about eight feet long by three feet wide, but someone had bricked up the wall. So not only had I fallene, but I had no way out!

When I fell I guess I was very lucky, as I had landed on my feet and quickly pulled myself together, but when I fell I didn’t feel right,  I’d hit the floor with my hand and elbowed myself in the ribs. Also my glasses had fell off I searched about all the time, all the time I could hear people screaming my name, asking if I was ok. Then as I tried to pick up my glasses with my right hand I felt pain, I’d never felt pain like this in a very long time. I looked again, my right hand had in fact snapped off the end of my arm. I felt physically chlaustrophobic, how the hell can i get out? I thought. I didn’t want to panic anybody, I yelled “I’m ok, I’ve just broken my wrist I think”. Even though I knew I’d done more than just break it. There was lots of panic on the other side of the wall, as they decided to go and get ladders. I should of dialled 999, but I guess it was the Usher /RP that stopped me!

I went for the hard option rather than embarass myself. It felt like an eternity, all the time I was trying to stay awake and talk to my partner’s father on the other side of the wall, I’d even managed to call up A&E and book myself in.

Eventually, the ladders arrived along with a squad of helpers. One thing I didn’t want or need was someone to remind me about RP/Ushers and how I shouldn’t have even attempted this job in the first place. The ladders were now lowered and I was up the ladder before anybody got one foot on the rung, then the ladders were dropped over the other side of the wall. This time they demanded someone went before me, by this time they’d all seen my hand and how yellow i was becoming. They took forever to get me down. I jumped in the car only to be met by a hundred questions. I knew it was bad, because I couldn’t even put the seatbelt on and my partner wanted to throw up. It was a long, very long couple of miles to the hospital. I even called A&E again: “Hi it’s Colin, we are on our way”.

We arrived in A&E only to be met with a glowing, friendly smile and a wheelchair. It was Mark, a guy who used to work for me many years ago. He was brilliant. He took me to A&E and got me x-rayed and scanned, he then told me it wasn’t looking good and would have to reset, but there was splinters. So now I had everybody off the ward as an audience. He injected my hand twice, held my shoulders, and popped my wrist back on the end of my arm. Next I got a million questions about the incident and what did I say? I fell over the back door step, I guess I did this to hide the embarassment of RP Ushers.

I was on very large doses of pain killers and liquid morphine and very very tired. I was admitted to the ward and constantly fussed over by everybody. To be honest I hate that, especially as I kept thinking this is your own bloody fault, and that damned Usher Syndrome got me again!

The medical staff were great. They talked in detail about me but I was with the fairies on morphine, only to wake up two days later to find they couldn’t operate on me in Dumfries, but wanted the top man in Scotland to do it: Mr. Hamed at Gartnavel, Glasgow. They offered me a taxi, but I declined. I arranged my mother and father to take me up. Now I faced a further five days in a single room with Ushers, I was more concerned about that than my hand. I was met by the great man himself, a young guy and a good sense of humour. I was gowned up and ready to go, he said “ It says you fell over the back door step. Now tell me what really happened?”. So I did,  I explained about my vision. He promised to try his best, as long as I stayed off roofs and tried hard on my physio.

After a couple of days, he came to see me. He said “You’re a lucky boy, you have 12 titanium pins, but I don’t think you’ll ever get full movement”. Before I left he sent me to physio. They told me five exercises ten times each, three times a day and stay off work for at least six weeks. So off I went back home.

The next day I was at work I had to wind things up, it was very hard. But I did it. I also kept doing my exercises all day. Finally the day came to empty the shop, it was a huge relief and felt right at the time. As if someone was telling me to behave, enough is enough. So I continued my exercises and went back to Mr. Hamed after six weeks he said “how are you doing?” He just laughed. “No more roofs for you. Your wrist is about three inches wide, your neck is half an inch, you’re one lucky boy”. He then laid the backs of his hands on his desk and said “You’ll never ever get this movement back”. I did the same and he was shocked. I told him “You made a promise and I made you one”. I guess I was so mad at the situation, I felt I owed him for wasting his time and being such a fool.

Well I guess the moral of the story is don’t be too proud to let others help, sometimes it is better to just walk away. Life is too precious.