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Why hiring a disabled member of staff was brilliant for our practice

1 August 2018

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I have been through plenty of change and trauma in my life but nothing rocked me as much as someone saying that I had a ‘significant learning difficulty.’
I was diagnosed during adult education as being dyslexic. I was in my 30s and had a good job, a mortgage, passed my GCSEs, A- Levels and had obtained a degree. How had I got through all that if I had a learning difficulty? I was baffled.
That diagnosis really changed my life. I realised that actually many of us have a difficulty of some sort that we compensate for.  I had always just thought I was in a rush to do things which is why I got letters backwards and at school I was always just a bad speller.
My personality compensated  for it at school – I was a good talker and was also in one of the first years to do GCSEs,  which meant that there was less emphasis on exams and more on coursework, which fitted my skills.
Early on in my practice management career I wanted to appoint an apprentice. I got in touch with an agency and they sent me five candidates. They were all really good, but one of them stood out. Neil had a huge smile, great attitude and a positive outlook on life. I knew straight away that he would fit into the team and would also be loved by the patients.
Sounds like I should have snapped him up? Well yes, in theory. However, Neil is a wheelchair user and has a life limiting illness called Friedreich’s ataxia. I had never heard of the condition, and had never interviewed someone with a declared physical disability. I’ll be honest, I was worried what the impact would be on the workplace and the team and took a day to think about it. 
I thought about access – it was good, we are in a new build with no issues around parking or getting up the stairs and our lifts were already in place. So what was it that made me stop and think? I guess it was just because it was something different, Neil was someone different, but actually, aren’t we all?
We all have different personalities, different commitments outside of work and different work ethics. I already knew from the interview that he had the right personality and work ethic . It was really one of those no-brainer situations, but I took 24 hours to decide. I guess deep down I know that although I took just a day to think about it, this was still too long.
Neil has now been with us for three years, he doesn’t have time off sick, he has hospital appointments that he arranges outside of work, and he has now gained some independence passing his driving test and moving out of his family home. All because of the freedom and confidence that a job in the NHS has given him. He is an important member of our team and has named himself ‘Neils on Wheels.’  The atmosphere in the practice has changed completely and that is due to him.
Physical and mental difficulties can affect many of us  –some are visible, some are not. My opinion is that we should view people as individuals and focus on their positive attributes rather than the negatives. With this in mind, I can confidently say that Neil is the best appointment our practice has ever made.
Kay Keane is business manager at the Alvanley Family Practice