Why Anger at Injustice Changed My Life for Ever; How Do Disabled People Cope with Prejudice in the Modern Workplace? Justine Speller Meets a Man Who Has Overcome More Than Most

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

Why Anger at Injustice Changed My Life for Ever; How Do Disabled People Cope with Prejudice in the Modern Workplace? Justine Speller Meets a Man Who Has Overcome More Than Most


Byline: JUSTINE SPELLER

DAVID Morris is confined to a wheelchair and needs to have a personal assistant 24 hours a day. Since birth, he has had spinal muscular atrophy, which means his muscular system doesn't function as it should and worsens in time.

He cannot walk and has very limited use of his arms.

But while David, 45, has physical limitations, there is nothing wrong with his brain.

He is sharp and articulate and, since leaving university with an honours degree in history and Russian, he has hardly ever been out of a job.

Why, then, does he feel that he has been a victim of prejudice, both in education and the workplace?

Firstly, he had to find a university with the right facilities. "I was relieved to have been offered a place at Nottingham as it was the only place that could provide me with personal assistance.

"There were certain activities that I couldn't take part in because of the way the campus was designed. For example, the student common room, where everybody socialised, was on the second floor and therefore out of bounds to me.

"Things like this did make it harder to bond with people.

But I ended up forming my own group of friends - even if they were mostly punks and dropouts."

AFTER leaving university, David's first job was as an executive officer in the civil service. For six years he worked in a number of departments. But then he hit a dead-end. "My goal was to work with the public but I was told that as a disabled person it wouldn't be appropriate."

He was offered what he calls a "non-job".

"It wasn't going anywhere. I was isolated as they put me in an office by myself. There was no chance of progressing up the career ladder and at that time there was no support structure for disabled people.

"I knew I had become a problem to my employers: they didn't know what to do with me. So they offered me a medical retirement package, which, at the time, seemed like my only option." David took a year off then set up his own organisation, Independent Living Alternatives, which provides personal assistance for disabled people.

It was his experience in the civil service that ended up shaping his future career.

"What I went through gave me a level of anger that actually made me go down the career route of equal rights for the disabled."

Since August 2002, he has been senior coordinator of disability equality at City Hall. He is responsible for raising the profile of disability issues in London. "What I enjoy most about my job is challenging discrimination and, because I'm personally connected to the work I do, I am passionate about it.

"I am working on a project called Disability Capital. It's an initiat ive that was launched by the mayor and aims to find out about disabled people's everyday experience of living in the capital, what barriers exist and how we can best move towards an accessible and inclusive city. …

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