First off, I have to say that I have not always used a wheelchair and I am probably not everyone’s idea of a “typical” wheelchair user. I even have to admit that many of the things that I’ve included in this blog post had never even crossed my mind before I succumbed to using a wheelchair myself.
Some background: I am tall (for a woman) at 6ft 1” / 1.85m and therefore was always involved in lots of sports – netball, basketball, football, volleyball. Now this may sound incidental, but it does have a great impact on my experience of being in a wheelchair. First and most obvious, I have always been used to being ‘noticed’ by everyone as I was normally “head and shoulders” above most of my colleagues. This never particularly bothered me, because I was naturally fairly extrovert and gregarious. Now, even in my ‘extra high’ wheelchair (designed specifically to accommodate my long legs) I am at most 4ft high and it really is a completely different world down here! I am much more accessible for children/toddlers to see face-to-face (which has opened up many more opportunities for ‘chats’, smiles etc.), but it’s also meant that I’m far more likely to be overlooked/ignored by other adults and I mean that literally! So yes, for me personally the biggest change has been “emotional” and therefore largely invisible. (I now hope you understand the relevance of the cartoon at the beginning of this post / it’s not just for fun – I AM A PERSON).
Now that’s the emotional baggage out of the way – let’s get on with the practicalities of life in a wheelchair.
The UK IPO has supported (and been actively involved in) IP Inclusive since the group was formed in early 2015, and is a signatory of the IP Inclusive Charter for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Like all our Charter signatories, the UK IPO is committed to creating a diverse, equal and inclusive workplace, and we were pleased to learn about the UK IPO's progress so far via an intern's recent blog post.
Sophia, an intern at the IPO, has blogged about her experience and her discovery that workplaces really can be disability-friendly, welcoming, and inclusive. She notes that the IPO offers flexible working and flexitime as part of their inclusivity initiatives, and her positive experience at the IPO has given her the confidence to enter the world of work after she graduates. You can read her blog post and more about the IPO's diversity and inclusion work here.
We would love to hear what the other 70 Charter signatories are doing to improve diversity, equality and inclusion: please email us if you have a story to share!