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Disability Awareness & Inclusion Series - Episode 3: Living with multiple sclerosis (MS)

During our filming for Disability Awareness & Inclusion Training, we found some time to sit down and speak with each of our actors to gain an understanding of their lives living with a disability.

In Episode 3 of our Disability Awareness & Inclusion Series, we spoke with Chris Houston to learn all about him and his life living with multiple sclerosis (MS). Chris spoke about his life and work, shared insights into what his workplace does to help him and how workplaces could do to become more accessible, and, what others can do to make society more inclusive.

You can check out Chris' interview in the video below or you can keep reading our blog. 

What do you do for work?

I'm a solicitor. I qualified in 2014 so I'm about seven years post qualified now.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

I think the most enjoyable part is the interaction with people. I've got pretty good relationships around the business, and yeah it's always good, it takes you away from sitting down looking at paperwork all day.

What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I like to spend a lot of time with my kids, I've got two little girls aged 3 and 5, and, it's quite often quite difficult for me to do some of the things that other parents do but yeah I like to do as much as I can with them when I can.

Are you comfortable with the term disability or do you use another term?

I'm personally, I'm fine with disability. I mean I'm generally quite laid back so I don't really have an issue around sort of anything more neutral.

What is the name of your disability?

I've got Multiple Sclerosis. I was diagnosed in 2004, but it's a degenerative illness, so it's only in the last couple of years that I've had to start using a wheelchair.

Has living with Multiple Sclerosis taught you anything that you wouldn't otherwise have learned?

A few years ago I saw someone else - funnily enough - get out of a car, and go to the boot and get a wheelchair and I thought, "Oh, why is he getting a wheelchair out when he's perfectly able to walk fine?" and, it was quite eye-opening to go from the one side where you're relatively normal because my condition was quite stable early on, and see it from that side of view where you're kind of looking at people and think, okay they've got disability and then being, perhaps, a little bit cagey around how you discuss it to being on the other side of that, where you are in a situation, where you have people kind of tiptoeing around you from time to time. So, yeah it's kind of opened my eyes to see sort of both sides.

How do you find living and working with a disability?

Since I started using the wheelchair, it's when I've really noticed a big difference, you'd be amazed how many things just are so difficult. I'd say even like, even at the hospital... I went to the hospital quite recently and yeah there were road works and there were railings. So I've gone all the way down and then there's roadworks, and I can't get off the curb. So now I've gotta go all the way back about 200 meters to get back onto the road, and cross the road, to then and carry on my journey. 

I mean, I even live in a town where the curb's quite small, so I can't even get back in my wheelchair in my own town unless I go on the road. So there's just so many things that you just assume aren't going to be a problem, or you don't think this gonna be a problem for disabled people until you're actually in that situation.

What can workplaces do to make a working environment more inclusive and accessible?

Obviously, different people got different disabilities there's not really a catch-all answer to finding solutions for people.

I mean my company, to be fair, have been pretty good. So, I kind of have issues - as well as walking and stuff - but I have issues with fatigue which is quite a problem, so they have a restroom for me at my work so that if I get overdue, or get too fatigued or if I'm in too much pain and I need take some painkillers they might send me a little bit... wooey. I've got somewhere I can sit down and recoup.

But that's really come from a discussion, because when I initially, I mean I, have always been ill with my job but I've, it's gotten worse over the past 6 or 7 years that I've been with my current company. So, as it's gotten worse we've had discussions and we've implemented as we go. And I think that's the way that workplaces have got to do it. You can't just find, say "Oh he's disabled, therefore, this is our solution." I think it needs to be a very personal discussion to see what's going to work for the particular individual. 

Are there any stereotypes about Multiple Sclerosis that you would like to change?

I don't find it so much about Multiple Sclerosis because, generally, people don't really know much about it. When you say I've got MS or Multiple Sclerosis and, okay, they kind of appreciate it's something quite serious, but they don't really know anything about it, to kind of make, any sort of judgments or calls on it.

I think the biggest stereotype is the fact that I can sometimes walk. I'm not like... when I say sometimes walk, it's like I can do short distances walking or standing up. And, I think there's a tendency to look at someone as, "Oh, you're lazy or..." 

A good story is, quite recently, I bumped into a friend I hadn't seen since I've used a wheelchair and I was standing when I met him and greeted him and he was like "What are you doing in a wheelchair, you look perfectly fine". I think this - and he knew I had MS by the way - so you know I think there's an assumption that if you're in a wheelchair, you're always in a wheelchair or if you've got this disability and on this day you have that, you should always have that.

You know, like for example, because with MS there's multiple different symptoms. Like some days... I might have pins and needles or numbness down one side, I have difficulty moving one side of my body and then some people don't really appreciate the next day, "Oh, you seem to be a lot better how come you've gone from being, you know unable to do anything yesterday to being almost perfectly fine today?" So, yeah just the understanding here I think.

Has anyone ever misjudged your abilities because of your disability?

To be honest I think my bigger problem, is people have overestimated what I can do. Because like I say, well purely more from a health reason when I can do things or I can walk I prefer to do that and I think as a result of that, people tend to think - especially with the fatigue  - which is the real big problem for me, people don't really understand. 

Like for instance, I would like to go out to a bar or a club. Before too long I'd start sitting down. I think people used to think like, "Oh, you're so boring... or you know you're lazy..." or this sort of, I guess, the stereotype comes with it. They don't think, "Oh, it's because of the fatigue." Just because I'm not moaning about it and saying "Oh, I'm really tired". They tend to think "Oh, it's 'cause you're lazy. Come on, come and get up and dance, come and move around, come and talk and sit". And they don't really appreciate the situation.

What can others do to make society more inclusive?

It's getting a lot better, to be honest. 

I mean there's a lot of places now that kind of have ramps and stairs and stuff, but there's a surprising amount of places that do not. Particularly, I don't think a lot of people consider little things that can be an inconvenience.

Like for instance, I was in, just in a high street, quite recently and I went to go into the shop, and the shop had a curb to get into it. And it's just the kind of thing where I don't think when people are, certainly traditionally, setting up their businesses or layout of their company or that shop or whatever it may be, they're not that interested to think about, "Oh, how do we cater for the disabled?"

What has your disability inspired and enabled you to do?

As a Solicitor, I sometimes have cognitive problems, as well particularly I'm fatigued. So, I've been working less over the past, sort of, year or two but then it has allowed me to do, other things that I wouldn't have had the chance to while I was, you know, fit and able and being a solicitor.

So, I now kind of write a little bit. I spend more time with my kids. I get to do stuff like this.

When I was kind of unwell and still working, I'd come home from and I'm too tired to do anything and then I go to bed and I'm up at 7 in the morning and then I don't see them. So, in that way, the disability's helped me, you know, spending more time with my kids and getting the most out of what I can do.

This video is part of our Disability Awareness & Inclusion Training

If you would like to know more about what you can do to create a more inclusive and accessible workplace or simply provide your staff with more knowledge about the equal opportunities those with disabilities should be given, then get started with a free no-obligation trial today.

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