My Story – Gerard

My name is Gerard McWilliams and I have a learning disability. I have worked as a Personal and Public Involvement Officer for the Patient Client Council since 2014.

Before I worked for PCC I was met with a few challenges. I felt that a lot of organisations had quite big barriers in terms of the experience they were looking for and what I could get into. In the past I was told by careers advisors that I could work in a supermarket or in catering and that I could not do an office job. I always thought that I could do more and I fought very hard to get to where I am today. I have an NVQ level 2 in Health and Social care and an NVQ level 3 in play work which I was also told I would not be able to do.

I applied for a post in the PCC that was set up specifically for a person with a learning disability or a mental health condition. I was approached by the Orchardville society to apply as I am a service user with them. I attended the interview with assistance from my employment support officer from Orchardville. PCC staff who interviewed me took their time and asked questions in a way that I could understand. I was successful in getting the post and I started my role on 9th October 2014. I am supported in many ways to carry out the functions of my Personal and Public Involvement Officer role including an Employment Support Officer, Access to Work, Workable and I also have a mentor within PCC. Because I struggle with reading and writing, I also have reasonable adjustments in the form of software packages Dragon, Read and Write Gold and a Live Scribe Pen to help me carry out the administrative functions of my job.

My role within Patient and Client Council is to go out to various organisations to promote the voices of people who use health and social care services within Northern Ireland. I deliver presentations, hold focus groups and advise on the main functions of PCC and how people can get involved in our work. I also give talks on the importance of my role as a person with a learning disability and how I am able to do my job.

When I first started in PCC my managers and colleagues were really well prepared and were extremely patient with me. I do still face some barriers in my work. For example, within Health and Social Care there is a lot of high level terminology and a lot of acronyms are used which I sometimes find difficult. I think sometimes people forget that I have a learning disability because I am so capable in many ways. Sometimes there is so much information coming at me that my brain gets tired and it is important that my colleagues and line managers are realistic about what I can and cannot do. My manager has been extremely supportive of me and has gotten to know my strengths and weaknesses and recognises that I may need additional information or explanation for some tasks. I do the same work as anyone else at my grade, I just do it differently!

What I feel I bring to my role apart from information and services is honesty, directness and helping colleagues to have a better understanding of learning disabilities and get rid of assumptions surrounding disability. I am very direct.

Aside from my role in PCC I am also involved in the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) participation partnership, I have volunteered for the special Olympics as a team leader at the world games, I have worked as a childcare worker in an after schools club, in a nursing home and volunteered at weekends for children and young people with disabilities teaching them life and social skills.

I am a member of the Disability Champions Network and Tapestry, the Disability Staff Network for the 11 regional HSCNI organisations and I bring real life experience to these groups. My main aim through all the work that I do is to raise awareness and educate people on all the positive aspects of disability, of which there are many!

My Story – Janet

My name is Janet Sproule and I work as a Corporate Services Officer, BSO Estates Team.
I started working with BSO and the Estates team in June 2018 after being made redundant from a long term post.
I was originally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder/chronic depression at the age of 17 but was diagnosed again at the age of 35 with bipolar disorder. The only reason I was diagnosed again is a total change in my behaviour and ability to cope with my day to day working and personal life.
I have been through many struggles over the years and have experienced a number of particularly difficult work environments where my mental health hasn’t been taken into consideration. In fact, I have experienced the stigma on a number of occasions, both at work and with family members which made me reluctant to talk about it.
Since taking up my post at BSO, I have been encouraged, supported, accepted and reminded of my value as a team member and my illness has not been a source of concern for my employer.
I consider myself an advocate for eliminating the stigma attached to mental illness and encourage people to talk about it. The more we share our stories, the better educated people will be and the more respect, understanding, and support we will receive.