Patchworker Spotlight: Gem’s story

Patchworker Spotlight: Gem’s story

Gem is a Disabled Content Creator from Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Gem kindly spoke to us about her experiences, the growth of her blog, and her thoughts on how employers can make the workplace more accessible.


To start, could you please tell us about yourself?

Hi, I'm Gem. I'm a 3 foot 1 wheelchair-using Northerner working in higher education part-time, as well as creating content. I'm fascinated by people and have made a career out of storytelling people’s assumptions about disability. Additionally, I train people to better communicate with disabled people.

Can you tell us a bit more about your story?

When I was younger, I wasn't quite sure how work would work for me (pardon the pun). Mix that with people staring at me from a young age, my self-esteem was extremely low. It was only when I went to university and met so many different disabled people, that I learned what my key skills were. I also realised the problem was that society was causing barriers, rather than me being different. I graduated from the University of Leeds with a 2:1 in New Media.

After graduating, my first job was an Equality and Diversity Officer role. This was a huge learning curve, and I gained confidence and understanding around where my skill set was (basically, people!) Alongside this, I created a blog, telling stories about how people would react to me and my disability. I would laugh and casually suggest how it could have gone better. Eventually, I created tips and tricks that were shared globally.

I'm so proud of what I've created. It eventually won an award and I developed a business creating bespoke training and providing content for brands. I wouldn't be where I am without the blog - I know that for sure.

Have you faced any workplace barriers due to your situation? Do you think the ‘conventional’ world of work most employers use needs to change?

The main barriers I've experienced are physical and attitudinal. I experience the stereotypical barrier of not being able to get into buildings and toilets. This means that the onus has been on me to organise and prepare. Have a job interview? I better ask if it's accessible and go to the loo beforehand! Secondly, I experience quite intense reactions from non-disabled people. They become nervous, uncomfortable which means I have to use so much energy to “prove” how employable I am.

There are so many barriers I think organisations need to focus on. However, I would say the main thing is to get disabled people into your teams. The only way you will evolve for the better is to include disabled people. That's the only way you'll truly know what you need.

If you could change one thing about the world of work or the way employers saw accessibility, what would it be and why?

I would ask that people anticipate accessibility. You don't have to always know what requirements are needed. However, as long as you know adaptations are probable, you will be so much more welcoming from the start.

What inspired you to start doing the work you currently do?

Honestly - the experiences around me, I couldn't not share what was happening. I knew it was entertaining and that there were subtle lessons people would learn within it.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt from your career to date?

My biggest lesson is that the people who reject you aren't the people for you. For a long time, I would be so hard on myself and try to be “incredible” to be employable. But actually, when you're disabled it's not just you being interviewed - it's the employer too. They need to suit you, support you and allow you to showcase your skills.

Do you have a favourite quote or personal mantra?

Don't let anyone dull your sparkle.

If you could change one thing about people's perception of disability, what would it be?

That we have interests, sense of humour and bad days (that isn't always disability-related!)

Find out more about Gem’s story:

Gem's blog

Follow Gem on Instagram

Follow Gem on Twitter

Contact Gem on LinkedIn

 

Published: 20th March 2022

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