Secretarial: I Work For... No one asks `what happened to you?'

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The Independent Culture
Yvonne Waft works for James Rye, assistant director of marketing for scope, the charity for people with cerebral palsy

I became a wheelchair user at 19, and noticed how people suddenly treated me like a child. As a disabled woman in society I don't often feel understood, but working here means that I don't need to explain myself.

I'm not seen as a tragic, helpless cripple and no one asks "Oh dear, what happened to you?"

I've been refused jobs in the past for various spurious reasons. I would apply for a job as a telephonist, for example, have a three-minute interview and then be told that the job was going to someone more "experienced". For a while I worked for the Corporation of London, as secretary to the access officer for people with disabilities. However, outside my department there were some old-fashioned views; to some people the fact that I was disabled and female put me down among the vermin.

The staff here are very friendly, relaxed and equality minded, partly because they've done disability awareness courses. As PA to the assistant director of Scope I've got a reasonably elevated position, and it's nice not to be in a situation where I am looked down on as a disabled person who's lucky to have got herself a job at all.

When Glenn Hoddle made his statement about the disabled, the phones at Scope started buzzing with people calling us for comment. It was quite exciting because it gave us an opportunity to put across the fact that Scope is working at challenging prejudices like this on a daily basis. I was pleased that we were now able to talk about it. There are so many people with disabilities who play sport, particularly kids, that it's all the more inappropriate for a prominent sportsperson to make a comment like that. I was impressed by how on the ball Tony Blair was; it's quite rare for a prime minister to take a stand like that.

When I first heard Hoddle's statement, the first thought I had was "what a silly sod". But I wasn't really shocked, because I had studied the fears and prejudices about disability that you can detect in the undercurrent of popular opinion as part of my degree in psychology, which I completed last year. People often ask what you have done to deserve it and disability is often associated with disfigurement, ugliness and badness - prime examples being The Phantom of the Opera, Freddie Kruger, Captain Hook and Richard III. But assuming that disability is a punishment implies that it must be an entirely bad experience, which in my opinion is quite untrue. I've got a first-class degree and a job, I drive around, I go swimming, and I got married last year.

My husband, however, was outraged by Hoddle's remark; I guess he felt defensive and protective over me. When people argue that Hoddle should have freedom of speech I wonder whether they would feel the same way had he claimed that black people deserved slavery, or Jews the Holocaust. I wonder what Hoddle thinks he did in his past life to deserve the punishment he's receiving now?

A lot of people working at secretarial level here have degrees; I don't know whether its specific to Scope or is in tune with society in general. However most of my colleagues are happy to be here, largely because working for a charity is so rewarding. My job includes a lot of telephone work and I also liaise with the advertising agency, particularly about product placement, which is very important for us. For example, you will notice there's a Scope charity box on the bar in EastEnders. Before working here I knew very little about Scope, except for the fact that it used to be called the Spastics Society. But I subscribed to Disability Now, which turned out to be edited by one of my bosses here. Ironically, I have become a bit of a regular fixture in the magazine myself, especially on the subject of discrimination.

I have a relaxed relationship with James; he is very easy-going and doesn't make it difficult for me to do the things I want to do, and he often asks my opinion.

Sometimes I wonder whether I am copping out by working for a charity for the disabled. But I can also see the potential for moving upwards within this environment, getting increasingly involved in research and the politics of disability. I'm terribly turned on by ideas and would like to do a PhD or move into clinical psychology training. I think people often don't understand me because I tend to think academically, particularly on the subject of disability. As a result I sometimes get frustrated with people in the real world. But academics earn little, my husband's pay as a primary school teacher is basic and I've yet to pay off a student loan, so I think I'll stay here for a while; besides, I enjoy the sense of achievement that comes from indirectly helping people.

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