In the third part of our week-long series for Disability History Month, UNITElive speaks to Unite Welsh disabilites committee chair Ceri Wright, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, among the most misunderstood of disabilities.
Ceri Wright’s first inkling that she had been living with an autism spectrum disorder came quite late in life.
Around ten years ago the then 34-year-old was taking an online jobs match questionnaire, whilst deciding on a career change.
After Ceri had submitted the results, a surprising thing happened.
“There was link at the end which said that people who had answered the questions the way I had could potentially have Asperger’s Syndrome. It said if I would like to participate in an academic study about it, then to click through. So I did,” Ceri explained.
Ceri had shown particular interest in jobs people with the condition are often attracted to and talented at, such as data analysation and computer sciences.
As an autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s is characterised by repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests, as well as difficulties in non-verbal communication and social interaction.
There had been signs in Ceri’s early life – she described her first foray into university as a “disaster” (she later gained a history degree) and instead went into factory work.
However autism disorders are much more likely to be diagnosed in men.
Eventually, after seeing a psychologist following the online questionnaire, the condition was confirmed.
Ceri joined a prestigious group: the actor Dan Aykroyd, musician Susan Boyle, world-renowned animal scientist Temple Grandin and many other famous and accomplished individuals have Asperger’s.
Since then Ceri has become chair of the Welsh disabilities committee and also sits on the national committee. Her work life at a local building society has improved, after a National Autistic Society assessment concluded that Ceri would be better working from home.
“The noises, the smells, the general hubbub of an office presents nightmare issues for people like me. I’m now much more productive working from my home office,” Ceri said.
“On the other hand there have been cases of the odd individual speaking more slowly to me once they found out, as if I’m less intelligent, which is quite offensive.”
Tired stereotypes in society are being replaced with a better understanding of what it means to be disabled, believes Ceri. The people “who are just plain rude are in a minority – and usually it’s symptomatic of a lack of good manners in general.”
Some areas of the media, in particular on televisions shows, are helping to promote this understanding.
Ceri points to the phasing out of “villainous or pitiable” representations of disabled people over the years. Now there are disabled children’s television presenters and disabled actors who play rounded believable characters.
However, there still needs to be a push, not only for disabled rights, but to raise awareness about how many people actually suffer from disabilities. Ceri says this is something Unite members can help with.
“More people need to let the union know about their disabilities,” she points out.
“Many people acquire disabilities as they get older – whether it’s heart attacks, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or something else they are not going to get over – and may not have updated their records. They should because it would really help make senior levels aware of just how many people these issues affect.”
Tomorrow (December 17), UNITElive speaks to Unite equalities rep Maria Gunn about breaking through ignorance.