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Disability Narratives

Mary has a condition that causes severe pain and restricted movement in her back and hands. She has had to change the way she approaches her work and has found the Access to Work scheme invaluable in assisting with this.

Image representing Mary© Disability Narratives


at the time of the interview – 2016

Mary is a professor at the University of Oxford.

Ethnic Background/Nationality: White-British.

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - 2016

In 2012 Mary suddenly started to have pain and problems with the function in her hands and arms. At the time she was away and it became so bad that she had to return home.

Mary’s diagnosis was reached only after numerous investigations. The nature of the condition means that she experiences strong pain, like electric shocks, in her arms and hands. She suffers from back and neck pain. She has since undergone regular physiotherapy treatment and for a few years had to take strong painkillers.

From the beginning Mary sought to keep working, but in the first 18 months Mary's condition got slowly worse. She found that daily activities at work became very difficult, to the point she could not hold a book and struggled to turn the pages.

One of the first sources of support Mary was able to access was Occupational Health, who were able to assist her in getting referrals to specialists and clinical investigations. OH also helped her get voice activated software for her computer and provided advice about other programmes she could use. For example, one programme freezes her computer every few minutes to encourage her to take a short break.

I think I was so puzzled by what was happening to me, that I was just in a tunnel, and trying to keep going. And I think it was only later that I would say, "I really wasn’t coping last year."

Since Mary's diagnosis, treatment, and the changes she has made to her working practices, she has experienced a slow improvement in what she can do. Mary noted that this is not a constant improvement and that some days she may be experiencing a lot more pain than others.

In 2013, with the help of Disability Support Services, she successfully applied to the Access to Work scheme. They funded several sources of support, including an academic support worker one day a week. This person has specialist knowledge in Mary's field, so that they can assist with her research and academic work. Mary has found this support invaluable.

More recently Mary was also able rearrange her work priorities. She had previously worked to make sure she was able to cover the main tasks, such as teaching, exam marking, and writing papers. However, she discussed what she wanted to achieve with her Head of Department and agreed to do less of these tasks and focus more on contributing more widely to her college and department. Mary said that this understanding and support was liberating.

Biography at the time of the interview - 2016