From expert to unemployable

22 March 2019

By Libby

LibbyI never expected to become disabled in my 30s. I never expected to be unemployed and unemployable because of my disability.

Working has always been central to my sense of self. From my teenage paper round (didn’t last long – me and early mornings are not friends) to my first ‘proper’ job, I’d always found a sense of purpose in my working life.

By the age of 34 I was in my dream job as a fundraiser for a disability charity. I’d always wanted to feel like I was, in some tiny way, making the world a better place and this truly fulfilled that goal. 

It’s funny really, when I look back. I thought my professional experience gave me an understanding of the barriers disabled people face when trying to access the workplace.

I had a decent understanding of the rules and regulations, the statistics, the theories. The reality is that I ended up being totally wrong.

So what happened?

So what happened to change my view and show me how little I really knew? 

Well, I fell over on my way to work. I wish I had a more dramatic story.

I ruptured ligaments in my ankle and developed a rare and chronic condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

The illness causes constant severe neuropathic pain and is very hard to treat. I’m on a cocktail of painkillers and have electrodes implanted in my spine.

They help, but I remain in constant pain and reliant on crutches or my wheelchair to get around. 

‘As much as I understood their decision, I was crushed’ 

After taking time off to recover from the accident, I initially tried to return to my fundraising job. But it didn’t work.

My ability to function now fluctuates constantly.  Until I wake up, I don’t know what the day will bring. My job needed me to be present every day, running around London to meetings but my body simply couldn’t do that anymore. 

The meeting where I was terminated due to long-term incapacity was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

As much as I understood their decision, I was crushed. I’d only ever been promoted in jobs before – I’d never imagined being fired. Although I knew it was not my ‘fault’, I was still devastated. I felt like a failure. 


Losing my work was utterly soul-destroying; I didn’t know who I was anymore. I hated this new jobless, chronically sick, disabled identity that had been thrust upon me, but I couldn’t see any way out. There was simply no job that could provide the flexibility I needed. 

And that need for flexibility has remained my single greatest barrier to employment. 

For years I couldn’t find anything that fit my illness. Then a friend asked if I’d be interested in blogging for people living with chronic pain. I’ve now been doing this for several years and I love it. I can manage my own time, writing when I feel up to it.

I find a huge sense of purpose in serving the chronic pain community and I write about a vast range of subjects. The work is fascinating and fulfilling but it also gives me some financial independence too. 

From valued to unemployable 

It saddens me beyond words that the narrow specification of an ‘ideal candidate’ immediately discounts so many disabled people. Sometimes we need greater flexibility, or physical adaptations, or just for employers to recognise and see beyond their preconceptions. 

There is a wealth of talent out there simply left by the wayside. Within the split second of my accident I went from a valued and sought-after expert in my field to unemployable.

My experience and expertise shouldn’t become worthless just because my body works a bit differently now. 

When we expand our idea of what makes a great employee we also expand the knowledge and experience we bring into the workplace. That can only make all of us better. 

Read Libby’s blog or follow her on Facebook.

We're pressing the government to improve the workplace for disabled people. Read our report.


Hi Libby

I can relate to your story so much.

I had developed Hydrocephalus, which has affected my walking and balance.

I too was in a job I loved, I was working as a support worker for a local college. Many of the students were difficult (to put it mildly) but I loved their challenges, and to say I felt alive in the job was an understatement (And added benefit it was term-time only.

To cut to the chase I took redundancy from college, and rather than give up, I had to try and find suitable work from home work.

So, now I work for myself as a Virtual Assistant, (a work from home secretary). I have had some work as a Virtual Assistant, but it is very sporadic and I have had to apply for literally hundreds of jobs before getting anything. I spend more time 'looking for work from home' than actually doing any.

I do approximately 3 - 4 hours per week of taped transcription for a Psychotherapist but that is about it.

I miss not feeling useful and I would do 'anything' for anyone.

So, that's me

I won't give up (ever) and tomorrow, I'll start again 'looking for work from home'
Thank you for listening to me.

Good Luck with everything Libby.

Kind Regards.

Diane Broad

I empathise with Libby! I am a retired GP, and when I had my brain bleed, which forced me to become a wheelchair user, I became unable to do my job. Like Libby, I feel useless and undervalued. I am very much in Libby’s corner! We waste so much expertise by stopping disabled people from working. We should encourage them, and make them feel a part of society again.

It is a very inspired story by unforseen disability after a lenghthy charity worker. The future is lined out by your experance that is a position like a glove that snugly fits. My life is simular to yours which in my case I traveled the world with a free lance work but between work and pleasure i did lots of charity work with my pleasure of my active sporty life I used too do. Each year a selected charities was my commited choice wnich big companies wanted my new updated knowledge in technology. It was my chance to off load part of the work I did was the companies donated Cheques towards the certain charities at that time. Each year £100s of thousands from bonuses get the project done quicker than the deadline. My prior education at first led from one onto another doing degrees to masters busness, physics, etc. My life turned over night I became a man in progress too become a man in a tomb.
Having a late on rare gene that the brain was being slowly sensory damaged taking my vision into black Sound into silence, voice into silence, co-ordernation with very little grip. After years of such hard work and fun I have my conversation by lipread and typed for me 1 hr aday with palm feed back. I can never understand why we have no technology to help me get around instead of lying flat on an hospital bed in a unsuitable abcomadation. No support charity can help my needs which I have tried so many times because of my situation. If I had the technology I could get back into simular work raising money. Unfortunitly hosing is a major concern no one can do nothing. Raising money with the contacts I can do nothing without the tools.Until we stop thinking of sedding technology in space bringing pictures back this could be done with specialised wheelchairs lipread type speak. A memory wheelchair work same as navagater take you from A to B. Such a wasted life of technical knowledge that can turn into other money charity raising. I have gone from richess to poverty and that is how I realise no one is listening of talented have been let down. We do have a major concern that willing but not listening. A system that as failed charities systems failed the core of truth is pushed aside to waist and forgotten. Yes I am human and was a very succesful person which eventualy disability unnnesary stopped my ability because of no technology availability. Now to become a man in a tomb.

so many sad stories of such promising lives cut short i too had to give up my bridal shop that i had started from scratch my life was saved amazing n.h.s i couldent do the the work anymore so passed it on to family it lasted another 2 years and then was sold it was a part of my life that i will always cherish we just make the best of what we have always thinking what if

Following a hip replacement I have been in constant pain. Like yourself I lost my job, my independance and my self worth! My life has changed drastically and I use crutches and a wheelchair, again just like yourself.

This has now been ongoing since 2011 and I still cannot get a proper diagnosis from my consultant. I am absolutely sick of hospital appointments and feel very let down.

I had worked all my life prior to this, now I am just a hospital number! I am registered disabled and spend most of my time at home because it's just too painful to go out, and I suffer so much after anyway. Medication just takes the edge off.

Well I could go on and on but will leave it there for now. I do try to stay positive and my grandchildren keep me going. I'm lucky to have a loving family. Thank you for reading ☺

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