Before my snowboarding accident in April 2007 I was gearing up to taking my finals in electronic and microelectronic engineering at Brunel University. I had just completed my dissertation on my final year project, and had successfully negotiated a contract with Roke Manor Research starting in October 2007.
After much deliberation, the administration board granted me a first class degree based on past performance, expected exam performance and dissertation results and I attended my graduation in July 2007.
I am lucky (never fails to seem a bit ludicrous saying that) in that I had a software-related job offer prior to being injured. Transitioning from being a hardware electronics engineer with some understanding of software, to a software engineer with an understanding of electronics was fairly straightforward.
After 15 months in hospital I was able to take up a position at Roke. The contract negotiation was not straightforward however. I required a lot of help from the human resources manager at Roke who undertook much of the negotiation with managers on my behalf. I kept Roke up to date with my progress, undertaking small software projects whilst in hospital to keep my brain active and attempting to continue with my studies. I underwent further assessment and interviews at Roke whilst at hospital and was persuasive about my productivity levels with voice recognition software.
There was a long discussion with Access to Work, including an onsite interview with their adviser and a human resources manager from Roke. Building modifications and workplace adaptations were discussed. In the end only the workplace adaptations were made, including height-adjustable desk, voice regulation software, bluetooth earpiece and wireless microphone. Access to Work also helped me purchase a Permobil C400 wheelchair which allows me to stand at work enabling me all the associated benefits of standing during my working week.
After a seemingly long negotiation period I was offered a temporary three-month contract so that all parties involved could gauge the suitability of the employment. It involved a two-day-a-week commute to Southampton from Oxford in my adapted vehicle. Since then I have had a six-month contract extension and recently a permanent three-day week contract. This is a non-standard contract for a large corporation like Siemens. I work two days a week in the office and one day a week from home.
At work I have had success as the technical team lead for a small but complex project. It has taken some time for people to get used to working with someone who has such a high level of disability. Mainly people are over-concerned about offending me as a disabled person but, now they have learned to understand my disability better, I am treated in a manner similar to any non-disabled person but with obvious consideration as to timings and physical logistics. I do not expect to be given extra allowances in terms of productivity otherwise I would not be a fair candidate for the job.
My C4/5 complete spinal cord injury has left me paralysed from below the shoulders (no arm movement), I have chosen to rely fully on voice recognition software to control an assortment of laptops. I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 and a Plantronics wireless earpiece to control each laptop. I have two laptops with two wireless earpieces working at the same time. I have written a script* to enable custom commands so I can switch between operating each laptop with both microphones active. I also use scripts to perform monotonous tasks to help improve productivity.
* I use a piece of open source software called Natlink to integrate Python (a programming language) scripts into the voice recognition software (this is a cheaper alternative to purchasing the ‘professional’ aversion of Dragon for £500, I have the ‘preferred’ version at £100).