This Week: Rebuilding life
FOR many disabled people across the country the chance to hold down a job and be treated as an equal in the workplace seems nothing more than an impossible dream. Despite new legislation designed to protect their rights, some disabled people can find job
FOR many disabled people across the country the chance to hold down a job and be treated as an equal in the workplace seems nothing more than an impossible dream.
Despite new legislation designed to protect their rights, some disabled people can find job hunting an uphill struggle which can shatter confidence and leave them forced to live on benefits.
Anna Wallis found herself facing that frustrating scenario when her life was turned upside down in just a split second.
Now, five years on she tells LESLEY INNES how she picked up the pieces and rejoined the working world, thanks to the charity Red2Green.
BRIGHT teenager Anna Wallis had it all. She had just celebrated her 18th birthday, successfully completed her sixth-form studies and launched her career as a travel consultant with the chance to visit faraway places.
But just 10 minutes from home her world came crashing down. Anna's car skidded on mud on the road and hit an oncoming car, catapulting her into a field.
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She finally regained consciousness 11 days later in hospital to discover that, although she had not broken any bones, she had suffered a serious head injury which almost killed her.
She spent two months in hospital and it took five physiotherapists to help her to walk again.
Months of rehabilitation followed to teach her how to handle simple tasks and rebuild her confidence.
Her left side was paralysed which meant that, being left-handed, she even had to learn to write again.
That was more than five years ago and since then Anna, now 23, has been rebuilding her shattered life.
"My parents were told it was touch-and-go after the accident," said Anna, of Main Street, Prickwillow. "I don't remember anything about the crash or those early weeks in hospital.
"You don't realise what you have got until it's gone. Now I can't do two things at once, can't process information and have problems with planning activities and making arrangements for the future.
"The brain is like a blancmange and I shook it so vigorously that it hit against the skull causing the damage. I suffered post-traumatic amnesia and by the time I regained my memory I was already walking. But I lost all those weeks."
Anna was one of the first patients funded by the East Cambridgeshire and Fenland Primary Care Trust to be treated at the Oliver Zangwell head injury centre at Ely's Princess of Wales Hospital.
The staff taught her strategies to cope with her difficulties and gradually her confidence returned.
But the turning point in her life came when her social worker introduced her to the team at Swaffham Bulbeck-based Red2Green.
They offered her voluntary work and just months later managed to find her a part-time administration post.
Now Anna works full-time as a receptionist and administrator for the organisation.
She said: "My memory is like a sieve. Like a lot of people I use a filofax but mine plays a very different role. I joke that it is my brain. I depend on it. My life is in that little book.
"Working with Red2Green means that I can function as a normal member of staff. They look at my valuable qualities not at my disabilities.
"We have just as much to offer but people don't always see it that way. The Disability Discrimination Act says employers must make reasonable adjustments for us, but it doesn't always happen.
"I'm a very open and honest person but when I told people I had a head injury I could see their facial expressions changed. It was as if they were thinking: 'Oh dear. She's crazy, we'll give her a miss.'
"I've seen disability from the other side and these people are just as valuable.