Working in the railway with an invisible disability

Last updated: Thursday, 4 November 2021

Here at ScotRail, we’re committed to being a fully inclusive and diverse employer, where we all support each other to thrive in work. Everyone should feel valued and have a real sense of belonging.

Scotland’s Railway is for everyone and we’re keen to showcase our amazing colleagues from a wide range of backgrounds, skills, and experiences to demonstrate what it means to enjoy a career in the railway.

This month, we chatted with one of our Customer Service Assistants, who was happy to share her story about working in the railway with an invisible disability…

I joined the railway as a Ticket Examiner back in 2004, and after having three children and needing more flexible hours, I eventually became a Customer Service Assistant.

A typical working day for me is helping passengers with all sorts of enquiries. This could be train, journey, platform, or tourist information. You name it, we’ve probably been asked it! I also help with providing passengers with information during disruption, engineering works and during events. One of the things I enjoy most about this job is that you get to meet people from around the world and no two days are ever the same.

Before I became a Customer Service Assistant, I worked on the Gateline for three years. I had a nervous breakdown during this time and was off sick for seven months. Thanks to ScotRail and my line managers, I received CBT therapy and additional support which helped me return to work when I was ready. There were a few hiccups at the start as I had panic attacks, and to this day, I still cannot handle crowds, sudden loud noises or confrontation. But this doesn’t stop me doing my job.

In 2016, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis - an autoimmune condition, which means my immune system attacks my bowels. Ulcers develop on my colon, which bleed regularly, and I am always in pain as my bowels are permanently inflamed. Some days, the pain feels like a knife being twisted inside me. Other days it’s like labour contractions. This affects my day-to-day life in many ways. I am always tired as extreme fatigue is one side effect, I bruise easily and my joints seize up often. Thankfully, at work I’m behind a desk so I’m able to sit down which helps the tiredness.

I take medication for Ulcerative Colitis and extra vitamin supplements to help symptoms and energy levels. Sometimes, I can go weeks without any issues, which is what we call remission. But there can be periods where all my symptoms increase at once, which is known as a flare. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Ulcerative Colitis - long periods of remission is the best you can hope for. There are some days where I’m in so much pain, I can barely function.

Throughout my time at ScotRail, my line managers have been great. One manager in particular was extremely supportive when my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome a few years ago. They adjusted my working hours to help with childcare and to provide a more structured routine for my son. And the couple of times I’ve been absent from work due to flare ups with my medical condition, my line managers were very understanding, which eases the stress considerably.

I never considered myself to have a disability, but I have been made aware that Ulcerative Colitis falls into that category. If I was unaware of this, then others will be too. Therefore, I hope that by sharing my story, I can help raise awareness of invisible disabilities and the supports that ScotRail offer to employees.

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