Category Archives: Disability and Illness

Issues facing those with both long and short term disabilities and illnesses which impact their ability to work or study at Newcastle University.

FMS Presents: ‘My Journey’- A Disability Panel Discussion

To mark the beginning of Disability History Month 2021, FMS held another ‘My Journey’ event. This session consisted of 4 speakers in a panel discussion; Wendy Leanne Craig, an information security officer who has worked within the university since 1997, Charlotte Brown, a Biosciences PGR student, Emma Slack, a PHSI Research Associate, and Robert Shiel, who had worked for the university since 1980 and was also a student prior to this. The discussion was about everyone’s lived experience with a hidden or visible disability and talking about any barriers they may have faced and overcome to get to where they are now. We ended the panel discussion with a short Q&A session.

‘Coming out’ with a disability

Wendy Leanne Craig began the talk introducing herself, she is an information security officer within Newcastle University, working within the university since 1997. Wendy shared that she has a rare genetic disease known as Wilson’s, which predominantly affects her liver among other things. Her diagnosis also led to other effects such as ‘dizziness, tremors, dystonia, and a shaky voice’. Since Wendy began working at Newcastle, she has noticed lots of positive changes in the space of disability and accessibility.

Wendy began by saying she has an ‘open policy’ around her disability and will openly talk about it within the workplace to colleagues and friends. However, when Wendy first began her job at the university in 1997, she said you could not immediately see that she had a disability, it was hidden. This resulted in what Wendy describes as her having to ‘come out’ to her colleagues and friends that she has Wilson’s so that any issues she faced were not overlooked.

Since her disability became more visible, she has needed more support from university services, and has found the university has helped her a lot by supporting her with access to specialist resources and equipment she might need. Wendy said that she uses a software on her computer called ‘Dragon’. This aids her by recognising her voice so she can speak, and her words type out for her, and she can command her computer to do things using just her voice allowing Wendy to access and complete the same work as her colleagues.

Studying with a disability

Charlotte Brown is a current PhD student at Newcastle University. She studied her bachelor’s in human biology at Sheffield Hallam University prior to completing an MSc in computational systems and biology at Newcastle University.

Charlotte has been deaf from a young age and said that during her time studying, she has had to make sure her experience is not affected by this and she has not let her disability hold her back. Charlotte said her university experience has been helped greatly by the support from the university disability services and from staff in catering to her needs. This has allowed her to continue with her studies and succeed at every level to get to where she is now.

‘…I wasn’t doing enough or letting myself down’

Emma Slack is a research associate in the Population Health Sciences Institute at Newcastle University. Emma has a hidden, fluctuating disability that causes her to feel fatigued very often. She opened up about her struggles during school and at university trying to keep up with her peers but always finding it hard, but still pushed herself as she had nobody else to compare herself to.

After starting her PhD and a new job to support her financially, she had to go part-time with her academic studies. Pushing herself to work more hours than she was able to had taken a toll on her studies and health. After going part-time, she said she felt she ‘wasn’t doing enough or letting myself down’, despite this decision being in her best interests. She said this feeling came from external voices telling her things like ‘you’re just too scared to get a job’.

Emma stated that if she had more representation growing up of people in similar situations or facing similar obstacles, she would never have pushed herself or felt she was ‘behind’ her peers. She has now accepted that her journey in academia may take longer and she may face more obstacles, but that does not make it any less valuable as she has put in the same amount of work as those around her.

Emma also put together a small list of things people can do to help make her, and maybe others, journeys ‘less of a bumpy ride’:

  • Don’t make assumptions like:
    • If someone works part time it must be a good thing
    • If someone looks well, they are well
    • If someone needs to take a break or a rest, they are being lazy, and don’t laugh at them either 
    • You know how to cure someone’s disability or long-term condition
  • Respect boundaries
  • Ask what accessibility needs people have ahead of time for meetings or events etc.
    • Schedule in breaks if over an hour as common practice
  • Use inclusive language, not just in relation to disability
  • Be kind

Making positive changes to University accessibility

Robert Shiel is a Disability Liaison Officer within the university. He has worked for Newcastle University since 1980 and studied here prior to his employment. He then went to Aberdeen to get his PhD. It was when he was driving in a car in Zimbabwe, a tyre burst causing the car to roll. He suffered many injuries as a result of the accident including a broken back, punctured lung, concussion, among other injuries.

After the accident, he was flown back to Britain on what he described as an uncomfortable journey. His boss at the time told him that he had 6 months paid sick leave before he had to return to work. At this point Robert did not know what the extent of his injuries were. He found himself in the position of having to use a wheelchair as his accident had led to him being unable to use his legs.

Upon his return to work, his colleagues were very supportive, and he spent time trying to get facilities adapted for himself. He retired as an academic in 2012 and was hired as a consultant to help with access for disabled staff and students across Newcastle University’s campus. He said that the university facilities improved more and more as he was in his role and after receiving a good budget from a previous Vice Chancellor who wanted to make the campus as accessible as possible to everyone. However, Robert was not met with this kind of assistance to begin with, he said that when he first got into his role of consultant, he was met with negativity from those around him. But since his job, he has helped bring about a lot of changes to the campus and make sure all faculties, departments, rooms etc. are accessible for all staff and students.

My personal reflection of the talk

I found the talk extremely enlightening and it brought to light a lot of issues I had only ever heard in passing. Being able to hear each of the speakers experiences first-hand and learning about how different each of their stories were brought up a lot of questions for myself. I wondered why we aren’t doing more on a larger scale to help represent those with both hidden and visible disabilities, especially within education, to combat issues like imposter syndrome as not everyone within the disabled community will experience the same struggles. This is why making sure everyone’s accessibility requirements are met, whether they have a visible or hidden disability, is vital in making sure everyone feels heard and can achieve their best without facing further, unnecessary obstacles.

Thank you so much again to all of the speakers for taking the time to participate in this discussion. The next My Journey event with new speakers will be taking place in the new year – we hope to see you there! Keep up to date with events over on our Twitter page @FMSDiversityNCL!

Carer’s Week 7-13 June 2021: Make Caring Visible and Valued

Do you provide unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, illness, mental health condition or requires extra help as they age? Many of our colleagues are performing this role and don’t realise that they are a carer. One of the missions of NUCarer’s network is to help carer’s identify themselves as a carer, acknowledge their role and get the support they are entitled to.

What defines unpaid care? This can be something as simple as doing a weekly shop for a person or taking someone to visit relatives. Conversely, it can be a complex role of administering medication, providing transport to hospital appointments or providing personal care. The range of activities which defines a carer is vast. If you think you might be a carer but are not sure, use this simple checklist of daily or routine tasks to determine whether or not you are.

Introducing NUCarer’s Network Representative for FMS: Dr Kelly Coffey

The theme for #CarersWeek2021 is “Make caring visible and valued” and is the perfect time to introduce myself as the FMS representative for the NUCarer’s Network. I work within NUTCRI as a tenured research fellow and have been an unpaid carer for around 20 years and a mum for 5 years. Like many people, I didn’t realise that I was a carer for many years. Indeed, it is often when caring responsibilities become overwhelming that a person finally realises that they perform a caring role.

My caring journey began with my Gran, simply taking her for her weekly grocery shopping. It was actually something I looked forward to doing and never once thought of it as a caring role. Subsequently, I then became a carer for both my parents.

My caring role was negligible to begin with. During my PhD I found that I was having to deal with more of their financial matters as the internet became more established. My father was a miner for all his working life until he retired due to colliery closures. My mum was a homemaker for all of her married life as was the tradition in Northumberland. Neither one knew how to turn a computer on never mind navigate the internet!

Meanwhile, in my working life I was doing OK. I got my PhD, I did a couple of post-docs, published my research, helped write grants that were funded and then to my amazement I got an external fellowship to start my own research group from Prostate Cancer UK. I had done it, against the odds (a miner’s daughter from one of the most deprived areas in the UK) – or was it luck? Yes, imposter syndrome – lovely to meet you! A couple of years into my fellowship I welcomed my son, Matthew, into the world and life would change forever. It was at this time that my caring role started to evolve ever bigger into a perfect storm that would rage for 5 years with a grand finale of Covid-19.

The hard manual labour that Dad endured for well over 30 years took its toll on his body. During that time dad had a pacemaker fitted, a new hip fitted, skin cancer removed, to name but a few issues. Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the same time which progressed very quickly and I developed gall bladder disease all whilst getting used to motherhood and being a new group leader. It became commonplace that I would be called out at 2am to deal with a fall or hospital admission and then go to work with no sleep at all. To this day I don’t know how I did it. But it was becoming apparent to others that I was killing myself and needed help and this would come from an unexpected place – a progress review interview for my fellowship. That was the first time I “confessed” everything in the work environment in its raw and unedited form and it was the best thing I ever did.

Since then, a lot has changed. I joined NUCarer’s and discovered there were so many others in my position or had done it all. I got practical advice from the experience of others and much needed peer support. I know I have the Employee Assistance Programme should I ever need to call upon it.

Sadly, in May, one week before her 80th birthday, mum passed away holding the hand of a stranger, to whom I will be forever grateful. On New Years Day 2021, I sat with my dad as he took his last breath. Neither caught Covid, which I consider a minor victory in all this. So, for now, my caring journey is over and a journey of healing has started.

I feel very passionate about helping colleagues to acknowledge that they are carers and to be proud of what they do. Passing on our knowledge to other carer’s once our journey is over is so important which is what makes NUCarer’s such an important resource. I can’t recommend this network enough.

For more information about NUCarer’s, events during Carer’s Week 2021 and how to join can be found within the latest NUConnections article.

NUMed10: A Milestone of Excellence  

“We truly have a community that is both diverse and inclusive at NUMed, and we are incredibly humbled that so many have come to be with us to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We anticipate what the future holds as we continue to develop our role in medical education in Malaysia and across the world,”

– Prof. Chris Baldwin, the Provost & Chief Executive Officer of NUMed

On 21st September 2019, Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed) turned 10. Since welcoming its first cohort of students in September 2009, this first international branch campus of Newcastle University has been delivering exceptional medical education in Malaysia, extending the legacy to the Southeast Asian region. NUMed’s global community of students, faculty, staff and alumni convened to celebrate this momentous milestone, which was marked by a medley of local cultural performances and moving speeches by international and local leaders in education. Prof. Baldwin imparted his thoughts on what he observed were the makings of NUMed’s success: the excellence of all its staff, both academic and professional; the cooperation between NUMed, Newcastle University, UK, and NUMed’s partners in Malaysia; and the openness and collegiality of the NUMed community, whether international or local.

The Founding Provost and Chief Executive Officer of NUMed, Professor Reginald Jordan, spoke fondly of his experience: “Having seen the NUMed project through the early development stages, our move to the region marked the culmination of much hard work. It was a most exciting, if somewhat daunting, prospect, with the challenge being to translate the planning blueprint into reality and to fully realise the NUMed vision.”

Fast forward ten years, and the FMS EDI Team and the School of Medical Education Academic EDI Lead have been proud to support colleagues at NUMed to form their own EDI committee comprising 11 members of staff, a mixture of PS and academic staff plus two students. The team at Malaysia took the initiative to hold discussions with their counterparts in Reading and Southampton prior to setting up the EDI committee. These two campuses, along with Nottingham and Herriot-Watt, do not have local EDI committees, as a result NUMed has been a trailblazer, as the first campus in the region to look at EDI from a local perspective.

The over-riding principles for EDI work at NUMed are not around replicating what is currently in place in Newcastle but ensuring that the work is relevant for Malaysia. In deciding on the priorities for EDI at NUMed, members of the EDI committee attended an event in February 2019 held at the British Malaysian Chamber of Commerce where the keynote speech around EDI was delivered by the Deputy Minister for Women, Family and Community. In this speech the four key EDI areas for the Malaysian government were highlighted i.e. gender, race, disability and language and it is these areas that the EDI committee have taken as the cornerstone of their current work.

We are proud of the role that NUMed plays in the success of the Faculty and the University. As Prof. Richard Davies, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Global, of Newcastle University noted, “The real strength of NUMed lies in the talented and passionate people of the university with shared affinity, ambition, and dedication. With that, there is no doubt that the best is yet to come.”



FMS EDI Week Programme: 21st-25th January 2019

FMS is holding its very first Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Week – why not come along and get involved?

We are holding the Faculty’s first EDI Week for our staff and students to celebrate our recent Athena SWAN Silver Award for our work towards gender equality. There will be a range of activities and events that not only reflect on our recent achievement, but consider where we go from here in order to provide more inclusive work and study environments that give everyone equal opportunity to succeed.

Take a look at what is on, and book early! We hope to see you at one of our events!


21st January:

  • Why does EDI matter? – 12-1pm, The Boardroom
    We launch the week by hearing from members of the senior leadership team about why EDI is important to our Faculty and the people who work and study here. Read more and register.
  • EDI and TechNET – 1-2pm, The Boardroom
    Members of our technicians network talk about how EDI is central to the work that they do both in the Faculty and across the University. Read more and register.
  • How to embed EDI in the Professional Pathway? – 2-3pm, The Boardroom
    Our Director of Faculty Operations, Katharine Rogers, will talk about the new professional pathway and how EDI is being embedded into its development. Read more and register.

22nd January:

  • EDI at NUMed Malaysia – 10-11am, Leech L2.9
    Come and meet Chris Baldwin, CEO and Provost at NUMed, to find out more about their approach to EDI in Malaysia. Read more and register.
  • Mindfulness – 12.30-1.30pm, Leech L2.8
    An introductory session led by our very own Michael Atkinson. Read more and register.
  • EDI Bites: What is Athena SWAN? – 12-1pm, The Boardroom
    Our EDI Team explains what Athena SWAN is, what our Silver Award means, and what our plans are for progressing gender equality over the next four years. Read more and register.
  • Athena SWAN: An institutional perspective – 3-4pm, The Boardroom
    Judith Rankin, the Dean of EDI, will talk about the university’s application for a Silver Award renewal, which will be submitted in April. Read more and register.

23rd January:

  • EDI design principles for FMS  – 12-2pm, Colin Ingram Seminar Room (IoN)
    Jane Richards and the Good to Great (G2G) Team hold an interactive session to hear your views about how EDI should guide FMS in the future. Read more and register.
  • Why should we become conscious of our Unconscious Biases? – 2-3pm, Leech L2.2
    Tom Smulders and the IoN EDI Team run an introductory session about unconscious bias and how to combat it. Read more and register.

24th January:

  • EDI Lunchtime Fair – 12-2pm, the Atrium/Entrance to the Medical School
    For staff and postgraduates to find out more about different networks, mentoring schemes, support for wellbeing, and get a chance to speak to EDI representatives. Light bites provided. Please register your interest for catering purposes.
  • Athena SWAN Celebration & Unveiling – 12.45, Entrance to the Medical School
    The Pro-Vice Chancellor of FMS, David Burn, will unveil the Faculty’s Athena SWAN Silver Award to mark the achievement that the award represents.

25th January:

  • ‘For Families’ Launch Event  – 10.30am-12pm, David Shaw Lecture Theatre
    Event jointly hosted by NU Women and NU Parents to launch NU’s new family-friendly initiative, update on its progress, set out plans for the future and take feedback and questions. Read more and register.
  • Friday Fizz and Feedback – 4-5pm, The Atrium
    Join the Faculty EDI team for a glass of celebratory fizz and tell us what you thought of our first EDI Week, or what you’d like to see next year at EDI Week 2020! Bucks fizz and non-alcoholic sparkling provided. Register your interest for catering purposes here.

FMS EDI Week 21st-25th January – save the date!

FMS will be holding its very first EDI Week from the 21st – 25th of January – why not get involved?

The week is firstly to celebrate our successes so far, with the unveiling of our Athena SWAN silver award, which recognises our achievements in promoting and progressing gender equality for all staff and students. However, as well as reflecting how far we have come, we will also be thinking about what we would like to achieve, and will be running a number of events and activities that staff and students can get involved with.

Although we are still confirming some events (final programme to be announced early January), we have some already pencilled in and you can get the times into your diary now!

21st January:

  • Launch Event – 12-1pm,
    “Why does EDI matter?” – hear from staff about why EDI matters to them.
  • EDI and the Professional Pathway – 2-3pm,
    Katherine Rogers, Director of Faculty Operations

22nd January:

  • EDI Bitesize: “What is Athena SWAN?” – 2-3pm
    Candy Rowe, Director of EDI for FMS will explain what Athena SWAN is and what it means for the Faculty.
  • Athena SWAN Silver for Newcastle University – 3-4pm
    Judith Rankin, Dean of Diversity will talk about the work currently going on to renew the University’s institutional Silver Athena SWAN Award.
  • Wellbeing Session – lunchtime (TBC)
    Session hosted by Michael Atkinson on mindfulness.

23rd January:

  • EDI Design Principles for FMS  – 12-2pm
    Jane Richards and the Good to Great (G2G) Team will run a session about embedding EDI into faculty working in the future.

24th January:

  • EDI Fair – 12-2pm
    A fair to showcase information and get a chance to speak to the EDI Team, representatives from different staff/PGR networks, and the ECR Mentoring Scheme.
  • Athena SWAN Celebration & Unveiling – lunchtime (TBC)
    PVC of FMS, David Burn, will unveil the Faculty’s Athena SWAN Silver Award and celebrate the incredible work and achievement the award symbolises.

25th January:

  • ‘For Families’ Launch Event  – 10am – 12pm
    Event jointly hosted by NU Women and NU Parents. It will provide information on NU’s new family-friendly initiative, update on progress, set out plans for the future and take feedback and questions.