Ronnie Jamieson CA discusses what it means to be “diffabled” in the corporate world and how he hopes to show people with disabilities that there is more help than they might expect.
Ronnie Jamieson, a financial accountant at Martin Currie Investment Management, was born and raised in Falkirk to a stay-at-home mum and a schoolteacher father. The only boy of three children, Ronnie shares the same birth month as his two younger sisters.
“We’ve all got birthdays within eight days of each other bizarrely,” Ronnie laughed.
“I had a really comfortable upbringing and a good family unit with both parents being very supportive and very keen to promote me as much as they could given my disability.”
Ronnie has been living with a relatively rare disability called Arthrogryposis, also known as Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC), since he was born. The term covers more than 300 conditions, the effects of which vary from person to person, but for Ronnie it has meant that the muscles in his hands and arms haven’t developed, causing him to have very limited levels of mobility in them.
Ronnie has never been fond of the word disability, instead, he wants to coin a new term to replace it.
“Give me another word that starts with dis. Disagreed or disrupt – it’s quite a negative term,” said Ronnie.
“I’ve always looked at it as diffability, a different ability. I’m differently-abled but with an emphasis on the able.
“I know I’m different from everyone else, but it doesn’t mean that I’m any less than anyone else.”
When he was growing up, Ronnie found he didn’t have much of an appetite to explore his disability in great detail, choosing to take a “stoic” approach about it and just get on with his day-to-day life.
Ronnie said: “I didn’t do an awful lot of research into what it was when I was growing up – it was just me. If you asked my sisters, they would say the same. They don’t really see the disability as such, they just see their annoying older brother. I had never met anyone like me or who had the same condition until I was in my late teens.”
“I’d always see myself as being ‘normal’, but I don’t like that word. Show me a normal person. I looked at everyone else as different to me, and I know it might be an odd way of looking at the world, but that to me was almost a defence mechanism growing up.
“That feeling gets less and less the older you get. As you gain more life experience you realise that people are generally accepting of you.”
Working with a disability
Although many people look past Ronnie’s disability and only see him, the reality of the challenges he faces working in a business environment is something he must deal with on a daily basis.
“I’d love to be able to say to me it doesn’t mean very much to be a person with a disability in the business world, but the reality is quite different. There’s the odd comment or feeling that you get that you’re not getting the same crack of the whip as everyone else, but generally, everyone has been more than accepting.
“Generally, I think people don’t see the disability, they see a competent person doing their job.”
What people may not appreciate, however, is the amount of effort that goes into the image that Ronnie presents in his professional environment.
“I think people don’t realise the impact my disability has on me and the compromises I need to make to have reached where I am now,” said Ronnie.
“I’m very conscious to present the best version of me and in the best professional manner that I can and that can be quite difficult. For instance, if I go out to a client, I need to make a plan if they offer me a drink as I can’t pick a glass up and would need a straw. Will they have a straw?
“It’s those little things, but to me, they’re quite important and I don’t want to be put in a position where either the client or I feel awkward.”
Living in a world that is not designed well for a person with his disability has meant that Ronnie has had to become a keen problem solver out of necessity, something he has found to be an asset in his career.
“I’m not a worrier, but I do think ahead and try to pre-empt problems. A lot of what I do in my day-to-day job revolves around solving problems. It maybe all links together – where I am now and the career path I decided to take.”
This forward planning mindset also relates to big purchases such as cars. While some people will buy and sell it a few years later, the engineering that comes with customising a car to allow Ronnie to steer it with his feet and the cost incurred means that he must be sure that the car is one he will be happy using for many years.
Starting a conversation
Although most of Ronnie’s experiences throughout his career have been positive, there have been times where he has had the unfortunate experience while applying for jobs of dealing with situations where people fell short of the values of ED&I that everyone should be expected to uphold.
“I’ve been given excuses like ‘Oh there’s a lot of travel involved’ and, believe it or not, I’ve had somebody actually say to me ‘How would you manage to shake the hands of clients’.”
It is interactions like this which he hopes will soon become a thing of the past as more people, both in business and the wider world, continue to openly discuss the problems faced by many disabled people pursuing a career and looking for a solution that works.
“There are certainly a lot of perceived barriers to people with disabilities coming into the profession, but there are so many resources available to people to allow them to access a computer and do their job the same as anyone else for example.”
For Ronnie, it should start with an open conversation about disability and involving those people who it affects.
“I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that I’m an inspiration and I just look at them and say ‘No I’m not, I’m just me’.
“It’s about having a conversation to start with. I think a lot of people are quite backward about coming forward and asking about disability. I think normalising it, rather than putting people up on pedestals, would then lead to having a positive conversation about disability.”