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Opinion: When I became disabled I thought I had no future but now I'm studying for a PhD

I thought my life was as good as over when I became disabled and lost my business, but studying at the National Learning Network changed everything, writes Keith Murphy.

Keith Murphy

I COME FROM Kildare and was a painter by trade, I was running my own business when I fell off a ladder in work in 2007 and suffered catastrophic injuries.

I fractured some vertebrae in my back and in my neck and busted my right arm, so my shoulder doesn’t really work properly anymore. I was in rehabilitation in Tallaght Hospital for two years on and off.

I lost my business and couldn’t support my family. One of the hardest things was that my wife had just had our fourth daughter a few months before I fell, I was in a brace from my neck to my groin and couldn’t even hold the baby. 

While I was in rehab I was going mad through lack of doing anything, then the occupational therapist suggested Naas National Learning Network as a place they had directed other people to.

I had left school very early and really had no qualifications, I didn’t even know how to use a computer, so I went up and had a chat with them but I didn’t sign up.

I felt like I was the village idiot who didn’t even know how to surf the web.

But the occupational therapist continued to encourage me and eventually I went back for a second meeting, there I met a tutor who was very inspirational to me and together we worked out how I could start studying.  I started with a computer course and I ended up staying for two years.

I became really enthusiastic about learning as it opened up my mind and I wanted to go further. I decided I wanted to be a tutor because I could see how they’d helped me.

I was so low when I joined the course, my business was gone there was no money in the house and felt like I was on the scrapheap, with only sitting on a sofa to look forward to.

But attending the National Learning Network five days a week my mood started to lift.

When you go in and you decide what you would like to do you’re 100 per cent supported and you’re empowered.

Nobody is doing it for you, they’ll show you the path to walk, but it’s up to you to walk it. I felt empowered, which was important to me.

I could never take up up a manual job like painting again since the accident, I did try it  but it takes ages for my body to repair and sometimes the power in my right arm goes. No one wants a painter who keeps dropping the brush.

So I decided to do a degree in Anthropology and Medieval Studies at Maynooth.  I kept in touch with the staff in the National Learning Network in Naas and used to call in for a cup of tea and a chat. 

After I got my degree my tutors encouraged me to go further and train as a teacher. When I was doing that I went back to the manager in Naas and said: ‘Remember me?’ They took me back to do my teaching practice as a student teacher.

When I was fully qualified I started looking for work and in May 2014 I got a job in Roslyn Park National Learning Network and I eventually ended up as a tutor on the catering course there.

My experience meant I could really empathise with my students, I could see where they were coming from. 

It meant that they had someone to talk to who had travelled the same road they were on and it meant I could offer them advice that others might not be able to.

At the National Learning Network we empower people to move on into employment. We do this by encouraging students to set and pursue their own goals and by working with them to overcome any challenges they face.

It’s not about giving them the answers, it’s about supporting them to find their own answers.

Before I had my accident I never had any notion of disability. When you’re working on a building site you never come across it. I used to think of people with a disability as having limited capacity and limited ability. My own experience changed my perception completely, now I am totally focus on what they can do and that is a lot.

I’m still working in the National Learning Network one day a week now I’m also a social care lecturer at IT Tallaght and I’m studying for a PhD. 

Keith Murphy is writing to highlight the work of the National Learning Network the training division of the Rehab Group. 

Today is the International Day for Persons with Disabilities and the theme for 2018 is empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality. 

The Rehab Group wants to find out what the barriers are to employing disabled people, so they are asking employers to complete this short survey

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Keith Murphy

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