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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Creating sustainable change

My Lived Experience: Julie McGowan

Understanding the lived experience of our colleagues is central to our disability inclusion strategy. It raises awareness of visible and non visible disabilities and debunks the myths around the umbrella term of ‘disability’. To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we have created a series – ‘Enable: My Lived Experience’ where we speak to our colleagues to find out about their own, or family members’, lived experience to discover what it means for them in their day-to-day role at Clifford Chance. This week we speak to Julie McGowan.

Hi Julie! Tell us about yourself and your role here at Clifford Chance.

I’m a Document Production Specialist in the London office. I’ve worked for Clifford Chance for 27 years and originally started as a secretary part-time, then in 1999 changed to an evening operator.

Tell us about your disability (and / or long term injury or condition, or workplace adjustment.

In 2007, whilst driving home from my shift, I was hit head on by a drunk driver seconds from my front door. Totally trapped in my car for hours and was cut out unconscious. Luckily, I don’t remember much at all. I was hospitalised for weeks, as both of my feet had been trapped by the engine in the footwell. I was unable to bear weight, as my right ankle was broken completely and my left the foot had been twisted round 180 degrees! To cut a long story short, I spent seven years off sick and had 10 major operations to fix my feet. I was in a wheelchair for a year and then unable to walk very far for the next few. After each operation, I spent my recovery in a wheelchair. It was expected that I would never return to my position at the firm due to mobility issues – I often used a mobility scooter to get around. But despite this, in 2014, after all my operations were complete and nothing more could be done for me, I returned to my position to see how I would get on. I still struggle on a daily basis as my feet are totally pinned together. A day in the office is like running a marathon.

How has Clifford Chance enables you to work and thrive?

When I returned to work, it was phased over a period of weeks fully supported by the Occupational Health Team until I felt ready to do a full day. I have now been back seven years and love my job and am so glad that I returned. It’s made me feel like my old self again and helped me feel more positive for the future.

How have you enabled yourself and your family?

My accident, as you can imagine, not only affected me, but my whole family. I needed carers to help me on a daily basis for many years. My husband retired when I returned to work so that he could take over the household duties – it also took its toll on him. He says that me returning to work gave me a purpose as I have always worked and always loved my job.

How did the pandemic affect you?

When the pandemic hit, it made my life so much easier. No more early train journeys and aching feet, as I work 8am - 4pm, a very early start. I only had to move from one room to the other and could have easily worked full-time as there was no walking involved. The only downside was not seeing my colleagues. I’ve got to know so many people over the years and I missed seeing them all.

What is one piece of advice you would give to others who may have a concern about sharing their disability, long-term injury or condition with the firm or the wider world?

It’s so much easier when people know your situation. Not that anyone wants sympathy, but it just saves embarrassment on both parts if, for some reason, you come across something that you struggle with, like stairs or walking somewhere. If I were in wheelchair, it would be obvious, but for me, it isn’t. When a disability isn’t obvious, most people assume that everyone can do the simplest of tasks, like walking, hearing or seeing. With the world as it is today, GDPR makes sharing personal knowledge impossible, but in some instances, it would actually make peoples’ lives easier and more comfortable if disabilities were more well-known to colleagues, so I think that sharing your disability can only be a positive thing.