Disability in the Workplace

"I found out that I had a rare, serious and incurable genetic immune deficiency after a life-threatening infection at 24."

There are 4 million disabled adults working in the UK in 2019. For disabled and differently abled people, looking after your wellbeing at work and in life can be complex. Wellbeing is important for everyone but especially so when you are managing a chronic illness or condition. Disabilities can come in many forms from those that are immediately visible, to those that aren’t. One of the latest members of the PS family Pete has a disability. So we thought it would be great to sit down with him and have a chat about his experiences of disability and wellbeing in the workplace. Our Pete’s going to tell us why spoons are so important, how his disability affects him, how to improve your wellbeing and how PS can help you if you or someone you know is disabled. So take it away Pete!

What’s all this about Spoons

It’s an odd question, but bear with me. Imagine if I handed you 20 spoons, and asked you to describe a typical day in your life, ‘spending’ a spoon for every significant activity. When you run out of spoons you run out of energy – and you either must give up or go to the kitchen drawer and dip into your spare spoons that don’t replenish daily. Everyone has days where they wake up with fewer spoons than they expected but the average person can expect to have enough spoons to ‘spend’ on everything they need to do.

This analogy was created by Christine Miserandino, a disability rights activist, based on a conversation she had with a friend. Christine explained that most people who are disabled or living with chronic illness get fewer spoons at the start of the day or have to spend valuable spoons on activities related to managing their condition (often both).

My disability

I found out that I had a rare, serious and incurable genetic immune deficiency after a life-threatening infection at 24. Suddenly I had an explanation for why I’d muddled through life with seemingly less ‘spoons’ than most people had.

Getting a diagnosis like mine changes your perspective on a lot of things – including your relationship with work. One of the main things my diagnosis helped me realise was that whilst planning for the future was important, so too was living now. One of the most positive changes I made in my life was coming to work for Pharmacist Support. In the PS family I have found an employer, workplace and group of colleagues who are genuinely disability positive and accept my condition in the same way I do: important to be mindful of, but not defining of me as a person or colleague.


It goes without saying that many disabled people have unique or complex needs to provide for their own wellbeing that abled people do not. That what works for an abled person might not work for them. Looking after your wellbeing is not going to cure any disability or chronic illness, or even necessarily ease the symptoms of it. Thinking positive is not going to magic away clinical depression. Doing light exercise is not going to cure a complex mobility problem.

But looking after your wellbeing will help you build your resilience to pressure, hardship in general and build up your feeling of empowerment in other areas of your life – and hopefully by extension in managing any disability too. Our How to Bring Wellbeing Into Your Life fact sheet has some great examples of things you can do to boost your wellbeing. If they seem inaccessible to you, think of something you can do for the Five Ways to Personal Wellbeing described by the New Economics Foundation.

  • Connect with others
  • Keep learning new things
  • Give time, skills, money or action to a worthwhile cause
  • Be active where you can in life
  • Take notice of the people and things around you

It is a good idea to think about how you spend your ‘spoons’ as a disabled person and see if any of them are actually being spent on you – not just managing your condition and not just working, but looking after yourself as an individual. If you are the friend, partner, family member, colleague or employer of a disabled person, consider also whether you might be able to help the disabled people in your life make the most of their spoons so they have time to look after themselves as well as others.

How we can Help

If you are disabled and working, training or studying as a Pharmacist and you are worried about managing a disability in your career – whether that’s worry about loss of work due to illness, making a declaration to the GPhC, ensuring fair treatment at work, sitting your pre-reg assessment or anything else – Pharmacist Support is here to help. We can provide you with accurate information and if appropriate refer you for expert support for your situation from one of our specialist advisers.

Even if we do not have all the answers or the right service for you at the moment, we can help connect you with the right people who do, provide you with emotional support through our Listening Friends service, and consider an application for financial assistance. You can also get advice and support from Scope, the charity for equality for disabled people, on a range of general issues on their website.