Tell us a bit about yourself. What's your story, what do you do at Virgin Atlantic 

I'm Charlotte and have been with Virgin Atlantic for over 21 years. I've worked in several departments, including Customer Care dealing with our accessibility customers. I've recently moved to Special Assistance, where I work with our most vulnerable customers before and sometimes after travelling.


Where do I start.....I always knew I was different. Kids at school weren't pleasant, calling me names, and I hated doing PE too. 


I was also questioned on 'my walk' and 'my disability' by so many people throughout my life! I was always extremely defensive and went mad and would answer with 'what do you mean? I don't have a disability!' 


I've always gone to my GP for tiredness, had blood tests which were fine but was told I was lacking Calcium and Vit D. At the ripe age of 43, I went to speak to my GP about my balance; this is without alcohol 😉, or lack of it and broke down with frustration! She sent me to physiotherapy, which was ongoing for quite a few months. This was quite an emotional part of my' journey'. I saw a senior physiotherapist within the neurological/rehabilitation department. I thought nothing of this, but I felt a bit silly as other patients there were in wheelchairs or had noticeable disabilities, i.e. Strokes etc. At the end of the course of appointments, they recommended medication. I didn't think anything of it and got a prescription and then read the information leaflet, which listed a few conditions this is prescribed for.


So, I went back to see my GP to talk to her about it. I asked more questions as to what it was for. This was when I was hit with the word 'palsy'; it's what's known as 'mild' cerebral palsy. At last, I thought someone had finally said I have a condition. That's all I've ever wanted is to know what and why I feel like I do. I left feeling pleased in a funny way, but then that soon wore off, and then the realisation hit me like a big brick. I read up about CP, and all the symptoms are me!!

I had so many emotions; the main one is that I've felt like I'd been telling lies throughout my life when questioned about 'myself'. During the early time of the diagnosis, I felt angry and upset as to why I wasn't told this earlier. I know I'm still having to come to terms with it, and even more so during COVID and lockdowns.  


I was born breach and believe I didn't breathe for 20 mins. I didn't make any noises until I was 10 days old. I didn't walk until I was 2 and had to be propped up with cushions to sit up. My parents were left very much in the dark regarding my condition; they were told I would grow out of it as I got older; what 'IT' was, was never explained to them.


Since the diagnosis, I have seen a Neurologist, had MRI and CT scans. Different medications were suggested, including Botox!! However, I decided at that time that I'd managed well in my life and done everything I wanted to do, although admittedly sometimes with difficulty. So, I decided against taking any medication.


My GP has shown so much support from the beginning even up to now. At the beginning, she even tried to locate my medical records from birth.  But with no luck, as they are destroyed after 25 years!! 


In the early days of Covid/lockdowns and the new way of working at home, I went on regular walks. However, within the last 8-12 months, I've seen an intense deterioration in my confidence with walking unaided without the arm of my partner Richard :-( I've had a few falls, which have also knocked my confidence. My GP has referred me back to my Neurologist. She said that she has seen a lot of neurological patients since Covid whose confidence has been lost. I had another MRI scan to see if anything had changed. Thankfully it hasn't, but she can't answer why I'm struggling with my mobility. So, I'm currently waiting to see a Neurological Rehab Consultant, who works with a number of teams; physios etc, to come up with a programme for me.


What does the DEN network mean to you? / Why did you join the DEN network?

I joined the DEN network when it first started, predominately as I dealt with concerns from our Special Assistance customers. This meant I could add some input into our customers' challenges. 

Obviously, it has now progressed a lot further with not only our customers but also colleagues across Virgin Atlantic. 


Being a member of the DEN Committee has really helped me with the challenges I've had recently. They have certainly reassured me and offered so much support. Sadly, I would say that they are my 'security blanket'.  


How do you find working at Virgin Atlantic? / How well supported to you feel in your working environment? 

I absolutely love working for Virgin Atlantic. We've certainly all had some difficult times, but it is my colleagues (VAA family) that keep me strong. I certainly have had some challenges along my Virgin journey but I feel I have now become a stronger person for this. I now feel extremely well supported in my working environment. I have an extremely understanding manager who offers so much support; even just by asking 'how are you doing?'


What can others do to be a good disability ally?

I feel you need to acknowledge and respect individual experiences and abilities. It's very important to learn about different disabilities and how some conditions can affect people in many different ways. 

Don't be afraid to talk and ask questions!


Who has inspired you? 

I'm greedy and have a few inspirations!


Along my journey at Virgin Atlantic, I've had the pleasure of meeting some of our amazing Special Assistance families. They've inspired me to see that nothing is impossible, and you can achieve anything. 

These lovely people know who they are 😊


I also have had the pleasure of working with some lovely inspirational people. The first lovely lady (she'll hate me for calling her a lady), is Rachel, who lives in Barbados. I'm now proud to say she has become a firm friend. She is a strong, determined lady and has offered me many words of wisdom! Second lovely lady, or Angel as I call her, is Debbie. She is a kind, elegant lady who will always give me wise words of encouragement. She has such a calming personality and has helped me in many ways since my diagnosis. 


Finally, I have to say, Becki, who is my Pilates Instructor. I started doing Pilates when I was diagnosed as I was told it'll help to strengthen my legs. Becki is amazing, full of positivity, and a 'can do attitude. She would often send positive quotes that would always be read at the 'right time'. I'm not the best at it, but she always will help me discreetly when I struggle with some of the moves.


Why are days like the International Day of People with Disability so important? 


It's important to celebrate the achievements and contributions of people with a disability. 

It's a way to break down barriers to inclusion and fight for the rights of individuals like me.


What barriers have you faced as a result of your disability or health condition?


I've always had barriers and challenges, but as my Dad used to say, 'you always did everything you wanted to do, albeit sometimes in a 'Charlotte way'. Now I know about my own condition, it has enabled me to face any challenges and questions stronger!