Interviews

Disability rights advocate from Enfield discusses his role with charity

Toby Morrison is an independent mental health and independent care advocate for Voice Ability

Toby Morrison (credit Voice Ability)
Toby Morrison (credit Voice Ability)

A 32-year-old Enfield man repeatedly discriminated against because of his disabilities has spoken about how he has “found his calling” working as an independent advocate.

Toby Morrison has been sharing his story during UK Disability History Month, which runs until 16th December and this year is focusing on the experience of disablement among children and young people in the past, now and what is needed for the future.

The Coventry University graduate has been an advocate since January 2018, and has been reflecting on his experiences growing up as part of the month’s ‘disability, childhood and youth’ theme, what led him to advocacy, and some of the special moments he’s had in the job.

“I have a history of complex needs, and so I have a lot of empathy for the people I work with,” said Toby, who now works for voice and rights charity Voice Ability as an independent mental health and independent care advocate.

“I had a stroke before I was born. I developed a condition called hydrocephalus which means ‘water on the brain’, and had brain surgery at about six months old.

“I have a variety of other conditions like hemiplegic cerebral palsy and I’m visually impaired.

“Around the time of choosing my GCSEs I was told ‘you can’t do sport and you can’t do art’, so I didn’t. It was a real knockback.”

The discrimination continued when Toby was doing a Btec in health and social care, with one of his course tutors telling him that as someone with complex needs he “shouldn’t be in education”.

Toby made a disability discrimination complaint against the tutor and they resigned, but he then had a similar experience at university. Toby said: “It was another point where I was very aware of what my rights were.

“Okay, I’m a disabled person and have complex needs, but I have rights and need to make sure that my voice is heard. It was a very empowering experience.”

Toby’s decision to become an advocate has been influenced by his wife, who was detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act.

“There was some pretty awful stuff that happened in hospital and there was no-one to speak up for her, apart from me and her parents.

“I think I had the realisation that if my wife has been through that experience then others were, and I needed to be in a better position to help them understand their rights, to remind them that they are empowered to have a voice and make change.”

Since becoming an advocate five years ago, Toby has supported many people in this way. On one occasion, a person he was advocating for asked him to be on a hospital ward within ten minutes – otherwise they would end their life.

Fortunately, Toby was able to get to the ward quickly, setting goals with the person, and creating and working through an action plan together.

Toby said: “Six months later I received an email from them, saying: ‘Because of the impact that you had on me while I was in hospital, I’m now doing my national advocacy qualification so that I can do what you do and support others in similar situations.’

“As an independent advocate you get to make a difference in the world that no-one else can, because you are truly on the person’s side. You are advocating the person’s voice.

“It’s really extraordinary hearing people say: ‘Thank you for helping me to speak up and not giving a viewpoint, other than giving my viewpoint.’ That’s what gives me the energy to carry on doing the job that I do.”

Toby added: “Not many people can say they have found their niche. It might sound cliché, but when work doesn’t feel like work beyond the times when things are a bit stressful, then you know you’re in the right role.”