I felt inspired this week with it being International Women’s Day! I am very passionate about equal opportunity and this is a big part of my personal and professional life. So, I figured that this would be a suitable way to introduce myself to our clients and the rest of the internet while talking about International Women’s Day equality in general.

I am Lauren Hayes, 26 and working as an Assistive Technology Consultant for Access: Technology North. To me, International Women’s Day is not about claiming superiority over men, but celebrating how far we have come in the fight to achieve equality and raise awareness for how far we still have to go.

Personally and professionally I have been in male dominated environments. Having completed a Masters degree in Electronic Engineering I am no stranger to being the only female in the room however, I still do not feel as respected as my male equivalents all of the time. This is the sad reality of the world we currently live in, on paper I am just as qualified and just as experienced but in a place where engineering and informatics is stereo-typically a men’s profession, I feel that I need to go that extra mile to prove my worth, and that is exactly what do! I take pride in being the best I can be and proving people wrong, as many women before me have done. I realise that I am extremely lucky to even be able to gain a qualification in this field and thank the strong, dedicated women who have made this possible.

In my free time I enjoy equestrian and rugby, more recently — being in Yorkshire — rugby league! Equestrian is an odd sport when it comes to equality, lower down the ranks, at your local yards the majority of riders are women, but when you look at the top riders competing at an extremely high level, many are men. Due to this there is little prejudice — from what I have seen and experienced — in the equestrian world. Rugby however, is a different matter entirely. Most commonly heard ‘women don’t know anything about rugby’ and ‘women can’t play contact sports’; to be honest this is rarely even credited with a response. It could be argued that men’s rugby is a faster game with bigger hits but realistically we are not out there to compete with men’s teams, we are out there to have fun playing a sport we love. Peoples’ prejudices should not stop us enjoying ourselves and living life to the full!

Although I have been talking so far about the discriminated still received by women, that it not the sole point of this blog. Everyone regardless of gender, sexuality, race, disability etc deserves to have equal opportunities in life and this is one of the reasons I have undertaken employment in the sector I am currently working in.

Firstly, it makes sense to tell you about the company I have been lucky enough to start working for. Access: Technology North.

At Access: technology north we work with disabled children in their home and school environments to provide technology solutions that support and enable communication, entertainment, learning and independence.

At home, we work with parents, carers and siblings alongside our clients, to identify ways that technology might make life a little easier. This might be through the use of environmental controls or access to IT equipment for entertainment. Our ultimate aim is to help our clients, through the use of technology, to make choices for themselves, become more independent in their own home and to make life more fun!

At school, we work with class teachers, learning support and school coordinators to establish barriers to our client’s learning and independence. We make recommendations for equipment, devices and software to reduce the impact of these barriers, to promote inclusion within the classroom and to increase independence in, and access to learning.

I commenced my employment here in January this year and I am already loving making a difference and enabling children to access the same education and entertainment as their able bodies counterparts. I have found that especially for children, people with disabilities do not want to be viewed differently from the rest of the world and have the same likes and aspirations as anyone else, it just so happens that they have to overcome a few more challenges. This is where I come in. Part of my role is to provide children with the hardware and software which can enable them to take part in school lessons which they may not have previously been able to do. Some of our clients access Maths and English based software using their eyes and/or switches; these children may not be able to hold a pen or a mouse but are now able to complete their class work and get an education, which can enable them to go and and enjoy employment in the future and thus aiding independence throughout childhood and adulthood.

The same goes for entertainment, gaming, and socialising. Children want to ‘fit in’ with their peers, playing the same games or using the same social media and this is something we are committed to providing for our clients. There are ways of customising kit so it is not associated with a disabled person and this is something that our clients find very beneficial. Along with this, big companies are working towards making there game consoles more accessible, for example Microsoft have an accessible Xbox controller which is great!

Whilst it is true that someone may not be quite as good at something as their able bodied peer (for example football), why should that stop someone taking part? Real equality is not having everyone on the same level, job or ability wise, but allowing everyone to have the chance to have a go and pursue anything that they want!

Everyone deserves the chance to do anything they want. It may be harder for some, or some may not excel as much as they want in that field, but if you get enjoyment out of it then you deserve to have to chance and I will continue to do my utmost to ensure that this equality is achieved, both in my personal and professional life.