Talking disability with Leanne Toombs
My name is Leanne, I work in Customer Services within the Customer Centre. I have worked for Virgin Atlantic for 11 years and I still genuinely love my job as much now as when I first started. I am a mum to three adult children who are all fiercely strong and independent, and a grandmother to one beautiful 16 month old baby boy who is called Teddy and is the apple of my eye. I have passion for history and mythology especially Greek, I am currently studying for a degree in Psychology and Counselling through the Open University.
I also suffer from a neurological condition called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, these are big words that when I first heard them were very scary. I suffer from too much fluid on my brain, this can give you the most horrendous headache, it can affect your mobility, speech, balance. It can leave you with constant nausea, and not being able to function on a daily basis and the worst case scenario you can lose your vision. I have had this condition for 15 years, I have had various medical procedures the final one was 4 years ago where I had a Ventricular Shunt fitted into my brain to protect my vision. After this I had a very different view on being a person with a disability, I was always a private person about this and I couldn’t be silent anymore. I wanted to make my life better and I felt more empowered by having this different mindset.
Leanne shortly after her operation and celebrating the US routes re-opening
I am a big believer in well-being and I wanted to make the place where I work a better place this is why I joined DEN. The feeling of acceptance, understanding and having that safe place to talk about my disability has made me feel so more confident as a person. The DEN network family are a phenomenal group of people who all want to make people’s lives better. To take the stigma away from having a disability of any kind, to look after those individuals who are also carers. To make our workplace inclusive to everyone, to ask people ‘how are you?’ What can we do to help, it’s this passion within the DEN network which makes me feel proud to be part of it.
I have always had the support from Virgin where it comes to my own personal circumstances. Whether I have needed time off for treatments to being able to sit down and have a conversation with my leader about how I’m feeling and if there was anything that I needed. I have always been supported with any career opportunities that have come my way. I have never felt held back with anything, this makes me just love the company even more that I already do.
I believe that anyone can be a disability ally, it’s about having empathy, understanding. Encouragement, an open mind. To always look at the ability in someone and not the dis-ability, to educate themselves and others.
The person who inspires me is comedian Rosie Jones, she is unapologetically herself. That is so refreshing, plus she is very funny, I think its just awesome that she can just be herself and not worry about society thinks.
These awareness days are so important, people need to celebrate being themselves and to show that it’s okay to have a disability of any kind and not feel stigmatised.
The only real barriers I have come across is when my speech gets affected by a bad headache. This can sometimes make my stumble over my words but you would never really know that its happening as its more of a personal barrier. But It makes me feel frustrated and I have to concentrate a lot harder on being able to make myself understood, these are always an internal battles.
After having my surgery I really wanted to travel to New York but I was a little scared of taking a long haul flight . But I really wanted to go as my birthday was coming up, after having a conversation with our Special Assistance Team. I felt more supported and comfortable with booking and flying…… And guess what this girl made her dream come true of standing on top of the Empire State Building on her 45th Birthday !!!!