Read aloud or translate

Why I’m an advocate – Toby’s story

21 November 2023

VoiceAbility’s Toby Morrison – who was repeatedly discriminated against as a student because of his disabilities – has spoken about how he’s found his calling working as an independent advocate.

The 32-year-old – who grew up in the Hornsey area of London and now lives in nearby Enfield – has been sharing his story during UK Disability History Month. 

The month runs from November 16 to December 16 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.

Toby, who now works at voice and rights charity VoiceAbility as an Independent Mental Health Act Advocate and an Independent Care Act Advocate in the Redbridge area of London, said:

I have a history of complex needs, and so I have a lot of empathy for the people I work with.

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, and had a similar experience at university.

Understanding my rights

He said: It was another point where I was very aware of what my rights were.

OK, 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.”

Becoming an advocate

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 10 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.

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.”