While some progress is being made to accommodate disabled employees, there is still much more that could be done to help us to feel comfortable, confident and able to perform most effectively, at work.
This post highlights three crucial changes that need to take place to promote inclusivity within the workplace.
1. Better help for those with hidden disabilities:
It is evident that wheelchair-users, like myself, need physical modifications such as accessible desks, ramps at entrances and exits, and lifts. But, due to a lack of information and awareness, those with hidden disabilities are still being denied access to the minor adaptations required to enable their working day.
For example, some people with debilitating anxiety conditions can find it incredibly difficult to work in an open-plan environment. Providing a private space or even desk screening can resolve this issue, thereby enabling optimum productivity. However, some businesses would rather maintain their open plan aesthetic than implement these simple adaptations in order to assist disabled employees.
2. Inclusive bonding activity and rewards:
There is currently a lot of focus on workforce team bonding activities, since this has been found to be a successful method of encouraging inclusion. However, many of these activities are physically demanding ie. assault courses and river rafting – totally unsuitable for wheelchair-users and those with physical disabilities.
Of course, there are many more inclusive bonding activities, accessible to everyone regardless of ability. For instance, hosting a Weekly Quiz would unite team members whilst also providing a stimulating, competetive challenge. Then there are shared, adrenaline-fuelled experiences like skydiving, indoor skydiving and sailing. All of these sports cater for people with a diverse range of disabilities.
Believe it or not, bonding activities can be tailored to the needs of the individual, and made more inclusive through various adaptations.
So-called ‘escape rooms’ are increasing in popularity. Players are locked in and must work together as a team, solving puzzles and riddles in order to escape before their allotted time is up! These ‘escape rooms’ are fun, exciting and can be easily adapted for those with disabilities.
If you are feeling particularly creative, you can following the guidance here and devise your own unique, inclusive bonding experience. This way, you can ensure it will be perfect for all involved.
3. The opportunity to prove ourselves, just like everyone else:
Though it should really go without saying; as disabled people, we want the opportunity to prove ourselves, just like everyone else.
We don’t want token gestures from employers. Disabled people are skilled, talented, capable and willing to work hard. We can offer a unique perspective and want to prove our value as employees. We want to be there because we have a genuine contribution to make, and we want to be taken seriously in what we say and do professionally.
The important issue of workplace inclusion is something that requires immediate attention. Both employers and employees need clear access to information and education. Knowledge will promote confidence, which is essential for disabled people to access employment and for career progression.
Not all disabilities are visible. Right now, you could be sitting next to someone who is living with a form of significant impairment, and you would never know by appearances alone. Alternatively, you yourself may be one of many people with an invisible disability, trying to navigate the challenges of daily life.
Either way, it is both advisable and beneficial to gain an understanding of the coping mechanisms, and the ways in which people living with invisible disabilities overcome the obstacles of daily life.
It is often the case that those with a hidden disability, disease or disorder do not seek the help and support they so desperately need.
If, for example, no one sees your need to repeatedly check the front door before leaving (OCD), or that you have to sleep for an entire day after a brief shopping trip (Chronic fatigue), or that you need a glass of vodka before leaving home (Alcoholism); a genuine disability can be easily dismissed as nothing important/serious. Thus you endure, often alone, and continue with life and the issues associated with invisible disabilities/disorders.
Though your condition is not visible, it will inevitably impact and affect your quality of life and, to an extent, the lives of those around you. Sadly, it isn’t something that will just go away on its own accord either. Therefore, it is vital to seek help and advice. Whether that is finding somewhere like the Ana Treatment Centres, visiting the doctor to be screened for a particular condition, or even contacting a charity to assist with acquiring an official diagnosis.
Telling friends and family:
Informing friends and family of your hidden disability/disorder/illness can be another major challenge to overcome. You may worry that you won’t be believed, or that your nearest and dearest think you are just being lazy or making it up. Furthermore, you may not wish to bother or burden them. Perhaps you feel too embarrassed or self-conscious to share and openly discuss such a vulnerable part of your identity with others.
Of course, the decision to let people in your life know about your condition needs to come from you. It is important to remember that it’s completely fine if you don’t want certain people to know. You will find though, as a general rule, those who truly care will take the time to find out more about your disability/disorder/illness, and support you in any way they can.
Boundaries and limits:
When it comes to invisible disabilities, the expectations of the outside world, and even your demands on yourself, can often be in direct contrast to what you are able to do. This isn’t to say you should self-impose limitations and restrictions.
There are many, many disabled people out there pushing boundaries and living exciting, adventurous and fulfilling lives!
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to react with confusion or frustration when your hidden condition dictates that you cancel/change your plans at the last minute. In this situation, it is advisable to draw on all your self-confidence and establish personal boundaries rather than adapting to the demands of other people. Finally, try to avoid conforming to pressure and societal expectations.
My good friend Lucy recently graduated from Canterbury Christ Church University with a First class honours degree. Like me, 24 year-old Lucy who lives with her family in Kent, has a progressive form of muscular dystrophy.
Now that she’s free from study, I thought I’d grab her for a chat and ask a few questions about her university experience from the perspective of being a physically disabled student.
Perhaps the insight, information and advice offered here might be helpful to anyone out there with a disability who is applying to university or considering higher education.
1. Hi Lucy, can you please describe your disability and how it affects you.
Hey! Right, so…I have Congenital Muscular Dystrophy – Merosin Deficient, meaning I lack the merosin needed to knit the layers of my muscles together. Because of this, I get progressively weaker over time due to my muscles being unable to properly repair themselves.
This weakness means I can’t really do anything for myself without support from other people. It also makes daily habits difficult as I lack the strength to hold things and do things. A few examples might be that I find it difficult to feed myself as I find certain cutlery too heavy to lift, I can no longer read books unless they’re digital as I cannot hold them or turn pages, and I need regular hoisting for transfers and the bathroom.
Being a muscle defect, my organs and my lungs in particular are affected, meaning I have regular medication and ventilator intervention to aid my breathing. Lying down helps with this, as well as only being able to write/type lying down, which means I lie down most of the time.
2. Did your disability put off going to university? And what, if any, concerns did you have prior to applying for university?
I knew it would be difficult to apply to university but I wouldn’t say my disability ever “put me off” of applying. I’ve been very lucky with my education in that my parents have always pushed for inclusion and for me to receive education befitting my abilities. I went to a mainstream primary school, a grammar school for my secondary education, and college after that. So applying for university, whilst scary, was the logical next step for me.
That’s not to say I didn’t have any concerns regarding how I would be able to access higher education with my disability. One of my main worries was that Uni is a very different environment from school in that the campus is a lot bigger! Having hoists and a portable bed so I can lie down is all well and good when it’s accessible but, what if I was timetabled for lectures in a different building to my equipment? It wouldn’t be possible to transfer every 5 minutes, so it took a while to negotiate a timetable solely in one place – it was tough but doable.
3. Could you please explain the application process and any challenges you faced?
After applying and being accepted, I began having regular meetings with the disability officer who would be supporting me during my time at Uni. The disability department at my university in particular was split into different fields: physical disabilities, learning disabilities, and mental health.
We discussed suitable timetabling, storage for my hoists and bed, even suitable places for my carers to chill out whilst I was in lectures. It was all sorted over the summer months before term was due to start.
I chose to live at home with my family throughout the duration of my course (2015-18) rather than on campus, so that was one less thing to organise.
4. What support did you receive and was it difficult to get this support in place?
I have my own team of personal carers, provided by an agency, who supported me whilst a student. In my case, this wasn’t something the university or disability officer organised or supported with.
The DSA I used mainly to pay for transport. I paid for a wheelchair-accessible taxi to take me to Uni or the library each day. The finance was also used to supply me with a MacBook and accompanying software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking and Claroread, as well as a printer and allowances for things like ink cartridges and paper.
I personally found the process of co-ordinating with my disability officer really straightforward at the beginning. She really listened to what my needs were and to the best of her abilities made sure everything was in place before I started my course. However, it was once I had enrolled that her involvement became less proactive. I think a major learning experience for me would be that I should have been more proactive myself in maintaining regular contact with her.
There are undoubtedly going to be a number of disabled students on the system at whichever university you attend. Therefore, I would say if you feel you need help or advice, don’t hesitate to ask! Because, when I did ask, she generally followed through. I only wish I’d asked for her help a lot more than I did.
5. How would you rate your university experience from a disability/inclusivity perspective?
Looking back on my experience as a disabled student, I’d rate my experience quite highly to be honest. There were certain things I found more difficult but generally I was included really well. I was able to lie down in lectures and participate fully, timetabling was set so I remained in one classroom for the entire day (something which my peers were VERY appreciative of, and made it known to me regularly). My equipment both on campus and at the library was easily accessible and staff were very helpful in its safe storage. All members of staff – from lecturers to security and housekeeping were continuously supportive and understanding of my needs.
6. In your opinion, what improvements need to be made to make higher education more accessible to disabled people?
As previously mentioned, I’ve been lucky in having the family support and confidence to access university, but I know how difficult it can be to have that confidence. I think one of the main reasons for this is because the process isn’t made clear or obvious. I mean, I had to work out my own process moving forward after my application. Whilst every process for establishing individual needs at Uni is going to be different, I think it’s important that the availability of such a step is highlighted.
I think UCAS and all university websites should, as a minimum, have a clear disability section outlining key contacts of enquiry. It’s far easier to make confident decisions if you’re fully informed and know that there’s going to be the support you need behind you.
I won’t rose tint – accessing higher education as a disabled student can be like having to find your own way in the dark! By no means is it a clear, easy-to-follow process.
7. What advice would you offer other disabled people considering university?
Having now completed university, I guess I’d advise others to try their best not to get anxious about the process. Yes, it’s daunting. Yes, it’s tough. But ultimately it is worth it.
As long as you’re clear and assertive about your needs, there will always be people around to support you. If you need support with campus or timetabling issues, ask the Uni. If you need help in class, ask your lecturers. If you need a pen, ask one of your peers! It all sounds really obvious and stupid but I can’t stress enough how important it is to just ask for help. But most importantly, be confident in yourself and just be yourself!
8. As a physically disabled individual, what do you consider to be the potential challenges around the social aspect of university life?
I think the social aspects of life in any context can be difficult for disabled people but at Uni it can be especially hard for some. I think one of the most important things to remember is that, actually, it’s not just you and it’s definitely not just disabled people that have this issue.
Many students relocate for university, sometimes half way across the country, sometimes half way across the world. So you’re all going to be in the same boat in that respect.
However, I’m not dismissing the fact that disabled people have it tougher than most. I think the most important thing is, once again, confidence. Many people lack the confidence to introduce themselves to disabled people for a multitude of different reasons – they don’t know what to say, they don’t know if you can respond, they don’t know if you want to be spoken to. All of these things can seriously put people off because they don’t want to embarrass themselves, or you for that matter, so it’s up to us to have the confidence that they lack.
Introduce yourself to people at Freshers’ Fayre, be an active member of your class and, if possible, join a society or two. Be the best version of yourself and people will be drawn to you.
*All images courtesy of Lucy Hudson.
I’d like to thank the lovely Lucy for putting up with my interrogation!
She is in fact a brilliant poet, having co-authored the poetry anthology ‘Wheels of Motion’ which can be purchased here!
Award-winning ITV Soap Emmerdale recently cast a disabled actor in a pivotal role, placing him at the forefront of a major, developing storyline. Newcomer, 25 year-old James Moore from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire has cerebral palsy. His debut as Ryan Stocks, the long-lost son of Charity Dingle, has been met with universal praise and applause.
The scene-stealer instantly endeared viewers with glimpses of a multi-dimensional character and an attitude to match his onscreen mother’s. Some even say there is a convincing physical resemblance between the two.
Engaging opening scenes indicate that Ryan is set to be a strong presence; witty, outspoken and unfiltered. Furthermore, his connection with the prominent Dingle family suggests that he is not destined to become a background, token disabled character. On the contrary, Ryan Stocks will be a regular and crucial feature in future episodes.
Like many avid Emmerdale viewers, I was anxious to see who would be revealed as Charity Dingle’s son. To see a disabled actor playing the role is unexpected but as a disabled person myself, I am more than pleasantly surprised.
The casting of disabled actor James Moore is an exciting, encouraging and essential step forward in the inclusion and representation of disability within the media.
1. Hi James, could you please tell Disability Horizons readers about yourself?
So firstly, I have cerebral palsy, but it’s Ataxic CP which basically means that I struggle with movement and coordination. I struggle to walk long distances and there are certain things I know I can’t do, but I’ve adapted to these challenges in my day to day life.
I got into acting because even from a young age, I’ve always been interested in film and the theatre. I struggled with this for a long time because I didn’t know whether I would be able to make a career and earn a living from acting, considering that when I was growing up, there wasn’t many disabled people being represented on film or television.
2. As an actor with a disability, how does this lack of representation make you feel?
I think, in terms of the here and now, societies attitude to non-disabled actors playing disabled characters is too lenient. I mean, we wouldn’t let the blackface caricature continue to happen – this is deemed unacceptable. So why let able-bodied people take the roles of disabled characters?
In order to ‘normalise’ disability on screen, we first have to find disabled actors and give them opportunities rather than taking roles and opportunities away from them. I think that is the biggest and most important step.
This is why I love being a part of Emmerdale – they are showing disability in a new light and letting viewers know that we (disabled people) can be independent and have full, healthy lives. Together we’re proving that disability isn’t a defining factor.
3. What, if any, challenges have you faced in your career due to your disability?
I have faced some challenges but it comes with the territory. At the end of the day, I would most likely have to play a disabled character and they are not easy to come by.
I guess my challenges a lot of the time stem from self doubt, as well as lack of opportunity. There aren’t really a lot of roles for disabled people and so it can sometimes be hard to foresee a lengthy career in the industry.
4. How did the role at Emmerdale come about? Was it always intended that a disabled actor would play the role?
After I got my agent the role came up almost straight away and I really put my all into it. It was always intended for a disabled actor, but not specifically my disability (cerebral palsy). It was incredible how they wrote that in later and they asked me in great depth about my disability and my experiences with it.
5. Your opening scenes with Emma Atkins, who plays Charity, were incredibly impactful. What feedback have you received so far?
The feedback I’ve had so far has been amazing – everyone is so nice! My Twitter is blowing up and all of the feedback I received has been overwhelmingly positive. In that sense I’ve been really lucky.
Some people who have seen me on TV have asked for my advice. To them and any other aspiring disabled actors out there, I would say don’t give up! Take every opportunity you can; do street plays, student films and whatever else it takes. Also take the time to find the right agent – one who you think will be an asset to your career.
6. What does the future hold for your character, Ryan Stocks?
I can’t go into great detail on the future of Ryan, but there’s great humour, unlikely friendships, and gripping drama yet to come. The script is fantastic and so well written and I’m so glad that I can provide an adequate voice for this brilliant character.
I received a NHS voucher from wheelchair services at a value of £1700. I’ll be honest, I was amazed to receive this much from them as I was expecting no more than a few hundred quid (if that), based on previous experiences.
£1700 is a lot of money for which I am grateful, but it’s only a fraction towards the cost of the Sunrise YOU-Q Luca wheelchair I now need. Even with basic seating, I have been quoted in excess of £7,000.
I applied to the Joseph Patrick Trust for a grant to help out – this could be (here’s hoping!) as much as £2,500. They are holding a review panel on 1st August and I will be notified of their decision within the next ten days.
So this is currently the stage I’m at in this looooong, slooooow process. There’s nothing more I can do until the JPT have held their review in August. The waiting continues…
You never know, I might get my new chair in time for Christmas! (Don’t mention Christmas. Yes, I know, I know – sorry folks).
On 30thMay, a determined group of individuals set off on a truly inspirational challenge to become the first amputees to conquer Mount Snowdon. The team, consisting of 18 amputees from around the UK, were led by Paul Clark, who lost his leg as a result of a bone infection following surgery in 2014. Accompanying him was Leigh Joy-Staines, Co-Founder of the voluntary charity STEEL BONES, which works to connect, support and inspire amputee families across the UK to overcome the trauma of amputation.
I was fortunate to interview both Paul and Leigh, prior to their challenge. Here is what they had to say…
1.Leigh, can you please tell Disability Horizons readers a little about yourself and your disability?
I was born with clubfoot (talipes) and had about 30 operations before the age of 5 to try to rectify them. The Doctors did the best they could at the time. I managed to get through school with just a few more operations, and lived a relatively ‘normal’ life. I was always in quite a lot of pain but this didn’t stop me, as I just loved playing sports and so I didn’t care about the pain.
I was bullied a lot but luckily had fantastic, grandparents, parents, cousins and friends who stuck by me and gave me the strength I needed inside to keep going. It impacted massively on my anxiety but I hung onto those people around me. Looking back, I was actually quite a popular kid. I just let the nasty name calling go over my head.
I left school early and started working immediately. I always worked hard and partied hard at weekends. But at the age of 23, after working a job with a long commute which involved a lot of walking, I couldn’t take the pain any longer. I then went to see my GP who referred me to an orthopaedic surgeon at Guys Hospital (London).
The surgeon seemed to think it would be a simple operation to put things right. Unfortunately, he hadn’t completed the proper pre-operative checks and didn’t have my notes in the operation. [As a result] he severed my last remaining artery and the nurses didn’t realise the foot’s blood supply was cut off until it was too late. All I remember is my girlfriend (now wife) turning up with my mates to take me home, and I was rushed into an ambulance.
The team at St Thomas’ Hospital were amazing. It became a second home for me since I was there for 5 months whilst they tried to save the leg, and then whilst I learnt to walk again. Since the amputation, I’ve had lots of problems with my stump (which I call JOYBOY) such as neuromas, spurs and infections. My other leg is also now disintegrating as it has taken a lot of pressure since the amputation. I’m now working with some excellent surgeons and physiotherapists to hopefully rebuild it, otherwise I will have to lose that leg too.
2. You are one of the founders of STEEL BONES. Why did you decide to establish the charity?
We had no proactive support at the time of amputation. My girlfriend (now wife) and I just tried to pretend everything was fine and ‘normal’. We didn’t take stock of what had actually happened. I’m still dealing with the trauma and am only just really accepting what happened – It was such a huge shock. When you still want to be the lad about town but your body fails, it breaks you. But, I’ve held on tightly to my family.
We phoned several amputee charities asking for support, but none came through. We felt so lonely and isolated, particularly once our children arrived. Our son Teddy was being asked lots of questions: ‘Why isn’t your daddy strong?’ and, ‘Why does he wear a boot?’
This really hit us hard as we didn’t know how to deal with the outside world, only our little unit. So, we decided to start meeting other amputee families.
It all started with a Facebook group and it’s gone from strength-to-strength.
We have met so many amazing people and it gives us great motivation to know that we are not alone. The charity focuses on the entire family, and not solely the amputee, because an amputation affects the entire family unit including friends too.
We provide support packs and create friendships with families to ensure they have the tools and advice they need to achieve their goals. We also run a weekly fitness club and an amputee football club with Cambridge United Trust and Cambridge FA. Furthermore, we are launching a series of children’s books based on amputee family stories. We also run a schools workshop programme with ‘If Not Me Inclusion Coaching’, which focuses on inclusive sports and raising awareness of amputees.
These projects are very close to our hearts as we know the impact they make. We hope to avoid what our son endured in his first couple years at school, and to ensure no amputee family feels isolated. We also have an events programme that all amputee families are welcome to join.
Our biggest event of the year takes place on 29th July 2018 in Cambridgeshire. To find out more join our Facebook group: STEEL BONES or sign up to our mailing list http://steelbone.co.uk
3. Can you tell us exactly what this particular challenge involves?
The challenge involves a group of amazing amputee families climbing
Mount Snowdon. We have been training for the past 6 months and have endured falls, knocks, sores, blisters, aches and pains. Despite this, the hugely inspirational group has kept on going. It is just so exciting to see them achieve this incredible goal.
STEEL BONES is entirely voluntary so the funds raised by this go directly to amputee families in the UK. It provides a lifeline by putting on more clubs, events and proactively supporting the amputee community.
4. Paul Clark, you’re heading the challenge to climb Mount Snowdon in May. How and why did you first become involved with STEEL BONES?
After my amputation on 30th May 2016, it was a very hard and lonely time for myself and my family. We didn’t know who to turn to for help and support and we felt very isolated. We didn’t know what support we could get or where to even start looking. We found there to be a big lack of understanding in the public and government as to what amputation means for an individual and their family.
We came across the STEEL BONES Facebook group and realised they were local, and had been in a very similar situation to us when Leigh lost his leg. They were offering free help and support to amputees and their families, so we contacted them for some advice.
Their support from day one was fantastic. Not only did they give us advice on who to contact regarding different matters, they also helped from with forms, letters and so on until we were sorted. Their support didn’t stop after this – they continue to support myself and my family with information and advice. They have also introduced us to many new friends in the same situation. It has become one big happy amputee family!
5. Where did the idea come from?
My wife and I have always wanted to climb Mount Snowdon, so we said let’s still do it and raise money for STEEL BONES to thank them. The money raised will allow them to continue supporting other amputees and their families throughout the UK.
6. What are you hoping to achieve as a result of the challenge you have set for yourselves?
Not only is this a personal goal of ours, and a massive challenge, we also hope to promote amputee awareness throughout the UK. We want people to be aware that just because I have lost a limb, it doesn’t make me any different, and I can still overcome challenges like anyone else.
I have managed to get a great team to join me on this amazing adventure, and it’s great that I have managed to pull together a group of amputees from around the UK. Not only will this bond us as a group, it will challenge us all and show that amputees can do anything, whilst also raising a fantastic amount of money for STEEL BONES.
Show your support for the team and make a donation by clicking here.
Improving Emergency Care for people with neuromuscular conditions
One of many campaigns fronted by Muscular Dystrophy UK is the #AmbulanceAction campaign. MDUK are working alongside health care professionals and people, like me, with neuromuscular conditions to improve emergency care in the West Midlands and Northern Ireland.
Since I am resident in the West Midlands, I was invited to be a part of this long-running campaign.
👆 See above to read my response to the latest developments in Oswestry.
To find out more about the MDUK #AmbulanceAction campaign, click here.
Are you a Britain’s Got Talent viewer? If like me, you have tuned in this year, you too may have noticed that the semi-final line-up features a number of diversely disabled acts – more so than previous years.
As a wheelchair-user myself, I am thrilled to see disability increasingly represented and celebrated on such a high-profile primetime TV talent show.
Lee Ridley AKA Lost Voice Guy
Lee Ridley, also known as Lost Voice Guy, is the first act through to the live final, having won the audience vote on Monday night. Hotly tipped to win the competition, Lee 37 from Newcastle, has Cerebral Palsy and is unable to speak. This uniquely speechless comedian uses a Lightwriter – a voice synthesiser, and as he says, “walks with a limp”. He is a BBC New Comedy Award Winner who wears slogan T-shirts depicting his self-deprecating and inclusive sense of humour – his audition shirt read, ‘I’m only in it for the parking’.
Lost Voice Guy wowed audiences and judges alike with his witty routines that draw attention to and highlight the humour in disability, thereby breaking down barriers and removing social stigma. The “struggling comedian who also struggles to stand up” joked that he “really is disabled. It’s not just really good acting”.
Fellow comedian Robert White who has dyslexia, autism and Asperger syndrome, also made it through to Sunday night’s final with his hilariously quirky musical comedy act. The 41 year-old music teacher from West Sussex describes himself as “the only gay, Aspergic, quarter-Welsh comic on the British comedy circuit”.
Though his audition proved impressive, White really upped his game for Wednesday’s live semi-final, in which he employed natural comedy timing to mock the four judges. Accompanied by a keyboard, Robert White flirted with his “next boyfriend” David Walliams and quipped that Amanda Holden dresses far too young for her age, while Alesha Dixon dresses like a hooker! This was met with unanimous rapturous applause and laughter.
Most notably, Robert directly referenced the sensitivity surrounding his condition during his live act: “I am aware that if you mention autism on stage sometimes audiences can go awkward and silent”. This effectively challenges viewers to consider how they receive and react to those of us with a disability, thus initiating the conversation.
This year’s youngest finalist is 10 year-old singer Calum Courtney who has a mild form of autism. Calum sailed through to the final after melting hearts with his reworked rendition of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, in tribute to his Mum. He didn’t win the overall public vote, but having made it into the top three, was put through by the judges.
Calum was part of the line-up at the NSPCC Winter Charity Ball in aid of the National Autistic Society. His endearing and confident audition performance of Michael Jackson’s ‘Who’s Loving You’ caught the crowd’s attention and earned a standing ovation. It just goes to show that even at such a tender age, autism need not be a barrier to success.
Semi-finalists RISE, a group of young dancers from Manchester, presented two moving performances, though they did not make it through to the grand final. Group member 13 year-old Hollie Booth was caught up in the Manchester Arena bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017. Hollie’s aunt Kellie was one of 22 people who died as a result of the terror attack.
Hollie broke her knee, left foot and was left with nerve damage. She has so far had 11 operations and now has to wear an orthotic and use a wheelchair. She was keen to return to the group and continue dancing despite her trauma and the injuries she suffered. As a mark of solidarity and inclusivity in the face of adversity, all RISE dancers incorporate wheelchairs into their routines. The tearful judges hailed the girls as “inspirational”. In this case, I think the term is justified!
Final mention goes to B-Positive – the official NHS Blood and Transplant choir. The choir consists of 60 singers all of whom suffer from, or are directly affected by, sickle cell disease. Their aim is to raise awareness of the urgent need for blood donation. They sang the “powerful” anthemic hit ‘This is Me’ (a true statement of the importance of diversity). They are hoping for a wild card pass through to Sunday night’s final.
The inclusion of so many disabled acts in this year’s line-up will, I believe, have a positive impact on the disabled community. It suggests and promotes forward-thinking, equality and disability in the mainstream. Furthermore, it inspires open discussion of diversity in all its forms whilst also encouraging society to focus on ability as opposed to inability.
Widespread visibility of disabled talent within the media will naturally be met with questions and curiosity. But that’s okay because it signifies progressive inclusivity.
Many people are talking about the acts they have seen on Britain’s Got Talent. Audiences are realising that it’s acceptable to celebrate disability and to laugh about it! It is okay to ask questions since this educates and informs, thereby resulting in familiarity, recognition and ‘normalisation’.
24 year-old Becky Dann has kyphoscoliosis – a severe curvature of the spine. She was diagnosed at the age of four and became a wheelchair-user from the age of nine. She was subsequently bullied at school for her physical appearance.
You may recognise Becky as one of the participants from series 8 of the hit Channel 4 television show, The Undateables. But what you may not know is that she is also an accomplised artist.
As someone who has studied art throughout school and at undergraduate level myself, I thought it would be interesting to chat with Becky about her striking photography series, ‘I’m Fine’, and her work with Shape Arts, London.
1. Can you tell us about your photography project entitled, ‘I’m Fine’?
‘I’m Fine’ is a project that started in my second year of university. For most of my childhood, I was told I was different (due to my disability) and I didn’t understand it because I felt just like everyone else. University was when I really started to accept myself and how I looked. It was also the time when I started to realise that it wasn’t okay that I was constantly treated differently instead of an equal.
The project originally started with a research and development period, which looked at dating with a disability. As someone who started out very much hiding my disability online, I then explored why I did this and what the outcome was once I told someone. I then looked at the difference in dating online when my disability was put out there publicly from the outset.
As time went on I started to realise that looking deeper into things, I wanted to use this project as a ‘self-exploration’ project as well as a ‘challenging perceptions’ project. I was okay with how I looked – I wanted others to know that I’m okay and that people shouldn’t see me differently.
I decided to take some self-portraits in the studio as I wanted to show myself with my scoliosis on show as if to say, ‘this is me, I’m fine’.
Over the second and third year of university, I really explored this concept deeper and decided to develop the self-portraits into a live art piece. I wanted an audience and I wanted to challenge how comfortable they were around someone with a ‘different’ body. So, I advertised around my university – it was explained to audience members that the piece was a participatory piece whereby they were invited to paint a handprint and place it somewhere on my body, wherever they felt comfortable. Of course I kept my modest areas covered so people couldn’t take advantage, but I left my back clear.
It was really interesting because I was effectively a ‘statue’ and couldn’t talk. People were told to put the handprint anywhere on my body, but they continued to try and ask me where was acceptable. At one point I heard someone say, “There’s nowhere left”, though I knew full well that my back had not been touched. It wasn’t until one confident person put a handprint on my back that suddenly everyone realised it was okay.
2. How was your university experience (in terms of inclusivity and being a student with a physical disability)?
When I first started university (the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey) I was a full time wheelchair user with no clue what I was entitled to and I didn’t even know I was dyslexic. I remember first viewing my accommodation and quickly picking up on the fact that they seemed to put all disabled people together in one building, which was incredibly segratory.
I struggled to start with because I started to realise that a lot of my curriculum involved doing outdoor photography shoots, and I wasn’t sure how to do this without help – I couldn’t physically carry everything. I eventually asked for help and was pointed to our student services, where I was soon set up with a support worker which became really helpful to me.
In school, I had always struggled to retain information and although this was passed off without concern or investigation, I knew something wasn’t right. It wasn’t until I reached university that one of my tutors hinted that some students may want to go to student services for dyslexia support. I decided to seek help and see if that was the problem, and low and behold it turns out that I am in fact dyslexic! This meant I was given support with essays which became so useful since it really helped me to work to my full potential. I went from being a C/D grade student in my first year, to an A/B student in second and third year, eventually graduating with a First Class Honors degree.
I also gained enough movement in my legs during my second year, enabling me to start walking more with a crutch. Thankfully, my campus was so small and so going from campus to class was simple for me. It was great to finally feel independent.
Admittedly, I was really lucky at university as I had very supportive tutors around me, and I was there when DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) was in full force. But it was in my final year at university that I really started to notice how things needed to change for disabled students. Consequently, I ran for Disabled Students’ Officer in my Students’ Union elections, so that I could help represent my peers on campus. I won the election and helped make changes which was great. This then spurred me on to run for Campus President at my Students’ Union, where I was able to continue representing disabled students. I got to sit on boards within the university such as the Equality and Diversity board and the Inclusion board. I was able to speak out on behalf of disabled students, and help the university to become more inclusive. Furthermore, I was asked to speak at conferences with university staff about the importance of an inclusive education, and I was told by tutors who worked there that I’d made a real impact which meant a lot to me.
I was incredibly sad to say goodbye to my university, but I had the best years of my life there and I still speak to some of the staff!
3. What does your job at Shape Arts involve?
I work for an arts commissioning programme called Unlimited, which is run by Shape Arts and Artsadmin, two arts organisations in London. I am based at Shape Arts, an organisation working in the arts sector to improve access for and representation of disabled people, part of which is providing and sharing opportunities for disabled artists.
Unlimited commissions disabled artists to create their work. We have had some amazing artists such as Jess Thom from Touretteshero and Jackie Hagan too.
I am a trainee and have been working there just over a year. I am a key contact for a few of our artists, which means I am their point of call with anything regarding their commissions. When our current commissions are ready to tour, Southbank Centre has a festival at which some of our artists get to show their work. The next festival is 5 – 9 September 2018.
My role allows me the opportunity to do a lot of great things such as travelling to see different artworks, which I love. I recently went to Bristol and saw ‘The Nature of Why’ by Paraorchestra, another Unlimited commission at The Bristol Old Vic. I had already heard about Paraorchestra through working here, though I hadn’t seen any of their work and so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
As someone who isn’t usually good with immersive art, I was kind of nervous when I found out that the performance was around the audience and that dancers could come up to you. But as soon as the musicians started singing and the music started, there was a sudden wave of emotion that came over me. I listened to the whole piece so intensely and I felt so much emotion that I ended up crying! It was amazing and made me feel incredibly happy. I really love my job!
On the weekend of 12th May, my amazing brother and his two friends took on The National Three Peaks Challenge. This involves climbing the three highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales, within 24 hours.
The total walking distance is 23 miles (37km) and the total ascent is 3064 metres 6o(10,052ft). The total driving distance is 462 miles.
As you may already know, I have lived my entire life with a rare form of MD – Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. Having witnessed his little sister grow up with the effects of this muscle-wasting condition, my brother decided he wanted to do something – something big! – to help make a difference to the lives of others living with MD. That something is the National Three Peaks Challenge.
Report from my brother:
Friday 11th May: We drove ourselves from Worcestershire and stopped overnight at a place called Fort William in Scotland.
Saturday 12th May: The challenge began at 16:40 as we started to climb Ben Nevis, in sunny but very warm weather (a little too warm). We peaked in 2 hours 10 mins, reaching the snowy summit at 18:50. Visibility was perfect and gave us spectacular panoramic views of the other mountains in the area.
We then ran down to the car in a total of 3 hours 45 mins, before driving through the night to the hamlet of Wasdale Head in the Lake District, to start our climb up Scafell Pike.
Sunday 13th May: It was pitch black and rainy all the way up to the top (04:19), but the weather cleared on the way down and the Sun started to rise, making it easier to navigate. However, our descent took longer than we hoped due to extremely slippy rocks underfoot, combined with a lack of sleep.
Finally, we drove on to Pen-y-Pass in Snowdonia to begin our climb up Snowdon. The weather was perfect – sunny with very clear visibility. We took the Miners Track up to the summit (12:30) and then the Pyg Track back down.
The hardest part for me was the first 30 mins of our trek up Ben Nevis. It gets incredibly steep straight away and in the extreme heat I soon got jelly legs. But as we got closer to the summit, it cooled down and I was able to splash my face with cold water from the stream coming down the mountain.
Collectively, we all found the biggest challenge was to keep going despite the lack of sleep. It was hard to maintain enough energy and endurance to stay focused and not trip over!
Challenge completed at: 14:43 in 22 hours 3 mins
I would like to say a personal thank you to the best big brother anyone could ever wish for! We don’t do gushy at all, so he’s probably reading this wondering why I’m being so nice. Rob – you know how I feel. Loves you more x
To Adam & Dan – thank you both for being such good friends and for selflessly offering your time and efforts. It means more than you realise.
To anyone reading this, please share the link and if possible, make a donation to support the great work of Muscular Dystrophy UK: