Interview | Jackie Hagan

Award winning poet and performer Jackie Hagan’s latest show, ‘This is Not a Safe Space’, explores the impact of benefit cuts on disabled peopled and those living on the margins of society. The creative mix of poetry, puppetry, stand-up comedy and audience participation draws on first-person interviews with 80 working-class people. With an emphasis on class, mental health and disability, Hagan celebrates the weird and wonky lives of those excluded from the mainstream.

Jackie Hagan is herself a queer, bipolar amputee, raised on a council estate. Her work seeks to challenge the ways in which current society relentlessly stereotypes working-class, disabled individuals.

Following on from her previous success with the solo show ‘Some People Have Too Many Legs’ and her play ‘Cosmic Scallies’, this theatre maker once again intertwines spiky humour and quirky expression, resulting in a passionate, provocative and affecting production.


1. Jackie, could you please tell Disability Horizons readers about your disability and how it has affected you and your career?

In summer 2013 I suddenly had my leg amputated [following a series of blood clots and infections]. When I left the hospital they gave me a list of things to avoid, one of them was falling over. I toured a show that year called ‘Some People Have Too Many Legs’, which won some awards.

I had been writing and performing for some time and I had always been a disabled performer – I am partially sighted, have bipolar disorder and a life limiting autoimmune disease. But, having one leg is something people can get their heads around a lot better, people like something they can see. And so it attracted a lot of attention.

As such, when people invite me to diversity events to talk about the leg I often open with a leg gag and then go on to talk about invisible disabilities or class.

2. How and why did you become a poet and performer?

When my Mum was 16 she moved from the thrill and glitter of Liverpool to an isolated new town to have me and my brother. As such, she herself became a disco, she became thrill and glitter. How else are you meant to cope? It meant I grew up to be unafraid to speak my mind in the odd way i found natural. I wasn’t ever encouraged to toe the line or be normal.


3. How does your class, background and disability influence your work?

It means I’ve always got a cob on and I’ve got loads to say that doesn’t often get said. I’ve got council estate bones and they rattle when someone slags off a young lad for dealing or looting or having a big massive telly. I understand why this stuff happens. I’m not saying we’re saints: I’m not an idiot, but I’m closer to the action, I can talk in a measured way about the real reasons. I can give you stories and images that aren’t exaggerated or underplayed. I know what I’m on about.

Obviously it also means I come up against a tonne of prejudice and moments where people tilt their head to one side and use that sing song lilt to the voice “aw, are you in a wheelchair?” etc. It’s all total bollocks and the most satisfying way to show people is by being awesome.

4. Why did you decide to write this show, and why now?

Disabled people and those on benefits are represented in the media one dimensionally. Benefits claimants are shown as sinners: [the TV show] Benefits Street depicts us as if we’re stupid and should just try harder. Disabled people on the other hand are represented as saints, super-humans and paralympians. Real people just aren’t like that.

5. What is the meaning of the title of your new show?

I asked one of the lads I interviewed, “where do you feel the safest?”                 He thought for ages and eventually he said, “in my imagination”.

The government has messed up, massively. People are committing suicide and losing their homes. We’re obviously not safe. The new generation of kids have no security in their future, never mind jobs and homes. They’ve got climate change to worry about! Of course they are obsessed with safety, of course they need to create safe spaces.

People might be used to my old work where I would make hard topics fluffy and palatable. But in this show I need to give it to people straight. That doesn’t mean it’s unrelenting bleakness – no one can take that in, and audiences don’t deserve to have to put up with that. I know how to keep an audience with me. There’s lots of comedy and tenderness in the show, but i also know how to give an audience realities that need to be passed on. We desperately need people to empathise.

We are not safe. It is not fair. The world is not a safe space. The show is not a fairytale.

6. It celebrates and puts forth the lives and experiences of a section of society often misrepresented or ignored entirely by the mainstream. Why do you think that is?

If you [society] ‘other’ us, then you can feel less empathy and understanding. If you lack empathy, it gives people a free ride, it makes the problem go away, because it means we don’t matter.

7. Based on 80 interviews, your show intertwines poetry, DIY puppetry and stand-up comedy. That’s quite an eclectic mix! How do you begin to plan and produce such an original and engaging piece?

Humans don’t think in linear stories, we think in snippets and recurring images. It makes absolute sense to me to collect voices and stories and for me to keep on writing and writing. I then siphon it all down into central questions that I want the audience to think about, and eventually get right down into the essence which is the hour of the show.

In real talk that means A1 flipchart paper, post it notes, about a thousand gallons of tea and one amazing sound producer (Dave James who sat in a room and listened to 16 hours of interviews with me several times). I eat when I make stuff and put on about two stone. But I’d rather be a fat writer than frustrated and at my ideal weight!

8. What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?

  1. One person’s trying doesn’t look like your own.
  2. You don’t have to feel guilty for what you have. It’ll get in the way of you wanting to help.
  3. Classism is constant and as abhorrent as racism, sexism and homophobia! Learn to recognise it.


I’d like to thank Jackie Hagan for taking the time to speak with me.

My interview with Jackie was originally published by Disability Horizons, for whom I am a frequent contributor.


Connect with Jackie Hagan on Twitter and visit her website for news and more information.

Interview | Scott Watkin: SeeAbility

36-year-old Scott Watkin, an eye care and vision development officer with the charity SeeAbility, is one of this years deserving recipients of the British Empire Medal.

Scott, who has learning disabilities and the eye condition keratoconus, is recognised for his tireless work in the learning disability community.

A dedicated ambassador, Scott began his career co-chairing the learning disability partnership board on the Isle of Wight. This led onto an influential role as co-national director for learning disabilities within the Department of Health. He also lectures at the University of Hertfordshire, focusing on eye care, vision and equal rights. However, he notes his work with SeeAbility as a major milestone.


1. Scott, could you please tell Disability Horizons readers a little about yourself and your disability?

I was born with Williams syndrome which is a learning disability. Apparently I am one in ten thousand! Some of my muscles can be quite weak and my coordination can be not great at times.

I went to a special school and teachers never really paid attention to me, and it meant I didn’t really get the grades I wanted to get. I was bullied too which made learning very hard.

It also means I am more likely to have vision problems and actually I was diagnosed with keratoconus which I’ve had two corneal graftoperations on. I have quite a difficult daily routine involving eye drops and contact lenses.

2. How does your learning disability and eye condition affect you, and how have you found working with a disability?

My learning disability only shows when I’m nervous or worried about something, otherwise I’m a very confident person. I just need a bit of support to do my job and I’ve been really lucky to be supported well at SeeAbility.

My vision varies, some days it’s ok some days really poor. But I’m always ready to work!

3. What adjustments have you and/or your employer had to make in order for you to do your job effectively?

If I don’t know a journey my manager will meet me in London and we will continue the journey together. I know my way from the IOW to London very well having made the trip many times.

If my vision is really poor, we put all my information on yellow paper in Arial 16pt font. This helps me to read it better.

When I first started working I had lots of support to make steps in my job. But for me it’s just being able to talk to someone when I need to, and that’s the case at SeeAbility. If I don’t need that then I just get on with my job and carry on!

4. How and why did you get involved with the charity SeeAbility?

I first met Paula Spinks-Chamberlain (Director of External Affairs) at the Department of Health. SeeAbility supported me through my keratoconus and then I did some work as an ambassador. After that I was offered a job!

5. Could you please explain the role you play within SeeAbility?

I’m an eye care and vision development officer and I make sure people with learning disabilities get good eye care. I travel around the country giving training sessions to people with learning disabilities and carers. I need to make sure we lobby government to make sure they understand that eye care for people with learning disabilities is really important.

People with learning disabilities are much more likely to have sight problems than other people. Not only that, but they are the least likely to get the eye care they need. We are working so that eye care professionals make reasonable adjustments but what we really need is a national eye care pathway so that everyone with a disability can access a sight test.

6. You are also on the board of Learning Disability England. What are your aims and objectives in this capacity?

I try and make sure people with a learning disability have a voice. People with learning disabilities need the same access to services as everybody else.

It’s about setting the direction of learning disabilities in England. Lobbying government and challenging the social care cuts. I need to make sure we do what we say we are going to do.

7. Why is it so important to you to campaign for people with learning disabilities?

Firstly, people with learning disabilities are much more likely to have sight problems than other people. Not only that, but they are the least likely to get the eye care they need. We are working so that eye care professionals make reasonable adjustments but what we really need is a national eye care pathway so that everyone with a disability can access a sight test.

Secondly, people with learning disabilities deserve to have their voice heard. We deserve the same opportunities as everyone else as we have so much to offer. We just need the chances to shine.

8. What do you think are the main issues that require attention and improvement?

We need to stop the social care cuts and get a good eye care pathway down for people with learning disabilities so they can get the right eye care!

We need good annual health checks.

And to make sure the government take people with learning disabilities seriously and listen to what they want. For example, most people with learning disabilities want to work, and we just need employers to give us chance so we can achieve what others can have a good life.

9. Congratulations on being awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year 2018 Honours list. How does it make you feel to be recognised for your achievements?

I never thought I’d be recognised in this way, it’s a real big honour. I’m glad my work is being recognised nationally because it’s really important. It sends a message to all the eye care professionals that I work with, they need to know how important eye care for people with disabilities is.

10. Finally, what tips would you offer anyone like yourself with a similar disability, who is seeking employment?

Don’t stop trying to find employment. Don’t be afraid to say you have a learning disability and it’s ok to ask for reasonable adjustments. You will have so many positives to bring to any role and don’t forget that, you are actually very reliable, more than other people!


I’d like to thank Scott Watkin for taking the time to speak with me.

My interview with Scott was originally published by Disability Horizons, for whom I am a frequent contributor.

International Women’s Day 2018 (Belated)

Just a quick post today, to (belatedly) celebrate International Women’s Day 2018.

It is held on 8th March, every year. Here are a few quotes that resonate with me…

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?


This post comes to you a little late since I spent Thursday 8th March in hospital having an operation – fun, fun!

I’m now on the mend and planning future blog posts. What topics would you like me to cover? If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would be grateful if you would leave a comment.


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Life Update | Hospital Admissions & Disability

Thursday 8th March marked International Women’s Day 2018. For me, it was spent in hospital (Russells Hall, Dudley) undergoing minor surgery. Could be worse, I suppose!

Due to the fact I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy (a muscle-wasting condition), people are often horrified when I tell them how many general anaesthetics I’ve endured throughout my life (at least 10 – honestly, I’ve lost count!).

Although it is obviously best avoided, I’ve personally never encountered any problems or complications as a result of general anaesthesia.

I’m a big believer in knowing your own body and what you, as an individual, are able to withstand. When undergoing any form of surgery, communication is key – particularly when you have a disability.


A Few Tips:

Go prepared: Take all relevant documentation to your pre-operative assessment(s), including names and contacts for all the medical professionals you see regularly.

Meet with your surgeon(s) and anaesthetist: It is not always common practice to see your anaesthetist prior to surgery, but in my case it is essential. Explain your specific requirements and concerns, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Ensure everything is in place prior to your admission date: If, for example, you use a Bi-pap or C-pap machine (non-invasive ventilation), tell your medical team – nurses included. Make sure they know your settings and have your NIV machine ready for you to use post-operative.


I usually discharge myself on the day of surgery or, as soon as I know I’m well enough to manage at home (again, I hear you gasp). Anyone with a disability who has spent time as an inpatient will appreciate why I prefer to escape as soon as physically possible.

Don’t get me wrong – I cannot fault the care and conscientiousness of the doctors and nurses. I am a big supporter of the NHS and frankly, I would not be here today without it.

However, the sad fact is, hospitals in the UK are not equipped for those of us with disabilities and complex care needs. Trust me – having been admitted many times, to various hospitals, for various reasons – I am well versed!

On this particular occasion, it was necessary for me to stay in hospital overnight. My Mom was with me all day but went home at around 7pm when it became apparent that I was unfit to leave. This essentially left me alone and stranded in bed (one that didn’t work!), unable to move, reach or sit myself up.

I couldn’t and wouldn’t expect Mom to stay with me all night, in order to assist with my physical care needs. She herself has recently had a full knee replacement and was exhausted.

After a long, uncomfortable night spent clock-watching, I was incredibly relieved when my folks returned at 11am on Friday to take me home. My home is set up for my care needs. Unfortunately, hospitals are not.


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Interview | ‘The Undateables’ Steve Carruthers

“It is a life-changing experience.        Embrace it!”


The Undateables is a Channel 4 TV show featuring people with a variety of disabilities, all of whom are looking to find love.

Steve Carruthers, who has Crouzon syndrome (a genetic condition affecting the shape of the face and head), was a participant on series two, back in 2013. Though romance did not blossom with his date, the experience gave him much needed confidence.

Following his appearance, Steve – now 36, from Manchester – soon met the love of his life Vicky, through social media. Vicky had in fact seen Steve on the show and decided to contact him.

The Undateables screened Steve’s romantic proposal and the couple later married in 2015.

1. Steve, why did you apply to The Undateables and, what reservations did you have?

I initially applied for a different show called ‘Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice’. As a result, I was approached to appear on series one of ‘The Undateables’, but declined as it had never been on and I didn’t get the gist of the show. After series one ended, I was approached again but this time it was by my good friend Adam Pearson, who worked with the team to find participants for the show. He convinced me to give it a chance as he said it would help me with my confidence and outlook as I had a negative outlook on life after the loss of two of my siblings. I was a bit reserved and concerned that after being on the show, more people would make fun of my appearance. But, in doing the show, my outlook changed to a positive one and allowed me to helped people.

2. How were you treated throughout the production process?

The team were incredibly nice and understanding. Everything was treated with care and compassion.

3. What response have you received following your appearances?

Like all things with TV, there are negative people who see disability as something to mock and joke about. But the positives outweighed the negatives in a huge way. People are so kind and understanding. I found that it [the show] helped educate people about disability. It also helps with how we perceive ourselves and how society perceives us to.

4. The show has been accused of being insensitive and exploitative. The title in particular is widely criticised. What do you think?

The show itself everything you see. It is exactly how dates are – you have moments of silence, awkwardness and moments of hope. The shows titles show cupid shooting the [prefix] ‘Un’ off, leaving the word ‘dateables’. The point is to prove we are all dateable, and that we [disabled people] have the same experiences on dates as everyone else does.

5. What would you say to anyone who is considering applying to the show?

My advice to anyone going on or applying for the show is go into it with an open mind. There will be those who will say [derogatory] things, but overall the positives more than outweigh the negatives. It is a life-changing experience. Embrace it! The positive message you’re putting out helps others as well as yourself. The impact the show’s had has given so many people confidence. Those who watch the show have gained so much more understanding of different disabilities too.


I’d like to thank Steve for taking the time to speak with me.

You can watch his original appearance on the show here.

Images courtesy of The Undateables and The Sun


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