Album Review | Tabi ‘I Wrote Life’

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing singer-songwriter and disability activist Tabitha “Tabi” Haly, who, like me, lives with a form of muscular dystrophy.
Tabi performing songs from her debut album
You can read my interview with Tabi here!

Tabi, who has spinal muscular atrophy Type 2 and uses a powered wheelchair, is a 35 year-old musician from New York City. She began singing to exercise her weakened lungs and writes about the physical and social obstacles she faces.

She is already an established performer, having opened the first ever Annual NYC Disability Pride Parade in 2015, followed a year later by her own show, ‘A Concert on Life, Love and Being Different’. In 2017, this show sold out at the Rockwood Music Hall. Tabi has also performed at the Prudential Center and Brooklyn Dodgers stadium.

Her self-penned debut album entitled, ‘I Wrote Life’ covers numerous musical genres and is both uplifting and poignant. With soulful, catchy melodies, this impressive first outing demonstrates artistic skill and authenticity.

The album was produced at Dubway studios by Russell Castiglione, who previously recorded Trey Songz and Norah Jones.

“Producing this album was like helping her tell her story, her struggles, and her achievements to the world and that was very humbling.” ~ Russell Castiglione

It was master engineered by Dave McNair, who has worked on albums by Maroon 5, Cyndi Lauper and the legendary David Bowie !

“Tabi puts her life into her songs. It’s refreshing to hear an artist being so real in their work.” ~ Dave McNair

Track listing for the album ‘I Wrote Life’ by Tabi

Tabi is a talented lyricist and storyteller with a distinctive tone and impressive vocal range. The album is a well-crafted, subtle infusion of R&B, rock, folk, jazz, blues, country, and dance, with a notable 90s pop vibe.

Each track is a candid representation of the different elements of her life. Though revealingly autobiographical, it is also highly relatable, owing to universal themes such as love and loss. The songs ‘I Won’t Hide‘ and ‘I Am Able‘ reveal deep insights about falling in love and healing after a broken heart.

The self-penned album is optimistic and motivational, with songs such as ‘Keep Rolling On‘ inspiring strength and hope in the face of adversity.

The title track ‘I Wrote Life‘ recounts a specific childhood memory, which summarises Tabi’s attitude to life…

“I remember as kids the teacher would say, write on the board a word today, so then everyone wrote their favourite thing, and there I was just imagining, how great it would be to live long and happily”

‘I Wrote Life’ is available NOW at Amazon and Spotify

Tabi with a framed album disc

www.tabinyc.com

Interview | Singer-Songwriter with Muscular Dystrophy

Tabi, who has SMA Type 2, on her debut album, ‘I Wrote Life’

Album cover for ‘I Wrote Life’, by singer-songwriter Tabi

Tabitha ‘Tabi‘ Haly is a 35 year-old singer-songwriter from New York City. She has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, a progressive condition, causing muscle weakness and contractures.

Tabi cannot walk and therefore uses a powered wheelchair for mobility. She is now unable to use her hands to feed herself and uses voice dictation software. With 24/7 support from “home health aides” and physiotherapy to maintain as much strength as possible, Tabi leads a highly proactive lifestyle.

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Tabi about her music career and debut album entitled, ‘I Wrote Life’, (released January 2019).


Tabi, what and who are your biggest music influences and why?

I grew up listening to classic rock, pop and R&B, but I appreciate all genres. I enjoy catchy, soulful melodies, so that has heavily influenced the songs on my album. I am most inspired by artists who write their own songs because that is what I like to do. I love timeless songs and I feel motivated to write when I hear something that I wish I had written myself. I also admire artists who write about personal experiences.

I love Mariah Carey because she writes songs that touch upon insecurities and feeling like an outcast. She writes about her faith and she has clever lines and an impeccable vocabulary. I also love singer-songwriters such as Anna Nalick, Sara Bareilles, Christina Perri, and Jason Mraz. They write about love and heartbreak, which I can relate to.

I also admire a wide vocal range because it is fun to sing songs that are vocally challenging. That is when my R&B influences come into play. It’s really enjoyable to improvise and jam along. I like to challenge myself in general, so I definitely apply that to my music in terms of the lyrics, melody, and vocal styles.

Tabi performing live in her powered wheelchair

How would you describe your debut album?

I would describe my album as real and soulful. I allowed myself to be vulnerable to reveal my struggles and hopes regarding my disability, love, and life in general. The different subjects lend to the spectrum of dark and light tones.

My album is also fun, diverse, and uplifting! There are a lot of upbeat, empowering songs. People like to dance to them, and it was definitely a blast recording them.

The album is diverse because it crosses multiple genres including R&B, pop, blues, and reggae. It was difficult to select which songs to put on this debut album. Ultimately I wanted to make sure there was something in there for everybody. The order of the tracks matters to me because it tells a story and hopefully feels like you are being taken on a memorable and moving journey.

Tabi proudly holding her framed debut album

How autobiographical is the album, and why was it important to you to write the songs yourself?

This album is my baby! I know people use that term a lot in reference to personal projects, but I intentionally released it on my 35th birthday. At this age, many women, myself included, start to worry if they have not yet had a baby.

SMA presents challenges in every part of my life, but I am highly ambitious and set out to conquer my goals. I haven’t yet had a baby, so until then, this album is my baby. As an artist, it is my portfolio.

This album epitomises all that I have accomplished thus far; buying my own home, getting through college via financial aid and scholarships, having a successful full-time career that allows me to be financially independent, owning my own wheelchair accessible van, volunteering regularly, helping implement change for people with disabilities, writing and managing my music, managing my home health aides, being a motivational speaker, and being able to perform throughout New York City at cafés, bars, church, and schools.

As great as this is, it does cause alot of stress, sweat and tears! So I hope people enjoy the album and heed the message that faith and hard work have afforded me the life I have. This allows me to remain positive and to inspire myself and others.

Tabi smiling on stage, performing songs from her debut album entitled, ‘I Wrote Life’

Is important to you to inspire other disabled people who may have musical aspirations?

It is, especially since we are now at a time where there are so many groundbreaking opportunities. A few years ago, I saw many people with disabilities acting on Broadway, which took my breath away and really inspired me to continue doing what I’m doing. I would love to inspire, or better yet, collaborate with other musicians with disabilities.

During the bridge of my song keep rolling on I sing, “there’s so much left to change, more than we even think. More face in media, presence in arenas”.

Tabi, dressed head-to-toe in purple, holding a card displaying the hashtag #IWroteLife to promote her debut album

Have you faced any opposition, challenges and/or stigma on your journey to becoming a musician, due to your disability?

Surprisingly, the biggest challenge is sometimes getting onto the stage to perform! Most stages are not wheelchair accessible, so I have to be prepared for that. Another major challenge is having less live music venues to choose from because not all of them are wheelchair accessible.

Tabi performing live in NYC alongside her guitarist

How do you overcome these obstacles?

In the early days, I didn’t want that to be an issue or a dealbreaker when pitching to venues to book a show. So I would have my band members and friends lift me in my wheelchair on and off the stage. I have a powered wheelchair that weighs at least 300 pounds! So that was a lot to ask, and I am thankful for the support. This still happens sometimes, but I am now more confident about asking venues to consider investing in a ramp.

There are still the same challenges surrounding the inaccessibility of venues, both for the performers and attendees. I think this is just one of many accessibility issues that exists and for which we need to implement improvements.

You were the opening performer at the first ever Annual NYC Disability Pride Parade in 2015 to celebrate the ADA’s 25th anniversary. How did that make you feel?

That was such an amazing feeling! I had just started using my wheelchair again after having been stuck in bed for a few months due to ill health. So this experience was a huge comeback and it was an honor to be a part of this event. I have to reflect on this sometimes and remember how privileged I was to perform outside, in front of so many people, during the first parade specifically for people with disabilities.


I would like to thank the lovely Tabi for taking the time to answer my questions. Her brilliant debut album, ‘I Wrote Life’ is available to purchase and download NOW!

Follow Tabi on social media:

Twitter  Facebook  Instagram  YouTube

Theatre Review | Birmingham Hippodrome

On Friday 5th April, I attended an evening performance of Les Miserables at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Over the years, I’ve seen several different shows at this theatre, and have always been impressed with their accessibility.

I am a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user, and so my primary focus is wheelchair access. However, the Birmingham Hippodrome is continually making improvements in order to be more inclusive and cater for all disabilities.

Tickets and Les Miserables theatre programme.

Accessibility at Birmingham Hippodrome

Booking & Parking

We all know how difficult it can be to book tickets for shows and concerts when you have a disability. But I can honestly say, I’ve never had a problem booking wheelchair-accessible seating at the Birmingham Hippodrome. I’ve never had to dial the booking line the minute tickets go on sale, which is often the case for other venues, and there’s even a choice of where to sit!

The Arcadian is a manned carpark situated just around the corner from the Hippodrome. It offers sufficient disabled bays and cost £7:50 for the duration of our stay (around 4 hours). This is Birmingham – parking aint cheap!

Wheelchair Access ☆☆☆☆

The Birmingham Hippodrome, refurbished in 2000, is easily accessed via the main entrance. There are multiple double doors as well as an automatic door, with security staff always on hand to assist if required.

The main front entrance of the Birmingham Hippodrome – fully accessible to all.

There is then a wide, gradual ramp to the right of the central stairway. This leads to two large glass lifts/elevators. Again, there’s always multiple members of friendly staff available to assist with doors, directions and the operating of the lifts.

The main entrance from inside the Birmingham Hippodrome.
Inside the Hipppdrome – multiple levels accessed via stairs and two glass lifts/elevators

We sat on one of two raised platform areas at the back of the Stalls (lower level), known as the Lounge. Despite being at the very back of the audience, we had a great view of the stage, and since we were elevated, we didn’t have to head-dodge!

There was also plenty of leg room and space for multiple wheelchairs, so it was very comfy.

Seating plan showing the accessible Lounge area at the rear of the Stalls (lower level).
Our view of the stage from the Lounge seating area.

There are multiple accessible toilets, all of which are clean, spacious and impressively well-maintained. They even smell good! From my point-of-view, the only thing lacking in this department is the addition of a Changing Places facility, which would no doubt be a huge asset. For this reason alone, I had to deduct a star from my rating.

In 2018, the theatre made a conscious effort to be all-inclusive by installing gender neutral toilets.

Gender neutral toilets

“The theatre offers a programme of signed, audio described and captioned performances. Touch tours have been introduced, so blind and visually impaired can familiarise themselves with the props and scenery before attending a performance and assistance dogs can be accommodated with care being provided for the dog during each act.” ~ Birmingham Hippodrome website

Click here for a full accessibility guide, provided by AccessAble

Les Miserables ~ The Show ☆☆☆☆☆

The current touring cast of Les Miserables

I had already seen the 2012 film starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, and was therefore familiar with the songs and storyline. But honestly, there is no comparison!

Now, I’m generally a fan of Russell Crowe, but as Javert he was total crap. The guy who played the same role in the theatre production puts old Russ’ to shame! Man, what a voice.

The entire cast was brilliant, with no weak links. How they maintain such a high quality performance, night after night, demonstrates the talent and professionalism of each individual.

Warning: Spoilers..!

All credit too, to the costumers and production design. Particularly impressive were the ensemble scenes at the barricades, and the moment Javert meets his watery end.

For me the highlight was the solo performance of Bring him home by protagonist Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman in the film version). NOTE PERFECT!

If musical theatre is your thing, go and check out Les Miserables!

Les Miserables balloons at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Top 5 Actors

A while back, I was invited by a strange young chappy named Mitch (twodoughnuts) to write a guest blog. The fool even gave me full access to his blog, including his password!

I was told I could write anything, as long as I didn’t “take the piss”.

Would I?! (Well, yes I seriously considered it for a moment).

Therein started what has been dubbed, by Mitch, ‘Blog Wars’.

I’m a bit of a music freak, and so I chose to list my ‘Top 5 Tunes’. Admittedly, some were thrown in there just to annoy Mr Twodoughnuts.

Let battle commence!

Mitch then tried (and failed) to win round #1 with his ‘Top 5 Tunes’ – poor attempt, man!

Now the war continues, as we present our ‘Top 5 Actors’. You can check out Mitch’s picks here.

Though it grieves me to say it, he’s set a pretty high standard on this one. It appears the boy has some taste after all.


1. Tom Hanks

‘Forrest Gump‘! Need I say more? I’ve seen it countless times but it still gets me. With universal appeal and timeless endurance, it’ll make you laugh, cry and wish you had a mate like good ol’ Forrest. Unless you’re Ross (A Life on Wheels) – Another strange boy who is not a fan of this frequently quoted classic. Sort it out Ross!

“Mama always said, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” ~ Aint that the truth!

Double Oscar winner Hanks has a lifetime of much-loved films under his belt including, ‘The Green Mile‘ (if you haven’t seen it, check it out), ‘Philadelphia‘, ‘Cast Away‘, ‘Saving Private Ryan‘ (surely the best war film ever made?!), ‘Apollo 13‘, ‘A League of Their Own‘, ‘Toy Story‘, and ‘Big‘ (remember that famous piano scene?)

How can you not love the guy?!

2. Robin Williams

The LEGEND! A comedy genius, Robin Williams proved his worth as a serious actor as well as the go-to funny guy, with an insanely quick wit and animated energy to boot. This versatile entertainer lit up my childhood in cherished films like ‘Aladdin‘, ‘Jumanji‘, ‘Hook‘ and ‘Mrs Doubtfire‘ – a role no one else could or should ever play. Pray they never try to remake it!

A true scene stealer, Williams had the rare ability to improvise like no other and appeal to any audience of any age.

His dramatic performances in ‘Dead Poets Society’, ‘Patch Adams’, ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ and ‘Good Will Hunting’ (for which he deservedly won an Oscar – bloody great film!), mark him as an undeniable talent.

3. Matthew McConaughey

Okay, so the dude made some questionable choices throughout the early 2000s, and was somewhat typecast in crappy romantic comedies. But he’s certainly made up for it since, preferring more complex and intense roles such as protagonist ‘Killer Joe’ and troubled homicide detective Rust Cohle in the debut series of ‘True Detective’. If you’re into dark and disturbing, give these two a watch.

He then went on to play a supporting role in Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, in which he arguably stole the show from the lovely Leo with that whacky chest thumping scene.

In 2013, the charismatic Texan babe dropped 47lb (21kg) to star as defiant Aids patient Ron Woodroof in the biopic ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. For his brilliantly impressive portrayal, McConaughey won every award going as well as audience and critical acclaim.

4. Joaquin Phoenix

Have you seen ‘Walk the Line’? If not, why not? Even if you know nothing about Country music legend Johnny Cash (shame, shame) it’s essential viewing if only for Joaquin’s dedicated, hard-knock cool performance.

Some might say method actor Phoenix is an acquired taste, having made some unconventional career choices. But you could never accuse the guy of being boring. He delves deep to create memorable, multi-layered, engaging and often quirky characters.

As Roman emperor Commodus in the epic ‘Gladiator’, Joaquin isn’t just the bad guy to Aussie Crowe’s hero. He’s vulnerable, damaged, desperate and played with sinister subtlety. Few actors his age could have pulled this off so convincingly.

Dark, brooding, intense and yes, a bit weird. I approve.

5. Morgan Freeman

So, Barack Obama was the first black President of the USA, right? NOPE! It was Morgan Freeman who helped save the planet from being struck by a comet in ‘Deep Impact‘. Now that’s impressive!

He’s the super cool, laid-back veteran icon with a mellifluous and universally recognisable voice. The kind of dude you wouldn’t mess with, even in his latter years, and especially if you’ve seen his award-winning turn in ‘Million Dollar Baby‘, in which he whoops some ass.

For me though, Freeman will always be synonymous with ‘The Shawshank Redemption‘. Tim Robbins took the lead, but that film belongs to Morgan. It’s an effortless and understated performance. If you haven’t seen this film, where have you been? Do you live in a cave?!

So that’s my Top 5 ~ who would be on your list?

Most importantly, who do you think wins this round – me or Mitch?? 

Leave a comment & let us know! 

Interview | Becky Dann

Art & Disability

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.

© Copyright Rebecca Dann
© Copyright Rebecca Dann
© Copyright Rebecca Dann
© Copyright Rebecca Dann
© Copyright Rebecca Dann
© Copyright Rebecca Dann

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!


🌟 All images courtesy of Becky Dann.

Follow Becky on social media:
Twitter: @BeckyDann
Instagram: BeckyDann
Website: rebeccadann.wixsite.com/photography


I’d like to thank Becky for taking the time to speak with me and answer my questions.

Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Interview | Jackie Hagan

Disabled Poet and Performer

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.

Get To Know Me | Interviewed by Wheelescapades

I recently collaborated with fellow disability and lifestyle blogger Gemma Orton, aka Wheelescapades, on a ‘20 Questions‘ blog post.

We initially got chatting on social media and found we had a few things in common ~ We’re both arty/crafty types, we have a mutual love for all things Disney, and we are both wheelchair users. Gemma has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2 (SMA2), while I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy.

To get to know each other even better, we gave each other free rein to ask 20 personal questions!

Here you can find my previous post, in which I interview Gemma.


And below are my answers to Gemma’s 20 questions…

1. What made you decide to write a blog?

I had been thinking about it for a long time, though it took me several months to begin. I wanted to do something productive and worthwhile but didn’t think anyone would care or be interested in what I have to say.
They say you should write what you know. I have been disabled since birth and so consider this my expert subject. However, disability isn’t a particularly popular or fashionable topic to blog about. I knew it would be a challenge and it has been. I do feel like I’m constantly playing catch-up and at times I wonder if it’s worth the time and effort. But when I receive positive responses from complete strangers, I am reminded why I’m doing it.

2. What do you want your blog to achieve?

I want to raise awareness of muscular dystrophy, particularly Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy which is the rare and little-known form that I have. I want to share my thoughts and experiences, having lived my whole life as a physically disabled individual, in the hope that it may in some way help others.

3. What is the most difficult thing for you about having a disability?

Blimey, I could write a list! There are many challenges and frustrations. My condition is progressive and so the difficulties become greater with age. I think perhaps, for me, the most difficult thing about living with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, is the limitations it inflicts. I am limited physically – I cannot run, dance, walk or even weight-bear. Just to be able to stand and support my own weight would make a world of difference! I am life-limited! Yes, UCMD is a life-limiting condition. I will not grow old or see my new baby nephew become an adult. Furthermore, my quality of life is limited. To put it briefly, when I am ill I’m REALLY ill. I have spent much time in hospital with respiratory related issues including repeated bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy, and a collapsed lung. I have literally lost months of my life to UCMD – housebound, unable to eat and reliant on non-invasive ventilation.

4. What is the biggest positive about having a disability?

The positives are much more light-hearted! Concessions, being able to skip to the front of the queue and designated parking (although disabled bays are often occupied by sports cars lacking a blue badge!)

5. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?

Hmm, tricky! I do like variety. I guess I’d have to choose… mash potato?! That way I could always mix it up by adding herbs from the garden (or is that cheating??)

6. An apocalypse is imminent, you have 30 minutes to prepare, what 3 items do you pack?

Well, I guess if the apocalypse is coming then it doesn’t really matter as we’re all doomed anyway?! But, I think I would still pack a bottle of Lucozade (I live on it! Purely for the energy boost), my dog and my family!

7. When making tea would you pour the milk or water in first?

Water!

8. What is your favourite way to relax?

I like to shut myself away, snuggle up in bed or on the sofa, and listen to music or watch a good film.

9. If you could interview any human, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you ask?

Wow, I really don’t know. God! (who I don’t believe in – what a cop-out) He has a lot to answer for.

10. What would be your dream job?

I’m one of those people who never knew what they wanted to do. I’ve never been career focused or academically ambitious. All I ever wanted was to have kids! But, if I could be absolutely anything, I think I’d be a dancer. I’ve always loved everything about dance. And yes, I’m a huge Strictly fan!

11. You’ve just won 10 million pounds (congratulations!), what 3 things would you do with the money?

Sort my family out – erase any debts and buy them homes, cars and whatever else they might need or want. Make sure my closest friends are comfortable! Buy a holiday home(s). And finally, a home for myself, FULLY adapted!

12. Where in the world would you most like to visit and why?

Australia. For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to visit Australia. The snakes are a little off-putting but still, that’s where I’d head to first. Closely followed by America. I’d absolutely love to do a road trip – Route 66!

13. What one thing would you change about yourself?

Only one?! Again, I could write a list. Buy I’d have to say my body. It doesn’t work too well and I’m flipping uncomfortable in it!

14. If you could play any part in a film, past or future, real or fiction, who would you be?

Men get all the really great roles! So, if I were male I think I’d play the Joker in The Dark Knight. How much fun would that be! Since I’m not a man, I’d play… I don’t know!! Maybe one of the sisters in A League of Their Own (1992) or Uma Thurman’s roles in either Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill.

15. If there was a pill that would freeze you at your current age and you could live forever as you are now, would you take it? And why?

Nope, definitely not. I wouldn’t want to live forever. It would get pretty boring after a while! Plus outliving all my family and friends would be hell.

16. If you could trade lives with one person for an entire day who would it be and why?

My brother. He has the life I’ve always wanted. He is physically fit, handsome, funny, charming, popular, successful and he has a lovely wife, baby and home. Of course I don’t resent him for it and I want nothing more than for him to be healthy, happy and fulfilled. But to experience his life for just one day would be bliss. I’d never ask for anything else.

17. If you could time travel, where would you go?

Good question. There are so many periods throughout history that I’d like to visit. But it would be great to go back around 50 years, when my parents were kids and my grandparents were young. I never knew my maternal granddad who died when I was a baby. So I’d especially love to meet him.

18. If you were made Queen and allowed to pass one new law, what would it be, and why?

Argh, the pressure! I have no good answer to this. So I think I’ll just say longer sentences and harsher punishments for serious crimes. There really is no deterrent in this country.

19. What personal trait has gotten you in the most trouble?

Voicing my opinion and failing to filter! Over the years I have become more outspoken and more impassioned about certain issues. I tend to over-analyse and question everything. Oh and I am rather stubborn. If I believe something in something, I won’t budge.

20. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?

Just happy I guess. As I said before, I never had a particular job or career in mind. I’ve considered various options and ideas over the years. But all I ever really wanted was a home and a family of my own. That’s it. Not much to ask, eh?

I don’t think it is.


I really hope you enjoyed this collaboration with Wheelescapades. Let me know in the comments.

I’d also love to hear from you and find out how you would answer these questions!


To keep up to date with Gemma, go and check out her blog and connect with her on social media.

https://wheelescapades.com/

https://twitter.com/gemmaorton

https://www.instagram.com/wheelescapades/

https://www.facebook.com/wheelescapades/

Getting to know… Wheelescapades | 20 Questions

One thing I love about being a disability blogger is the fact that I am able to interact with other like-minded bloggers.

I recently got chatting with the lovely Gemma over at Wheelescapades. We quickly realised we have a fair bit in common: we’ve both studied art, we have a mutual love for all things Disney, and we both have muscular dystrophy, albeit different forms.

So, we thought it would be fun to collaborate on a blog post. To learn even more about each other, we decided to ask 20 juicy questions. You can find my answers to Gemma’s questions over at her blog!


Here are her answers to my 20 questions…

1. What is your biggest ambition in life?

I wouldn’t say I’m the ambitious type. There’s lots of things I’d like to see and do as you’ll find out throughout my answers. But when it comes down to it I’d just like to be content and happy. For my friends and family to be too. It’s the simple things that make life.

2. What is your dream job?

I love anything arty and creative. I’m too indecisive to give you one dream job title, but I’d like to be in an atmosphere where I am surrounded by creativity. I enjoy making things, drawing, textiles and I’m going to say I would like to work in theatre design, costumes and props.

3. What do you most regret?

I don’t think I have any major regrets. That’s no way to live.

I do often regret not ordering dessert when I’m out with friends and theirs arrives leaving me sugar craved.

4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Although there are so many places I’d love to visit, I think I’m perfectly happy living where I am. I love England, it’s history, its heritage, the traditions, and yes the weather! I know it’s something everyone moans about, I’m guilty of that too. I know it can be unpredictable and awfully grey at times, but I like the differing atmospheres. We are lucky enough to get sun, snow and thunderstorms, but nothing too extreme or scary.

On a smaller scale I like the area I live in, Norfolk. I’m in a small town, not far from the city, the sea and the countryside. Norwich is a diverse city of art, architecture and music. I can also easily get to London.

5. Dream dinner party guests: if you could invite any 5 people, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?

Alexander McQueen, Tim Burton, Andy Warhol, Stephen Hawkins, and Banksy. All creative, passionate and intelligent minds that know what they are/were and do their thing with conviction. Need I say more.

6. If you could visit any time period throughout history, when would it be and why?

Well I don’t think wheelchair access is going to be very reliable however far I travel back. As a mega Downton Abbey fan I’d love to dress 20’s style and attend one of Lady Mary’s Luncheons.

I’d also love to go back and spy on myself as a child, my Mum as a child or my grandparents.

7. If a genie were to grant you any 3 wishes, what would you wish for?

This is the one I’ve been struggling with (I take these questions seriously!). Do I go for the big things: world peace, a cure for SMA, an end to poverty?? Or the smaller stuff like a fully accessible luxurious house, enough money to help friends and family, to have a talent that can make me a living?? Basically it depends how good this genie is and what the rules are. There are always rules and consequences to these things! Maybe I shouldn’t rub the lamp…

8. What is your ideal holiday?

My dream is to visit Florence, Italy. The complications, discomfort and fear of losing or breaking my wheelchair has meant that I haven’t flown since I was a child.

I’m not a ‘by the pool girl’, although I do love a spa! My ideal holiday would involve seeing the sights, being around the locals, visiting little cafes, museums and galleries, plus a wheel along a river and cocktails on a roof – With warm but not sweltering weather. Don’t ask me where this destination is, although I’m open to suggestions.

9. If you were Prime Minister for one day, what would you do?

Cancel Brexit. Can I say that? Shouldn’t we have learned by 2017 a united world is a better world.

I think I might need longer than a day!

10. Who or what inspires you most in life?

I can be inspired by the simplest things. I wouldn’t say that one event or person has inspired me to be something. It can be a book I’ve read, a chat with a friend or a film I’ve seen. All these things can inspire thoughts, make me want to be a certain way or do a certain thing. In fact, I am often inspired just people watching. Seeing how people react can trigger a thought or idea.

11. Could you please share 3 interesting facts about yourself?

  • I won first prize in a national textile design competition. My prize was to visit Première Vision in Paris.
  • I eat almost everything with a fork, including Wotsits.
  • I haven’t seen my natural hair colour since I was 16. I’ve had almost every colour, including blue and red at the same time. I’m now 32.

12. How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Persistent, sarcastic, tea-drinker.

13. If you could spend one day in someone else’s shoes, who would it be and why?

Can I say my cat even though they don’t wear shoes?

I’d lay around on the windowsill, worry free, watching the day go by. Maybe take a little nap and have some chewy treats. Get “cooed” and massaged on the head if I’m good.

14. What is your biggest fear?

Spiders! I really do hate them. And unfortunately most of my PA’s do too. I didn’t think of that question when I interviewed did I?! – Job title ‘spider catcher’!

Umm on a more serious note… everyone’s fear: losing family and friends.

Disability-wise: losing strength, the independence I have and communication.

15. What annoys you most?

Although you haven’t read question 18 yet, you can refer to it here.

I think moaners annoy me the most (yes I know I moan too, we all do). You know those people that make a big deal of nothing. I know everybody is different, we all have our issues and our weaknesses. But people, stop sweating the small stuff and appreciate what you’ve got. Enjoy the washing up! Appreciate the walk to the shop for milk to make yourself a brew. Yes you’ll get colds, and they are irritating, but the likelihood is you’ll be over it in a few days.

16. What makes you happy?

Being around friends and family, my cats, a day in the sunshine and drinking tea. Netflix days, ache-free days, a facial at the spa, a good book, Seeing the end result of my craft project, festivals and the outdoors too!

17. If your life was a novel, what would the title be?

‘Wheelescapades’ – the title of my blog, as that took me long enough to think up. I’m no good at these things.

18. What is your disability, and what frustrates you most about it?

I have SMA 2 (Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2).

I think it’s probably the small things that frustrate me the most. The little day-to-day things that most people take for granted. Yes I’d love to travel the world problem free and have an amazing job without limitations. But it’s not just me, and my disability that doesn’t get that.

What I’d like is to be home alone (with at least 7 cats), make myself a brew, switch on the TV, do all the crafting I want and get up for a wee when required! I’d love to fall into bed exhausted (without connecting my feed and breathing machine), sleep comfortably and uninterrupted and meet a friend for breakfast at the drop of a hat. I’d even be up for doing the washing up!

Also I’d quite like to just have a cold without wondering if/when it will put me in hospital.

19. In theory, if a magical cure were available, would you want it or not?

Okay, I know I’m probably supposed to say no here, as someone who is trying to change people’s perception of disability, blah blah… But yes, I would take that cure. I wouldn’t change my past life for anything. If I could keep the knowledge I have, the friends and family I’ve got and the experiences I’ve been through, then yes, give me that cure!

20. Why did you become a blogger?

I get into some awkward, funny and difficult situations mainly due to my disability. I also get different experiences and treatment with/from people because I am a wheelchair user. My friends and I would always joke about this; the good and the bad, as a way of coping I guess. Sometimes you have to laugh or you’ll go crazy. Often saying “if only people could hear us” or “I should write a book of all this drama”. Well I guess blogging is my book of tales.

I also wanted a serious side to the blog. Not many websites give you the gritty details of a venue’s (in)accessibility. Yes, they are starting to declare themselves ‘wheelchair accessible’ or claim to have an ‘accessible toilet’. Bbut accessible can mean so many different things. Just getting through the entrance doesn’t make a venue accessible. I wanted to chart good and bad access and to get people to look at it more.


I’d like to thank Gemma aka Wheelescapades for taking the time to answer my questions, and for being so candid!

I’d also love to hear from you! How would you answer my 20 questions?? Please leave a comment.


To keep up to date with Gemma, go and check out her blog and connect with her on social media.

https://wheelescapades.com/

https://twitter.com/gemmaorton

https://www.instagram.com/wheelescapades/

https://www.facebook.com/wheelescapades/