Guest Post | Choosing a University that provides support for wheelchair-users

Picking a university can be a daunting task at the best of times – you need to try to chose one that matches your desired subject with predicted grades, and be in a location that you’ll be happy to live for the next three to four years. But for those who require a wheelchair trying to make the right choice can be a much greater challenge. Let’s run through some of the things you need to consider, as wheel as some universities that really stand out as being the most wheelchair, power chair and mobility scooter friendly.

City or Campus?

There are two types of universities in the UK, city and campus universities. Many of the best rated unis in the UK are town based – Cambridge, Oxford, and Durham for example, are town based. This can be a challenge as accommodation, lecture rooms and tutorials may all be in different locations and require navigating old city streets. However, some of the older universities are totally self-contained, and you may hardly need to leave the confines of the college walls during your stay. So be sure to check exactly where you will be housed and where your lectures and tutorials will be if you apply to a city university.

Campus universities are generally more wheelchair friendly because everything is on one site and most buildings are modern and accessible, and there will often be shops and other amenities on site too. This can make your day-to-day activities much easier, but if most of the socialising takes place in a nearby town, you may feel isolated if there are not good transport links in place, although a good mobility scooter or powerchair may be the solution.

Accommodation

As mentioned, few students look at the accommodation before going to uni, but this is probably the most important consideration. Many newer city universities have accommodation in mid-rise buildings (4 to 11 storeys) which although are usually modernised with lifts, are not always the most suitable option for wheelchair users.

Ideally, you should be able to get a room or apartment that has full wheelchair access with accessible bathrooms and kitchens. Kitchens should have low sinks and worktops, and ideally, there should be a wet room that you can roll your wheelchair into.

Disability Support Service

Contact the Disability support service at the earliest opportunity to discuss your needs and the facilities on offer. Pay them a visit on the open day too and have questions ready to ask – make sure they are geared up to support you fully.

Attend Open Days

Before applying to any university you should attend an open day. At the open day be sure to ask about accommodation too (many people forget this part) and take time to visit the halls of residences or area with student houses. Ask to see lecture rooms and tutorial rooms to check wheelchair access yourself.

Look Beyond the Campus

It is important to look beyond the university grounds as with both city and campus universities you will need to have easy transport to and from them. Some newer universities are often located in parts of town far from national railway and bus stations which can make it very difficult if you need to leave and arrive by public transport.

The terrain is also important. Cities such as Edinburgh and Exeter may provide modern university facilities, but many of the roads are very steep and wheelchair users will struggle to navigate all streets. It might be sensible to look up the most wheelchair friendly towns in the UK and then see which ones have universities offers courses you’re interested in. If you do head to a hilly university town, you might need to buy a new wheelchair that is lightweight and more suitable for the terrain.

Which Is Best?

There really is no “best” university for wheelchair users – every university works hard to accommodate all students equally, but one that does stand out is Loughborough University.
Loughborough is rated as one of the best campus universities (named Times University of the Year 2019) in the UK thanks to its top class facilities, access to green spaces and a good community feel in the student village. Loughborough’s Disability Office says that they support a range of long-term conditions as well as wheelchair users.

For a city campus university, here’s an interesting account of study at Canterbury Christ Church University. As you can see, some universities are extremely accommodating and will provide an excellent learning environment no matter what your abilities.

Are you, or have you recently attended, university as a wheelchair user? Please share your experiences below.


This guest post is provided by CareCo who provide mobility advice and support through their website and UK network of showrooms.

Interview | The Trailblazing Women of Muscular Dystrophy UK

5 Questions ~ 3 Influential Women

Emma Vogelmann (left) with Lauren West (right)

Lauren West, Trailblazers Manager

Michaela Hollywood, Co-Founder

Emma Vogelmann, Employability Officer

Michaela Hollywood (centre, front) campaigning with MDUK

1. What is your disability and how does it affect you?

Lauren West: I have SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) Type 2. I’ve never walked independently and got my first powered wheelchair at the age of two and a half.

Despite the severity of my SMA, I passed my driving test, went to university three hours from home, and moved to London to start my working life. I now still live in London with my partner and with support from live-in PAs who do all my personal care and domestic tasks.

Michaela Hollywood: I have SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) Type 2. I commonly say that I can do pretty much nothing without assistance except speak! Although, I have recently learned to drive using hand controls.

Possibly the biggest impact of my SMA is my breathing and the impact of chest infections, which can make me sick quite often. I’m also deaf, and have pancreatic insufficiency which affects my ability to digest food, and that can cause a lot of pain and fatigue. My motto is; I can drive a van, and boil a kettle but I can’t make a cup of tea!

Emma Vogelmann: I have SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) Type 2. I’m a full-time electric wheelchair-user and since contracting Swine flu in 2009, I also use a portable ventilator via a tracheotomy.

2. How and why did you become involved with MDUK Trailblazers, and what is your role?

Lauren West: I became involved at the very start of Trailblazers, after I left the Whizz-kidz Kids Board. I felt I had a campaigning void in my life after leaving the board, so I was really excited when I heard about Trailblazers. For a long time, I was the only Welsh Trailblazer and so I formed a great bond with the original team, Bobby and Tanvi.

I stayed involved throughout university through participating in work experience and attending events like APPGs. I was delighted after a few years in different jobs to be offered the role as Campaigns Officer, as I’d always wanted to work for Trailblazers. It was then super exciting to take up the role of Trailblazers Manager at the beginning of 2016.

Michaela Hollywood: I was involved with Trailblazers from the very beginning, before it even started!

I was at a MDUK Family Weekend when I was 16, and, because of my disability and access requirements, I couldn’t book tickets to see the band McFLY perform in my local arena. Consequently, I spoke to the then Chief Executive of the charity Phil Butcher, and said we need a “young people’s forum”. My idea at the time was that those of us with a muscle wasting condition have powerful voices that weren’t being heard, and too many non-disabled adults were making decisions that affected our lives without even thinking of consulting us. And out of that Trailblazers was born!

I volunteered for the first number of years, and directed the organisation from Northern Ireland for a year before it became official. I went to university and did my undergraduate degree in Public Relations, followed by a Masters in PR and Communications, specialising in political lobbying. I then joined the team from home in Northern Ireland a little over 3 years ago.

Emma Vogelmann: I was invited by MDUK to a Parliamentary roundtable meeting about disability employment. I really liked that a prominent charity was directly engaging with young disabled people and their lived experiences. After that, I asked if there were any opportunities to get involved with the organisation which led to a 4 month internship with the Campaigns team. I absolutely loved it, so when the role of Employability Officer was advertised I knew I had to apply. The rest, as they say, is history!

Michaela Hollywood, who has SMA Type 2

3. How do you feel about being an influential career woman with a disability? Has your disability made you more determined to pursue your career goals?

Lauren West: I don’t think I would describe myself as an influential career woman but if I am seen that way, then that’s a real honour.

I think my disability has made me much more determined in all parts of my life, not just my career. I have always been quite driven and even when I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted to follow, I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference.

But I genuinely think there’s been one driving force behind my ambition and that was a social worker who was sorting out my university care package. She made an off-the-cuff comment about how when I was done having fun at university, I’d come home and she’d help set me up on benefits in a little flat. Whilst this is needed for some, this is not how I wanted my life to go, but I knew I’d face similar beliefs and attitudes throughout my whole life. So I was determined to fight against that societal expectation.

Michaela Hollywood: For me, I think it made my education very important. And it’s made me steely and determined. It’s a good advantage to be able to use my voice as communication is so important when your impairment is so physical. I’m proud to be in the position I am, and try to keep my focus on what I can do for others.

Emma Vogelmann: I never really thought of myself as an influential career woman in all honesty. I suppose you just crack on with your day-to-day work, so you never stop to think about it.

Now I am starting to see the impact my work has on other people, such as my employment work. I’ve seen the people involved in my project access jobs, find a careers mentor and so many other meaningful changes. That’s incredibly rewarding for me.

My disability makes me more determined to do a lot of things, but definitely in my career. Someone in a meeting I ran summed it up perfectly, “disabled people feel the pressure to be exceptional just to be considered equal to their able-bodied co-workers”. While this is not the culture at MDUK, I do feel that internal pressure to prove myself constantly. I’ve learned first-hand and from others that it is unfortunately really hard to enter the working world as a disabled person, so once you’re there you feel like you need to show your employer why they made the right decision.

Lauren West, who has SMA Type 2

4. In relation to employment, what challenges have you faced due to your disability, and how have you overcome these obstacles?

Lauren West: Throughout school and university, getting a typical student job just wasn’t on the cards for me. For one thing, I just didn’t have the stamina to study and work. But also the usual student jobs just weren’t physically accessible to me. I was worried that this lack of work experience would put me at a severe disadvantage for getting a job once I’d graduated.

I was lucky that Trailblazers found me an internship at my local MP’s office, so I did one day a week there for three months in my final year of study. I also did work experience at MDUK which gave me a great taste of living and working in London.

I was incredibly fortunate to secure a job in London prior to graduating from my Master’s degree. However, when this job turned out to not be what I expected and complete with a very abusive boss, I had real trouble finding a new job. I mainly applied to charities and many claimed to be part of the ‘two ticks scheme’ which offered guaranteed interviews for disabled applicants.

However, it was rare I’d even get called for an interview and it took many unhappy months before I was offered a role as a mental health advocate. The same year, I started working for MDUK and I love being part of a charity that values diversity and inclusivity.

I think the only way I’ve overcome challenges within employment is just through stubbornness and determination. I really think there are organisations out there for everyone but it can just take a long time to find the right fit.

Michaela Hollywood: The biggest one is my health. Self-care is important to keep me ticking over. I’ve been really lucky to work for a group I wholeheartedly believe in, and where we see real help and progress happening. I try to make sure others are afforded the same opportunities I have been lucky to have.

Emma Vogelmann: I struggled to find an employer willing to give me a chance after university. Of course, this is true for most graduates. But I do feel that being a disabled graduate made it harder. I remember asking Lauren West for advice before I started working at MDUK about when, where and how to disclose my disability, because I didn’t want to be counted out too soon for jobs, but I also didn’t want to hide something I consider a strength. I decided to always disclose my disability, though this is a very personal choice that isn’t necessarily right for everyone. I work within a disability charity, so it is extremely relevant to say I’m disabled, but I know a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with this and that’s completely okay too.

Emma Vogelmann, who has SMA Type 2

5. What is your proudest achievement?

Lauren West: In terms of in my career, I think it was being in charge of the Trailblazers’ 10 year anniversary celebrations.

As someone who was part of Trailblazers from the start, being able to bring those 10 years together through an incredible event in Parliament was just the best experience. Seeing over 100 people all in one room celebrating their successes of the past 10 years will be forever one of my best moments.

Michaela Hollywood: This is a tough one! My dad, Michael, likes to tell anyone and everyone he meets to “Google” me because he is so proud of what I’ve achieved.

In 2015, I was given a Points of Light award by then Prime Minister David Cameron, and a few weeks later was named on the BBC 100 Influential Women List. I think those few weeks were a definite highlight.

Emma Vogelmann: What a tough question! I suppose it would be winning my case against a taxi driver who discriminated against me due to being a wheelchair-user. It happened on my second day of work at MDUK and it was a difficult experience to go through. But to have two courts agree that wheelchair-users cannot be overcharged was a great feeling. I really hope it will empower other wheelchair-users to not accept discriminatory treatment from taxi drivers.


Many thanks to the brilliant Emma, Lauren and Michaela for answering my questions.

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

Ableds Are Weird!?

The recent trending Twitter hashtag #AbledsAreWeird, created by disability activist Crutches&Spice, has got me thinking about my own encounters and interactions with able-bodied society.

Uncomfortable? Awkward? Frustrating? Yup!

Here are some examples of my experiences as a non-ambulatory wheelchair-user (with Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy). I’m sure they are not unique to me!

Let me know if you can relate to any of the following scenarios…


Accessibility

Stranger: There’s only a few steps.
Me: I can’t walk, hence the chair.
Stranger: They’re only small steps.
Me: Nope, still can’t walk I’m afraid.
Stranger: Oh, not even with assistance?
Me: Not even with assistance.
Stranger: Not even a little bit?
Me: Not even a little bit.
Stranger: Not at all?
Me: Not at all.

Awkward, deafening silence…

Stranger: There are steps but we can just lift you (in a powered wheelchair).
Me: Thanks but this chair is really heavy. There’s no way you’ll lift it.

Stranger then attempts to lift me in my wheelchair, only to complain of the weight.

Stuck in a long queue of fit, young able-bods who look me up and down (in my wheelchair) but still choose to wait for the one and only lift/elevator rather than take the stairs, which would be much quicker!

A young driver in flashy sports car races into a blue badge bay and gets out without displaying a badge.
Me: Excuse me, have you got a blue badge?
Driver: No! Have YOU?!
Me: YEP! (waving my blue badge at the driver while sat in my Motability WAV).

Being unable to access public disabled toilets because they’re being used for storage!

Entering a public disabled toilet after a mother and baby have just used it. It absolutely stinks and there are used nappies on the floor!

Online Dating

Guy: okay, can I be honest?
Me: yes.
Guy: let’s be real, you’re no one’s type. Are you!
Me: erm, thanks!

Me: I can’t walk. I have something called muscular dystrophy.
Guy: oh. Right. Okay…
Me: yup…
Guy: so is that something you could change if you work on your fitness?
Me: no. Afraid not.
Guy: not even if you try really hard and actually make an effort?

Me: I’m a wheelchair-user.
Guy: oh right, what’s wrong with you? You self-propel, yeah?
Me: no I can’t do that, and there’s nothing wrong with me.
Guy: but I’ve seen some really fit girls in wheelchairs. They play basketball and all sorts!
Me: yeah, that’s never gonna be me. Sorry.

Me: I’m a wheelchair-user. I can’t walk at all.
Guy: oh, okay. What happened?
Me: nothing happened. I have something called muscular dystrophy.
Guy: I just Googled it. Wow that really is a disease isn’t it!!
Me: fear not, it isn’t contagious.

Guy: oh, so you can’t walk at all?
Me: yeah that’s right, I have muscular dystrophy so I can’t weight-bear. I use a powered wheelchair.
Guy: okay….
Me: it’s fine if you want to ask questions.
Guy: so…you don’t have sex then??
Me: why’s that?
Guy: well, I’m guessing you can’t feel anything…you know.

Woman: aww, I’m sure you’ll find a nice guy in a wheelchair to date!
Me: or just a nice guy!?

Social Worker Review

Assessor: are you able to make your own decisions?
Me: yes.
Assessor: always?
Me: yes.
Assessor: (with a sceptical expression) but…if you needed advice when making a decision, who would you ask?
Me: myself!?

Socialising

Stranger, whilst leaning over, “It’s good to see you getting out and about”

At a restaurant with a group of friends, all of whom are able-bodied. Waiter comes to our table, looks at me in my wheelchair, and starts rambling about a friend of his who lives near a Paralympian. None of us know quite how to respond.

At the pub with a friend who goes to the bar to get us drinks. When she returns, she says a guy at the bar who she knows told her he didn’t realise she’s now a carer. She had to stop and think for a moment and then replied, “I’m not her carer. I’m her friend! We’ve known each other almost 20 years!”
The guy looked absolutely dumbfounded.

Driving & Mobility

“Wow, you learned to drive? Is that safe? Did you have a special instructor and a special test?”

“Your wheelchair’s a bit battered. Looks like you could do with a new one! I suppose you just call and get a replacement through the NHS?”

“Do you have to have training and a test to drive that thing? [my powered wheelchair]”

“They [wheelchairs] cost HOW MUCH?! Why are they so expensive? Can’t you just save up?”

University

“Oh, you went to university? Good for you! It’s something for you to do, isn’t it. How did you manage though?”


You may also like Life as a Wheelchair-user | Societal Preconceptions

Wheeling Through Life | A Brief History

Highlighting the Ability in DisAbility

International Women’s Day

8 March 2019 ~ IWD

To celebrate #InternationalWomensDay, here are some motivational words of wisdom from just a few of the many inspiring women throughout history. These women advocate equality, inclusion and disability awareness.

Above: Deaf-blind American author and political activist, Helen Keller (1880 – 1968).

Above: Rosa May Billinghurst (1875 – 1953), was a women’s rights activist known as the “cripple suffragette”. She suffered polio as a child and as a result was left unable to walk.


What #IWD means to me

Light is often shone on independant career women and high-profile personalities: celebrities, public speakers and so-called ‘world changers’. Of course, these women deserve our respect and applause. But I’d like to also draw attention to the every-woman.

The women we are not aware of. The women behind the scenes who just get on with life. The single mum’s. Those living with debilitating conditions who struggle to get out of bed each morning. Those caring for multiple family members, who don’t have the option to go on holiday or pursue a career. Women who are relied upon by disabled children and elderly relatives, and have no support or recognition.

Many suffer and struggle in silence. They simply get on with their lives without any fuss or complaint. These women deserve to be celebrated too! They play a vital role in society – one that takes endurance, tanacity, strength of character and sheer grit. It takes a special kind of person to achieve this.

So remember, you don’t need to change the world to deserve recognition. Being loved unconditionally, appreciated and making a difference to just one person is EVERYTHING.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Interview | Kat Pemberton

Image description: photograph of Kat Pemberton in her powered wheelchair.

“My life is so much more than my disability!”

Kat Pemberton is a successful Vlogger, disability activist and model for Zebedee Management.

The 21 year-old who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, moved from the Ukraine to England at the age of 6. She currently lives in Bradford, Yorkshire with her Mum and younger sister.

Kat was good enough to talk with me about life with a disability, her experience as a physically disabled model, her growing YouTube channel and the issues she campaigns for.


Spinal Muscular Atrophy

1. Kat, please tell us about your disability and how it affects you.

I was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 2 when I was only a year old. This is a genetically inherited, progressive muscle-wasting condition.

I was told that essentially my spinal cord doesn’t communicate with my muscles properly. This means that over time my muscles slowly lose any strength they once had.

SMA2 affects all my muscles. This limits my mobility and my breathing. I’ve never had the ability to walk but I used to be able to crawl until around the age of 10. I’m now non-ambulant and a full-time wheelchair user.

When I was younger, I was often in and out of hospital because I struggled to fight off infections. A common cold would often develop into something much more serious. As a result, I was unable to attend school and was home-tutored instead.

I guess I’ve had quite an unconventional, drama-filled life, but I don’t know any different. This is my normal.

Life as a disabled Model

2. How did you become a model and what does this mean to you, as a young disabled woman?

I’ve always enjoyed being creative and experimental with my style. Not only did Instagram provide a platform for that creative outlet, it also encouraged me to express my style and share my life and experiences with people who are leading similar lives.

When I was younger, I had never seen anyone with a disability in the fashion world, and so I never imagined that someone like myself, with a physical disability, could be a model.

Zebedee Management

One day, Instagram suggested that I follow Zebedee Management. After scrolling through to find out more about them, I quickly fell in love with what they’re all about and instantly knew I wanted to be a part of their family.

I applied after attending a fashion show hosted by Zebedee Management, and was then invited to attend a shoot. I never imagined myself as a model but being accepted by Zebedee has given me a massive confident boost!

Joining Zebedee as a disabled model has made me proud to be able to represent young disabled women, like myself, in the media. This opportunity has enabled me to empower and act as a role model for the younger generation.

Campaigns

I feel privileged to have worked on three wonderful campaigns, all of which are very special to me.

Image description: campaign photography, by Sophie Mayanne, for the #BehindTheScars project.

In February 2018, I got to work with photographer Sophie Mayanne on the Behind The Scars project.

I’ve made it my mission to embrace and love my body after years of self-loathing. It was therefore a really special experience for me, especially to have found the confidence to bare all on camera and share my scoliosis story.

Image description: campaign photo of Kat Pemberton. #BehindTheScars

I also participated in the amazing Portraits of Pride campaign for HSBC, who sponsored London and Birmingham Pride.

Image description: a collage of images depicting Kat’s experience with the #PortraitsOfPride campaign.

I was fortunate to be chosen as one of their ambassadors, and to work alongside seven very talented people. The four LGBTQ+ campaigners, including myself, were partnered with four incredible artists who painted our portraits. The portraits were then displayed throughout the UK during the Birmingham, London and Brighton Pride weekends.

Image description: a portrait of Kat Pemberton, painted for the #PortraitsOfPride campaign.

Our portraits went on to be sold at auction and all proceeds went to LGBTQ+ charities.

Visibility, diversity and inclusion is so important, and I’m so proud to be able to share my perspective and represent those with disabilities in the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately I do believe that we are underrepresented and I’d love to improve this by talking about my sexuality more.

It is only two years since I came out, so I’m still learning about myself and the community. I’m very fortunate that my Mum accepts me and my sexuality, although my family back home in the Ukraine are not yet aware.

YouTube Vlogger

3. Kat, could you please tell us about your Youtube channel?

Image description: Kat’s YouTube banner.

I started vlogging because I wanted to share the highs and lows of my life, as a young disabled woman living with SMA2. Not only that; I also wanted to raise awareness of the fact that my life is actually pretty ordinary for a 21 year-old woman, despite being a full-time wheelchair user. I live at home with my Mum, younger sister and our dog named Khloe Kardashian. I love to go out shopping, clubbing, meeting friends and traveling.

I was inspired to start my own Youtube channel after I became obsessed with other vloggers whilst in hospital. Back in 2012, I was subscribed to many of the famous ‘Brit crew’ content creators, such as Zoe Sugg and Louise Pentland. I found myself watching their YouTube channels for hours and I always knew it was something I wanted to pursue.

I’m proud to be a disabled creator and put the platform to good use by sharing my experiences. I hope my contribution offers a realisitic and informative insight into what life is like with a disability, and that society learns to understand us (disabled people) better.

Image description: a collage of screenshots from Kat’s YouTube videos.

I love the YouTube community and feel like it’s a second family. I can definitely see myself working in the media in the future.

I also love that YouTube allows viewer anonymity. Anyone can observe my vidoes without needing to engage with me directly, thereby eliminating any potential awkwardness.

Some people are curious to ask disability-related questions but are often too shy or afraid to do so. They might be scared of saying something that may come across as inappropriate, or they may not know how to address topics appropriately.

I’m open to discussing most topics, however taboo they might seem. For me, it’s about trying to encourage people to interact and engage with me and my videos, as I love to educate, inform, raise awareness and simply chat with curious folk!

Disability Activist

4. You describe yourself as a disability activist. What are the issues that are most important to you?

I grew up feeling super self-conscious about my disability, to the extent I would actually try to ignore it in the hope that one day everything would be ‘normal’. But when you think about it, what is ‘normal’, anyway?

I believe that we should embrace our differences, encourage acceptance and celebrate diversity in all its forms!

I think that society in general still interacts with us (disabled people) in a very condescending and neglectful manner. People are either sweeping us under the rug, or using us as tokens of diversity and not really accepting or understanding our lifestyles. It’s 2018 and frankly, it’s tiring!

I’ve been involved with a number of opportunities, such as speaking on ITV national News about my short film, which I released last year with the help of Fixers UK. I also attended an event in London with Fixers UK, where I spoke to sponsors about my film and promoting disability awareness.

Following that, I modelled for the BooHoo ‘All Girls’ campaign to promote diversity in society.

Image description: Kat Pemberton modelling for the Boohoo #AllGirls diversity campaign.

I have also presented talks, and held workshops with students and tutors in schools and colleges. As well as participating in panels at the WoW festival, I recently took part in a discussion for BBC 5 Live about how disability can be better represented in the fashion and beauty industry.

Image description: Kat speaking at the WoW festival.

I’d like to thank Kat Pemberton for taking the time to answer my questions.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube

Strictly Come Dancing 2018

Disability, Diversity & Representation

Following on from Paralympian Jonnie Peacock’s influential appearance on last year’s Strictly Come Dancing, the latest line-up includes Para-triathlete Lauren Steadman and acid attack victim Katie Piper. The former has no lower right arm, and the latter suffered significant facial disfigurement following a violent attack when she was only 24 years of age.

The inclusion of these two young women on such a high-profile BBC One talent show, with viewing figures in excess of 11 million, will no doubt play a big part in the promotion of positive views on disability and diversity, as well as encouraging body confidence.


Katie Piper – Acid attack victim and charity founder

35 year-old TV presenter, author, philanthropist and charity campaigner Katie Piper was left permanently scarred after a vicious acid attack in 2008. The former aspiring model has subsequently undergone over 60 necessary surgical procedures.

The industrial strength sulphuric acid that was thrown in Katie’s face has caused extreme damage and left her with sight, swallowing and breathing issues, requiring ongoing, invasive treatment.
The perpetrator was instructed to carry out the callous attack by an abusive former boyfriend whom Katie had met online.

Over the past decade, Katie has found admirable strength and persevered through the most trying of times. She bravely shared her story in two autobiographies and the 2010 BAFTA winning documentary, ‘Katie: My Beautiful Face’.
Katie has written four more self-help books, fronted several televised shows relating to body disfigurement, and most notably established The Katie Piper Foundation, to support fellow victims of acid attacks. She is also now happily married and has two young daughters.

Katie & Strictly Come Dancing

Prior to being paired with professional Strictly dance partner Gorka Marquez, Katie said, “there was a time not long ago that I wondered if I’d ever be glamorous again and now I know that is going to happen!”.

Katie Piper is all about embracing body confidence and celebrating diversity, whilst raising awareness of the consequences of acid attacks, which is a crime that is sadly on the increase. Her appearance on this hugely popular primetime BBC show will enable her to reach a wider audience and spread that message.

Piper is acknowledged to be the most anxious of this year’s celebrity contestants. Having really struggled to overcome the nerves during her first performance of a Waltz to Adele’s ‘when we were young’, Katie scored 17/40. Her confidence was knocked by negative feedback from the judges, particularly Craig Revel-Horwood who did not hold back.

Katie has since revealed, “it’s funny because like in the first week it did really affect me and it was silly because whenever I would wake up on Sunday at home it was like your 35-years-old and it’s an entertainment show, calm down.”

Katie and Gorka received their lowest score when they returned the following week with a Paso Doble. The choreography was intended to reflect the motto of the song to which they danced; ‘confident’ by Demi Lovato. However, Katie was visibly close to tears upon hearing the judges comments. While Darcy attempted to focus on the positive attitude with which Katie possessed, the others described her as “Stompy”, “plank-ish” and in need of improvement.

Nevertheless, the couple were supported by the viewing public and voted through to week three, and thankfully so, since their Foxtrot earned them 22 points – their highest score.

Katie says, “by week four I was in the groove, laughing and enjoying it and it was okay. You go in the green room afterwards and the [judges] are just normal, nice people.”

Sadly a Jive was to be Katie’s last dance on Strictly. Though disappointed to leave the competition relatively early, Piper admits though she overcame her nerves, insecurities and improved whilst on the show, she is not a natural dancer, and wouldn’t have wanted to be patronised or pitied.


Lauren Steadman – Paralympian

26 year-old Paralympian Lauren Steadman, originally from Peterborough, was born without a lower right arm. However, this has never prevented the determined sporting star from pursuing her dreams.

This Elite Para-triathlete is already a Double World Champion, Paralympic silver medallist (Rio 2016 – Women’s PT4) and six times European Champion.

Encouraged by her uncle who was himself a triathlete, she began competing in her local swimming team from age 11, representing Team GB. Two years later, Steadman took part in her first international competition in Denmark, as well as the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. Intent on pushing the boundaries of possibility even further, she switched sports, from swimming to the triathlon, after the London Paralympic Games in 2012.

Alongside her demanding athletics career, Lauren has pursued academics and achieved a first-class Psychology degree in 2014, followed by a Master’s in Business and Management.
Lauren recalls, “In one year I had taken all three titles – British, European and World Champion – for the first time, and graduated from university with first class honours. It really couldn’t get much better than that!”.

Lauren & Strictly Come Dancing

Lauren signed up to appear on the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing as she wanted to set herself a new challenge, learn another skill and test her “own levels of uncomfortableness”. When asked what she was most excited about she replied, “pushing myself and any boundaries I may encounter with having one arm. I like to succeed even if the odds are against me”.

With no experience whatsoever, Steadman claims her friends and family would describe her amateur dancing style as that of a baby elephant!

The glitz and glamour of Strictly is indeed a stark contrast to her sporting life. Not only that, dance itself is a very different discipline to what she is used to as an athlete. Dancing requires fluidity, expression, emotion and creativity, rather than the rigidity and stern focus necessary for triathlon events.

Despite all the odds, Lauren and partner AJ Pritchard stepped out with an impressive Waltz in the opening week of the show, scoring 25/40 from the four judges. The couple dropped 3 points with their second dance; a Charleston, and were awarded 20/40 for their slightly awkward Cha Cha Cha in week three. However, they returned on top form the following Saturday with an elegant Quickstep, earning them 25 points.

Their latest performance marks a first in Strictly history – a Contemporary dance, newly categorized as the ‘couple’s choice’. It was a highly personal interpretation with choreography designed to represent Lauren’s personal journey, her defiance and disability. The emotional dance was awarded with a standing ovation from the studio audience and 24 points from the judges.

Lauren has chosen not to wear a prosthesis during her time on Strictly. Preferring that her disability remain visible, she is keen to break down barriers, challenge convention and encourage other disabled people by demonstrating how dance can be adapted to suit different bodies and abilities.
For Lauren, the rollercoaster Strictly journey continues…


This article was uploaded by Disability Horizons on 26/10/2018

World Toilet Day

19th November 2018 ~ #WorldToiletDay

I am 30 years old, and I have the progressive condition, Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. As a result, I am completely non-ambulant. I use a powered wheelchair and am unable to transfer without the use of a hoist and support from carers.

Imagine being denied the basic human need to go to the loo; being unable to access a toilet whenever you need to. Imagine having to hold in the urge all day, every day. Having no choice but to strictly limit your fluid intake to the point where you cannot risk drinking from morning until evening. Living with dehydration, impaired mental function and recurrent infections, simply because adequate toileting facilities are not made available to you.

#FitToBurst

This was my life until 2011, when I underwent medically unnecessary surgery to insert a suprapubic catheter. Of course, I didn’t want an operation, a General Anaesthetic (in itself a huge risk due to my poor lung function) or an indwelling catheter. By no means is this an easy fix, believe me! But I just couldn’t do it anymore; I was making myself ill and relied on assistance from others in order to carry out the seemingly simple task of toileting. No longer could I inflict undue stress on my body and mind.

So, I resigned myself to the only option available to me at that time; a suprapubic catheter. With this, I no longer need to transfer from my wheelchair or depend on other people. I don’t have to struggle and suffer the indignity of using small, dirty and ill-equipped public disabled toilets. But, 250,000 disabled people in the UK still do.

Often, there is not enough room to fit a wheelchair in a disabled toilet, let alone space to transfer, adjust clothing and accommodate a carer too. Baby changing facilities get in the way, grab rails are too few and carelessly installed, the toilets themselves are too low, and hoists…what hoists?!

The majority of disabled toilets I have used throughout my life have been vastly inadequate, filthy, often neglected or used for storage!

I think it’s important that there are Changing Places facilities everywhere, including smaller towns, villages and rurally as there are many disabled people (like me) resident in these locations too.

#incLOOsion

The lack of such essential facilities locally makes me feel restricted, excluded from society and considered less important.


The 19th July 2017 marked the second Changing Places Awareness Day and eleven years since the campaign began.

Each registered Changes Places toilet includes:

1. – a height adjustable adult-sized changing bench

2. – a tracking hoist system, or mobile hoist where not possible

3. – adequate space for the disabled person and up to two carers

4. – a centrally placed toilet with room either side

5. – a screen or curtain for privacy

6. – wide tear off paper roll to cover the bench

7. – a large waste bin for disposable pads

8. – a non-slip floor


Join the #RevoLOOtion!

Tricia Downing | Paraplegic, Sports Woman & Novelist

Fiction novel ‘Chance for Rain’ shows disability experience for what it is: another version of the human experience

Tricia Downing is recognized as a pioneer in the sport of women’s paratriathlon, and as the first female paraplegic to finish an Iron distance triathlon. She has competed both nationally and internationally and represented the United States in international competition in five different sport disciplines: cycling (as a tandem pilot prior to her 2000 accident), triathlon, duathlon, rowing and Olympic style shooting. She was also a member of Team USA at the 2016 Paralympic Games.

Tricia Downing

Tricia featured in the Warren Miller documentary, ‘Superior Beings’ and on the lifestyle TV magazine show, ‘Life Moments’.
Additionally, she is founder of The Cycle of Hope, a non-profit organization designed for female wheelchair-users to promote health and healing on all levels – mind, body and spirit.
Tricia studied Journalism as an undergraduate and holds Masters degrees in both Sports Management and Disability Studies.
She currently lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband Steve and two cats, Jack and Charlie.

Visit Tricia: www.triciadowning.com


Love and disability: Do the two actually go together? In the eyes of 32 year-old Rainey May Abbott, the uncertainty runs high. But with a little arm twisting, this paralympic skier embarks on an adventure that takes her completely out of her comfort zone…

Tricia Downing: “Rainey May Abbott came to me one night as I was drifting off to sleep and wouldn’t leave me alone – until I got up and started to write.”

“I never intended to write a fiction novel. My first book, the memoir, ‘Cycle of Hope’, was a feat in itself for me. I never had enough confidence in myself that I could write and publish a book. Fortunately, my expectations were reasonable and I really had only one goal with that book; to share the complete story of my accident with those who attended my motivational speeches and were intrigued enough to want to know more after hearing me speak on stage for an hour.”

“On September 17, 2000 I sustained a spinal cord injury. At the time, I was a competitive cyclist and was out on a training ride with one of my friends when a car turned into our path. My training partner barely missed the car, as I hit it square on. I was launched off my bicycle, landed on my back on the windshield, and fell to the ground. I was paralyzed on impact.”

“I was 31 at the time, and just beginning to get my stride both professionally and personally. The accident turned my life upside down. I had to learn to live life from a wheelchair, use my arms instead of my legs, create a new body image and not only accept myself despite my disability, but to believe others would accept me too.”

“Will anyone actually love me if I have a disability?”

“Fortunately my question was answered only four years after my accident when I met the man who would become my husband. However, I have found through talking to many other women in my position, that this concern is not only real, but seems to be pervasive in the disability community. Is it possible to find love when you don’t fit the mold of the typical woman regarded as beautiful in our society?”

“When I imagined Rainey in my dreams that night, I knew her plight and I could empathize with her fear when it came to relationships. And with that, the story of ‘Chance for Rain’ was born. So too was my desire to see more disabled characters in literature.”

“I think,  so often many people with disabilities feel invisible. We aren’t seen on the cover of magazines, in the movies or books. Unless, of course, we’re the tragic character or overly inspirational and defying all odds.”

“My goal with Rainey was to show that she could have a normal existence while embodying a fear that is not unique to women with disabilities. I think at one time or another, every woman has grappled with her body image or desirability. Rainey just happens to have another layer of complexity to her: her life is not as common as the popular culture ideal.”

“I hope my novel will give readers a new perspective on disability, love and relationships as I continue what I hope to be a series of stories featuring characters with different disabilities, navigating the ordinary, complex, and the unknowns of life and love.”


Chance of Rain

Elite athlete Rainey Abbott is an intense competitor, but inside she feels a daunting apprehension about her chances of finding true love. Her life as a downhill skier and race car driver keeps her on the edge, but her love life is stuck in neutral. A tragedy from her past has left her feeling insecure and unlovable.
Now that she’s in her thirties, Rainey’s best friend Natalie insists she take a leap and try online dating. Rainey connects with ‘brian85’ and becomes cautiously hopeful as a natural attraction grows between them. Fearful a face-to-face meeting could ruin the magic, Rainey enlists Natalie to scheme up an encounter between the two whereby Brian is unaware he is meeting his online mystery woman. Rainey is left feeling both guilty about the deception and disappointed by something Brian says.
When they finally meet in earnest, Rainey’s insecurities threaten to derail the blossoming romance. As she struggles with self-acceptance, she reveals the risks we all must take to have a chance for love.

‘Chance of Rain’ by Tricia Downing is now available to buy from Amazon

Inclusion in the Workplace: Improvements

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.