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

Interview | Shane Burcaw

Shane Burcaw is a high-profile, 26 year-old American writer, public speaker and charity founder. He has documented all aspects of his life with spinal muscular atrophy with candid humour, thereby informing and inspiring others whilst also influencing the public perception of disability.

Burcaw has been commended for his ongoing determination, sincerity and ability to raise awareness of often uncomfortable issues, in a sensitive manner.

Shane kindly took time out of his busy schedule to speak with me about life with SMA, what motivates his work, and why personal care doesn’t affect his relationship with able-bodied girlfriend, Hannah.


1. Shane, please could you tell us about your disability and how it affects you and your lifestyle?

I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, but I’m on the weaker end of the Type 2 spectrum. SMA is a neuromuscular disease that causes my muscles to weaken and waste away over time. I’ve been using an electric wheelchair since the age of two. In a nutshell, my disease affects every single function of the body that involves muscles. I can barely move my legs, arms, and hands. I have difficulty swallowing, speaking, and breathing (especially when sick). Because of this weakness, I rely on other people for pretty much every aspect of daily life, from getting out of bed, to eating, to going to the bathroom. Luckily, I’ve been surrounded by incredible people who have always been there to help me, and because of that, I’m able to live a fairly “normal” life, with a career, a variety of hobbies, and frequent traveling for both leisure and work. I live with my girlfriend, Hannah, in Minneapolis, and she is my primary caregiver.

2. What motivates you to do the work you do (writing, public speaking, raising awareness through social media and your charity LAMN) and how do you find the energy?

My disease is progressive, so my condition and abilities deteriorate over time. I learned at a young age that many people with SMA pass away at a younger age than the average, and that realisation instilled in me some sort of existential determination to leave a mark on the world. Some might call it vain, but I was terrified by the prospect of dying without having done anything to be remembered for. I began sharing my story through funny blogs and later books, and working hard to grow a non-profit organisation that provides free equipment to others with my disease. Coffee is really the only way I’m able to balance writing, the non-profit, blogging, vlogging, and public speaking!

It should be noted that two years ago, the first-ever treatment (Spinraza) for my disease was discovered and approved. I began receiving it at the age of 25, and it’s supposed to stop the progression of my muscle-wasting. This has been a huge development in my life, both physically and mentally, and I’m still coming to terms with the fact that my future might be much different than I originally imagined.

3. Could you please tell us about Laughing At My Nightmare (charitable organisation) – how it all began, aims and objectives?

Our non-profit grew out of my blog that I began writing in 2011. People from all around the world felt an authentic connection with the idea that humour can help us cope with adversity. My cousin Sarah and I co-founded LAMN as a way to spread that idea to more people, and along the way we began raising funds to provide equipment to the muscular dystrophy community. In the past three years we have provided over $150,000 in medical and adaptive equipment to people living with muscular dystrophy.

4. In 2014, you wrote your first book. A memoir also entitled, Laughing At My Nightmare. Two further books followed. Who are your books aimed at and can readers expect?

Both of my memoirs (Laughing at My Nightmare, 2014; Strangers Assume My Girlfriend Is My Nurse, 2019) are about funny experiences I’ve had, from my early school years into adulthood. Strangers is more about society’s flawed perceptions of disability. My children’s book (Not So Different, 2017) answers the most common questions that kids ask about my disability and my wheelchair.

5. In the past, you have faced criticism from some in the disabled community. The terms ‘inspiration/pity porn’ have been used. Can you explain why this is and how you feel about the backlash?

Living with SMA can, at times, be extremely difficult from an emotional/mental standpoint. Experiencing the slow decline of ability through my adolescence and coming to terms with my future and my place in society was not always a bright, cheery process. My writing has always been an authentic reflection on my thoughts and experiences, so I wrote honestly about my fears and challenges. When my story began to receive attention on a larger scale, there were some people in the disabled community who didn’t agree with my sharing of these intimate worries. People accused me of playing up the negative aspects of my disability for attention, while others thought I was exploiting my life in an attempt to be “inspiring.”

I’m glad that people spoke up with their criticism. Although my writing has always been overwhelmingly positive, their feedback helped me reflect on some of my fears about getting worse and dying. Getting involved in the muscular dystrophy community has been such a positive thing for me, and they’ve helped me reframe my outlook on a personal level, which, in turn, has changed how I write about my disease. We are all learning and growing together!

6. Has your attitude to disability, your own in particular, changed over time?

Earlier in life, my biggest concern was minimising my disability for the sake of appearing “normal.” As I’ve gotten older, I’m less concerned with fitting in, and becoming more passionate about embracing my disability and changing the way society sees disability.

7. You have been with your able-bodied girlfriend, Hannah, for over two years. If you are comfortable doing so, would you please share with us how you met and a little about your relationship.

Hannah and I live together in Minneapolis, and she has been my primary caregiver for the past seven months. After doing two years of long distance, we are both happier than we’ve ever been now that we are permanently together. Like all couples, we have the occasional disagreement, but by and large we don’t feel like the caregiving aspects of our relationship create a strain. In fact, we both agree that these caregiving activities help strengthen our emotional connection.


I would like to thank Shane for taking the time answer my questions.

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview.


Twitter: @LAMNightmare

Website: Laughing At My Nightmare

YouTube: Squirmy and Grubs

Instagram: @shaneburcaw

Life, Stress & Coping Strategies

While I’ve been writing and contributing to various other projects, my blog has taken a backseat over the past few months. In all honesty, I’ve recently lacked all motivation and interest to write any blog posts.

I realise many bloggers feel this way from time to time – going through periods of having lots of ideas and enthusiasm, followed by weeks or even months of non-productivity.

I don’t want to go into the reasons for my lack of motivation. Suffice to say, I’ve had other things on my mind. This has resulted in fluctuations in mood, poor focus, zero energy, and insomnia.

For the most part, I’m happy and content with life as it is. Don’t get me wrong, it is far from ideal and there are things I wish were different – things beyond my control. But this is the case for most of us, right?

My point is, sometimes we need to take a break, de-stress and re-evaluate before moving forward. Inevitably, we all experience stress at some point in our lives, and we each have our own methods of dealing with it.


Here are a few of my coping mechanisms:

1. Music therapy ~

Music is a big part of my life and not a day goes by that I don’t listen to some form of music. Most of the time, I can be found wearing earphones. As soon as I have the house to myself, the first thing I do is put music on. I also listen to it every night before bed. If nothing else, it serves as a distraction and helps to prevent overthinking (something I’ll confess, I do a lot).

(Above: YouTube video of the John Lewis TV advert, featuring a little girl dancing carelessly around the house to the song, Tiny Dancer by Elton John. This basically represents me when home alone!)

There are songs appropriate for every mood and occasion. Music has the power to stir emotions, to inspire, to energize, cheer us up, remind us of past events and people. I think I’d go crazy without it!

Here is a recent guest blog post I wrote for Mitch Coles, listing some of my top tunes!

2. Time with loved ones ~

Nothing cheers me up more than babysitting my gorgeous baby nephew, who is almost 15 months old. That kid is truly the love of my life! I may be irritable and in the worst mood, but as soon as I see that little face, everything seems okay.

He’s now at the stage where lots of babbling, climbing (of my wheelchair!) and toddling is taking place. His expressions crack me up, and the way he flashes a beaming smile and puts his arms out for cuddles just melts my heart. On a bad day, there’s nothing better (in my opinion) than taking baby G for a ride on my lap while he beeps the horn again and again and again…

3. Alone time ~

Innately, I am a bit of a loner. I’m not a people person and am quite at ease in my own company. Of course, I enjoy being around those I love and care for. But I also need my own space to just…be! If I’m with lots of people for long periods of time, I reach a point where I need to escape and be on my own for peace of mind.

4. Get out the house ~

Another form of escape. Being stuck at home day after day (as is often the case for many disabled people) sends me stir crazy. Simply getting outdoors can be a huge relief. Sometimes I don’t want or need to go anywhere in particular. It just helps to get in the car and drive around country lanes to get some fresh air and perspective.

5. Avoid social media ~

It’s no secret to those who know me best that I’m no fan. Yes, it serves its purpose and I am fortunate to have met some great friends via social media. For me, this is really the only reason I persevere with it! But again, sometimes I feel the benefit to my state of mind when switching off and abandoning social media, if only for a few days.

This can be difficult as a blogger! But long ago, I promised I would never let myself become the type of person who never looks up from their mobile phone. Even now, I see people tapping away incessantly, unable to tear themselves away from their smartphone, and I wonder what they find to do.

Showing my age now, but I do miss the days before mobile phones were common place; when people actually stopped, looked around, appreciated their surroundings, lived for the moment and spoke to people.


 Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Disability & Chronic Illness | Experiencing More Joy

Experiencing more joy might seem a long way off to you, or even impossible to achieve. However, you can improve your happiness simply by adapting your everyday activities, habits and way of thinking. It may sound harsh but it’s important you first choose to stop being a victim of circumstance and start being the hero of your own life!

This is your own unique journey, and you can still make it positive and fulfilling if you are determined enough. Below we have some ideas for finding joy in your everyday life, no matter what your disability, illness or condition. Take a look…

Image Source

Don’t Try To Ignore Or Suppress Your Feelings

First thing’s first: you should not suppress or ignore your true feelings when you begin to feel them.
Inflicting self-judgement and criticism will only have a negative impact. However, this is not to say you should force yourself to feel positive all the time – this just isn’t realistic. We all get down and feel lost and hopeless from time-to-time. Allow yourself time to grieve for whatever or whoever you have lost throughout your life.

Healing Is Not Linear

Healing does not happen in a straight line – it isn’t linear or consistent. One day you may feel great, and the next day you might feel worse than ever.
Write Daily Gratitude Lists
It is hugely beneficial to keep a physical record of all that you are grateful for. Try to get into a regular habit of doing this everyday. It will keep your mind focused and positively proactive.

You might be grateful for your job, friends, family, your home, health and so on. These are just a few ideas to get you started. Try to be specific and review how many different things you can come up with each time you write your gratitude list.

Setting Daily Goals

When you get up each morning, try to set an intention for your day. How do you want to feel today? Is there a specific task or chore you’d like to accomplish? Setting daily goals or intentions can help your day run smoother. As a result, you should find yourself making faster progress towards improving your mood and well-being.

Appreciate At Least Three People Every Day

Whether it’s your partner or a considerate stranger – nurture the important relationships in your life.
Are you appreciative of the people who perform your home care services?
Appreciate The Small Things
You don’t have to have lots of money, possessions and exciting things going on in your life to feel good about it. Appreciating the really small things is important too. Whether you’re reading a good book, chatting with a friend, enjoying a hot cup of coffee or simply watching your favourite TV show – find the enjoyment and fulfilment. The way you frame things in your mind has a lot to do with how happy you feel each day.

Learn To Love And Accept Yourself

Most people find this tough, let alone those with limitations who maybe struggle with things that others don’t. Learning to love and accept yourself will likely be one of the toughest things you set out to do, but it’ll be one of the most worthwhile and important. Don’t compare yourself to others, and find things that you really love and appreciate about yourself every day.

Becoming your own best friend will enable you to always feel comfortable in your own company and never feel the need to escape from yourself.

Join A Support Group

If you want to meet like minded people and share stories and advice, joining a support group could be a great idea. Check out support groups in your area and visit them to see how you feel.

Accept Help If You Need It

If you need help, please don’t be afraid to ask for it – it DOES NOT make you weak. Taking care of yourself and getting other people to help take care of you, whether mentally or physically, is nothing to be ashamed of – quite the opposite. It’s natural to want to maintain as much independence as possible. However, seeking appropriate help and support will allow you to do this for much longer.

Develop New Hobbies And Find Things That Make You Truly Happy

Developing new hobbies is a wonderful way to find happiness. Perhaps you could join a book club, learn to play an instrument, write poetry, paint, draw or do something else with your time – whatever you want to do, just give it a try!

Exercise In A Way That’s Possible For You

You may not be able to exercise much, if at all, but there are likely a few things you can do. Rolling your feet in a circle or moving your head from side to side, for example. Whatever physical activity that is within your limits, do it regularly.

Eat Well

Eating healthily will make you feel good from the inside out. Learn how to read and understand nutritional labels and aim to get plenty of vitamins and minerals into your diet.

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

Interview | Daniel Baker

Disabled Actor

Daniel Baker is a first-time actor who landed the role of a man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, in the primetime BBC1 drama, Requiem. Most notably, Daniel himself has the condition.

Muscular Dystrophy UK contacted Daniel after the production team specifically set out to cast someone with the disability. He appears in the psychological thriller, alongside Brendan Coyle, best known as John Bates from Downton Abbey.

The newcomer, from Cheltenham, is one of the few men with Duchenne muscular dystrophy to reach his forties. Here, he talks openly about life with a muscle-wasting condition, tells all about his debut acting experience, and shares his views on able-bodied actors portraying disabled characters.


1. Could you please tell us a little about yourself and your disability?

I am a 43 year-old man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I had a fairly normal childhood until the final years of primary school, when I could no longer walk and had to start using a wheelchair. I attended mainstream schools, followed by university. After university my condition worsened and I was given a ventilator to help me breathe. Due to this and some medication which caused negative side effects such as panic attacks, I ended up being bed-bound for nearly ten years. However, I eventually managed to control my anxiety. Then, after raising the funds for a new powered wheelchair, I faced the outside world again.

Duchenne is a condition where muscles get progressively weaker over time. We usually end up in a wheelchair by our early teens and require ventilation in our twenties. Although things have progressed medically, life expectancy is still in the 20’s. Some of us are living far longer than this, but sadly it’s still rare.

I try to live as normal a life as possible, and although there are always going to be limitations, I push myself and use technology to find ways around them. I manage to get out most days to either explore my hobby of photography or just walk my dogs. The dogs have their leads attached to my wheelchair so I can actually walk them myself. I still need someone with a pooper-scooper following me though as I can’t reach to do that job!

2. You achieved a BSc(Hons) in Applied Physics from Oxford Brookes University. How was your university experience in terms of inclusivity and disability awareness?

I attended university and got a government grant to pay for everything. I also received another grant called the Snowdon Award, which paid for travelling and a carer to help me. Nowadays things look much harder for anyone wanting to attend university and I doubt I would have been able to afford it myself.

I decided to commute each day as living on campus and finding accessible accommodation would have been very difficult for me. The journey varied between an hour and two hours each way, and though this was very tiring, it gave me chance to read text books and revise while in the car.

One consequence of not living closer was that I missed out on the social aspect of university life. I wasn’t overly bothered at the time as I’ve always liked my own company and was really there just to learn. But now when I look back, I think more socialising may have done me good.

The university itself was fairly accessible. There was one lift that was tiny and would break down on occasion, necessitating me being carried down stairs in my wheelchair- not a pleasant experience!

As I studied physics, I did need help performing the experiments, though luckily most lab work was done in groups so it wasn’t a big issue. The staff were always helpful and treated me like any other student. I can’t really complain about the inclusiveness and accessibility at all. Yes, some things could have been better, like having more accessible toilets. But overall it was a good experience and I’m grateful to have had that opportunity.

3. You recently featured in 2 episodes of Requiem (congratulations!) How was this experience and what challenges did you face as a disabled actor?

Daniel with actor and co-star, Brendan Coyle

Appearing in Requiem was an amazing experience! I had never acted in any fashion before, other than primary school plays where I usually hid in the background. So the whole experience was something new to me and pushed my boundaries – something I try to do as much as possible these days.

I think the casting process was likely a lot easier due to my disability. They were looking for someone with my specific condition and there aren’t that many of us around. I sent a few headshots and pictures of myself, then chatted with the production team over email. I was offered the part within a couple of days.

Daniel at Aston Hall in Birmingham

As for difficulties, I think they probably aren’t the things people would expect or think about. As soon as the offer of a role came up, I had to check that my personal assistant would be available and flexible to take me. I had to think about transport and did some research to find which trains had the best accessible carriages without any changes. I even did a test run the week before filming just to make sure everything would go smoothly. I had long chats with the production team to ensure the correct equipment, like a portable hoist, would be available on the day. They were very thorough and wanted to make sure I was safe and comfortable. This is something most actors wouldn’t need to even think or worry about.

I was extremely lucky to be working with a great team on Requiem. They ensured I had my own room on set, organised taxis and sent a runner to meet me at the train station. They also had a medic check my needs on set in case of emergency, and made sure the set itself was accessible.

The day itself was perfect. Everyone (cast and crew) welcomed me into their family and I felt right at home. I didn’t feel nervous at all and the scenes were all shot in one take, which I think really impressed them. I felt just like any other actor – I was treated as one of the team and not “special”.

4. As a disabled actor yourself, how do you feel about able-bodied actors portraying disabled characters on stage and on screen?

I think it depends on context and certain circumstances. Sometimes it is probably necessary, especially when the condition being portrayed is progressive, and when a good actor who has done plenty of research plays the part it can work well.

In general though, I think disabled actors playing the parts of disabled characters is a lot more authentic and should be done as much as possible. We have skills and knowledge that could be invaluable to the production team.

There is also the aspect of showing disability to society so we are more accepted and understood. This can’t really be achieved unless the actor is disabled themselves. The more we (disabled people) are on screen and included in mainstream media the better.

5. What advice would you give to others like yourself, who are living with a muscle-wasting condition?

I would use the old cliché, ‘live every day to the fullest’, because you never know what is going to happen tomorrow. I take risks everyday. For example, if my ventilator stops working while out, I’m in big trouble!

But we need to just get on with life and not worry about every possible risk, otherwise we would be stuck inside doing nothing. This can and does lead to depression, which I have experienced myself.

Having said that, I do believe that people in a similar position as me should embrace and be proud of their internal strength and determination. Yes, we face an uncertain future, most without hope for a cure and declining health. But this gives us an advantage over able-bodied people – we are used to overcoming adversity and major obstacles in life.

Life with Duchenne muscular dystrophy isn’t easy! Maintaining happiness and finding enjoyment in things is an every day struggle. It can be incredibly frustrating too.

There are days I wish I could get myself up, washed and dressed. I would drive my van to the woods, venture to where it would be impossible for a wheelchair to go, and just be alone, listening to nature.

For people like me with a muscle-wasting condition, it isn’t a simple life. There are many things we won’t experience, so I would advise you make the most of what you can do and take advantage of every opportunity.

Some things I have done, like appearing on a primetime BBC drama, most ‘normal’ people will never get to experience.


Daniel features in episodes 4 and 6 of the BBC drama Requiem. The whole series can now be found on the BBC iPlayer.

Daniel is also a trustee for the charity DMD Pathfinders. View his IMDB page here, and find out more from the man himself by visiting his personal blog.


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

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Disability & Identity

I was recently invited to participate in a Quality of Life Study, conducted by students at Sheffield University. The ‘Living Life to the Fullest’ research project is aimed at young people (18-30) with life-limiting or life-threatening impairments.

Although data provided by participants is anonymous, I thought the questions asked, along with my personal perspective, might be of interest to some of you.

Below is an extract from my interview. I’d be really interested to know your views and how you might answer…


Do you think the general public hold an accurate understanding of disability? Why or why not?

No, I don’t. I think people who have never had any particular connection or interaction with disabled people lack the knowledge, experience and empathy required to hold an accurate understanding of disability. Furthermore, I think there’s a lack of awareness of how diverse disability is and how many people it actually affects.

I also think people’s perceptions of disability are heavily influenced by the depictions they see in the media. Depictions of disabled people played by able-bodied actors can be very misleading for various reasons. Quite often these portrayals are ‘airbrushed’ and sentimentalized.

The next topic is about your relationship with yourself. Do you have a strong sense of identity? What factors contribute to your identity?

I’m really not sure to be honest. I guess that implies that I don’t have a strong sense of identity. I’ve never really given this question much thought.

I’m not a fan of labelling or categorizing people. At the end of the day, we are all very different, unique individuals.

I guess, in the simplest terms, I am a daughter, a sister, an auntie and a friend. Despite the fact that I often blog about certain aspects of my life, I am actually a very private person who prefers to remain anonymous (or at least, as anonymous as possible).

I identify as somewhat of an introvert. I am incredibly insecure and self-conscious (painfully so) due to my physical disability and the presence of my powered wheelchair. I do feel like people look at the chair before they see me.

I’m very much aware of how different I look compared to ‘normal’ able-bodied people, and how others view and perceive me because of this. I think, because I am so lacking in confidence, my sense of self and identity is negatively impacted.

I am much better at thinking, talking about and dealing with other people and their problems versus my own!

Do you identify as disabled? Has this changed over time?

Yes, I do identify as disabled, though my disability does not define me as a person. I have no problem with the term, nor being referring to as a disabled person. It is simply a matter of fact. In the same way I would describe myself as a white, British female, I am also physically disabled.

I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. There is no hiding or escaping from it, therefore I choose to accept and embrace it.

Since I began blogging, I have noticed a lot of discussion, within the disabled community, regarding the topics of terminology and semantics. There are those who take offence at being identified as, or even labelled ‘disabled’. Some may prefer terms such as ‘differently abled’. (Personally, I find this descriptor a little ridiculous and would never refer to myself as ‘differently abled’). Then again, there are those who don’t consider their impairment to be a notable part of their identity at all.

My view on this has remained consistent throughout my life. My condition is congenital, meaning that I have lived with it from birth and have always been aware of it. I am disabled. In all honesty, I really wish I wasn’t! But the fact is, I am. To me, there’s really no point in denying or ignoring this part of my identity.

You’ve mentioned your thoughts around how others perceive you and how you therefore perceive yourself. Does how you think others perceive you (or even how you perceive yourself) change depending upon context (e.g. at work; with family; with friends)?

I think the way others perceive me varies depending on context. If I’m out and about amongst the general public – for example, shopping with friends – I do notice looks and stares from strangers. It can be bothersome. Some people are so indiscreet and don’t think twice about glaring!

Complete strangers have approached me in the street, clearly feeling entitled to pass judgement and make offensive and inappropriate comments regarding my disability. For instance, a man once asked if I believe in God. Put on the spot (and obviously quite shocked) I hastily answered, ‘no’. He then told me that is the reason I am in a wheelchair!

However, for the most part, I don’t take offence at people looking or staring, so long as they are respectful. I appreciate that by nature, people are inquisitive. All of us, myself included, are curious about anything considered different or not the norm. For this reason, I will happily answer disability-related questions from people who are polite and considerate.

I can’t speak on their behalf but in general, I think (or assume) my family don’t even see my disability. I’m just Carrie. The only time it really smacks them in the face (so to speak) is when I get ill.

In terms of how I perceive myself, I think this is fairly consistent regardless of context. I am very self-deprecating and self-critical. Essentially, I have always wanted to fit in, especially during my school years. I want to be able to do all the things able-bodied people can. I want to be independent, to drive, to walk, to run, to be spontaneous and do things without having to plan or rely on others.

This research project is about young people with ‘life-limiting’ or ‘life-threatening’ impairments ( LL/LTIs), the next questions surround living with that.
What does ‘life-limiting’ mean to you?

I consider myself to have a life-limiting condition (Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy). I have come to terms with the fact that my disability will inevitably impact how long I live. Although people with the same condition are now living longer thanks to various treatments and medical intervention, life expectancy is still much shorter than the average person.

I dread winter and all the viruses circulating throughout the community. Every time I get a cold it leads to a chest infection. For me this is very serious since it often develops into a more complex issue. Many times over the years, I have been admitted to hospital with respiratory complaints including pneumonia, pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and pleurisy.

*I did elaborate further during my interview, though for personal reasons, I have chosen not to include the rest of my answer here.

Does this impact any decisions you make?

YES! All of my decisions. I had a particularly bad bout of pneumonia in 2013. It took many months for me to recover and was incredibly difficult to overcome, both physically and mentally. At that point, my priorities changed.

Up until then I had been pursuing my aims of moving out of my parental home, and finding employment….but after realising how fragile my body actually is, I decided to end the lengthy quest for accommodation – an incredibly stressful quest that I had been struggling with for over two years, without assistance!

My primary focus now is health and happiness. I have to do what is best to protect and care for my body.

*I have chosen to remove parts of my original answer to this question.

Do you feel like it is important to set goals? And does anything stop you from doing this? Are your goals are shaped by what support is assumed to be/not be available or by the support you currently receive?

My mother keeps encouraging me to set goals, like aiming for at least one holiday per year. She wants me to make the most out of the time I have – however long or short – which I understand and agree with.

In August 2017, my first nephew was born. This has been the biggest motivation for me to keep going – to pursue good health, happiness and to embrace life!

I am so much happier since he was born – everyone has noticed. I often say, I hope to live long enough to see him grow up. I want most of all for him to remember me. So this is my biggest goal.

This question is rather pertinent as I currently have only one part-time PCA (personal care assistant). She is very young and hates driving my wheelchair accessible vehicle. As a result, I feel very isolated and excluded from society. I would like to be able to get out, to meet friends and go to events. But right now I am unable to, as I don’t have the support in place.

You have talked about not being able to get out of the house. Would you say you ever feel lonely or that you miss out because of your disability?
Do you miss out more because of your own health problems or accessibility issues?

Yes, definitely. There are times I feel lonely even though I am by nature quite a solitary person. I am more than happy with my own company – it’s a good job, really!

I’m not a fan of social media at all. But like it or not, for me it is a lifeline. Without it, I would feel incredibly isolated. I mostly use Facebook Messenger in order to stay in touch with friends and to meet others in a similar position to myself.

Health problems as well as accessibility issues contribute to missed opportunities. So many times I have made plans, then had to cancel due to ill health – usually chest infections. Because of this, I am now very reluctant to make future plans for fear of disappointment.

For example, I finally managed to book tickets for the Strictly Come Dancing, January 2017 tour. I was so excited and had looked forward to it for months. I then caught a severe chest infection and was unable to go. It may sound dramatic but I was gutted. I had tried to get tickets for years but couldn’t, as the limited accessible seating was always sold out.

What worries you about your future with a complex condition? What would you say is your biggest worry?

I worry most about my health and my ability to fight respiratory illness. As a kid, when I got a chest infection I would need a course of antibiotics and a week off school to recover. However, as I have aged, the duration of these illnesses has gradually increased. They have become much more complex to treat too. These days, it takes everything I have to overcome a chest infection. I worry about how many more times I am able to do it and therefore what I might miss out on in life.

How has your family been impacted (for better or worse) by your disability? For example, has it affected them financially or affected your relationships with them? How do you feel about this?

Wow – there is no end to how much my family has been impacted by my disability!

Yes, very much financially. For one thing, I have a ground-floor bedroom/bathroom extension that was built in 2000. Back then, my parents’ income was assessed. They were entitled to a partial grant, though this was a very small sum. In order to fund the build, they had to take out a second mortgage.

Holidays are MUCH more expensive than they would be for the average family. Medical insurance and the need for accessible accommodation, plus equipment hire makes vacationing rather costly.

Essential mobility equipment such as manual and powered wheelchairs are a huge expense!

Furthermore, my parents are affected physically (owing to many years of lifting and manual handling) and emotionally. Obviously they are aware of the fact that my condition is life-limiting, even though this is not discussed. When I am hospitalised, my whole family experience a great deal of distress.

Relationships are inevitably affected. At the age of 29, I still live with my parents in their home, and we are very much in each others pockets. They remain my primary source of support. I am unable to escape when disputes occur – to go for a walk or a drive in order to ease tension and let off steam. This I find incredibly frustrating.

What makes for a good community in regards to disability?

I’m really not sure how to answer this question. Sadly, I don’t think this can ever be fully achieved, as there will always be prejudice, ignorance and exclusion. I think crucially, there needs to be greater awareness, familiarity and education so that disability becomes part of the norm. We need to work in unity to break down barriers and make disability socially acceptable.

How do you feel about dating with a disability? Do you think it is harder when you’re disabled?

It is definitely harder with a disability – or so I have found. I think one of the biggest obstacles is the initial meet and greet stage.

We (disabled people) face assumptions, social prejudice and environmental limitations e.g. Access to buildings and public transport – thus making dating all the more challenging. Then there are our own physical limitations.

I am completely non-ambulant, I have contractures, a severe scoliosis and overall muscle degeneration. These physical limitations have made me overtly self-conscious, socially awkward and anxious when meeting new people.


Thanks for reading! If you found this interesting, leave a comment and share so that others can join in the discussion.

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Interview | Amberly Lago

True Grit and Grace: Turning Tragedy intoTriumph

Former athlete and professional dancer Amberly Lago suffered a horrific motorcycle accident in 2010 which severed her femoral artery and shattered her right leg almost beyond repair. Despite her debilitating, life changing injuries, Amberly has transformed her life and is now a fitness trainer and motivational speaker, inspiring thousands with her resilience and ability to thrive.  

In her remarkable memoir, ‘True Grit and Grace’, this Texas girl instills hope to keep moving forward by sharing the tools and strategies that have worked for her. The determination, defiance and gratitude she demonstrates encourages readers to find resilience in their own difficulties. By refusing to give up, Amberly has admirably commited herself to regaining her active lifestyle, thereby proving it is possible to hit rock bottom and still find the strength to get back up.


1. Amberly, could you please tell Disability Horizons readers how your disability affects you and how you continue to cope with ongoing, chronic pain?

Following my motorcycle accident in 2010, I was diagnosed with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. CRPS is known as “the suicide disease” because it causes constant chronic pain. It’s ranked highest on the pain scale and has no known cure. When I was first diagnosed, I was told I’d be permanently disabled and wheelchair-bound.

At first I lived in denial and pretended nothing was wrong. Behind my smile, I was dying inside from physical and emotional pain. Everything I read about CRPS left me feeling hopeless. Still, I continued moving forward, despite the feeling of a vice grip on my foot and battery acid through my veins. I tried every kind of treatment for my pain, including a spinal stimulator, nerve blocks, ketamine infusions, Eastern and Western medicine, and anything that claimed it could bring me relief.

It wasn’t until I accepted the fact that I had CRPS and what I call my “new normal” that I began to show myself the self-love and self-compassion I needed to start to feel better. I wish I could tell you I found some magic pill or movement that relieves my pain, but the truth is, every day is different, and so are my pain levels. What works some days doesn’t always work the next, so I just keep trying, and doing, and praying.

When I am in pain, I go through my list of helpful tools. There is no particular order.

I practice mindfulness, meaning I do whatever I can to stop thinking about and focusing on my pain. I surround myself with positive people. No more doggy downers, only puppy uppers!

I count my blessings and practice gratitude.

I give myself permission to rest on a flare day and remember that I am doing exactly what I need to do. I am recovering.

I eat an anti-inflammatory diet.

I am on a sleep schedule (and yes, this means that I have an alert on my phone that tells me when it’s bedtime).

I am still learning to meditate.

I breathe deep breaths.

I pray.

I do everything I can to be of service to others. When you focus on the well-being of others, your self-pity disappears as you improve the quality of someone else’s life.

Then I repeat. Instead of allowing my pain to make me bitter, I do my best to appreciate everything I have, no matter how big or small. I will focus on the good in my life and let that be my medicine.

2. You endured incredibly trying times prior to your motorcycle accident, including parental divorce and sexual abuse. How has maturity and resilience helped you since your accident?

I learned from a young age to “cowgirl up” because at the time, there was no alternative. Dwelling on why reality wasn’t prettier wouldn’t have done a thing for me. It would have crippled me then, preventing me from achieving everything I wanted to and crippled me years later when I was actually crippled, preventing me from choosing nothing less than recovery. As weird as it may be to say this, I believe the pain and isolation I felt in those difficult times as a child were an ironic blessing of sorts. When you know from an early age that you’re on your own and can rely only and entirely on yourself, it’s as liberating as it is sad. But if you can take the sadness and self-pity out of it, then what you’re left with is a liberating sense of freedom—and, when trauma strikes, you don’t waste any time looking for someone to bail you out.

3. How and why did you choose to ignore and defy the doctor who abruptly told you that you would never function normally within society, not walk again?

Call it my stubbornness or my love of a good challenge or being in complete denial, but I wanted, more than anything, to chase after my daughter like a mother should and be free to do the things that make my heart sing, like hiking and exercise. Just because my body was “broken” on the outside, I was still the determined athlete on the inside. I learned to truly listen to my body and to be the healthiest I could be, despite my circumstances. We may not get to control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. So, getting on with my life was a series of three steps up (to the degree that I could take steps) and six steps back, both physically and emotionally. Every one of my surgeries, that totaled 34, I viewed as bumps in the road. I couldn’t think of them as anything but that. If I had, I would have given up. And nothing, not even a doctor’s advice, could get me to do that. Although I love my doctors, I had to think for myself when it came to my own health and happiness.

4. Understandably, you experienced severe depression following your accident. What was the turning point for you?  And how do you find strength and energy to turn such despair into positivity?

Somewhere in between surgeries number 28 and 34, I mentally spiraled into a deep, dark depression. I could feel myself giving up and giving in to the pain, and in that moment, I thought about my beautiful children, my family, my friends, and my clients, and realized I had better make a decision. I could go down the road of despair or down the road of peace and happiness. I immediately threw myself into a place of gratitude for all I did have in my life. Every time a negative thought crept into my mind, I replaced it with something I was grateful for. I threw myself into physical therapy and stayed active with my fitness clientele. Even though I couldn’t physically train them at first, I could still create their exercise plans and coach them over the phone. Being of service really took me out of my despair and gave me a sense of purpose and a strong feeling of connection.

5. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is also often referred to as “the suicide disease” due to the fact so many sufferers take their own lives. How did you overcome the odds and move forward in order to achieve your goals and live life to the fullest?

My heart sank the first time I learned I had what is known as the suicide disease. When I found out I had an incurable disease that would leave me in constant chronic pain, I defaulted to denial; it took me years to accept that I am a woman with a disability. It wasn’t until I completely accepted my disability that I could begin to heal—not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. I focus on what I can do and don’t get caught up in past accomplishments. I celebrate small victories along the way, whether being able to walk up the stairs on my own or walk on the beach with my family. I only look back to see how far I have come. I connect to my higher power every day and pray. Instead of letting my chronic pain detour me from my endeavors, I use it as a tool to connect me with others going through challenges and am reminded that I am not alone on this journey.

6. Throughout the book, you discuss the need for hope, acceptance and gratitude — to be thankful for all you have rather than looking to the past and what you have lost. Do you feel this is the key to getting the most out of life?

At first I was so caught up in my past accomplishments that I couldn’t live fully in the present moment. I went from being a dancer, athlete, and fitness trainer to fighting just to stand upright for a few seconds at a time. I was so embarrassed of my scars and tried to pretend that nothing was wrong with me. Allowing others to see my scars crushed me. Slowly, however, my perspective changed and I took ownership of my story. I then viewed my scars as battles I had won. Instead of looking down at my leg in anguish, I looked at it as a blessing. I still had my legs. Once I embraced my imperfections and learned self-acceptance, I truly began to heal and be comfortable in my own skin.

Without the traumas and heartbreaks of life I wouldn’t be able to serve the way I do now. It’s not about circumstances but about what you decide to do with them. I focus on what I am grateful for and don’t leave any room for self-pity. I make my purpose bigger than my problems.

As Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle”. I believe in miracles.

7. Your role as a wellness coach and motivational speaker involves supporting, inspiring and advising others. Why is this so important and how does helping other people through their difficulties benefit you personally?

I wanted more than ever to get back to my passion, which is working with people, but I did wonder who would want to train with me. I felt broken. I trained fitness competitors, boxers, and CHP officers for years—and then I found myself on crutches. I now needed my clients more than they needed me. I needed to get back to work. I needed to give my life purpose above and beyond trying to walk again. Purpose was what would save me mentally, psychologically, spiritually—and, for that matter, physically. Purpose was what would get me on my feet and, someday—as I prayed—running again. I did whatever I could to get myself stronger—and then came the miracle. Business began booming, and did so quickly because people saw me in the gym, in my wheelchair or on crutches, even pushing myself from station to station in a wheelchair. I became the trainer of encouragement who told people, Yes you can! and that was how I trained them. Speaking to groups of people, whether a gathering of youth or  business professionals, about overcoming obstacles is a way of connecting, and when people connect, magic happens. I believe we need to lift others up to be better ourselves.

8. What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?

What I have learned in life is a series of choices we make regardless of our circumstances. I could either make the choice to give up and let my life be determined by my circumstances, or fight to create something positive out of my situation. My choice is to notice the gifts life offers, which are particularly plentiful when you look for them. I believe in seeing the good in every situation and learning something from it.

I believe we can have the life we have always imagined, even if our circumstances have narrowed our possibilities. My sincere wish is that my story will help each reader claim their own power and belief in themselves and their dreams, and find their own resilience to move forward and choose a life filled with laughter and love, even when things don’t go as planned. We can’t choose what life throws our way, but we can choose to be happy and live a full life, despite our circumstances. Through our trials, we can embrace our challenges, connect to our innermost resilience, and change our perspective on life. We are all strong, but together we are unstoppable!


I’d like to thank Amberly Lago for taking the time to answer my questions so considerately.

Please visit her website to learn more about her life and work as a motivational speaker.

TRUE GRIT AND GRACE: Turning Tragedy Into Triumph by Amberly Lago (Morgan James Publishing; April 17, 2018) – Available to buy now from Amazon.

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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.

20 Questions with…

Rebecca who has cerebral palsy

I recently got chatting with a lovely lady called Rebecca, who contacted me after reading my blog.

Rebecca, who has cerebral palsy, is high-achieving, ambitious and incredibly interesting to talk to.

Consequently, I thought it would be beneficial for you guys to learn more about Rebecca, her views and how she manages life with a physical disability…


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

I have Ataxic Cerebral Palsy, which affects my four limbs and means that I use an electric wheelchair for getting around both inside the house and for outside activities in my day-to-day life. I also have a visual impairment called Nystagmus, which prevents me from going out unaccompanied as I sometimes struggle to see steps and kerbs in the street.  My disability affects my life as I require 24 hour care.

2. What is the worst thing about living with your disability?

The worst thing is the stigma and negative attitudes that still surround disability. For example, strangers often make assumptions about my mental capabilities and underestimate my intelligence. However, I am learning to become resilient through my experience of this, and have developed coping mechanisms.

3. What, if any, are the positives to having a disability?

The free carer ticket to gigs/festivals/theatre/talks is a bonus! I also value my electric chair and the feeling of acceleration when I drive fast. On a more serious note, I view the fact that I feel I have a unique perspective on the world as a result of my disability as a positive. I have a greater tolerance of difference due to the empathy and understanding that my disability has taught me.

4. How do you feel about the term ‘disability’? Do you refer to yourself as having a disability or do you prefer another term, such as differently abled?

I used to physically jump at the word ‘disability’ as well as ‘wheelchair’ and ‘handicap’. This was because hearing myself being described as disabled hit home the fact that other people viewed and labeled me in this way. It made me feel as if my disability was my main or only attribute. This all changed when I attended counseling sessions in my early 20’s, where I was encouraged to unpack the meaning of these words and confront why they prompted a physical reaction from me. It is still the case that disability will never be my favourite word, but I’m now comfortable enough to describe myself in that way to others.

5. Do you feel under-represented in the media? If so, what changes would you like to see?

I can understand why some people would feel under-represented, and I agree changes do need to be made. But in my opinion, these changes reside in discussion, ideas and inclusion rather than purely exposure.

6. Are you a leader or a follower?

I used to be a follower, afraid to voice my opinions.  Now I am comfortable taking the role of the leader in certain social situations, i.e. with less confident friends I am able to guide the conversation to allow people to be heard. As well as this, I hope to lead with my ideas surrounding disability ethics and the research I am doing in this particular area.

7. Optimist, pessimist, realist or idealist?

I live in the most realistic way possible so that I am most connected with reality and grounded in my thoughts. To be too pessimistic can prevent us from progressing, whereas being overly optimistic can also be counterproductive to personal growth.

8. Are you easy going or high-maintenance? Would those who know you best agree?

I would say that I am easy going because I have learnt how to balance my own well-being so as not to allow myself to become too stressed out. Those who know me best would probably agree, but I imagine they would claim that I’m more high-maintenance when I have an important deadline to meet!

9. Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

This really depends on whom I am with. In my professional career as a counsellor it is my responsibility to be the facilitator who steers the conversation, and this doesn’t allow for me to be introverted.  However I can still become shy around people that I struggle to connect with on a deeper level.

10. Are you more creative or logical?

I am more creative in my thoughts and my writing and in the way I can construct an argument in a debate.

11. You are currently studying Philosophy at Cambridge University –  why did you choose that subject in particular?

I have been fascinated by the world around me from a young age with my intuitive questioning of values and beliefs. This then developed when I embarked on a short course to find out more about the subject, which then inspired me to study philosophy at a higher level. What I like about philosophy most is that it’s a never-ending endeavour; there is always more to question, learn and explore. Philosophy can help to find new ways to think about old problems and with considering things from different perspectives, to overcome many of the hurdles that we encounter in our everyday lives.

12. What difficulties have you faced whilst at University, resulting from your disability?

Having to deliver presentations has been difficult for me, but luckily the University allowed me adapt my assessments, and have been really accommodating. One of my personal assistants delivered this presentation and I was able to answer class questions afterwards. I also require a personal assistant to write down my thoughts, and this can sometimes take a long time because conversations can be misinterpreted. For this reason, I always request the option of extra time because it can take longer for me than for an able-bodied student to formally express my thoughts in an assignment.

13. What do you hope to do following completion of your degree?

I am hoping to continue studying and develop my qualifications, embarking on a postgraduate course that combines philosophy and mental health.

14. Are you the type of person who always knew, from an early age, what job you wanted to pursue?

Yes, from about the age of 10 I remember hearing of people’s difficulties and wanting to help them by giving them advice at the time! This then developed into aspiring to become a qualified counsellor.

15. What is your ultimate ambition in life?

To gain as much knowledge and wisdom as possible to discuss new ideas and create meaningful change.

16. Bucket list: Can you list your top 5 goals?

I took some time to contemplate this question because I’ve never had a bucket list as such, but I’ve managed to come up with 5 things that are important to me:

 1. Experience something daring in nature – i.e. wheelchair tree-top climbing

2. Using my counseling skills to change someone’s life for the better

3. Learn more about the psychiatry side to mental health

4. Finish reading a book in its entirety!

5. Finish my dissertation

17. If you won the Euromillions, what would you do with the money?

I would first of all build my own custom-made cabin in the forest. I would also double my betting stakes. (I do now and again enjoy a little flutter on the horses and football!) Although overall I am pretty content with my life how it is now.

18. Where is your favourite place in the world?

I really love spending time by the weeping willows in Newnham, Cambridge. These trees overlook the River Cam which makes it a very tranquil spot, where I feel safe and at peace.

19. Do you believe in ghosts, spirits and the like?

I have heard many stories about spirits and the afterlife that have led me to believe, or at least be open to the idea.

20. If a pill existed that could completely cure you of your disability, would you choose to take it, and why?

No, simply because I wouldn’t be me any more. And I wouldn’t have experienced the same things if I had been able-bodied. The only thing I would perhaps alter is the fact that I don’t get to spend much time on my own.


I’d like to thank Rebecca Sherwood for taking the time to answer my questions.

What do YOU think of Rebecca’s responses? how would YOU answer these questions? Leave and comment and let me know!

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