Part two is a little more light-hearted, giving an insight into some amusing dating disasters!
In this third and final offering, I answer ALL of your burning questions…
Q: What tips do you have for disabled people who don’t understand why someone would want to date them?
A: I think it’s natural to lack confidence and feel insecure, regardless of (dis)ability. I’m sure we have all felt this way to some extent. This comes down to how we perceive ourselves and self-worth. I do think we need to find happiness and contentment within ourselves before entering into a potential relationship. Believe me, I know how difficult this is! Also, there comes a point where you just have to take a leap of faith and trust that what this person says is sincere. If they tell you they like you and enjoy your company, trust them! Don’t question it – you will drive yourself mad and eventually irritate them too. Yes, it might go nowhere, but at least you will have allowed yourself that opportunity. Dating is all about confidence, self belief, taking risks and having fun. I hope this helps!
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
A: Again, for me, it’s all about realising my worth. I am very self-critical and have, at times, convinced myself that no one could ever want me. I thought I was too much to take on; an unnecessary burden. Why would anyone date me when they could go out with an able-bodied girl? But I have been proven wrong. Initially, I was very sceptical and found it hard to believe guys when they told me they liked me. But I soon realised I was doing myself no favours; this was self-destructive behaviour.
Q: What are your biggest insecurities?
A: My body and physical limitations. I am non-ambulant, incredibly petite and have a significant scoliosis (curvature of the spine). I don’t look “normal” and I don’t have a curvy, womanly physique. I would try desperately to disguise this with baggy clothes, and felt embarrassed by my child-sized stature. However, I now make a point of celebrating my tiny, “pixie” frame. After all, being small has it’s advantages! I’m easy to carry and throw around! I am what I am. There’s nothing I can do to change my body. If people don’t like it, that’s absolutely fine – it’s their problem, not mine!
Q: How and when do you reveal your disability and limitations when dating?
A: This can be difficult! For me, it isn’t as simple as, “I can’t walk”. My disability comes with many challenges and health implications. It’s hard trying to explain this to someone who has no knowledge or familiarity with my condition, without overwhelming them with information. I think it’s important that you are willing to answer questions, however silly they might seem. Personally, I don’t take offence when guys ask if I can feel and if I’m able to have sex. It’s natural curiosity! It doesn’t mean that’s all they’re interested in.
Following my last post, I was encouraged to write more on the subject of dating with a disability. Not that I’m much of a dater. I don’t do the apps (other than a brief stint on Hinge) or actively chat up blokes. If it happens, it happens.
A mate told me to share some dating disaster stories. I’m not sure there have been any disasters, as such. Rather, a few funny anecdotes.
One took place on a freezing cold day in January – not ideal. He wrapped his coat around me, which was quite sweet. He wouldn’t let me keep it (less sweet, methinks) but I did steal his hat!
Another date (if you can call it that) was with a 34 year-old guy from dating app, Hinge. Though stereotypically attractive – clean cut with washboard abs – he really wasn’t my type at all.
Still, I was encouraged to go for it, mainly because he’s older and, in theory, more mature. So, on a whim, after months of chatting on/off, I agreed to meetup.
This lead to possibly the most awkward and stale encounter I’ve ever experienced. I’m not sure if he was going for the brooding, ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’ thing, but it translated as pure arrogance. Plus, he had zero sense of humour and was somewhat full of shit.
He claimed to have dated Ellie Goulding and that one of her songs was written about him. Google disagrees!
The only thing he seemed interested in was his car (which, I may have inadvertently insulted. I amused myself, anyway), and getting a hotel room there and then.
Now, each to their own, but I’ve never been into meaningless one night stands. Plus, let’s be real for a second, I’m a girl. A “vulnerable” girl. So if a guy can’t appreciate why I don’t want to hook-up within 10 minutes of meeting, well, sod off mate!
So, in the end I told him I was off home for my tea (yes, I really said that).
I took the long route and nagged a mate on the phone on my way. As I rolled along the riverside in my chair, a little kid waved enthusiastically at me. That made me smile and was most definitely the highlight of my evening. Kids are so much easier than men!
Prior to this, I met up with a lad I went to school with. He’s a bit quirky with long, dark, wavy hair and piercing blue eyes – ding, ding!!
Somehow, we got chatting after some 15 years, and I went to his place. There was no plan or agenda on my part. Yes, I fancied him – a little – but I’m terrible at the whole flirty thing.
Now, I’m completely non-ambulant and haven’t been up a flight of stairs in many years. So, despite worrying that I’d be dropped on the floor in a heap, I trusted him to carry me up to his room where he plonked me on his bed.
After a fair amount of kissing and rolling around, the boy got a bit excited and, well, released his manly juices over my lovely top! Mmm, crusty!
You may be surprised to learn this beautiful union developed no further.
Honestly, I hate dating. It’s generally pretty nerve-wracking. But, add a disability into the mix and the whole thing becomes even more challenging.
Disability aside, I am an acquired taste. I have a very dry, dark, and somewhat sarcastic sense of humour. I’m not a natural people person, and I can’t do small-talk to save my life. Yes, I’m a bit of a weirdo.
Many seem to assume disabled people only date those with a similar disability. I never understood that.
Personally, I’ve only ever dated able-bodied guys. This isn’t necessarily a conscious decision, though in all honesty, it does make life easier!
Dating with a physical disability like mine can be awkward, embarrassing and frustrating. There are certain things I cannot do that I REALLY wish I could. So, you need to be willing to answer questions, explain your limitations and ask for help.
I don’t think I’ve dated anyone who hasn’t asked the following:
– Can you move? – Can you feel? – Do you hurt?
If and when you’re hit with the 20 questions, my advice would be to try and keep it light-hearted and good-humoured. Remember that many people have no knowledge or familiarity with your disability. They are simply curious and showing an interest in YOU.
You may be reluctant to date because of your disability. Maybe you lack confidence or think that no one would want you. Trust me, that’s bullshit!
Yes, you might make an arse of yourself and roll home feeling like a bag of shit. I know I have. But hey, if a date goes badly, you never have to see them again!
Bad experiences will knock your confidence. But you’ve just got to dust yourself off and try again.
One guy once told me that I’m no one’s type (referring to my disability). What a lovely chappy! Well, he kissed like some kinda mutant slug! So, no great loss there. Cheerio, bye-bye…
This seems to be the go-to method these days. It works for many, but I’m not a dating app type at all. I can tell you now, you’ll never see my face on Tinder or PoF. And if you do, it ain’t me!
The only app I ever used – reluctantly – is Hinge (dubbed “Cringe”), recommended by a good friend.
Much to my surprise, it made quite an impact on me and effectively changed my whole perspective on love…
For a long while, I was referred to, by some, as “the ice queen”. I had my guard up and always kept people at arms length, due to low self-esteem and a fear of judgement and rejection.
I was totally cynical about love and never showed any interest in marriage – I wasn’t the little girl who fantasised about a big white wedding.
Despite a few dates, I wasn’t taking Hinge seriously and never thought I’d meet anyone or fall in love. That just wasn’t me. Then, most unexpectedly, I did.
Quite early on, my mum said she could see me falling for this guy. She told me if it didn’t work out, it would break my heart.
“Nah, we’re just keeping it casual and having fun. Nothing and no one will break my heart”.
Or so I thought. But damn it, mama was right. I really did fall for him. I fell hard and fast (not on the floor, although that has happened)! And my heart really did break when it ended.
But that’s life. Shit happens. You live and learn.
The point is, you have to be willing to take risks, open up, allow yourself to trust, and yes, to get hurt.
It sounds cliché, but it’s essential you realise your worth. Never allow anyone or anything to make you feel you are not good enough or undeserving of love and affection!
And, if anyone does make you doubt your worth, well, fuck ’em! (Not literally).
People who know me well often describe me as incredibly private and somewhat closed-off. They’re not wrong. But I have my reasons. That said, I’ve been trying to open up a little more and share a closer insight into my everyday life in recent blog posts.
For me, 2019 really has been a year of major highs and lows.
The summer was genuinely the happiest time of my life. Everyone noticed.
Now, I’m the type to roll their eyes at the mention of people “glowing with happiness”, sceptical old bint that I am, but apparently it is a thing.
I was kinda hoping it would last longer than it did. But hey, that’s life.
Soon after my birthday came a swift punch in the gut (not literally, fear not!) and that marked the beginning of one of the unhappiest periods of my life. These things come to try us!
I’m not going to lie, this past month has been pretty crap.
Yeah, Christmas is a time to celebrate, have fun and be with those you love most. But it can also emphasise and remind you of what you’ve lost. And who you’ve lost.
I have some amazing people around me – family and friends. Thanks to those of you who patiently put up with me being a miserable fecker!
Some have offered wise words and advice, some have made me laugh when I really needed to, and others have simply been there to listen. You lot are what life is about (Ooh, deep!).
Let’s get this year out of the way and I promise, in 2020, I’ll pick myself up and get back to “the old Carol” ~ generally pratting about, laughing at inappropriate things and maybe even smiling occasionally 😱
A final word for anyone struggling for whatever reason…
I don’t want to get too serious. After all, it is Christmas – oh, joy!
Life ain’t all shits and giggles. I really wish it was. But it just isn’t.
Sometimes life gives you lemons (bastard lemons!) So what you gonna do? Throw ‘em back even harder, I say.
I may be pixie-sized but I’m pretty damn defiant. I’ve faced a fair few battles over the years. Truth is, the battle never really ends. But you gotta trudge through. What’s the alternative?
When I was 8 or 9, I fell off a horse. The horse decided she’d had enough of this trotting bullshit, and wanted to play silly buggars. She bolted downhill then stopped abruptly, throwing me forward.
I landed with my arse in a muddy puddle and lost my bloody boot. Yeah, I was a bit shook up. But I could either sit in that puddle and sulk (well, I couldn’t get up and walk off!) or get back in the saddle. So, I got back on psycho Sally!
Point is, life can be a bitch, but you gotta carry on and you gotta help yourself. Find what makes you happy and go for it!
I have a few things lined up for the new year, including some truly thrilling blog posts (I can sense the excitement already!).
Merry Christmas, folks. Take care! See you in the new year.
He attended university, completed a placement year, works full-time, started his own business, and is now on the Great Britain Air Rifle Talent and Development Squad. Josh is able to drive a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) and has lived independently since leaving his parental home at 18.
1. University ~ Can you tell us about the process of putting a care package in place and living independently as a disabled student?
During my last year of college, I expressed an interest in going to university. After research with my social worker and factoring my needs and desires, we identified appropriate universities that fit my criteria. I then had to decide on a live-in carer or a care agency. I opted for the agency route in order to be as independent as possible.
Once accepted by the university, I sorted accommodation and started looking for care agencies. My social worker provided me with a list of care agencies registered with the CQC, but it was down to me to make arrangements. The first care agency turned out to be unpleasant! So, after 4 months, I switched to another agency who I remained with for the duration of my university experience.
2. How was your overall university experience?
My overall uni experience was, let’s say, fruitful! From falling asleep in my wheelchair in front of the mirror to having university staff put me to bed within the first week because I was so drunk. It was clear that I was going to make the most of my 3 years at uni!
I got involved with numerous societies and activities to keep myself active and included with the student culture. I had a fantastic time and never experienced any discrimination or abuse. The staff made me feel at ease, allowed me to be as independent as possible, and provided access to necessary resources.
I graduated with a first class honours in IT Management and Business and, 4 years after graduating, I was invited back to receive an Honorary Masters in Technology.
3. You carried out an internship with Hewlett Packard during your studies, and then worked as a cyber security manager. What, if any, challenges did you encounter in finding employment and how does your disability affect your working life?
The general employment process with assessment days, face-to-face interviews and telephones interviews were fairly seamless. Most employers are extremely accommodating if you give them notice and make them aware of your access needs.
I do remember one assessment day with a popular car manufacturer where the activities impacted my ability to take part due to my physical requirements. This may have affected their decision to not employ me, even though I was just as capable, if not more so, than the other candidates. But apart from that, I have not had any issues finding employment.
Obviously, my disability limits me physically. However, as I work in technology it does not affect my ability to do my job. Yes, working full-time is not easy for me, but it’s also important to remember it’s not easy for able-bodied people either.
I have always been the sort of person who just gets on with it. I also believe that with technology making everything more accessible for disabled people, in most cases, our disability should not affect our ability to work. If you have any employer with an inclusive work culture, who is willing to support, understand and give you flexibility within the work place, then for sure you can work!
4. You returned to university to speak to students about entrepreneurship, and inspire them to start their own businesses. How did this make you feel and why do you think it is so important to encourage other disabled people to pursue any entrepreneurial aspirations they may have?
This gave me a sense of achievement and fulfilment. I believe that sharing experiences, whether positive or negative, helps others to follow their own passions and aspirations.
There is a general consensus that employment for disabled people is difficult to find, and arguably this could be due to the lack of inclusive employers. This is what makes the entrepreneurial world an attractive proposition for disabled people – it is flexible, offers them ability to work around their needs, and also avoids the hardship of being in a culture that is not disability confident.
5. You ventured into self-employment and founded AbleMove. Why was this so important to you?
I have always wanted to start my own business. When I realised I could create a product to make travel more assessible for disabled people, it was a no-brainer decision for me.
When you’re working on something you’ve created and can see the life-changing benefits, there is a real feeling of fulfilment.
Winning the award gave me a sense of personal achievement and recognition. It gave me a fresh perspective on developing my own business and the benefits it can provide versus working for a large company.
The prize money and a business deal with easyGroup Ltd enabled me to give up my full-time job in order to pursue my own business. This allowed me greater flexibility regarding how I manage my disability.
7. Prior to winning the award, you had to move home and rent within the private sector. What challenges did this present?
The challenges with the private rent sector (PRS) are vast, especially given almost 85-90% of PRS homes are inaccessible for wheelchairs.
After applying for the Stelios Awards, I was told I had to move out of a good sized two bed apartment due to the landlords requiring their property back. Having lived there for 3 and a half years, it was time to start the dreaded challenge of finding a needle in a haystack.
It’s purely pot luck if you can find an accessible house to move into straight away that doesn’t need any adapations.
After fighting with the council and various estate agents, we eventually managed to find a property on rightmove. Now, when moving home I need to consider carers since I rely on them throughout the day. My main PA (personal assistant) was unable to continue working for me, and so I had to re-jig and was then only able to maintain one PA.
Finding an accessible property and then having to manage your care situation around it is extremely stressful, tiring and irritating. On top of this, I was working full-time, getting the business of the ground, doing weekly exercises and training for the Great Britain Shooting Talent and Development Squad.
8. Can you tell us about your invention, the easyTravelseat. What is it and how does it benefit disabled people?
My travelling experiences involve being manhandled from wheelchair to aisle chair and then manhandled again onto the aircraft, which is highly undignified and uncomfortable. I therefore sought to create something that would help me travel in a more comfortable and dignified manner.
The easyTravelseat is a sling/seat combination that is designed to work as an in-situ piece of equipment. It is placed in your wheelchair, and you then remain seated in the easyTravelseat until you reach your destination.
For instance, when flying, you would remain comfortably and securely seated within the easyTravelseat for your entire journey through the airport, onto and during your time on the aircraft and off again.
Once I created it, I realised the many benefits it offers disabled people. It allows users to travel in a more safe, dignified and comfortable way, on all modes of transport. Furthermore, it opens up leisure opportunities such as canoeing, kayaking, skiing and so on. The easyTravelseat enables users to be transferred quickly and easily without having to be manhandled. The user is comfortably seated with their own cushion, a gel pad or foam.
9. Where did the idea for the easyTravelseat stem from, and what did the development process involve?
The development process involved researching the types of equipment already available, and the demand for such a product. I conducted market research to determine whether wheelchair-users would find the product useful. Then we identified a concept and progressed to prototyping in order to test how the seat would work. We then moved on to the point of manufacturing the seat and getting the required medical marking and approvals in place. During this process we had been working initially with airports around the lifting side of the device, including our sling manufacturer and then an airline. We started production in February 2019.
10. Does the easyTravelseat cater for disabled people of all shapes and sizes?
The easyTravelseat will cater for the majority of disabled users with the exception of very young children, bariatric passengers or people with extreme contoured seating.
11. How does the easyTravelseat compare with similar products on the market, such as the ProMove sling or the NEPPT Transfer Evacuation Sling Seat?
The difference with the easyTravelseat is the specific design and application of use for aircraft, whilst ensuring passenger comfort. It allows users to be moved around the aircraft, including during an emergency, and to then disembark the aircraft in a much safer, dignified and comfortable manner. All other slings are designed to be removed and offer no protection or comfort when in-situ.
12. What other assistance do you think airlines could and should be offering to disabled passengers?
I think the most important area airlines should be focusing on in the immediate is the loading of wheelchairs, both electric and manual, to prevent damage. It also concerns me the people on the ground lifting these wheelchairs are at risk of causing serious damage to themselves. There is industry equipment to load wheelchairs onto an aircraft without having to manually lift a wheelchair. This would help the loaders and reduce the amount of damage to both the chairs and the airport staff. Also, a secure area in the hold may also be advantageous to prevent luggage damaging wheelchairs during turbulence.
I also think the UK should be pushing (as Canada has done successfully) the airlines to provide free tickets for a carer when flying with a disabled person. After all, the airlines make it a necessary requirement for WCHC passengers who cannot move without any support to fly with a personal assistant/carer.
Airlines should also be addressing the toileting situation inside the cabin too. It is currently impossible for the majority of disabled passengers to access the toilet whilst flying.
Regarding hidden disabilities, there are those who are much more calm when they are surrounded by objects which are all different colours.
Long term, all airlines should be looking to allow wheelchair-users to remain seated in their wheelchair, inside the cabin, during the flight.
13. What does the future hold for you and your business?
The future is bright for easyTravelseat! We are off to a steady start with interest across the globe. We believe in an accessible aviation world and are able to provide an immediate solution to help reduce some of the significant problems with maintaining safety, dignity and comfort when flying with a wheelchair.
We will now look to ensure easyTravelseat is easily accessible in as many countries across the globe as possible in the coming years.
~ joint contractures, scoliosis, progressive weakness, inability to weight-bear and respiratory decline ~
Inevitably, there is an additional impact on my mental health.
For the most part, I am upbeat and stay as active as possible. But admittedly, recurrent chest infections often get the better of me. It can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle, and frankly, it is bloody hard to remain optimistic when life is completely put on hold for months at a time, during which I’m unable to leave the house.
The considerable down-time makes forward-planning almost impossible. Over the years, I’ve missed out on many events and cancelled numerous birthday celebrations due to ill health. It is difficult to commit to social arrangements and accept invitations for fear of letting people down, which then leads to guilt.
When ill, I may…
• Have to cancel plans
• Not respond to calls or messages right away
• Be unsociable
• Be impatient
• Not want to talk
• Be unable to focus or maintain attention
• Spend a considerable amount of time resting and/or sleeping
• Lack motivation
• Be unproductive
• Feel pessimistic, frustrated and emotionally exhausted
• Feel isolated yet unable to see anyone
When I’m ill, I am out of action for a month, sometimes longer. The days are long, tiring, monotonous and utterly unproductive. It is easy to succumb to despair, so for me it is essential to establish a focus and a purpose.
• Rearrange any cancelled plans
• Don’t shut people out
• Accept support from loved ones
• Pet therapy ~ a cuddle from your beloved pet can work wonders!
• If possible, go outside, look up at the sky
• Give yourself a daily reminder of at least 3 positive things in your life
• Say out loud, “I will get through this”, “I will get better”, “I won’t be defeated”
• Don’t overexert yourself. Allow yourself the time and space you need to rest and recover
Life is a gift, but it can also be a bit shit sometimes! Always remember, you are stronger than your struggles. 💪