Britain’s Got Talent | Disability Representation

Are you a Britain’s Got Talent viewer? If like me, you have tuned in this year, you too may have noticed that the semi-final line-up features a number of diversely disabled acts – more so than previous years.

As a wheelchair-user myself, I am thrilled to see disability increasingly represented and celebrated on such a high-profile primetime TV talent show.

Lee Ridley AKA Lost Voice Guy

Lee Ridley, also known as Lost Voice Guy, is the first act through to the live final, having won the audience vote on Monday night. Hotly tipped to win the competition, Lee 37 from Newcastle, has Cerebral Palsy and is unable to speak. This uniquely speechless comedian uses a Lightwriter – a voice synthesiser, and as he says, “walks with a limp”. He is a BBC New Comedy Award Winner who wears slogan T-shirts depicting his self-deprecating and inclusive sense of humour – his audition shirt read, ‘I’m only in it for the parking’.

Lee Ridley AKA Lost Voice Guy

Lost Voice Guy wowed audiences and judges alike with his witty routines that draw attention to and highlight the humour in disability, thereby breaking down barriers and removing social stigma. The “struggling comedian who also struggles to stand up” joked that he “really is disabled. It’s not just really good acting”.

Robert White

Fellow comedian Robert White who has dyslexia, autism and Asperger syndrome, also made it through to Sunday night’s final with his hilariously quirky musical comedy act. The 41 year-old music teacher from West Sussex describes himself as “the only gay, Aspergic, quarter-Welsh comic on the British comedy circuit”.

Though his audition proved impressive, White really upped his game for Wednesday’s live semi-final, in which he employed natural comedy timing to mock the four judges. Accompanied by a keyboard, Robert White flirted with his “next boyfriend” David Walliams and quipped that Amanda Holden dresses far too young for her age, while Alesha Dixon dresses like a hooker! This was met with unanimous rapturous applause and laughter.

Comedian Robert White

Most notably, Robert directly referenced the sensitivity surrounding his condition during his live act: “I am aware that if you mention autism on stage sometimes audiences can go awkward and silent”. This effectively challenges viewers to consider how they receive and react to those of us with a disability, thus initiating the conversation.

Calum Courtney

This year’s youngest finalist is 10 year-old singer Calum Courtney who has a mild form of autism. Calum sailed through to the final after melting hearts with his reworked rendition of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, in tribute to his Mum. He didn’t win the overall public vote, but having made it into the top three, was put through by the judges.

Calum Courtney

Calum was part of the line-up at the NSPCC Winter Charity Ball in aid of the National Autistic Society. His endearing and confident audition performance of Michael Jackson’s ‘Who’s Loving You’ caught the crowd’s attention and earned a standing ovation. It just goes to show that even at such a tender age, autism need not be a barrier to success.

RISE Unbroken

Semi-finalists RISE, a group of young dancers from Manchester, presented two moving performances, though they did not make it through to the grand final. Group member 13 year-old Hollie Booth was caught up in the Manchester Arena bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017. Hollie’s aunt Kellie was one of 22 people who died as a result of the terror attack.

Manchester dance group RISE

Hollie broke her knee, left foot and was left with nerve damage. She has so far had 11 operations and now has to wear an orthotic and use a wheelchair. She was keen to return to the group and continue dancing despite her trauma and the injuries she suffered. As a mark of solidarity and inclusivity in the face of adversity, all RISE dancers incorporate wheelchairs into their routines. The tearful judges hailed the girls as “inspirational”. In this case, I think the term is justified!

B-Positive Choir

Final mention goes to B-Positive – the official NHS Blood and Transplant choir. The choir consists of 60 singers all of whom suffer from, or are directly affected by, sickle cell disease. Their aim is to raise awareness of the urgent need for blood donation. They sang the “powerful” anthemic hit ‘This is Me’ (a true statement of the importance of diversity). They are hoping for a wild card pass through to Sunday night’s final.

B-Positive Choir

The inclusion of so many disabled acts in this year’s line-up will, I believe, have a positive impact on the disabled community. It suggests and promotes forward-thinking, equality and disability in the mainstream. Furthermore, it inspires open discussion of diversity in all its forms whilst also encouraging society to focus on ability as opposed to inability.

Widespread visibility of disabled talent within the media will naturally be met with questions and curiosity. But that’s okay because it signifies progressive inclusivity.

Many people are talking about the acts they have seen on Britain’s Got Talent. Audiences are realising that it’s acceptable to celebrate disability and to laugh about it! It is okay to ask questions since this educates and informs, thereby resulting in familiarity, recognition and ‘normalisation’.


Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

International Women’s Day 2018 (Belated)

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

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

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?


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

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


Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Interview | ‘The Undateables’ Steve Carruthers

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

2. How were you treated throughout the production process?

The whole team was incredibly nice, supportive and understanding. Everything was treated with care and compassion.

3. What response have you received following your appearances?

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

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

The show itself really is everything you see (believe it or not). It is exactly how dates are in real life – you have moments of silence, awkwardness and moments of hope. The show’s titles show cupid shooting the [prefix] ‘Un’ off, leaving the word ‘dateables’. The point of this is to prove we are all dateable, and that we [disabled people] have the same experiences on dates as everyone else does.

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

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


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

You can watch his original appearance on the show here.

Images courtesy of The Undateables and The Sun


Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Jonnie Peacock and Strictly Come Dancing

Here is my latest article for Disability Horizons!


A move forward for disability representation within the media!

As a die-hard Strictly Come Dancing fan, and being disabled myself, admittedly I was pretty excited to hear that Paralympian Jonnie Peacock MBE would be competing in the 15th series.

In a landmark move forward for disability representation in the media, the 24 year-old sprinter is the first physically disabled contestant to appear on the main, primetime show.

Jonnie has taken on the ‘glitterball’ challenge in the hope that it will break down peoples’ views and “change some of the stigmas” around disability.

He added, “some people have preconceived notions of what people can and cannot do based on looking at them, but I think sometimes it’s just a case of not judging a book by its cover.”

Jonnie’s right leg was amputated below the knee after contracting meningitis, aged five. Clearly though, this has not held him back. He competed at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympics, winning gold medals in both games, and breaking a record for the fastest 100m T44 time in the process.

Partnered with professional dancer and last year’s runner-up Oti Mabuse, he quipped that if voted through to week three, he will ‘glitter up’ his prosthetic leg.

Having made a smooth debut with a charming and technically adept waltz, Jonnie opted to dance with a brand new blade in week two. A decision that paid off!

An energetic jive to Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode caught the attention of the judges and public alike. Earning 29 points put him fourth on Saturday night’s leader-board. His combined score placed him sixth overall. It’s only after celebrities have danced twice: one ballroom and one Latin routine, that they face the public vote.

Since the jive is such a fast-paced dance that requires a lot of bounce action, the blade was a wise move. Despite being highly praised by all four judges for his “outstanding kicks and flicks”, Jonnie later commented that it was “tough” dancing with a blade which is much longer than his usual prosthetic limb.

In fact, the only criticism he received was for his upper body, particularly the lack of focus and refinement in his arms. Both Jonnie and his partner Oti agreed, this is something he has found particularly challenging.

The improvement from the previous week was evident, with greater enthusiasm and commitment to the complex choreography, characterisation and story-telling.

Jonnie revealed his disappointment with the waltz which he felt could have gone better. In contrast, the action-packed jive suits his fun-loving personality much more. He gave it his all, shedding the nerves and demonstrating increased confidence and showmanship.

His memorable jive rivals those of former Strictly winners Ore Oduba, Jay McGuiness and Jill Halfpenny. What makes it all the more impressive is the fact that the jive is notoriously difficult to master, and this was only his second performance. Furthermore, unlike several fellow competitors, Jonnie has no dance experience whatsoever.

The couple’s latest dance, a Paso Doble to the Indiana Jones theme tune achieved a respectable 26 points, placing them eighth for movie week. The slight down-score can be attributed to Jonnie’s dislike of the Paso which demands a stern, serious expression. It also marked a return to his usual prosthesis.

The sportsman says of his choice of prosthetic, “when [the dance] is controlled, slow and not so much jumping around it will probably be my standard leg”. So, it seems the blade will make a reappearance for at least some future Latin routines.

Having captivated the nation with such an endearing and “inspiring” start, could Jonnie be headed for Strictly glory? He has the skill, stamina, drive and discipline, with the potential to go far in the competition. So, why not!

This however, is not the first time we’ve seen an amputee dance with a blade on Strictly. Lance Corporal Cassidy Little, a Royal Marine medic, performed a winning Paso Doble with pro-dancer Natalie Lowe on a one-off edition of The People’s Strictly for Comic Relief in March 2015.

Cassidy, a former comedian and avid tap-dancer, lost his right leg below the knee in 2011, when hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on tour in Afghanistan.

Following the loss of his lower leg, Cassidy who in fact studied ballet at University in Canada many years prior, thought his dancing days were over. But a perfect score of 40 for the dramatic and expertly executed Paso Doble proved that his disability need not impede on his natural ability for dance.

Producers invited the war veteran to return for a Christmas special that same year, since the impression he made on the viewing public was so evident. Partnered once again with Natalie Lowe, this time the couple danced an equally impressive, festive-themed jive and competed against able-bodied celebrities.

Earlier this year, Gold medal winning Paralympic sprinter Heinrich Popow dropped out of the German version of the show, Lets Dance, because of swelling to his stump – a concern for prosthesis wearers due to fit and friction. Heinrich, who incurred an injury in week two, pushed through to the semi-final. But, in the end he was unfortunately forced to concede defeat to prevent further damage.

British amputee and former model Heather Mills wowed audiences with her daring moves on the American version, Dancing with the Stars, in 2007. She approached the experience with determination and humour, joking candidly that her prosthetic limb could well fall off mid-dance! The undefeated disability advocate later appeared on the popular ITV show, Dancing on Ice.

Back here in the UK, a Sport Relief edition in 2014 featured four Paralympians: wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft, blind footballer David Clarke, former World Champion javelin thrower Nathan Stephens and sitting volleyball player Maxine Wright. 10-time Paralympic Gold medalist Lee Pearson took the seat of regular judge Craig Revel Horwood to help select a winner.

Strictly Come Dancing, established in 2004, is now a mainstream television programme in British popular culture. Reaching viewing figures of over 11 million, it is a perfect platform for contestants to raise their profile.

The inclusion of Jonnie Peacock in this year’s lineup has already made a huge impact on the disabled community. It represents forward-thinking, equality and disability in the mainstream. Furthermore, we are encouraged and yes, inspired to focus on ability as opposed to disability and limitation.

Widespread visibility of disabled individuals, such as Jonnie, in the media, will naturally be met with curiosity and questions. But that’s okay, that is progress. Questions result in answers which in turn leads to familiarity, recognition and ‘normalisation’.


Have you been watching Jonnie perform each week on Strictly?

Are you pleased to see a Paralympian included on the show?

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

If you liked this article, please share so that others can join the discussion.

Thanks!

Excuses, excuses: why there’s no good reason to not vote

“I haven’t got time”

“I forgot”

“I didn’t register”

“I was on holiday”

“I didn’t feel well”

“Something came up, so I couldn’t get to the polling station”

“I couldn’t be bothered”

“I’ve got better things to do”

“My vote won’t make any difference”

“who cares?”

“I’m not interested in politics”

“I don’t like any of the leaders so what’s the point?”

“It’s raining! I’m not going out in the rain just to vote!”

“They’re all corrupt anyway”

“The polling station is inaccessible!”

So many excuses I’ve heard over the years. As someone who has never missed an opportunity to vote, I am always frustrated when others fail to. Regardless of your circumstances, there really is NO EXCUSE!

I live semi-rurally and my local polling station – an old building with many steps – is not wheelchair accessible. Now I’m all for inclusivity and accessibility. But, this has never been a cause for concern as it doesn’t prevent me from casting my vote. Years ago I registered online (an easy process) for postal voting. I don’t even need to leave the house to have my say!

Like it or not, politics does affect each and every one of us. Each and every ballot paper counts. Ensure you make your voice heard by marking your choice with an X this Thursday, June 8th!

Failing to vote is failing to care.

Take advantage of your democratic right.

A United Kingdom

Rather than the usual Friday ‘I miss… I’m thankful’ post, I decided this week to reflect on current issues including the General Election and terrorism in the UK. Don’t worry, I’ll try not to get too deep & dreary!

Trying times

It’s fair to say that the past few weeks have been rather tumultuous here in the UK. Election fever has reached its peak as we edge ever closer to the public vote, to be held on June 8th. It’s very much a two-horse race with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn facing off against Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May.

Now I don’t want to delve into party politics or voice my own predilection. While I do think it’s important that everyone who can vote does so, I don’t feel it necessary to impart my views or those of any other. At the end of the day, we are all individuals with diverse circumstances and priorities. Therefore, I haven’t and won’t be publically advocating any particular party. It is for you to decide who to vote for. All I will say is, please ensure you do make time to cast your vote. After all, people died to allow us the right to have our say. And frankly, if you don’t vote, you really can’t complain.

Manchester

Late last Monday, 22nd May, a terrorist attack occurred at the Manchester Arena. A 22-year-old suicide bomber took the lives of 22 individuals, including children. 116 others were injured, some critically.

This follows the recent incident in London’s Westminster, when on 22nd March, 4 were killed and 50 more injured by a lone assailant.

Such events are sadly becoming more commonplace in the UK, and we are increasingly told to remain vigilant.

It’s a distressing prospect which affects us all, whether directly involved or not. I was in utter disbelief on hearing of the Manchester bombing, particularly because it took place at a Pop concert and targeted children. What goes through the mind of the person who carried out such a horrific and devastating act is just inconceivable.

The future generation

I am soon to be an aunt, and so the impact on me was greater for this reason. I wonder, in what kind of environment will my new niece or nephew grow up? Will they learn to accept terrorism as the norm? Will they one day be targeted?

We see it on the News every day: ISIS-led atrocities in Iraq and Syria, militant barbarism, explosions, executions and so on. We associate this with the Middle East, not with the Western world and definitely not with us. Not you and me.

But the sad truth is, we are involved, we are a target, and we are fighting a war with terrorism. But what I am thankful for and proud of, is the way in which we respond to attacks made against us.

Stand together, united

Any attack against our nation is an attack against us as individuals and against our freedom. It is personal. We all feel it. As a result, we all pull together in trying times.

Reports of the tireless work of emergency service staff, the charity of taxi drivers, help from the homeless and those from afar offering aid on their day off work. These heart-warming stories unite us. People from all walks of life join forces to repair and rebuild. This is something that the terrorists can never take from us. We are strong and defiant and we refuse to live in fear.

I’m thankful

So, in-keeping with my usual Friday themed posts, I’d like to conclude by saying that I am thankful to be living in the UK. I am thankful to be living in a diverse yet united nation. I am thankful that here in England I do not live every day in fear or peril, unlike many unfortunate people in the world. I am thankful for the strength, courage, pride and positivity of Britons. Furthermore, I am thankful for the emergency services and for the NHS. Truly, where would we be without them?!

Armistice Day | Time to remember and reflect…

9/11/2016 a day many would rather forget. 11/11/1918 a day we must never forget.

Today is 11th November 2016, Armistice Day. 98 years since the brave soldiers of the Great War lay down their arms for the last time along the western front. Almost a century past but now and always we will remember and give thanks for their selflessness, heroism and sacrifice.

On the 11th November 1918 the guns fell silent and finally four long years of fighting came to an end. The Armistice of Compiègne led to six more months of negotiations which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles, effectively concluding the First World War. Sadly, conflict continues to rage on around the globe.

Today we should all take time to commemorate servicemen and women past and present. It is our moral duty to show appreciation for all who have fought for our protection, for peace, stability and liberty. Yet this week we have entered a period of unprecedented political turmoil; a time of uncertainty, instability and division.

Of course I’m (begrudgingly) referring to the newly elected Donald Trump. I have debated whether or not to acknowledge his recent victory on my blog since it is such a divisive issue. However, being both female and disabled myself, I feel compelled to comment since he has caused offence to all minority groups throughout his campaign. On a personal note, I find it shocking and unnerving that a bigoted, misogynistic, ableist, racist, xenophobic, ignorant narcissist can acquire such popularity and power.

Although it’s true that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, Trump is headed to the Whitehouse in January due to the arguably flawed Electoral College system. The fact is Trump achieved marginal wins in several large states meaning that, like it or not, he will be the 45th President of the United States of America. We must now accept and respect the result and come together in an organised and peaceful manner in order to move forward with positive intentions.

Violence and disorder has already broken out in America following the news of Trump’s success. People are wreaking havoc, causing damage and fighting each other in angry desperation. The widespread fear and distress is understandable but nothing positive can be achieved from hostility.

Even in times of war, humanity will prevail and divisions can be broken down. The Christmas truce of 1914 demonstrates how opposing forces put aside their differences, if only temporarily.

On Christmas Eve a ceasefire along the western front saw British and German troops greet each other in no-man’s land to exchange pleasantries, take photos, play football and bury their dead before returning to their trenches.

Armistice Day football match at Dale Barracks between german soldiers and Royal Welsh fusiliers to remember the famous Christmas Day truce between germany and Britain PCH

So on this, Armistice Day, look to the past, learn from the past, and move forward with love, positivity, unity and the best intentions. A decision has been made, Trump will be the President. We can’t and shouldn’t fight this decision. We need to offer support, goodwill and compassion to all. One day at a time.

Flu Jab: Get Yours Today!

Well, it’s upon us again; Flu season is here. Every year my family and I get the Influenza vaccination, which is free of charge here in the UK, courtesy of the NHS.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the Flu jab to protect myself through the harsh winter months. It’s important that not only I am vaccinated, but that those closest to me are too. My immune system is much weaker than average, and my condition makes it considerably more difficult to overcome respiratory infections. For me, a common cold can quickly develop into something much more serious. It’s therefore very important that I am not unnecessarily exposed to the Flu virus.

As I have aged, my declining respiratory function has become the most concerning symptom of my disability. Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy causes muscle degeneration and scoliosis. Not only are my lungs squashed and unable to expand as they should, the muscles that make them force air in and out are slowly wasting away.

Over the years, I have fought recurrent chest infections, several bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and an acute pneumothorax (collapsed lung), requiring a chest drain. Many long, drawn-out days have been spent in hospital trying to overcome serious complications resulting from respiratory viruses.

For this reason, I implore and encourage you all to go and get the Flu shot. It takes no time at all and I promise you, it’s completely painless. There are fables floating around that will attempt to make you believe the Flu jab can give you the Flu. This is not the case at all. Yes, the vaccine does contain a small dose of the inactive virus. This triggers antibodies, which within two weeks will protect you, if and when you’re exposed to seasonal Flu.

Like all viruses, there are various strains of Influenza which change annually. For this reason, it is essential to ensure you are vaccinated every year.

I visited my local pharmacy, without appointment, a few weeks ago to get my free vaccination. If you haven’t already, please don’t delay. Go and get yours NOW!

For more information on the Influenza vaccine visit the NHS web page here.