What End the Awkward means to our supporters

End the Awkward project manager Neal Brown, who has a hearing impairment, asks some of our disabled supporters what End the Awkward means to them and how it changes attitudes around disability. 

End the Awkward is just one of a number of behaviour change campaigns that have been run in the UK, tackling a range of social issues including racism, homophobia, and drink-driving.

These campaigns use different tactics for getting people’s attention. Stonewall’s ‘Some People Are Gay. Get over it.’ campaign was confrontational; NHS Stop Smoking adverts have used shock tactics with graphic imagery.

With End the Awkward, we’ve always taken a tongue-in-cheek approach, because we know that people don’t mean to be awkward, so we don’t want to point the finger.

We spoke to some of our supporters about what the End the Awkward campaign means to them, and have shared their responses in this post.

“Humour breaks the ice”

Carly smiling for a photograph
Carly

Carly Jones, an autism advocate, filmmaker and author, told us why she thinks humour is effective:

“Humour breaks the ice, it captures interest, it relaxes people and gives them permission to be human. In return they get to hear and really listen to what makes us human too.”

Behind the light-hearted tone, there is a serious message. We know from our research that two-thirds of people feel awkward around disability, and that over a third (34%) are actively avoiding disabled people because they are worried about being patronising.

Liam wearing radio headset, smiling at the camera
Liam

How did we get here? Liam O’Dell, a student, blogger and radio show host, shares his thoughts:

“For a long time, disability has always been seen as a mystery or a taboo. Everyone worries about slipping up or saying the wrong thing to a disabled person and everything becomes awkward when it doesn’t need to be. The lack of discussion involving disabled people is a long-term issue which has led to rude, embarrassing or laughable stereotypes being created.”

Real-life experiences

But End the Awkward wouldn’t be successful if it wasn’t based on the real-life experiences of disabled people. I’ve had many awkward moments in my life where people assume that I’m being rude because my hearing impairment means I’m not engrossed in the conversation.

But I shouldn’t have to disclose my impairment when I go to the barber or the pub just to avoid being judged by strangers. When people find out about my impairment things do change. People start to feel embarrassed and become overly apologetic. I feel like I have to reassure them that it’s okay.

Layla posing for the camera
Layla

It’s not just me. Layla Harding, a Masters student, uses mobility aids and has experienced awkward situations as a result.

“End the Awkward is hugely important. When I use mobility aids I endure these awkward moments time and time again. Just yesterday I was encouraged to “get training for the 2020 Paralympics”, told that my having a disability was a “such a shame because you’re a pretty young thing”, and was congratulated for getting “out and about” on the tube.

During situations like these it’s extremely frustrating because there is so much you want to explain to people and teach them but it’s difficult to get it all across. That’s why I think End the Awkward is important because it hopefully makes people see disability in a different light.”

I don’t think that anyone wants to be awkward around disabled people, or that anyone chooses to be awkward. And disabled people can feel just as awkward as non-disabled people. End the Awkward helps by showing that we are not alone in our awkwardness, and that it doesn’t take a lot to be less awkward and make life better for all of us.

Over the last three years, End the Awkward has done more than challenge the awkwardness around disability. It has also played a role in empowering disabled people like business woman, Kelly Perks-Bevington, helping them to feel more confident and to achieve more.

Kelly, a young disabled woman in an electric wheelchair, smiles and waves at the camera
Kelly

“When I was first invited to do End the Awkward, I was skeptical. I never talked about my disability, as to me, it felt like it didn’t exist! And, although it still feels like that, I’m also proud to be disabled and I have a new confidence around the whole subject.

I think by working with Scope on End the Awkward I’ve really dealt with those confidence issues and embraced who I am! Wheelchair and all!”

People ask why we run End the Awkward when we could be lobbying government to directly improve the lives of disabled people. Well, we are still campaigning for disabled people alongside End the Awkward. But we will have more success campaigning if we have society on our side, and that starts with changing attitudes.

Read the rest of our End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story. 

“Yes I Can, If…” – campaigning for better disability access

Will Pike is a games developer from London whose parody of Channel 4’s Superhumans advert has gone viral with over half a million views. Tens of thousands of people have signed his petition to ask the two high-street chains which feature in the film for better access.

In this blog, he shares the story behind his campaign and talks about the changes he’d like to see as a result. A text description of the video is available at the end of this blog post.

In 2008 I went to India, on the way back home we had a stop over in Mumbai and the hotel I was staying in was attacked by terrorists. 168 people died, my spine was injured I am now paralysed below the waist.

I’ve been in a wheelchair for eight years now and in that time have been through ever emotion under the sun. I have days when I just can’t be arsed with the barriers and negative attitudes. I made this film because too many shops and restaurants are effectively off limits to wheelchair users like myself.

Inspired by the Paralympics

After the London Paralympics I was expecting there to be a big shift in places becoming more accessible but it just hasn’t happened. Two weeks before this year’s games started I approached my friend Heydon Prowse about the idea and he got a team of people together to produce the film. Errol Ettiene directed  it and did an incredible job, the team turned a good idea into a slick, professional-grade commercial.

It tops and tails with Paralympic references because I wanted to show how day to day life can feel like Paralympic event for a wheelchair user. But whilst the whole thing was inspired by the Paralympics, these issues still remain for disabled people now the games have ended. This is bigger then just me having a unique experience, this is a global issue indicative of a massive absence of consideration for disabled people. My experiences aren’t isolated and sharing them makes them more powerful and potent. It turns individual struggles into a social issue.

The film isn’t in any way a criticism of the Superhumans ad, but it could only ever do so much. Channel 4 started a relay race about disability awareness and they passed the baton on. They didn’t know who they were passing it on to, but it just so happened it was me. I’m leveraging the awareness their brilliant ad created to further the message. My film couldn’t exist without theirs and whatever success we get is their success too.

Will sat on a sofa against a brick wall

The petition

I’ve been asked why I chose to focus my petition on American Apparel and Caffè Nero and the honest answer is, it was just their lucky day. We were filming on Tottenham Court Road and it just so happened they were the shops that didn’t have wheelchair access. But it was also important that we didn’t pitch this campaign at one-off shops because whilst they have a responsibility, it’s the big chains that have a major responsibility and the ones who are neglecting their civic duty. It could also have a domino effect across all their stores.

It’s not that people are fundamentally thoughtless, it’s just that it’s simply not in the social conscience to be considering these things. It’s only when someone comes along and questions access that things will change.

The people I spoke to in the film felt bad and wanted to help but they are purely innocent in this whole thing. It’s the companies they work for who are responsible for disability access and inclusivity. It’s irresponsible to expect hapless shop assistants to have to deal with that situation. I hope American Apparel and Caffè Nero can see it from that perspective too, it will protect their staff from these embarrassing and awkward situations that they shouldn’t have to go through.

Reasonable adjustments

The Equality Act states that all buildings and public places have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged when accessing their services.

However, in terms of holding public places accountable, it’s actually down to the customers and patrons of that establishment to draw attention to their inadequacies. If that premises doesn’t then do something about their lack of access or facilities, that person is then responsible to bring them to court. Which basically means that all those people with disability – who may or may not have had their benefits cut, or are finding it difficult to gain employment, or even struggling to leave the house – are the ones who must embark on an inevitably time-consuming and costly legal case.

We really hope that this film, though aimed at Caffé Nero and American Apparel, is able to shine a light upon a flawed and, frankly, ridiculous system. It should not be the responsibility of each and every disabled person to flag up a high street chain; it should be the responsibility of the Government and Councils to assess disability access, educate businesses, and ensure funding is in place for reasonable adjustments.

People may think little things like step-free access won’t make a difference to the majority of the population, but it makes a massive difference for a selective few which in turn has a positive influence on the relationships we have with non-disabled people. In turn the whole community will be accessible and better for everyone. And that’s where the #AccessForEveryone hashtag came from.

Will in his wheelchair outside a restaurant where there's a step

What’s next?

We just have to wait and see! I haven’t been contacted by Caffè Nero or American Apparel, but I wonder whether someone is going to bring it to the big bosses. One way I’d like that conversation to go is that the big boss turns round and says: “Are you telling me we haven’t got step free access in our Tottenham Court Road branch?! Right, heads are gonna roll!” That’s far fetched but I am an optimist at heart.

Both brands have a real opportunity to turn this bad situation good by handling it well. If they acknowledge they were wrong and make changes they can come out of this smelling of roses and will get so much good publicity from this. I will be giving them every chance to handle this magnanimously, with humility, and with a real ownership. But if they don’t, we will do everything we can to highlight their ineptitude.

They really can lose a lot of business because of this. Some people have been commenting saying they will boycott these shops until they make a change and if that becomes the consensus, if that becomes the rallying cry, then together we can change a lot.

You can visit change.org to sign the petition or follow Will’s progress.

Will’s story is also a great example of disabled people being ‘bold and loud’ as consumers – something called for by the Extra Costs Commission. Led by Scope, this was an independent inquiry that looked at ways to drive down the additional costs faced by disabled people. Next month a report will be published reviewing progress with the Commission’s recommendations for tackling extra costs.

Video description: Paralympics billboard, zooms into the word “superhuman”. Alarm clock turns to 7.00am. Man laid in bed opens his eyes, sits up, and smiles. He spins around his bedroom in his wheelchair. Plays plastic toy trumpet. Dances into the bathroom. Sits in the show, miming the lyrics into the shower head. Puts a shirt on, grabs his hat with a reaching tool. Leaves his house, flipping hat onto his head. Wheels down the a busy high street. Tries to enter Caffè Nero, wheels crash into a step. Tries to enter Pizza Express and speaks to a waitress about accessible toilet facilities. Does a wheelie and dances down the street. Goes into American Apparel and talks to staff member. Wheels into a pub, stops himself at a flight of stairs. Then wheels down the ramp, sits with a friend both clinking their pint glasses. Text reads “Leaving the house can feel like a paralympic event for wheelchair users. change.org/accessforeveryone”.

“It’s nice you people are allowed to work” – End the Awkward

In this blog Scope’s Campaign Manager Rosemary Frazer talks about the reaction to our End the Awkward campaign. She tells us why she’s convinced that using humour helps to tackle negative attitudes. 

“It’s nice you people are allowed to work”

A cab driver said this to me when he was bringing me to my office recently. My non-disabled friends were stunned when I told them. My disabled friends simply give a sympathetic and knowing smile. Whether through innocent ignorance or lack of thought, some non-disabled people say and do the oddest things around disabled people.Rosemary smiling for the camera

I’m writing this blog in response to some of the comments and criticisms I’ve read about Scope’s End the Awkward campaign, which aims to challenge attitudes towards disability.

I should ‘out’ myself first. I am Campaigns Manager at Scope. I am writing this on my day off and it is very much my own thoughts and opinions. (Anyone who knows me will know I can’t and won’t be told by anyone what to think or say on disability issues or anything else!)

Some people have commented that our latest H.I.D.E content is patronising and others have said that people don’t behave that way. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

Whilst no one has ever hid in a stationery cupboard or got under a table to avoid me, I have experienced very odd and sometimes very hurtful and disabling treatment as a wheelchair user in the workplace. Let me share a few of my own experiences.

“How would you feel working with a disabled person?”

  • There was the colleague whose entire tone of voice would change when speaking to me, as though I was a 7-year-old
  • There was the line manager who told me ‘It was a great privilege to work with people like you.’
  • There was the occasion where a team I was about to join was asked how they would feel about working with a disabled person
  • There was the senior manager who would ruffle my hair each time he saw me and accompany this with ‘Hello lovely young lady.’

I felt so alone and isolated. No one else in my workplace said anything or thought such behaviour odd or wrong in any way. Of if they did, they weren’t prepared to say anything.

This has had an impact on me and no doubt on my career and promotional opportunities. In the past when much younger I have left jobs as a result of such behaviour. At other times I have felt so demotivated that I felt like just giving up!

Of course I wouldn’t tolerate such nonsense now. But that has come with experience and building up my confidence to challenge such things. It also helps that I have allies that will support me should anything like this happen today.

Does humour work?

When I started working at Scope in 2013 I was a bit sceptical about End the Awkward and thought we should be focusing on other things like poor social care support, lack of access, or disability hate – rather than these tongue-in-cheek films which seemed rather silly. Of course Scope does work hard on those other areas and have done so in the past. There’s also a lot of great work being done by other organisations and by fantastic disabled activists too to address these issues.

I’ve read research findings on attitudes towards disability and it really saddens me that we have not moved on in our views towards disability in the way we have on race, sexuality or gender. End the Awkward addresses that.

It also takes the issue directly to a big section of the population who don’t engage with disability equality and too often don’t know any disabled people. We’ve found that humour is a great way to engage this audience who might not have previously paid attention to disability.

The Golden Rule

We know that from the feedback we receive. Attitude change is crucial to getting better policies and practices in place to give us the opportunity to flourish in the workplace, to play our role in communities and enjoy the same life chances as others.

When I speak with younger disabled people they tell me how much they love End the Awkward. Non-disabled campaigners tell me how impressed they are with the approach we have taken. I have seen how humour has been used successfully to address other areas of discrimination and I honestly believe it can work to address the sometimes suffocating prejudice I have had to endure throughout my life.

So H.I.D.E, don’t hide. Just don’t treat us differently than you would want to be treated yourself and if you have your own ideas on how to improve attitudes towards disability then please share them with us. We always want to hear from you!

Want to get more involved in End the Awkward? Share your awkward stories with us

“There’s not one single experience of being disabled” – creating our End the Awkward campaign

End the Awkward is back for a third year and once again we’ve based our campaign on the real life experiences of disabled people. Over the past few months we’ve gathered ideas and tested content, through focus groups and conversations with a variety of people.

In this blog, two of our End the Awkward ‘testers’, Jack and Jamie, talk about why it was so important to be involved, their thoughts on the campaign and some of their own awkward stories.

Jamie

I was excited when I was asked to participate in a focus group discussing the future of End the Awkward. The group organisers were keen to hear our opinions and clearly valued our input. We discussed not only the message and overall impression that we thought End the Awkward 2016 should convey, but individual details such as the setting, dialogue and disabilities portrayed. As the group contained people with differing impairments, the discussion highlighted many points that we may not have thought of individually. There is not one single experience of being disabled and I was pleased that our different impressions could help avoid a tired or clichéd message.

Jamie, a young man with glasses and a beard, smiles at the camera

Like many disabled people, I’ve experienced awkward moments around other people who don’t know me very well. This often means a well-meaning person saying completely the wrong thing, or polite people, scared of doing something rude, avoiding me altogether. Sometimes, this makes me feel guilty, as if I was responsible for their awkwardness. I know this is ridiculous, and that I don’t control others reactions, but this limited communication makes me look internally for an explanation. End the Awkward, for me, suggests that this tension does not have to happen. Though embarrassing situations may still occur, instead of worrying about them, we can point to them and laugh.

Several years ago, I was out for a birthday meal with friends, when the staff come over to sing Happy Birthday. Even the sight of this happening to other people makes me embarrassed, so I was already cringing when the waiter asked me to stand on the table. As my impairment includes invisible mobility problems, I couldn’t do this, but the staff mistook this as shyness and insisted that I at least stood on my chair. After some panicked looks from friends and a brief explanation about being disabled, the staff looked absolutely mortified. I told them that they had given no offence and they sang anyway, though slightly nervously. In the end though, I got a free slice of cake, which tasted like a silver-lining.

Jack

With the next phase of End the Awkward on the horizon, what better way to capture some of those life experiences from disabled people themselves, to ensure the campaign is reflective of everyday challenges we might encounter.

Jack smiles at the camera

In July, a selection of people came together to shape some of the latest developments in a focus group. Facilitated by the creative agency George & Dragon, the main purpose of the discussion revolved around new film concepts, which will be targeting young audiences in particular. As shown by past research, one fifth of 18-34 year olds have admitted to actively avoiding a disabled person in conversation. In one way or another, everyone had at least one memorable moment that felt socially complicated.

Whether it revolves around nights out, failings on public transport or people just making life harder than needed, there are still many barriers which make this a necessary campaign. We all agreed that the disabled person in each of these scenarios needed to be seen in an empowered role and not to appear as a victim in any sense.

While I’m not disabled physically, the preconceptions of people about my interests and abilities, as well as reluctance to disclose my condition in many situations means that I sometimes have to meet demands of people like there are no limitations. One day I would like to think there will be no need to always explain basic autism facts, but until then, we need campaigns like End the Awkward to start some of those tricky conversations.

Want to get more involved in End the Awkward? Share your awkward stories with us

I’m not a hipster, I’m epileptic! – End the Awkward

Bekki is 21 and an intern in Scope’s Campaigns team. She studied History at Oxford University, exploring disability and discrimination.

For End the Awkward, Bekki shares her own experiences of awkwardness and explains why there’s no need to hide from disability.

Awkwardness is a natural part of human interaction. However, when it comes to disability, awkward encounters often take on a slightly more negative tone.

Some conditions fall into a grey area between visible and invisible. Like mine, I have photosensitive epilepsy which you might not know just by looking at me. But I do have to use aids, such as specialised sunglasses, in order to go about my everyday life.

On top of this, there’s the stereotypical view that an epileptic seizure is always a convulsive seizure. In fact, there are over 40 different types of seizure which all look very different. This can be alarming and confusing if you aren’t familiar with them.

People often overreact when I have seizures

I have three different types of seizures; convulsive, prolonged partial and partial. Partial seizures happen most often and these are the ones I often encounter problems with.. They occur between ten and twenty times a day and can range from blank staring, to violent head shaking, or my eyes rolling back into my head.

During my more ‘alarming’ seizures, I’ve had people yell “WTF, are you the possessed or something?!” followed by that person rapidly removing themselves from my presence to avoiding assisting me because “I must have done something to deserve it”. I’ve even had religious officials telling me they’ll pray for me or making the sign of the cross at me, so I don’t go to hell.

Rebekka smiles at the camera

I’m not hungover, I’m epileptic!

The more typical responses I get are based on assumptions about why I’m wearing my sunglasses or using a Mac computer. They’re not what traditionally spring to mind when someone thinks of accessibility aids.

Because I wear my sunglasses on overcast days, during the winter months or inside, and can only use Mac computers (due to different pixel technology), I can no longer count the number of times I’ve had to say “I’m not a hipster or hungover, I’m epileptic”.

I’ve even had to avoid wearing hats because of the comments I get and the ease at which people can remove them from my head.

Avoidance really isn’t the answer

There is a reason why priority seating signs on transport and in bathrooms have been changing their disability signs. In the twenty first century we have begun to recognise that there are a range of different access needs and we shouldn’t make assumptions based on traditional representations of disability.

Some people may have never seen a seizure before, but street harassment and avoidance isn’t the answer. This only isolates disabled people further and makes everyone feel awkward about something that can’t be changed. It may look weird to you, but it’s part of my everyday life. And that’s okay. I came to terms with it a long time ago and often laugh about it with family and friends.

Engage with the awkwardness – it’s a fact of life, not a fact of disability. Maybe next time, talk to me instead of comparing me to a demonic entity?

 You can stay up to date with everything End the Awkward on Twitter and Facebook using #EndTheAwkward or visiting Scope’s End the Awkward webpage.

End the Awkward is back!

End the Awkward launches tonight (Friday 16 September) at 8.50pm during Channel 4’s Last Leg: Live from Rio, with a brand new TV advert. We’re back to change even more attitudes, with awkward stories and tips from disabled people on how to End the Awkward. 

Scope says H.I.D.E

We already knew that a staggering two-thirds of non-disabled people feel awkward around disability. But our recent research shows that nearly four in ten of the British public have actually avoided talking to a disabled person for fear of saying the wrong thing or being patronising.

At Scope we believe you can’t end the awkward if you’re avoiding people to start with!
That’s why this year, Scope Says hide when you meet a disabled person!

Well, not hide. H.I.D.E.

Text says: "Say Hi, Introduce yourself, Don’t panic and End the Awkward"
Text says: “Say Hi, Introduce yourself, Don’t panic and End the Awkward”

H.I.D.E. (See what we did there?).

Do people hide?

We know that people don’t really hide behind water coolers or jump under tables. This is an exaggerated take on some people’s awkwardness around disability. The H.I.D.E acronym is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that the solution is simple –  don’t act any differently.

You can’t End the Awkward if you’re not even having a conversation with someone. And think of all the great work colleagues, mates and possible dates you’re missing out on!

Our new polling also shows that awkwardness and avoidance can have a real impact. Nearly 40% of disabled people have hidden the fact that they’re disabled, often due to fear of negative reactions. That’s a lot of people spending time concealing who they are.

What to expect

A man hiding behind a watercooler
A scene from our new End the Awkward TV ad

This year’s campaign will run for the next six weeks with our TV advert hitting Channel 4, ITV, E4 and other networks and a brand new partnership with UniLad – one of the biggest Facebook pages in the world – to help change the attitudes of their huge following.

And as always, disabled people’s experience will be at the heart of the campaign as they share with us their favourite awkward anecdotes and top tips to avoid the awkwardness.

You can stay up to date with everything End the Awkward on Twitter and Facebook using #EndTheAwkward or visiting Scope’s End the Awkward webpage.

Meet our £4,000 raffle winner Richard

Richard was the lucky winner of Scope’s £4,000 Summer Jackpot prize. Below he tells us how excited he was to win and why he supports us every week by playing the Scope Friday Lottery.

How did you feel when you found out you won the top prize?

Unbelievable! We always get a lot through the post and we just thought it was another letter. Then our son said “no, you’ve won!” We’re really grateful!

What are you going to spend your winnings on?

We haven’t decided yet but we think some of the winnings will go towards our mortgage. We’ve also just come back from a holiday in South America (my wife is from Chile) so it will help to pay for that!

Richard and his wife.jpg
Richard with his wife in the garden

What does Scope mean to you?

I’ve been supporting Scope for years as I was born with cerebral palsy and it has been difficult at times, but I’ve coped well. I’m an artist and I paint.

When we retired the money went down and we stopped some of our charity donations but we couldn’t bring ourselves to stop our donation to Scope. It means a lot.

If you have been inspired by Richard’s story, you can enter the Autumn Jackpot today for the chance to win £10,000 while supporting disabled people and their families.

I want a t-shirt that says “I’m allergic to exercise. No, really!”

Natasha Coates is an elite disability gymnast and Scope Role Model. When she was 18, she suffered a life-threatening allergic reaction and went into anaphalactic shock. Following this she was diagnosed with the rare condition Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

In this film and blog, Natasha talks to us about competing in disability sport and how the Paralympics is helping to change attitudes towards disability.

I think the Paralympics in 2012 really helped attitudes towards disability. Joe Bloggs down the street might not have had any exposure to disabled people so it made people aware and seeing it on TV and having the athletes interviewed inspired a whole generation of disabled people. It’s definitely helped.

It showed people that being a disabled person doesn’t mean you can’t do sport. Exercise is for everyone, no matter what your age or ability. You can give it a go. You can always adapt things. The Paralympics showed us that.

I’d love gymnastics to be in the Paralympics and to say I was going to Rio but unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen in my career. There’s just not enough of us and there’s not enough international squads. You have to be able to do World Championships first before you can put in a bid for the Paralympics. Hopefully it will get there. I’d love to see it in my lifetime.

I want to pave the way for the next generation. If in 50 years time, gymnasts get the chance to do something I wasn’t able to, that would be amazing.

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about these findings.

British Gymnastics ensure that gymnastics is a totally inclusive sport and can adapt mainstream gymnastics sessions for disabled people. You can find your local club on the British Gymnastics website.

My job at Goldman Sachs is a holiday compared to the pressure of the Paralympics

Five-time gold medallist Sophie Christiansen is competing in her fourth Paralympic Games this summer. The equestrian won three of her gold medals at London 2012 with her horse Janeiro 6 so expectations for Rio are high.

In this guest blog post, Sophie, who has cerebral palsy, talks about witnessing first-hand the growth of the Paralympic movement and how she handles the pressures of competing at a top level.

My family isn’t at all horsey. I don’t think I would ever have ridden if I hadn’t been disabled.

I started riding when I was six with the Riding for the Disabled Association to improve my coordination. When I was about 13 I found out about dressage and I was hooked. When I’m on a horse I can forget about my disability and I can compete on a level playing field with other disabled people.

The riding school where I learnt dressage, South Bucks RDA, had a history of training Paralympians so they were looking out for talent from the start.

Being selected for Athens in 2004, aged 16, was incredible. I was ParalympicGB’s youngest athlete. I learnt such a lot from that first experience of the games.

To be selected for my fourth Paralympics this year is a huge honour. I’m only 28, but I’m seen as a Paralympic veteran!

Changing attitudes

The Games have changed so much since my first time in Athens. The standard is so high and there is a lot more interest.

We’d be used to competing in front of 200 people – that would be a big crowd – but then in London there were 10,000.

In Beijing there was a lot of interest from the public and we attracted a really big audience. But there was so little media coverage. I won my first Paralympic gold medals and it hardly got a mention.

I think attitudes have changed. There was a lot expected of London in terms of changing perceptions and I think it did achieve it, to a certain extent. It showed disabled people achieving some amazing things and I think people who aren’t disabled were inspired by what we could do.

But I know a lot of disabled people felt it did not represent them and I totally understand that. It’s why I make it my mission to talk about my life outside sport, about the barriers that still exist in society, whenever possible.

Road to Rio

I’m really looking forward to Rio and I hope people get behind us. It will be a shame if they don’t manage to sell tickets and the stadiums are empty. But as an athlete, you just have to get on with it and focus on your event.

It would be great to see more coverage of disability sports. At the moment there’s the Paralympics every four years and then nothing in between. I think it would help disabled athletes get more sponsorship and make disabled people more visible. If people can’t see disabled people, they just don’t exist.

Relaxing with maths

I work as an analyst at the investment bank Goldman Sachs in the technology department. This might sounds funny, but I see my job as like a holiday from the highly pressurised atmosphere of Paralympic sport.

I’ve always had a logical brain and I love maths.

They’ve created the perfect role for me, which fits around my impairment and my sport commitments. I know it’ll be hard for me to progress in my career while I’m doing dressage, which is frustrating. But everyone I work with is so understanding. It would help support a lot more disabled people into work if more employers were as creative and flexible with roles as mine.

When training in a Paralympic year, it’s about knowing how to balance training with fatigue. It’s difficult because I’m a workaholic, I’m always working. That’s my biggest challenge, knowing when to stop.

Pushing myself outside my comfort zone is how I’ve always lived my life. I never thought I’d have a job in London. I enjoy the independence it gives me and it enables me to pursue dressage.

DSC02989

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about our Parlympics survey

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

I broke my spine, but became a wheelchair racer

Lizzie Williams is a full time student studying Sport, Health and Exercise Science. She has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and is also a wheelchair racer and a T54 British Athlete.

She talked to us about her long journey to wheelchair racing and the expectations she has exceeded along the way.

The hydropool is sort of where my sporting journey began. Swimming in a pool was the only really physical activity I could do. As you are weightless in water, there’s obviously no pressure on your bones. I started that when I was really little.

I came back home and started training with a local group, got scouted for the ParalympicsGB team and was heading in the right direction for the London games but in 2012 I discovered that I had broken my back. Everything just sort of ground to a halt. I couldn’t do anything physical at all. My fracture wasn’t stable so I didn’t want to risk anything.

In 2013 I had the surgery on my back. After my surgery I was supposed to be in hospital for five days and they said I’d be walking out of there in a couple of weeks. I woke up from my surgery and I could barely move from the waist down. It went a bit tits-up I suppose you could say!

Having to learn everything again

I was in hospital for three and a half months learning to walk again. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t even go to the toilet. I had to learn all those things again. I had to learn how to sit up in bed, how to transfer to chairs, how to take steps. That moment was the lowest in my life.

I was in my second year in college at the time and it just put a spanner in the works for everything. As I’d spend so much time in a hospital environment, I’d always wanted to work as a nurse because I really appreciated everything that they’d done for me. I wanted to make a difference. It sounds really cliche but I wanted to give back.

After my surgery I realised I couldn’t do that. There was no way. I’d been at college studying things like sciences and health and social care. I wasn’t going to be able to do that anymore.

When I came out of hospital my sister was applying to university and I didn’t know what I was going to do or what options were available to me. At this point, I couldn’t get back into sport because I had to wait 12 months for the metal work in my spine to fuse to my bones. I decided that I was going to start the process again, go to a different college, do a different course and get the grades that I knew I could.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races an adapted wheelchair on a race track
Photo courtesy of Peter Milsom

The journey to wheelchair racing

After the metal work fused I started getting back in the gym and doing physical activity again. I was volunteering at an event that had Steve Brown, who is a GB wheelchair rugby player. We were talking to some of the kids and he said he used to train down in Worthing for wheelchair racing and suggested I check it out.

I did the 100m in 25 seconds and the coach who was there was like ‘okay that’s pretty good’. Three weeks later I was entered into the London Westminster Mile and I came second. It’s just gone on from there really.

I don’t just want to be a great athlete, I want to be someone that people can look up to and I want to encourage people to get into sport because it is really great!

I can’t imagine what I would be doing without sport. I just love life. Every opportunity is a good one. It’s another chance to show the world that there may be wheels there but there are some pretty good things alongside them.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races in an adapted wheelchair on a race track

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about these findings.

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

 

Featured image courtesy of Peter Milsom Photography

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

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