Paul grew up in large institutions where it was hard to feel independent. In 1996, he moved to his own home in Milton Keynes, which he describes as a big step in gaining independence: “It was the first time I’d had my own front door,” says Paul. “That was the best feeling.”
A few years ago, Paul was a victim of hate crime. One day in his home town he was approached by two people who asked the time, then took his helmet and stole his bag and £100. Paul feels certain they targeted him because he is disabled. “I didn’t know what to do, I felt so angry and upset.”
Sharing experiences of disability
Feeling frustrated, yet inspired to talk about his life and share his experiences, Paul decided to put together a presentation. “I had all these thoughts in my head that I wanted to get out. My aim was to give people an insight into my personality and teach them about disability,” he says.
He started by taking his presentations to local schools. “At first I was really nervous. I just remember a lot of kids looking at me! But slowly I began to get used to it.”
Paul produced more presentations and now gives his talks to people in Scope too. He trains new staff when they arrive, helping them understand how to work with disabled people. He also sits in on interviews to help recruit new staff. “Scope involves disabled people and listens to us,” he says. “We have been shut away from society for too long.”
Disability trainers in every service
Paul now works with Karen Fairbrother, our service manager in Milton Keynes, to help other disabled people give talks about their lives and raise awareness of disability. His vision for the future is to have a trained speaker in every Scope service.
For Paul, it’s about giving people the opportunity to ask questions about disability and break down the barriers which exist in society. “All the feedback so far has been really positive,” he says. “I feel like the work I’m doing is making a difference.”
The one thing Paul stresses time and time again is to talk to disabled people directly. “Don’t look at someone I’m with and ask if I want sugar in my tea; ask me! There is a tendency for people to treat me like I am a child, like I don’t have opinions. I know many other disabled people feel like this too.”
Paul says becoming a public speaker has given him a renewed sense of purpose. “Afterwards I feel like I’m on an up, it’s a real rush! My ultimate goal is to change society’s attitudes to disabled people. It is my hope that, one day, disabled people will be treated equally. I don’t think that day is too far away.”