Watching the Paralympics changed everything for me – #100days100stories

Ellie was too self-conscious to do sports at school because she has cerebral palsy. She spent PE lessons  doing homework instead. Today she is a top athlete. Ellie shares her story as part of Scope’s 100 days, 100 stories campaign.Ellie smiling

I avoided sports at all costs throughout school simply because I had
cerebral palsy. I went to a mainstream school and on the whole I really enjoyed it. I just wished that the other students were more open to the fact that I was a little bit different to them.

Things started to get difficult for me when I was around 13 or 14. That’s the age when kids start to form cliques and reject anyone who isn’t the same as them.

Hiding inside

Whenever we had a PE class, the teachers would look at me and say: ‘shall we go inside and do some homework Ellie?’ I went along with it because I hated the idea of getting up in front of a group of girls.

I thought my classmates would judge me because I’m disabled and wouldn’t want me on their teams. My cerebral palsy is very obvious when I move and I wanted to stay inside and hide away.

The Paralympics

Then came the summer of 2012. I watched five minutes of the Paralympics on the telly and was blown away. It changed everything for me. I watched people like myself competing and I just sat there and thought ‘wow’.

Six months later, I saw on Twitter that ParalympicsGB was holding a ‘sports fest’ where you could try out all of the Paralympic sports.
It was an incredible day with an amazing atmosphere. I loved the fact that everything was set up so I could participate.

When it came to sports, I’d always heard: “no, you can’t do that, it’s not safe.” This time, it was all: “come on and have a go.” I’d never experienced anything like it before.

Becoming an athlete

I had a go at ‘clubbing’. You have a wooden baton which you throw as far as you can. I was surprised to find I was good at it! I left my contact details with the organisers of the event and a few weeks later they found me a coach at the local athletics club.Ellie playing sport outside in her wheelchair

I am now an F32 Club Thrower and I have competed at a national level. Most of the people in my category cannot walk or talk. In everyday life, people like us are totally overlooked by society. That’s why it’s so thrilling to be an athlete.

Out there on the field, being watched by hundreds of people, I am in complete control. As a disabled person, I don’t feel that way very often.

My life has been transformed by sports

I cannot put into words how much I love athletics; it gives me control, and it doesn’t discriminate against me, which I suppose is bizarre as it’s a very physical thing and I have a physical disability.

My life has been totally transformed by sport, and this inspired me to go to university and do a sports coaching degree.

Making sports accessible

It’s been good for the other students to think about how to make sports accessible – hopefully they will continue to do this when they qualify and start working.

Through my degree, I hope to make disabled people aware that they can do sports and find confidence in their bodies.

Ellie is also the founder of CP Teens UK, an organisation which offers support, friendships, opportunities and events for teenagers and young people with cerebral palsy. 

Find out more about our 100 days, 100 stories campaign and read the rest of the stories so far

I wanted to help other dads – #100days100stories

Today is World Down Syndrome Day, so we’re sharing Austin’s story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

Austin quit his job to become a full time dad to his son Christian, who has Down’s syndrome. Here he talks about the training he received from  Scope’s befriending service and how it helps him  support other parents.

“I  left my job at a solicitor’s firm to become a full-time carer when my son Christian was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. Three years on, I volunteer for Scope’s befriending service, giving emotional support to other parents of disabled children.”

Little boy with Down's syndrome sitting on a chair

“My partner Victoria and I found out Christian had Down’s syndrome just five days after he was born prematurely.”

“I was at home waiting to pick my other son Lawrence up from school and I got a phone call from Victoria,” Austin says. “I knew immediately that Christian’s blood tests for Down’s were positive because all I could hear on the phone was crying. Victoria was inconsolable.”

Craving emotional support.

“There was no follow-up and no support,” says Austin. “I’m pretty sure most of the leaflets ended up in the bin. We were in no fit state to take in a load of information.

“The one thing that did make a difference was that one of the nurses had a daughter with Down’s. She was wonderful, absolutely superb. She came in and sat down with Victoria, put her arm around her, and spoke about her own daughter. She made such a difference it was untrue.”

“Training for Scope’s befriending service made me realise I’m not alone.”

A few months later, Austin realised he couldn’t combine his demanding job with giving Christian the care he needed, so he decided to become a full-time dad.

In the first 18 months of Christian’s life, he was admitted to hospital nine times with chest and bone infections. On one of those hospital visits, Austin spotted a poster for Scope’s befriending service. Knowing the difference the nurse had made for him and Victoria at the hospital, Austin decided to train as a befriender.

“The training was first-class. I loved it because it made me realise I wasn’t alone. There are days when you don’t want to get out of your pyjamas and leave the house. Doing the Scope training made me realise that most other parents have those days.”

“There are no other male befrienders in my area, but you can bet there are plenty of dads who need someone to talk to.”

Nearly a year after he did the training, Austin remains the only male befriender in Liverpool.

Christian is now three, and recently started nursery. “Christian is a bundle of fun and a bundle of love”, says Austin. “He’s a joy to be with.”

One morning a week Austin volunteers at the Alder Hey children’s hospital, giving support to parents whose children have just been diagnosed, or are recovering from major surgery which has left them disabled.

“One man I supported has a baby daughter with Down’s. On the first day we met, I said to him: ‘the one thing about children with Down’s syndrome is that they radiate love. You’re never ever going to get love like that from any other human being in your life. It’s such a wonderful thing but you can’t see it at the moment because she’s only a baby.’”

“Scope offers an amazing service. It can really hold families together at a time of absolute crisis.”

Austin remembers how hard it was dealing with the emotional anxiety of finding out about Christian’s condition. “If we’d had some human touch at that early stage, it would have made all the difference. We needed to speak to someone who had been there and who understood. You cannot underestimate how valuable Scope’s befriending service is.”

He also hopes more dads will become Scope befrienders: “Men bottle things up and don’t talk about their emotions as much as women.

“It’s only when they’re put in a room with someone who’s been through the same things as them that they will open up – that’s why befriending is so important”.

Find out more about 100 days, 100 stories and read the rest of the stories so far.

Confessions of a video producer – #100days100stories

Scope’s Digital Film and Media Officer, Phil, looks back on the first time he worked with a disabled person and how that changed his point of view. Phil is sharing this story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

It was October 2011. Fenton Manor, Stoke-on-Trent. One month into my new job as a video producer at British Gymnastics. I was trying to get to grips with setting up the equipment for the live streaming of one of the biggest events on the gymnastics calendar. It was my job to look after the filming of the event, making sure we got footage of all the action of the day.

The plan was to have four freelance camera operators working the event. One by one the first three arrived at the venue and we started to get to work. And then, in walked Kev.

I caught myself thinking “How can he do the job?”

In front of me stood a guy with abnormalities of the arms and hands (his words, not mine – even he isn’t totally sure of the exact technical term, but thinks it’s something as tricky to say as ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’!)

There were so many questions on my mind. How can he possibly hold the camera? Would he be able to follow the action happening in the arena? How would we ensure that we made up for the bad quality shots he’s obviously going to get?

My boss at the time assured me that Kev was one of the best camera operators he’d ever worked with. Even though I had doubts in my mind, the show had to go on.

Everything that could have gone wrong during that event did. My camera was temperamental. The radio that kept me in contact with everyone else went down. The camera crane (that I was foolishly put in control of) malfunctioned. It was a total disaster.

Kev to the rescue

All seemed lost, but then Kev swooped in to sort out my technical woes and completely put my mind at rest that these things happen.

I remember distinctly a moment during that event where I looked over at Kev. While I clumsily jolted the camera about trying to track a gymnast flying over a vault, Kev was just calmly following all the action. He made everything look so easy. I was, admittedly, a little bit jealous.

The following day, I was disheartened by how the event had gone. I sifted through the footage we’d captured, eager to see if my terrible preconceptions of Kev’s ability on the camera were correct.

Each shot was perfectly composed, the lighting was spot on and he never missed a second of the action.

Camera Operator, Kevin Hughes, sits in a football stadium
Kev (pictured middle) has been a freelance camera operator for ten years.

Looking back

You might say, ‘so what?’, but for me, meeting Kev was a huge wake up call. A wake up call that helped completely change my perception of disability. Why had I been so ignorant? Why had I doubted Kev’s abilities to do just as well, if not better than a non-disabled person?

Writing it down now, it all seems obvious but this event was the first time I had really spent any time working with a disabled person in my profession. It’s a shame that there aren’t more disabled people working in the media industry.

If things were different, perhaps I wouldn’t have had those ridiculous preconceptions I did on that day.

For the three years I spent at British Gymnastics, I worked with Kev on a whole host of different events and film projects. He became an exceptional, reliable colleague and a really good friend.

When I started at Scope as Digital Film and Media Officer in November 2014, I knew that I wanted Kev to star in one of my features. Even he’d admit he’s more of a natural behind the camera than in front, but with a bit of persuasion he agreed.

I’m glad that we were able to make this film. It highlights the need for attitudes in the media industry to change if disabled people are to have the same opportunities as everyone else.

I feel so privileged to have known and to have worked with Kev – such a talented and dedicated filmmaker who I’ve learnt so much from.

But don’t tell him that. I couldn’t bear the gloating!

Find out more about our 100 days, 100 stories campaign and read the rest of the stories so far.