“I’m running the world’s only wheelchair spin class”

Guest post from Kris Saunders-Stowe, a fitness instructor working with both disabled and non-disabled people. In Scope’s film, he explains why we need to change the way we think about disability and fitness.

We hope it will inspire you to sign up to our inclusive fundraising event, Steptember and get moving this September!

DSC_0184My first response to the idea of using a wheelchair started with ‘f’ and ended with ‘off’! I was an active person, and never saw myself as a wheelchair user.

But my joint problems, which started 14 years ago, progressively got worse and I was doing less and less. Over time – and no word of a lie – I became a hermit. Going out became more and more difficult, and eventually I just thought, ‘What’s the point of going anywhere?’ I never went out apart from to the doctor and the supermarket.

‘It was so liberating’

Then some friends of mine were going to Alton Towers, and the only way I could realistically join them was by borrowing a wheelchair.

And that was it. It was so liberating. Suddenly I was back to normal. It was a completely different perspective – I was free to move about as quickly or slowly as I wanted, and I could do so much more.

That was two years ago, and I’ve never looked back since. My personality has come back, and I take things in my stride rather than letting them get on top of me. In actual fact, I think I’ve got a better life than I’ve had in probably 20 years.

Getting into fitness

I’ve always worked in horticulture and retail – never in sports or fitness at all. But then in 2012, I was in Cardiff and the Australian Paralympic team were staying in my hotel! We got chatting, and I followed the team during the Games and got quite engrossed.

DSC_0518I took up wheelchair basketball and we didn’t have a proper coach, so I had a go at standing in myself. I loved it, and I started thinking: ‘Could I do this for a job?’

Within a couple of months, I had started the qualifications I needed to become a fitness instructor.

While I was training, I realised that there aren’t enough fitness programmes properly tailored for disabled people. The few classes I could find on YouTube were extremely slow and sedentary. The instructor training manuals would say, ‘You may need to adapt this routine for disabled people…’ – but what does that mean? They didn’t say. It was a token gesture.

Wheely Good Fitness

So I decided to set up my own business, Wheely Good Fitness, running classes adapted for physically disabled people. That doesn’t mean they’re gentle or easy – they are pretty intense!

I currently run a variety of classes, including what is quite possibly the only wheelchair spin class in the world. We have a huge range of members, from people with slight mobility problems to those with very complex needs.

It’s incredibly rewarding for me because I can see the change in people. Within a few weeks they’re sitting up straighter in their wheelchairs, their flexibility increases, their confidence grows.

Suzy (right), one of our most committed members, recently pushed herself round a shopping centre for the first time in years. The change in her has been unbelievable.

Changing attitudes

I’m currently writing a set of qualifications for instructors, explaining how to create fitness regimes suitable for disabled people. My hope is that these will be accredited by awarding body Skills Active, which means the qualification will be available for instructors across the country to take.

I am so surprised that no one has looked at wheelchair-based fitness from a different perspective.

People seem to have got used to seeing disabled people as delicate and fragile, rather than as somebody who’s just got a different way of doing things. Being disabled doesn’t mean you need to be wrapped in cotton wool, it just means you need to think creatively about exercise and fitness.

Getting fit and taking control of your body is just another way of demonstrating your capabilities – and suddenly, you’re taking down those barriers.

Find out more about Steptember, and sign up today! 

“Do you have a license for that?” #EndTheAwkward

Smiling man with glasses
Tom is used to other people’s awkwardness

Guest post from Tom, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. 

I’m sharing a few awkward stories as part of Scope’s End the Awkward campaign – all have happened to me at least once, and some on multiple occasions!

I believe strongly in the social model of disability, and the only disability I have is the attitudes and barriers society places upon me.

“I’m just in my wheelchair for fun!”

I was shopping in Sainsbury’s last year when a stranger stopped me and said “Do you have a license for that?” (Meaning my wheelchair) so I said “I haven’t heard that one before!”

The man then added “How long have you been in that then, because many people are just faking it and don’t actually need a wheelchair.” To which I replied “I just do this for fun because I have nothing better to do!”

“Do take a seat…”

My first job interview was for an IT job in the NHS and I remember being quite apprehensive. I sat waiting to be called in before a lady came to greet me and said “Mr. Fadden would you please follow me to the interview room.”

When we got to the interview room I positioned my chair next to the desk, when she said “Mr. Fadden please do take a seat” to which I replied “that’s okay I brought my own!”

From that point on the interviewer didn’t know where to look, or what to say apart from “sorry”. I didn’t get the job but my nerves had disappeared from that moment on!

“Has he been in a car crash?”

Man in wheelchair and basketball shirt
Tom at a wheelchair basketball game

I recently joined a gym and had to go for an induction. The instructor completely ignored me and said to my personal assistant (PA) “Are you his PA and are you here with him all the time?”

My PA turned to me and said “Tom am I here with you all the time?” The instructor’s face was priceless!

At a different gym and somebody came up to my PA in front of me and asked, “What happened to him has he been in a car crash or something?”

Before my PA could answer she added “He’s doing jolly well isn’t he” to which I replied, “Yes I am thank you!”

My own awkward moment

I want to share one final moment where I was the instigator of the awkwardness!

When I got my current job working for a disability rights organisation in Norfolk, I found myself working alongside a number of disabled people.

One of my colleagues is blind and I found I was subconsciously censoring myself, particularly around the words ‘see’ and ‘look’, for example I wouldn’t say “did you see that TV programme last night?” Or “have you had a chance to look at that email yet? “

I wasn’t sure of the best way to approach this with my colleague but in the end I tackled it head on and asked her what she would prefer. She said “To be honest if it sounds wrong to change it don’t because it’s just awkward.”

This does make a lot of sense. You wouldn’t say “Did you hear that TV programme last night?” or “Did you have a chance to listen to my email yet?”

Final thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog. If you only take one thing away I hope that it’s to not be afraid to talk about disability, or to talk to disabled people! If you’re worried about what to say, just go ahead and ask!

Do you have an awkward story to share? Submit your awkward stories, and we’ll publish our favourites on our blog and social media. 

Find out how Scope is ending the awkward this summer.

Channel 4 films take awkwardness to a new level #EndTheAwkward

We’ve been working in collaboration with Channel 4 to produce a series of short films for our End The Awkward campaign. As Scope’s Chair Andrew McDonald  explains in this post, “they take ‘awkwardness’ to a new level.”

Seated man smiling
Andrew McDonald, Chair of Scope

You might recognise the moment. You meet a disabled person in an everyday situation.

You want to be friendly and helpful. But you don’t know how. And so you shy away from the interaction. Or you panic and end up causing embarrassment to yourself and the disabled person. The last thing you wanted to do.

As we bring back our End the Awkward campaign this year, we wanted to address these situations – and the attitudes which give rise to them. Our polling evidence is clear; surprisingly few of us knowingly engage with disabled people.

The message of the campaign is straight forward; the more of us who know disabled people, the less likely we are to be awkward. There is no single right answer on how best to act around our disabled neighbours or colleagues. The most important thing is to be willing to try, to learn and not to shy away.

We launched our End the Awkward campaign last year. It featured the star of Channel 4’s The Last Leg, Alex Brooker – and it made a real impact, reaching more than 20 million people.

This June we began sharing disabled people’s ‘awkward stories’ on our blog and in the media. On 6 July we marked International Kissing Day (no, I didn’t know about it either) by showing a short film demonstrating that, disabled or not, our desires and needs are the same. I thought it was a work of beauty. No exaggeration.

A new phase of the campaign

Today, the campaign enters a new phase. We are launching a new series of short films we have made in partnership with Channel 4. They take ‘awkwardness’ to a new level. I won’t spoil the set–up but all I will say is they are very funny – and each of the shorts are based on real situations that have happened to disabled people.

Take a look at the short films and share them with your friends and family on social media.

The campaign has been worked up after research with a wide range of disabled people – from across the country, old and young,  with a wide range of impairments.

Some of them have chosen to share their stories on our blog; click on the links to read about the experiences of Marie, Emily and Ronnie.

And if you have an ‘awkward’ story of your own, share you story with us on our website or email stories@scope.org.uk.

Together, let’s end the awkward.

Get moving with Steptember

This September we’re asking you to take part in a challenge that will boost your health and boost the ways Scope can continue to do the work that we do.

The average office worker takes around 2,500 steps a day. But according to the NHS, that average office worker should be taking a minimum of 10,000 steps today. Next month, we’re going to challenge you to reach this minimum goal.

Steptember is a fun team step challenge that encourages you to become more active while at the same time raising funds for Scope’s work. We want you to take 10,000 steps a day for 28 days in September and raise a minimum of £100 for Scope’s work.

Steptember isn’t just about steps though! We have over 60 activities encompassing a wide range of activities and other forms of mobility that can convert to “steps”. There’s an activity for almost everyone that can work toward a total.

By logging in to the Steptember website, you can not only log your steps, but you can also see your progression, receive rewards as you climb and use it to work together in a team of up to four colleagues to improve your chances.

If you’ve been looking for a reason to improve your health or even a reason to bond with colleagues, give Steptember a try!

Steptember is supported by Kris Sauders-Stowe, a fitness instructor who runs a range of wheelchair-based exercise classes called Wheely Good Fitness, and Jack Eyers, an amputee model and personal trainer who starred in Scope’s spoof of the classic Levis 1980s lauderette ad Strip for Scope.

Visit the Steptember website to sign up with a team today. You can also call 020 7619 7270 or email events@scope.org.uk to sign up.

Are you desperate for some zzzzZZs?

We are currently running a sleep appeal. Has your child ever had problems sleeping? Read more about keeping a sleep diary.

Parents of any newborns will know that sleep is a rare commodity. But did you know that 80% of disabled children experience sleep issues? And these can last for many years.

Sarah is one mum who was experiencing extreme sleep deprivation. For five years her daughter Florence, who has autism, would regularly wake up to seven times during the night. It meant Sarah was often surviving on just two hours sleep.Woman sitting on the floor looking stressed outside a child's bedroom door

“She is overtired – I am tired, stressed, angry….”

Sarah was referred to Scope’s Sleep Solutions service. Thankfully, our sleep practitioners work with disabled children and their families to find practical solutions to sleepless nights.

She was encouraged to create a new sleep routine, after learning lots of practical dos and don’ts. These included a later bed time, dimmed lights, a warm bath, pyjamas upstairs only, and some massage. It ended with the last word being said to the child:  “sleep”. Amazingly, after only three weeks, things started to drastically improve.

“The new routine needs to start later – Flo doesn’t need as much sleep as I thought!”

Sarah kept a diary during the sleep programme, and here’s how she got on…

Week 1

Handritten sleep diary that shows how many times  the child was getting up during the night for the first week of the sleep programme, seven in some cases“I am so tired….I called Maxine, and she kept me going.”

Week 2

Handwritten sleep diary for week two of the sleep programme, says "Feel a lot better already, is this actually working?!"

“Straight back to bed, no engaging in conversation, give her a kiss, tuck her in, and last word is ‘sleep!'”

Week 3

Sleep diary that has much improved sleeping patterns from the child, and says "I feel like I have my energy back!"

“I feel like I have my energy back!”

You can watch our film featuring Sarah to hear more about how she got on.

Did you find this information useful? Please donate to our sleep appeal so that more families of disabled children can get the support they need. 

If you need any sleep tips, or have any tips you’d like to share with other parents, visit our online community.