We need to talk about elephants #EndTheAwkward

Amy, a Digital Assistant at Mencap, tells us how she’s changing attitudes and hopes humour can help End the Awkward

As a person with a learning disability I feel that there is an element of disability we don’t talk about enough. I feel there are several elephants in the room, and I’m going to talk about them.

Disability isn’t the elephant – it’s the attitudes in the room I want to discuss!

They’re there, but not discussed. It’s getting better with TV programmes like The Unbreakables, Undateables and Special Needs Hotel, but we’re not there yet.

My speech for example – sometimes people can’t understand me. I’m not always clear. There’s that awkwardness when people look like they don’t understand and are too afraid to ask me to repeat it. You wouldn’t think twice if I was a quiet person to repeat it. I won’t be offended, just talk to me.

Honesty is the best policy

When I had my hip replaced, I had a carer to wash me and make me breakfast – this does makes me sound like The Queen!

At first the carer spoke to my support worker about me, she didn’t talk to me at first and even looked panicked when my support worker left at the end of the day.

This made me feel strange, as she could talk to me right there and then – but I think it was down to lack of experience working with someone with less needs and I just needed to be clear about what I wanted. Respectfully, of course, as she was doing her job.

Being to the point can improve relationships – the carer knew what I wanted, therefore could act on it and ensure we worked together to support me.

I like honesty, don’t be afraid to talk to me or say ‘the wrong thing’ – sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and let yourself be embarrassed. I’m not scared to be embarrassed. If I can be direct so can you!

Equally, don’t be nice to me just because I have a disability! Get to know me as a person – my likes, dislikes my faults, even. Take the plunge! Talk to me – I can understand plain English!

I said talk to me, not talk for me

When people talk about me or for me whilst I’m there I feel insulted. I speak English, I don’t need a translator! I can understand what people are saying most of the time.

I remember this one time, my carer and I were leaving my flat and an official looking woman came out of next door’s flat and we approached her – we thought she looked lost. She said she was looking for my flat number, so I said “that is where I live”.

She looked at us both and then said she was collecting people’s responses to a council survey. She looked at my support worker and said “has she done it?” as if I wasn’t there.

I said “I’m here! And I have done the survey and posted it off in the supplied envelope”. She still continued to discuss it with my support worker.

I found it demeaning, to be honest, it’s much better if you just take ten minutes out of your day to listen, I’d much appreciate it.

Don’t fear disability – you aren’t going to get it by talking to us!
If you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself: why? Because we are different?

Disability should not be a taboo but part of everyone’s life; people get tongue-tied at difference, which is not helpful.

Talk to me like you would talk to anyone else, I don’t want my disability avoided, it’s part of me.

We might be able to laugh at it even. The right sort of laughs obviously!

After all, laughter is the right way to End the Awkward.

I have dyspraxia, but people tell me I must be drunk – #EndTheAwkward

Guest post by Rosie, who has dyspraxia affecting her movement, balance and sensory processing. She’s supporting our End the Awkward campaign. Here she shares what a typical night out might be like for someone with dyspraxia.

It’s a Saturday evening and I’m off to meet some friends for some drinks. To get there I have to take a train and pass through a busy street.

It takes me a while to get on the train, as I struggle to judge the distance between the platform and the train. As I reach to grab hold of the rail, I can hear people behind me whispering. “Can she just hurry up, what’s she doing?”Portrait shot of Rosie, a young woman with dark hair

The train is packed and I can’t see any spare seats. I can feel myself losing my balance and I bump into people, accidently standing on their feet and hitting them with my bag. “Look where you’re going,” I hear muttered.

I sit down in one of the disabled accessible seats near the train door. The conductor approaches me: “But you don’t look like you’re disabled, why do you need a seat?” I feel so shocked that I spill coins everywhere as I get money out of my purse. “Pay when you get off,” he mutters, disgusted.

I glance at my phone. There are texts from my friends asking where I am. Oh no, I must be running late, and where is this bar again I can’t remember, I’m lost, I can feel my anxiety levels rising, my sensitivity to noise and crowds overwhelming me.

I eventually get to the bar, red faced, the contents of my bag all over the place, anxious and overwhelmed and exhausted. I get a drink, and am still so shaken I trip on a step and spill it down me. “She must be drunk already,” I hear people laugh.

But no, I’m not drunk – I have dyspraxia.

What is dyspraxia?

You can’t easily tell if someone has dyspraxia, and not that many people have heard of it.

It is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body. This affects my ability to perform movements in a coordinated way, balance, motor skills and sensory sensitivity. Every person with dyspraxia is affected differently.

Rosie holding a medal, a stadium in the background
Rosie at the Olympic Stadium after finishing a 10k run

It can make it hard to carry out everyday activities, such as riding a bike, handwriting, tying shoelaces or using kitchen equipment. It’s difficult to walk up and down stairs, and I’m prone to falling over. We also can struggle with fatigue and low energy, as it takes our brains longer to process things.

Without proper understanding, people with dyspraxia can be seen as careless, clumsy, and rude – when in reality that’s far from the case.

Don’t judge by appearances

Ignorance, misunderstandings and awkwardness make already difficult situations a lot worse, and make someone with dyspraxia feel anxious and overwhelmed.

To end the awkwardness, people shouldn’t judge based on appearances. You never know if someone has an invisible condition, and you never know who might need that seat on the train. A little bit of patience and kindness can go a long way.

Portrait of Rosie with her boyfriend
Rosie with her boyfriend Matt, ‘who helps sort out the chaos’

And don’t make assumptions about what I can and can’t do. We aren’t stupid or careless; our brains are just wired in a different way, so the way we learn and process information is different.

Although day-to-day life with dyspraxia can be chaotic and frustrating, it also has meant I’m a very determined and resilient person. I am creative and able to see the bigger picture, and the experiences I’ve had have made me more understanding and empathetic of others.

With the right support and understanding, dyspraxia doesn’t have to be a barrier to success and living life to the full.

Rosie blogs on her site Thinking Out of the Box, writing about disability, diversity and creativity. Want to know more about how to End the Awkward? Watch our videos made in partnership with Channel 4.

‘You can walk, it’s a miracle!’ Umm, no I can’t. #EndtheAwkward

Lucy is an award-winning charity campaigner, blogger, and dog trainer. For our End the Awkward campaign, she describes the day she was told she could walk again… by a physiotherapist who failed to spot her wheelchair in the corner of a room.

I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Instead of my collagen being like glue it’s like over-chewed chewing gum, or at worst wet tissue paper. It stretches, gets thinner and sometimes tears, but never resumes its normal shape.

As a result, my gut has failed, my bladder has failed and I can’t eat or drink anything at all. I’m attached to a pump 24 hours a day which pumps all my nutrition, fluid and medicines straight into a line in my heart.

In most cases, people with Ehlers-Danlos can lead fairly normal lives. I have a really severe form which has led to organ failure and life-limiting complications. Nobody knows why. It’s just how it is.

My life philosophy

I had health problems growing up but I became disabled and very poorly when I was 14. In months, I went from being healthy to completely wheelchair bound, and then a year later bed bound.

Lucy and her mum smiling at the camera. Lucy is holding a certificate stating she is now an ambassador for a children's palliative care network.
Lucy and her mum. Lucy is a youth ambassador for the International Children’s Palliative Care Network

I’m 21 now and my health is up and down. Sometimes I can get out and about, at other times I’m stuck in bed for up to a year at a time.

My philosophy is simple. You have to make the most of what you’ve got and not dwell on the things you haven’t, especially when your time is limited like mine is. To get by you also have to laugh, and find humour in even the most difficult situations.

Seriously, I can walk now?

Last year, I was in hospital recovering from a major hip operation. A physiotherapist breezed over and told me I’ll be walking again in no time. Hallelujah – a miracle!

I explained, patiently, that I haven’t walked for six years but she wasn’t listening. Apparently, I was going to make a full recovery. Five minutes went by before the penny dropped and she spotted my wheelchair. I watched her face turn as red as a beetroot. She must have felt seriously awkward, because that was the last time I saw her.

Molly, my assistance dog

Lucy coddles her dog Molly
Lucy and her ‘rock’, assistance dog, Molly

Molly is my assistance dog in training. She picks up things I have dropped, puts clothes in the washing machine, takes my jacket, trousers, shoes and socks off, gets my mobile, fetches my medicine pouch and lets people know if I need help or alerts them if I’m poorly.

When I’m out with Molly, people will say to me: ‘Is she pulling you along then?’ or ‘You don’t need to worry if you break down do you?’ I try to smile, but when it’s most people I encounter saying it, it gets old.

Joy rides

I use an electric wheelchair. For some reason, people love to lean on, or next to, my joystick, so I am always sure to switch my chair off unless they fancy going for an unexpected ride!

Molly has driven me a few times as she likes to lay her head next to the joystick. I have to be careful when people hug me too. When I do leave my wheelchair switched on, the look of horror on people’s faces is priceless – you’d think they had committed a crime.

Why is disability so awkward?

When you’re in a wheelchair, most people don’t talk to you or even look at you – except the ones who stare. But when I got Molly, people started talking to me. She became the perfect icebreaker! Now, rather than being “that girl in the wheelchair” I’m the girl with the amazing dog.

Lucy in her wheelchair outside, walking her assistance dog Molly
Lucy and Molly on a training walk.

Awkwardness comes from unfamiliarity. People are too scared to talk to me for fear of saying the wrong thing. So some cover their nerves with silly jokes and others just totally ignore me. When people are scared of saying the wrong thing to disabled people, they end up excluding us.

How to end the awkward

I wish people would treat disabled people like they would anyone else they meet. Our bodies may mobilise and/or communicate in a different way, but we’re still human beings with wants, needs, hopes, dreams, desires, hobbies, passions, outlooks and attitudes.

We’re as unique as the rest of you, and we all want to live the best life we can. I wish people knew how to talk to us, which of course, they literally do, but when they see a disabled person everything goes out the window.

I can guarantee that you can make a disabled person feel 100 per cent better if you walked up and talked to them about ‘normal’ things, rather than entering straight into deep, intrusive and personal questions.

I’m quite open. I don’t mind telling people about my disabilities. But it would be nice if one person just started a conversation with me for the sake of it. I’d love that.

Through her blog, and social media, Lucy shares her life with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and describes how her charity work is helping to change perceptions of disabled people.

Lucy is raising money for a custom-made electric wheelchair to help her regain some independence.

Have you got an awkward tale to tell? Share your story with us.

 

My awkward taxi journeys – #EndtheAwkward

(Image by Unisouth)

Scope’s End the Awkward campaign has been highlighting some of the awkward situations disabled people find themselves having to deal with. Here Rosemary Frazer, our Campaign Manager, writes about some of her more difficult taxi journeys.

Rosemary sitting in a wheelchair, with a grey carigan and short dark hair, smiling at the cameraI’m a wheelchair user and as much of London’s public transport system is inaccessible to me, I take lots of cabs, especially to and from work.

The vast majority of cab drivers I meet are absolutely wonderful and couldn’t be more helpful in getting me in and out of the cab. But occasionally I will get the odd (and I mean odd) cab driver who will say something which leaves me dumbfounded and wishing I was anywhere else but in the back of their cab.

“I’m a cab driver not a bloody ambulance driver!”

The first incident I remember was when taking a cab from my office to a meeting.  The cab pulled up and I asked the driver to park a little closer to the kerb to make it easier to get in the car.

“I’m a cab driver, not a bloody ambulance driver!” was the response.

I was so shocked and told him I didn’t want to get into his cab because of his attitude and would order another. I took another cab and arrived late and quite angry at my meeting.

“I suppose you were in there spending all your benefit money on booze.”

On another occasion, probably my favourite, a cab picked me up at a pub where I’d gone with colleagues to celebrate the end of a project. I got into the cab and the driver’s opening remark was:

“I suppose you were in there spending all your benefit money on booze.”

‘Oh dear!’ I thought, poor man, he doesn’t know what he’s let himself in for! From Islington to Bow he sat in silence as I lectured him on disabled people and the additional costs we face, providing statistic after statistic on how the benefits some disabled people receive go nowhere near meeting the additional costs we incur.

I think it’s fair to say he won’t be broaching that subject again with a disabled passenger!

“How long have you been crippled?”

The latest incident was just last week when on my way home from work the cab driver asked out of the blue,

“How long have you been crippled?”

It really took my breath away. I asked him to stop the cab and I paid and got out.  I just couldn’t remain in the cab any longer and pushed myself the rest of the way home.

Why am I sharing my experiences?

When I tell other cab drivers about these experiences they are absolutely furious and always say I hope you made a complaint.

For me such comments no longer have any lasting impact but I worry about people who have recently become disabled and who are perhaps out for the first time in their wheelchair. Such comments can and do rock a person’s confidence and may make them reluctant to venture outdoors or take a cab for a long time afterwards.

I was telling a cab driver I know quite well that I was thinking of writing about my experiences and he said you absolutely must as cab drivers need to know what not to do or say and there isn’t much training provided.

All passengers should be treated the same way and no one should make assumptions about our lives. When in doubt about the support to offer, of course it’s ok to ask, but think about the language you use. Hopefully reading about my experiences will help make journeys less awkward.

Descriptive praise – how to get your child to cooperate!

This is a guest blog from Noel Janis-Norton, our online community’s parenting advisor. Here she explains how to use a technique called ‘descriptive praise’ to get your child to cooperate. 

One of the most frustrating things about being a parent is the endless repeating and reminding, just to get our children to do what they’re told. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to forget that children aren’t born knowing that they’re supposed to do what we tell them to do. Cooperation is a habit that they need to learn.

Mum and dad playing at a table with their young disabled daughter

My definition of cooperation is that our children do what we ask them to do the first time we ask, and without a fuss. Thankfully, it’s never too late to guide children and teens into the habit of cooperating. Of course children aren’t robots, so they’ll never be perfect. But it really is possible for children and teens to get into the habit of cooperating 90% of the time. That’s what the programme I’ve developed – Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, can help you achieve.

If your children tend to ignore your instructions, or if they argue or say “in a minute,” a good question to ask yourself is, “how can I motivate them to want to cooperate?” You’ve probably noticed that threats and telling off don’t actually motivate, but luckily there are more effective ways. One useful technique is descriptive praise. This is the most powerful motivator I’ve ever come across.

Two young brothers and their sister playing with multi-coloured plastic bricks

Descriptive praise is the opposite of how we usually praise.  Generally, we try to encourage good behaviour by using lots of superlatives: “Terrific!”, “Wow!”, “Brilliant!”, “Amazing!” But superlative praise is so vague and exaggerated that the child is often unclear about what was so great.

Descriptive praise is far more effective. Just describe exactly what your child did right or exactly what they didn’t do wrong, being very specific:

“You did what I asked the first time. You’re cooperating.”

“You didn’t say “In a minute”. I asked you to set the table, and you did it straightaway, without any complaining.”

Mum kneeling on the floor hugging her son

In my book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, a mother explains how descriptive praise motivated her six and eight-year-old sons to become more cooperative:

“The day after Noël’s seminar, I told my boys to wash their hands for dinner. The younger one hopped up to do what I said. I jumped in with descriptive praise, saying “You’re a first-time listener.” As soon as I said this, his older brother got up, saying “I’m a first-time listener too”, and rushed off to wash his hands. I hadn’t expected my words to have such an effect. The next day my six-year-old washed his hands and came to the table, saying “Look Mum, I’m a no-time listener because I did it before you even asked!”

When you make a point of mentioning each time your children do what you ask the first time, soon they will be cooperating more and more. You can use this strategy to improve any behaviour that’s problematic.  Descriptive praise brings out the best in children, even in teenagers!

In this short blog I can only scratch the surface of this useful parenting tool, so you’re bound to have questions. In my CD called Descriptive Praise, The #1 Motivator, I answer all the questions parents have about putting descriptive praise into practice, and give lots of examples you can use to improve a wide range of family issues.

Dad mixing cake mixture in a bowl with his young daughter with cerebral palsy

As important as descriptive praise is, it’s not the only strategy you’ll need to bring out the best behaviour in your children and teens. But it’s the first strategy. So for the next four weeks, take the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting challenge and start using descriptive praise whenever you notice your children doing something right or even any tiny improvement. You’ll see positive results sooner than you can imagine.

Got a question for Noel? Ask her on our online community

As a short actor, I want to break down the height barrier – #EndtheAwkward

Guest post from Francesca Mills, who stars in our ‘What Not to Do… In a Job Interview’ film, co-produced with Channel 4. She has dwarfism, and previously appeared in ITV hidden camera prank show Off Their Rockers.

It’s amazing what people will believe. In Off Their Rockers, a sketch show where we pranked members of the public, I managed to convince customers at a launderette that the boss let me take home all the clothes that shrunk in the wash.

I even told them that if I saw something I liked going into the dryer, I’d cheekily turn the temperature up so it would shrink! The two women whose reactions eventually aired were totally on board with it.

My work on Off Their Rockers led me to get a part on Scope and Channel 4’s short film, ‘What Not to Do… In a Job Interview’. In it, I and another actor get into all sorts of trouble because of his awkwardness around my height.

Filming What Not to Do…

The other woman in the interview had no idea what was going on. She was a businesswoman who was used to doing mock interviews on video, and we’d told her she would be helping out a big company with their staff training.

By halfway through, she was starting to get very flustered! She kept smiling at me, but because she was there to do a job she kept quiet – which is fair enough, because it was all quite light.

Sam, the ‘interviewer’, was brilliant. I found it so hard to keep a straight face most of the day. Between takes we’d go into the other room and just break down laughing, it was so funny.

Awkwardness in my life

I’m quite young, so I haven’t experienced many situations like the job interview yet. Certainly no one has ever picked me up and put me on a chair!

Fran and a male actor talking, both sitting behind a table
Fran and Sam in our What Not To Do film

But you do get lots of situation where, like Sam’s character, people are scared of putting a foot wrong. They get really conscious of what they’re saying.

Sam represented that really well, because you could see the fear in his eyes. He really didn’t want to offend me, and that’s why he was getting so worked up. He was just trying to handle it the best way he could.

That’s why the film is so good – because it makes people realise, ‘Oh, actually I don’t have to freak out every time I’m talking to a disabled person.’ We have exactly the same sense of humour as everyone else, and we actually won’t be too fazed if someone’s being awkward.

Breaking down the height barrier

I just moved to London about two weeks ago. In November I start rehearsals for Peter Pan at the New Wimbledon Theatre; I’ll be playing Tinkerbell, which is very exciting.

In the future, I’d love to do a serious play, or a musical – anything, really! I’m enjoying the diversity of the jobs I’m doing at the moment.

But I do think all short actors want to try and break down the idea that short actors can’t be used for ‘tall’ acting jobs.

Warwick Davis, whom I’ve worked with, is a real inspiration – for example, he appeared in Spamalot in a role that could have gone to someone of any height, because he’s proved himself.

We’re all striving for the same thing: to get casting directors thinking about employing short people for roles where no reference is made to them being short. Where it’s just accepted.

Watch all six shorts now on Scope’s YouTube channel. Do you have a similar awkward story to share? Email stories@scope.org.uk

Off to university? Top tips for disabled students

As new students up and down the country prepare for university life, we’ve put together some tips from our online community for disabled students starting out. If you’re a seasoned student or graduate, please feel free to share your own!

Paperwork

  • Make sure any access and care arrangements are in place and finalised. Get things confirmed in writing by email so you can access them quickly via smartphone if there is a problem.
  • Are you employing a Personal Assistant (PA)? Start their induction early so they know what to expect and you can ensure a good match when you arrive at university.Two male students talking
  • Is your Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) sorted? Have you had an assessment to see what support you might need? If not, contact Student Finance England.
  • Have you checked your benefit entitlement? Some disabled students are eligible for other financial help on top of DSA and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal independence payment (PIP). For more information try the benefits checker or contact the disabled students helpline or check out the Students Support and Benefits Handbook.
  • Speak to the doctor’s surgery you’ll be registered with at university, before you leave and find out what their registration process is, and if necessary book appointments.
  • Put essential contact details in your phone. Good ones to include are student accommodation services, students union advice service, student support disability services, nightline, 24 hour security, local taxi companies (especially accessible taxi services), any local authority numbers you may need.
  • Don’t forget to pack any registration or welcome literature from the university – put essential documents in a folder and keep them close to hand. Another essential is a map of the university.
  • If you find using a photo booth difficult, take a stash of printed passport photos with you. You’ll end up needing them for all sorts of things, such as student ID cards, National Union of Students (NUS) cards and rail cards.
  • See if the students support service offers a disabled students induction. It can be a great way to orientate yourself around the university and also meet other students that have had similar experiences to you.

Transport and access

  • Find out what bus routes you may be taking and if it helps, look it up on Google maps or street view, so you can recognise where to get on and off. Check accessibility of the buses and get a bus pass sorted out before you leave.Disabled parking bays
  • Some universities have free ‘safety buses’ which you can use to get home after a night out. Find out if your student union offers these and if so, when and where they are available and what accessibility they have. They can be a real lifesaver if accessible taxis aren’t readily available and you’re trying to get home!
  • If you’re taking your car, find out about blue badges or parking passes, make a note of where the good parking spots for your accommodation, students union, and lectures are located.
  • Find out where accessible toilets are located around the university. If you can get an advance copy of your timetable and the locations of lectures, you can work out the easiest routes to take.
  • Check out the library for access, including the locations of accessible workstations. See if there is a library tour or induction you can go on; this can help you quickly find out how to locate journals or use moving bookcases if they have them.

Stuff you might need

  • Remember to pack spares and extra batteries for any equipment you’d be lost without.
  • Make copies of all the paperwork you might need related to your disability, such as proof of entitlement or relevant medical notes.
  • Think about logistics. For example, find out where your nearest launderette is. If it’s far away from your accommodation think about how you’ll transport your washing to and from your room. (Some students use a roomy backpack or a shopping trolley)
  • Likewise food shopping. Where is your nearest supermarket? Do they stock any special dietary products you might need? If not, stock up before you go.
  • It can also be helpful to stockpile anything else you go through unusually quickly, in case there are any difficulties replacing them at short notice (for example continence products or items of clothing that wear out fast).Uni student smiling

Getting support

  • The university should have a student support department with a disability section. The staff are there to support you with any issues you might face and to ensure you have the things you need to study successfully. They may ask for your permission to discuss your situation with your parents when necessary, so have a think about whether that’s the right option for you.
  • Most student unions have a disabled students representative and if you have any issues it can be useful to talk these through with them.
  • Many student unions have independent advice services. These can be really helpful if you have issues with the university whilst you are a student.
  • If you’re interested in joining, make a note of the contact details and any welcome events for the disabled students’ society before you leave for university. You could even send them an email beforehand to find out what’s on.

Socialising

  • Lots of universities have Facebook groups, where you can get chatting to people on your course or in your halls before you go. It helps to break the ice on your first night.
  • Most universities have a freshers’ fayre, where you can join societies and sports teams. These are a brilliant way to integrate yourself into university life and meet new people that have similar interests to you. They usually keep information on available societies and teams on the students union website. If you don’t see anything you fancy joining, you can always start a new society yourself!Disabled student at student union bar
  • It’s also worth bearing in mind that some welcome week or freshers’ week activities might not be accessible to you. For example, if you find loud noises difficult, the icebreaker party club night might be a bit much. But there are often alternatives available so find out about those (try the student union or student support team for information)
  • When you move in, prop your door open (with a doorstop or a crate of beer!) and say hi to anyone that walks past. Do it even if you’re feeling nervous – just remember that everyone else is too – even if they aren’t showing it.
  • Stay in touch with friends and family back home, tell them what you’ve been up to and how you’re getting on. Make a plan to visit them, or visa-versa, so you have a date to look forward to.
  • Remember that even though Uni is culturally held up as the ‘best years of your life’, it’s often just a stereotype. If you aren’t having the time of your life, don’t worry that it means you’ve failed. In reality, very few students breeze through their university life without facing the odd problem here and there.

For more great tips – whether you’re a new student, a new parent or simply new to Scope’s online community, why not check us out today!

Four things we’ll say to MPs on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

This afternoon, Scope is giving oral evidence to a committee scrutinising the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. It aims to achieve full employment in the economy and reforms a number of working age benefits that will impact on the lives of disabled people.

Scope will be putting forward the following four key priorities to MPs:

Halving the disability employment gap

Scope was very pleased with the government’s bold and ambitious manifesto commitment to halving the disability employment gap, taking forward a Scope pre-election recommendation, set out in our Million Futures report.   

In order to see this through, we want to see the government include a reporting requirement on halving the disability gap to clause 1 on full employment reporting. Getting a million more disabled people back to work, will be essential to realising the government’s vital aim on full employment.

Research for Scope set out in our ‘Enabling Work’ report shows the substantial economic benefits of even small increases in the disability employment rate – to give just one example, a 10 percentage point increase in the disability employment rate will grow Gross Domestic Product by £45 billion by 2030.

Oppose reduction in Employment Support Allowance payments to the Work Related Activity Group

The government is cutting the financial support provided to disabled people through the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG).

We do not see this as an answer to halving the disability employment gap. Disabled people placed in ESA WRAG have been found ‘unfit for work’ by the independent Work  Capability Assessment. Rather than incentivising disabled people to find work, this will push them further away from the job market, and make their lives harder.

Improving employment support for disabled people

Research shows that disabled people very much want to work, but they face a range of barriers to doing so.

Scope wants to see the government bring forward detailed plans for the development of improved employment support for disabled people in order to enable them to enter, stay and progress in the world of work. Scope has a number of proposals on what specialised employment support should look like for disabled people.

Enhancing extra costs payments for disabled people

Scope welcomes the recognition in this Bill of the importance of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in meeting the extra costs of disability. Scope’s research shows that disabled people’s extra costs average £550 a month, around £360 of which are met by DLA/PIP.

Scope believes it’s critical the government to build on its commitment to protect DLA/PIP from cuts, by enhancing it through a triple lock so that it’s value rises by the higher of CPI inflation, earnings or 2.5 per cent.

You can follow Scope’s evidence session with MPs today via Twitter  and watch this space for a report back on the outcome of Scope’s lobbying on these issues.

“I think it’s great of you to let her go on holiday with you” #EndTheAwkward

Actor Storme Toolis stars in one of the Shorts, What Not To Do… At A Nail Bar, Scope made with Channel 4 for its End the Awkward campaign. Storme reveals how she uses humour to deal with awkward moments… 

Men have no idea how to dance with me. I don’t expect them to be experts at wheelchair salsa, but whenever I go clubbing I get high fives, people moving my wheelchair, patting me on my head and even sitting in my lap. That’s not going to make me want to speak to you.

People react in these ways because they don’t expect you to be there.

A few years ago, I went on an Inbetweeners-style holiday with my girlfriends to Zante. I’m the only disabled girl in my group of friends and we just went around and did all the usual things. We were on a boat cruise and one of the guys running it came up to my friend and said: “I think it’s great of you to let her go on holiday with you.” My friend got really offended. But you just have to laugh really.

The best way to get over awkward moments is to embrace the awkwardness and make it positive and funny. And if someone tells you can’t do something, make sure you do it.

People smile unnecessarily when they speak to me 

I’m quite blunt and direct – I like people to be the same with me. I think I get more offended if people don’t ask me something. If you ask me why I’m in a wheelchair, I’ll answer the question in two seconds – I’ve been asked about a million times. And it’s better than being stared at.

The Shorts are brilliant, I like the job interview and the bar date. They’re funny and that stuff actually does happen. People talk slowly to me or they smile unnecessarily, even if they’re asking a serious question.

I think it’s important Scope is doing this campaign. Until we talk about it, nothing is going to change. Everyone is different and thinks of their impairment in their own way. I use humour and I use my job as an actor. I think humour is an important tool – what better way is there to relate to people and bring them together than when they’re both laughing?

Storme laughing in one of our End The Awkward shorts

Filming the Shorts was good fun. The actor who played the customer was lovely. She felt so awful about having to say her lines! When we had the run-through we were both sitting there cringing and wondering how we were going to get through it with straight faces.

I’m working on a theatre project with the Barbican called Redefining Juliet. It’s a play based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but changing the conventional casting of Juliet by portraying her as disabled or as a larger woman. It’s subverting the usual casting of the sexy roles in Shakespeare. It’s showing disability as sexually attractive and asking why these women never get to play such roles.

It’s so important that people see disabled people in the theatre, on TV, everywhere. It was the same with race 30 or 40 years ago, disability is a fact of life – if you don’t see life on screen or in theatre it’s not a true reflection of society. People still feel uncomfortable around disability, especially seeing it as something desirable. That’s why it’s so important to show it and push those boundaries.

What Not To Do… At A Nail Bar

“I think that’s an ice cream van, love!” #EndTheAwkward

Blogger and Youtuber Natalie has an eye condition called Congenital Nystagmus, sometimes described as ‘wobbly eyes’ or ‘dancing eyes’.

As part of our End the Awkward campaign, Natalie explains her ‘moody looks’ aren’t personal, and why she cringes every time she holds her arm out to wave down the bus…

Growing up, I used to think that if I tried to hide my disability things would be easier.

My visual impairment is not necessarily obvious to an onlooker; however situations that occur as a consequence of having poor vision can be quite noticeable.

Often, friends tell me I did not wave back at them and I explain it is because I had not seen them. With people who know me, they generally understand, though it can be embarrassing when people think I am just ignoring them.

The perils of waving down the bus

Four photos of Natalie doing different poses
Natalie writes a blog about life with a visual impairment

I’m registered partially sighted and getting off the bus at my stop and waving one down is quite challenging. Many times I have been waiting at a bus stop and the bus has just driven straight past.

One time I was waiting for the bus, I began to wave it over, but it didn’t slow down. As it passed in front of me, the lady next to me said ‘I think that’s an ice cream van love’.

Still waiting for my bus, a white van slowed down next to me and a guy popped his head out and said “alright darlin’, where can I take you to?” Obviously I politely declined the offer.

Shame the ice cream van didn’t stop as I could have done with an ice lolly waiting for the bloody bus!

But I do slightly cringe when I stick my arm out to flag down a bus because I’m not sure what I’m going to get.

The blind lollypop lady

A friend of mine, who is also visually impaired, said her bus company offered a ‘STOP’ sign for her to hold up while waiting for a bus.

Unsurprisingly she declined the offer and who could blame her? Would you like to hold a guide dog in one hand and in the other, a huge STOP sign?

My friend would have looked like a blind lollypop lady!

I’m not really grumpy

My facial expression can sometimes look like I’m really grumpy, often interpreted as ‘moody looks’.

Misunderstandings happen when I’m trying to focus on what I’m seeing, but I seem like I’m frowning with my eyes darting about due to Nystagmus.

So if you see me, I don’t wave back, I look at you with a frown and walk straight past, it is nothing personal, I’m just a VIP, a Visually Impaired Person!

Raising awareness and ending the awkward

I think the best thing to do in life is just keep trying. There might be awkward moments along the way but if you don’t try, you might not find what you are looking for.

These stories are not the half of what I’m dealing with as someone with a visual impairment. I hope that my sharing them some people might learn more about disability, a great place to start to #EndTheAwkward.

Through her blog, YouTube and social media, Natalie shares her world as a disabled person with a visual impairment and how this has influenced her love for art, healthy living and fashion.

Have you got an awkward tale to tell? Share your story with us.