“I see my Cerebral Palsy as a real gift because I can inspire people.”

In this blog, author and public speaker Patrick Souiljaert tells of how he conquered his fear of speaking in public and turned his story into a book, Stairs For Breakfast

Six years ago I never thought I would be where I am today. Back then, I had a good but mind-numbingly boring IT job – and had no idea that I would become an inspirational speaker and published author.

I’m often asked where the title for my book Stairs For Breakfast came from.

In 2011 while viewing buy-to-let properties I was waiting for the estate agent to arrive. Puzzled, seeing a disabled man standing with crutches, the agent asked me whether I was okay walking up the stairs as there were quite a lot of them. Off the top of my head I replied “Yes I’ll be fine, I eat stairs for breakfast.”

“What fear would you like to overcome?”

Never will I forget the first time I spoke in front of about 50 people.

Towards the end of 2011 I attended a three day wealth and lifestyle course. On the second day, John (the guy teaching the course) asked the audience “What fear would you like to overcome?” Without thinking I put my hand up and said “Speaking on stage in front of people” and John invited to come and join him.

As I walked up onto the stage I felt a mixture of nervous tension and of adrenaline. However when I sat on the chair and saw the audience looking at me I thought ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ and I started to hyperventilate for what seemed like ages. Out of breath, I said a few times “I’m alright…I’m alright!”. Then I thought ‘Screw it’ and I went into the present moment. Relaxed with a big smile, I said “I can overcome anything!”

I only spoke for a few minutes about my journey over the last year or so and said that I want to make a difference in the world. The audience stood up and gave me an awesome round of applause. It was so exhilarating and I felt a great sense of achievement. So many people came up and said to me “You’re amazing”.

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

I’m a great advocate for feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I’ve had that approach all my life. It’s a great way of stretching yourself and growing.

My mindset is my greatest asset. Growing up, my family never treated me differently and encouraged me to be independent. I don’t think or see myself as being disabled. There’s nothing I cannot do. Having said that I’m not into playing football and I’m no Pavarotti!

I enjoy setting myself challenging goals and like doing ‘the impossible’ –  things other people say I won’t be able to do. In the early 1990s for example, having a passion for working in radio as a producer, I joined a local hospital radio station, where I met Ted who told me that I would never work in radio. I later went onto to work for three radio stations, working with Ted at one of them!

By leaving my IT job-for-life and going into property investment in 2010, I’ve learnt so much about people and success. It has also taught me my purpose in life: to help and inspire people and to make a difference in the world. I see my Cerebral Palsy as a real gift because I can inspire people.

Ascension meditation

Something else I’ve learnt in the last few years is ascension meditation. It’s a practice about being very aware of your thoughts – and becoming the observer of your thoughts, rather than identifying with them. Ascension relaxes the mind and brings you into living in the present moment. Amazingly, I have found ascension not only relaxes my mind but it also relaxes my body – making it easier for me to walk and talk.

People tend to worry about the past or the future. But here’s the thing; the past cannot be changed and the future hasn’t happened. The only time which ever exists is right now!

Perception is a funny thing. People are inspired by seeing how well I cope with life physically. To me, physically, my life is a piece of cake. People have no idea of the emotional trauma and pain I have been through and overcome.

Anyone can overcome and achieve anything in life. All you need is self-belief, persistence and enough desire. Here I am demonstrating self-belief, desire and feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Writing my book

I had so much desire to write a book on how to overcome adversity and achieve anything you want. It took me 15 months to write 216,000 words – all typed with my left index finger. Little did I know I had written enough content for two books! The sequel is yet to be published.

My main motivation for writing my autobiography was I knew it would help and inspire people – and it would give me a platform as inspirational speaker. I also love to make people laugh!

Since self-publishing Stairs For Breakfast last year, I have been picked up by Hay House in America. Also having the chance to work with Scope, I see infinite and exciting opportunities of making a difference in the world.

You can purchase Stairs For Breakfast on Amazon and directly from me http://stairsforbreakfast.com/buy-now (I’m cheaper than Amazon)

I think some communities lack disability awareness

Zara is 26 and has cerebral palsy. She’s also Muslim, and blogs about her experiences and every day life. Here she talks about gaining self confidence and the barriers that still exist within some communities. 

As salam o alaikum / Hi guys!

I was a very premature baby and had a lack of oxygen, which resulted in me having spastic diplegia, a form cerebral palsy which affects my legs. I remember having a walker as a child, and I wore leg braces until I was about 12.  I also have a little stutter.

At 15, I had surgery and they put what they call ‘disks’ in my legs which enabled me to walk independently, and I have been walking ever since.

I’m very grateful for having a loving and supportive family, which I think is why I didn’t really feel any different to anyone else until I started school. School was a bit of a nightmare, and I got bullied a lot.

I’ve always struggled with my self confidence and school definitely didn’t help. I always shied away from people I didn’t know. I used to think ‘what if they question me about my legs?’ or ‘what if they don’t understand me when I speak?’

Gaining confidence

Things got a lot better for me when I started college. No one really cared about the way I walked – people were a lot more friendly which was nice for a change. I made a good group of friends, and my confidence started improving too. I talked a lot more, and I didn’t just shy away from people like I used to. I started to feel good about myself. I realised that what other people thought of me didn’t really matter anymore. I got my qualifications in IT and Business which I was really proud of.

My confidence is definitely improving as I get older. I’ve learnt to love myself and I no longer care what other people think. My cerebral palsy has made me stronger, more determined and humble as a person and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

How disability is portrayed in Islam

As a Muslim living with disability, I want to write a little about how the prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) treated disabled people.

Greeting Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum (radi’allahu an) with respect and humility, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) designated him as the Leader of Madinah many times in his own absence. As far as the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) was concerned, Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum’s blindness was not a barrier in his ability to carry out his duties.

Similarly, the case of Julaybib (radi’allahu an), another companion of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam), was described as being dwarf-like in appearance. While many people in Madinah had made him an outcast, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) instead approached a family to give their beautiful daughter as a bride for Julaybib. (Source: Sahih Muslim)

The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) made people with disabilities feel welcome in society, and his behavior is an example we all should be following.

Communities should embrace disabled people

I’m really grateful to my family for everything, because without their love and support I wouldn’t be as strong as a person as I am today.

I count myself very lucky because, unfortunately, there is still a small number of disabled people who are faced with some sort of bullying and barriers from within their own Muslim communities.

I think some of our Muslim communities can lack in disability awareness – it’s just not talked about as often as it should be. One reason for this (in my personal opinion) is because we should speak out more and make our voices heard instead of just hiding away.

You can talk to Zara on Scope’s online community. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Do you have any similar experiences to share? 

Welfare and Work Bill – our priorities in the closing stages

The Welfare and Work Bill that is currently going through Parliament is a big priority for Scope because it will have a major impact on the employment prospects of disabled people.

As scrutiny reaches its final stages in the House of Lords, and as set out in our last blog post on the Bill, Scope is focused on two key issues – opposing the proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for some disabled people, and persuading the Government to report on progress in meeting their commitment to halve the disability employment gap.

Disability employment gap reporting

A key issue for Scope is requiring the Government to report annually on progress in meeting its manifesto commitment to halving the disability employment gap. The first clause of this Bill introduces a reporting obligation on the Government’s progress towards achieving full employment, ensuring Parliamentarians and the public are kept informed of progress towards meeting this target.

Scope believes that this should include a requirement for the Government to report annually on meeting its commitment to halve the disability employment gap, which itself set as a Manifesto commitment.

The gap between disabled people’s employment rate and the rest of the population has remained stubbornly static at around 30% for the last decade. The Government cannot hope achieve its objective of full employment unless it halves this gap. Reporting annually on progress towards doing so, will draw attention and accountability to this very welcome commitment, and will greatly help to prioritise its delivery by the Government.

This looks set to be the first issue that Peers debate then the Bill’s Report Stage starts later today.

Opposing reduction to ESA

On Wednesday, they will turn their attention to the Government’s proposed cut to Employment and Support Allowance for disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group.

In previous blog posts and Parliamentary briefings, we have set out how this proposed cut of £30 a week will adversely affect some disabled people, who have been found unfit for work by an independent assessment. The cut will disincentivise them from finding employment, and push them further from the labour market.

Two important developments have powerfully brought home this message to Parliamentarians recently. At Lords Committee Stage, Scope and our coalition partners in the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), supported Lord Low, and Baronesses Meacher and Grey Thompson, to review the impact of the ESA WRAG cut.

From evidence received from disabled people, as well as organisations representing them, the review found the proposed cut to ESA WRAG would make it much harder for people in this group to find work. This is because it would more difficult to be able to afford training, work experience and volunteering. Cutting benefits would also lead to stress and anxiety as people struggled to pay the bills, affecting their physical and mental health, according to the review’s findings.

It recommends that Government should not push ahead with the cut. Instead, they should put in place better support for disabled people to help them build up their skills and support to look for, and stay in, work.

Disabled people had the opportunity to communicate these messages face to face with MPs  in a lobby of Parliament a couple of weeks ago, which was attended by nearly a hundred members of Parliament.

The review and lobby of Parliament have generated considerable momentum behind the campaign to reverse the ESA WRAG reduction. Both independent and leading opposition Peers have signed up to amendments to scrap the ESA WRAG cut, and its equivalent in the Universal Credit system. Scope and our DBC partners are very hopeful that this will herald a vote against a reduction in ESA on Wednesday night in the House of Lords.

We will be live tweeting the debates on Monday 25 January and Wednesday 27 January, and you can follow proceedings live online on Parliament TV. Watch out for more blog updates on the bill as it leaves the Lords, and MPs consider any changes they have made.  

I published a book so others can walk this road with me

Rachel is mum to Sam, who has severe cerebral palsy. She writes a blog, and she’s just published a book called The Skies I’m Under.

She’s doing a Q&A on our community this week – feel free to come and say hello! Here Rachel talks about her experience at the time of diagnosis. 

Memory is a funny thing. I can tell you the name of the boy I fancied aged nine (Andrew Jafferies) and sing you the ‘Milkyway’ advert from start to finish, but I can’t tell you why I just walked into the living room. It seems my brain is very good at identifying important information and promptly forgetting it.

A day I’ll never forget

There are some things though I will never forget. Like the day I was told my son, Sam, had been born with severe brain damage. Three years ago, I set off on a journey of remembering. I sat in the summerhouse in my garden and started writing about my early days of motherhood. I wasn’t just sketching out what had happened but I settled there, and filled in the hues and shades of a time when my life was turned upside down.

Last month, I published my memoir about becoming the mum of a severely disabled son, so now others can walk this road with me. Here’s an extract from The Skies I’m Under. It tells of how my husband, Tim, and I were told the results of an MRI scan that confirmed Sam’s brain damage.

“I’m afraid it isn’t good news.”

‘The doctor in front of us finally stopped, swung open a door, and showed us into a small office. We entered clinging onto our hopes of a miracle, with our dreams intact. The room resembled a large cupboard, absent of a two-seater sofa or box of tissues. With the small room void of natural light, limited space and haphazard layout, the doctor was required to perch on the edge of a desk as she began to talk.

“I’m Doctor Rutherford,” the slight woman explained. She introduced her colleague, whom we had seen earlier that day.

“I’m afraid it isn’t good news. The scan shows severe brain damage.” Her words were spoken lightly, yet the room began to close in. She gently and calmly explained in detail how the scan showed Sam had been very unlucky.

I sat rigidly and gazed across at the scan. I began to see a withered, shrunken brain, with deep darkened rims of space where healthy tissue should have been. She explained Sam’s brain damage was both unusual and extensive. Not only had he suffered damage to the white matter but also the grey matter.

“From the scan we can only assume that numerous insults occurred in the time leading up to Sam’s birth and then again at delivery,” she informed us. Her words became a blur of white noise as my mind drowned out the truth; replaying all the times I may have allowed this catastrophic event to occur.

How had I missed my baby struggling inside me?

How had I carried on singing, stripping wallpaper and going about my daily life, when the fragile being inside me was suffering repeated insults?

What kind of mother was I?

Refocusing on the words being thrown around the room, I brought my mind back to the small office and information I wanted to ignore.

“All parts of his brain are affected. He will live with cerebral palsy… resulting in learning difficulties… as well as physical limitations.” There was nothing to say, so we simply nodded, indicating our readiness to hear more.

“He will have complex needs and it seems the areas affecting temperature regulation and vision are particularly damaged.”

Tim bravely asked questions and I was surprised at his ability to talk with a steady voice. The doctor remained vague. We weren’t told he would never walk, talk or eat, but it was indicated that each of these things was in jeopardy.

Our future plans were erased

It was as though the doctor conjured up a paintbrush dripping with brilliant white emulsion and began covering the wall of our future. What had once displayed vivid colourful strokes of our hopes, dreams and future plans, was being abruptly erased. The blank canvas that remained felt daunting rather than full of potential. Nothing could be assumed, and nothing could be expected.

A bomb had exploded in the middle of our lives splintering our world into thousands of tiny pieces. Like walking wounded, we staggered out of the hospital holding onto each other, dazed and bewildered. The words spoken over us rang in our ears. As reality began to sink in, I was surprised at the magnitude of my shock. I simply hadn’t prepared myself for hearing my little boy had profound brain damage.’

A different outlook

I couldn’t imagine what my life would become and how hard it would be. I struggled picturing a world where my son was disabled and my home full of disability equipment. Today, I appreciate that the most picturesque views are often found down a bumpy road. I couldn’t foresee neither the heartache, the love, nor the smiles.

Win a signed copy! Ts&Cs

Want to win a signed copy of Rachel’s book? To enter, sign up to the community and comment on Rachel’s discussion. Only one entry per person. The prize draw closes on 1 February at 10am. The winner will be chosen at random after this date and notified via email. The book can only be posted to addresses in the UK and no cash equivalent or alternative prize will be offered.

Rachel is doing a Q&A on our online community from 25 to 31 January. You can ask her about her experiences and find out more about her book. 

Tell us about your experiences of purchasing disability equipment

The Government has recently launched a consultation looking at how some types of aids and appliances are taken into consideration as part of the assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

PIP, alongside Disability Living Allowance, is a payment that provides working-age disabled people with support to meet the extra costs of disability. Our research shows that these costs amount to an average of £550 a month.

The Extra Costs Commission was a year-long independent inquiry into driving down extra costs, which can arise in a number of ways – as well as disability equipment, disabled people may have to spend more on things such as energy to keep warm, taxis to get around, and even certain types of insurance.

The consultation outlines five options for reforming how aids and appliances to carry out day-to-day activities are assessed for the Daily Living Component of PIP. If the Government decides to make changes, these options could affect the way in which new and existing claimants receive PIP, as well as the amount of money received.

We want to hear from you

Scope will be responding to this consultation, which is running until 29 January 2016, 5pm.

We are very keen to include the experiences of disabled people who purchase aids and appliances to carry out day-to-day activities as part of our response. You can contact us in the following ways:

Email: minesh.patel@scope.org.uk

Telephone: 020 7619 7375

You can submit a response to the consultation in the following ways:

Email: pip.consultationfeedback@dwp.gsi.gov.uk


PIP Policy Team
Department for Work and Pensions
Ground floor
Caxton House
Tothill Street

New year, new goals: what change will you make in 2016?

Have you given up already on all those New Year resolutions you made?  Here is one promise which we can help you fulfill: help change the world in 2016 by applying to our campaign network Scope for Change.  There is only a few days left before applications close so what are you waiting for?

We usually find ourselves searching for ways to lose weight and promise to get fit,  learn another language or finally get around to clearing out that store cupboard which makes us want to scream each time we open it to cram yet another unwanted household item inside.

Be realistic

My own  goal for 2016 is to try a new experience each month. I have to admit to taking the easy option at times so each of my new experiences don’t necessarily involve vigorous exercise!  It may be visiting a new place or learning a new skill without having to put too much pressure on myself. Whatever happens, 2016 won’t be dull.

You never know where campaigning will take you

Sulaiman posing for a photo with Baroness CampbellOne of the things I love most about my job in campaigning is the exciting challenges and opportunities I have to work on exciting in innovative campaigns such as Scope’s A-Z of sex and disability  which had me Tweeting all manner of content that I never thought I’d be doing.  This is the wonderful thing about campaigning, you  can never tell where it will take you.

Change your world in 2016

I love a challenge, and we are sure you do too.  This is why Scope is offering campaigners who are passionate about disability equality issues and aged between 18 and 25, the opportunity to learn new skills and improve your existing campaigning tactics.

Our Scope for Change campaigns network will offer you training on the best use of film, social media, story telling, Blogging, Vlogging, tactics, strategy and planning to make your campaigns stand out from the crowd.

You will also be supported throughout the course by expert campaigners and be supported by  Mentor who will offer support and advice throughout your campaigning journey.

2016 is the year to make that change in your world  so please apply to join us on this exciting adventure.  Who knows where it might lead? The applications close on 17 January, so what are you waiting for?  Who knows it might lead?

I wasn’t told I had cerebral palsy till I was 60 – Paula’s story

Guest blog from Paula, who contacted our helpline earlier this year after learning she had cerebral palsy – at the age of 60. Until then, she had never received any kind of support. Here she shares her experience.

In January 2015, soon after my mother died, my sister called me and told me there was something she needed to tell me – that I have mild cerebral palsy, and that my mother had never told me. I am 60 years old, and I had known nothing about it until then.

I went to my GP and asked him to read me the medical notes from my birth. Sure enough, there it was.

My mother and I had not been in touch for 23 years, for many reasons. I will never know why she didn’t tell me.

There was more of a stigma around disability at that time, so maybe that was a part of it. Or perhaps she thought that because I didn’t need a wheelchair or anything, it wasn’t worth doing anything about. Attitudes were very different then.

Paula, touching a tree in a garden
Paula today, photographed by her husband of 40 years, Graham

Blaming myself

Not knowing about my cerebral palsy has made my life a lot more difficult than it really should have been.

My movements are awkward and slow, meaning I need extra time to do things. My speech also causes me difficulties. When I’m tired, it’s really hard for people to understand me – almost impossible if I’m exhausted.

But all my life I blamed myself for my differences, and thought I was just clumsy and slow. I drove myself into the ground trying to keep up at work, and that took its toll on me emotionally. When shown a job, it takes me longer to learn, and it often resulted in people getting annoyed with me.

I was never offered any extra support when I found things difficult. In one job, my colleagues would go home after they had finished their work, leaving me to finish my part alone. A supervisor once said she ‘felt like shaking me’.

I always tried to remain positive and upbeat, but it had a huge impact on my self-esteem  and confidence. If I had known more, I think I would have stood up more for myself. And I could have asked for support with things such as my speech, which would have made a big difference for me.

Paula, with her baby son
Paula with her son

Life today

I rang Scope within a fortnight of finding out, and they sent Olli, a regional response worker, out to visit me. I thought she would have no time for me, but she came out the very same week. She said she had never met anyone who didn’t know about their condition until my time of life.

Olli has been fantastic, and having her information, advice and support has been excellent. I have sought out speech therapy, which has greatly improved my speech. I have also had physiotherapy and seen a continence nurse, and I have had rails installed in my bathroom.

And just having this knowledge about myself has changed my life for the better. I feel much less agitated. I always felt I needed some kind of help, but I never knew what I needed or who to ask.

Paula, as a young woman, smiling for the camera
Paula as a young woman

I feel the things I have had to deal with in life have made me focused, determined and positive. I’m more aware of other people’s problems, and how they are feeling. I just wish I had known sooner about my condition, and I very much hope this wouldn’t happen today.

Attitudes to disability have changed since Paula was young, but did you know that until 1995, it was still legal to discriminate against disabled people? Read more about our work to mark 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act.

Santa Got It Wrong: what are your worst Christmas gifts?

It’s the thought that counts – but what were people thinking when they gave you these Christmas presents?

Here are some presents that didn’t quite make the cut in the Scope offices (names have been removed to protect the givers’ feelings).


A ceramic wind-up merry-go-round

“Every house should have one. It was German, very decorative but completely pointless. It probably went straight from one attic to another.”

An armchair football fan’s kit

“This package consisted of a yellow card, red card and plastic whistle for refereeing games from the comfort of my armchair. I’m not that weird…”


 A cardboard cut-out of Charlie Chaplin

“I’m not a Chaplin fan and I wasn’t sure what I could do with a cardboard figure of him so I marched him down to the charity shop.”

A spring onion jar

“A jar with a spring onion painted on it. It bears the helpful legend ‘Spring onions’. I wonder what it’s for?”A cat in wrapping paper


“I once got a 1000 bag box of PG Tips. It was when I was at University and my Mum said it would help me make friends. It didn’t.”

A tin of 48 Oxo cubes

“I have no words…”


 A step too far

“I got a Steps calendar when I was about 18 from my Gran, and she gave my sister an S Club 7 one.”

A GIF of S Club 7 dancing

“My dad is really bad at buying presents”

“My Dad once got my mum an apple peeler. It wasn’t even a particularly snazzy one. He also got her a Yorkshire Terrier dogs calendar. She likes dogs but doesn’t have any particular connection or love for Yorkshire Terriers, so 12 months of them was a bit much. My dad is really bad at buying presents.”

A scene from the film 'Elf'

Tell us your worst Christmas present in the comments below. 

Luckily Scope loves the presents you don’t. Donate your unwanted Christmas presents to a Scope charity shop near you 

Michael’s story: from hospital to a happy family home

Michael’s story shows the amazing difference your support makes to disabled children. Now five years old, Michael spent the first 18 months of his life in hospital. He was born with a rare genetic disease and his birth parents weren’t able to look after him.

So Michael went directly from being in hospital, to being in care – never experiencing what it was like to be part of a loving family. Thankfully, that changed when he met foster parents Amy and her husband Ben.

Here Amy explains just what a difference a loving home can make to a disabled child.

In my job as a school nurse, I’d worked with disabled children and I’d had contact with foster carers, and when I talked to them, I thought ‘I really want to do that!’ – Thankfully, so did my husband Ben.

Michael first came to us for weekend visits . Beforehand, we received paperwork about him that was very negative. It included the fact he was fed through a tube only and said that he wasn’t expected to ever walk or talk.

Many parents would have been put off and wouldn’t have felt able to offer a child like Michael a loving home. But we knew Scope would be there for Michael and for us every step of the way. And that gave us the confidence to go ahead.

“We’ve seen him flourish”

What struck me when I met Michael was what a smiley little boy he was. He was waving his hands up and down. I did the same. And when he stopped, I stopped – it was a really basic game but it showed me how keen Michael was to communicate if only someone took the time to play with him.

And of course, as part of our family, he’s had all of us playing with him. We’ve seen him flourish and show us who he really is. And he is someone with incredible determination.

We were told that Michael wouldn’t talk or walk. But we’ve learned that if anyone puts a barrier in front of Michael and says he isn’t going to do something, he’s going to break it.

He has developed in so many areas since being part of our family – walking, talking, eating. He’s also become really affectionate – blowing kisses, cuddling up to you and he likes to have you put your hand on his arm.

Michael has just fitted in with our family. Sometimes my difficulty is remembering that he’s fostered. He’s part of our family; he’s not any different.  And we’ve said to the girls, ‘You can call him your brother now’.

Fostering Michael has been more rewarding for the whole family than I could have imagined. And it has been a privilege to see him achieve so much.

Looking at Michael today, you wouldn’t know how far he’s come. He’s steady on his feet now and walks everywhere. I think he’s making up for lost time.

We went to the Lake District on holiday and Michael walked up a steep hill on his own. His confidence is growing every day. He’s becoming so independent – it’s amazing how far he’s come when I think back to the little boy we first met.

You are part of Michael’s story

Without the generosity of supporters like you, we couldn’t provide a specialist foster service and many more disabled children would still be looking for a loving family home.

As we start our work in 2016, your support is more important than ever. Some 40 per cent of children in care waiting for a permanent home are disabled.

Together, we can ensure more children find the loving homes they desperately need.