“Can I teach aerobics in a wheelchair? Yes, I can!” #Superhumans #Paralympics

Kris Saunders-Stowe is one of the stars of Channel 4’s new Paralympics TV advert. As the Superhumans return to an uplifting soundtrack of Sammy Davis Jr’s Yes, I Can, Kris talks about his passion for dance and how the Paralympics show the importance of focusing on what disabled people can achieve. 

My parents always encouraged me to try new things. I loved watching Come Dancing, which was primetime Saturday night viewing back then and my aunt and uncle were competitive ballroom and Latin American dancers.

I remember visiting my aunt and she would be surrounded by bags of sequins, netting and brightly coloured feathers, busily making costumes for their next competition.

I started learning ballroom and Latin American dance when I was seven. I was hooked – progressing through all the levels to ‘gold bar’ – my teacher thought I had potential and wanted to coach me to become a professional dancer.

But sadly outside the studio things were not as positive.

My mother, proud of my achievements, sent me to school loaded with my medals and certificates, and I’d be called up on stage during assembly to share my success.

The intentions were good, but I became the odd one out. I ended up being bullied quite badly, which changed me and how I saw myself. So I gave up dance in a bid to stop it, but the bullying carried on throughout my school life.

I’ve often wondered what my life would be like if I’d carried on dancing. But as my health deteriorated and I lost most of the function in my legs due to a progressive degenerative condition, the idea of dancing again faded away.

Using a wheelchair it felt like I was taking back control

When I started using a wheelchair it felt like I was taking back control and regaining my independence. I became a fitness instructor and I was able to enjoy music and rhythm again through teaching aerobics. I learnt wheelchair dance and qualified as an instructor through the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association.

A few months ago, I was invited to audition for a part as a wheelchair dancer in an advert. I found out after the auditions that I’d been chosen to be part of Channel 4’s Paralympics advert, which was fantastic.Kris holding his dance partner aloft

The experience has reignited my passion for dance and opened up further opportunities to do so. I let the bullying end my dreams of dancing and when I first became disabled I felt like I ‘couldn’t’ dance, but now I can because of my disability. I met many new friends through working on the ad, there was a great mix of personalities and we share being part of something iconic.

Yes I Can

Kris-Florence3The ad for London 2012, which was created by the same director, was dynamic and punchy, conveying the passion, drive and commitment of Paralympians. This year’s will share those qualities, but it also features disabled people, not just Paralympians, doing a wider range of sports, playing music and other activities. It sends a simple message to everyone who thinks or is told they can’t do something: Yes I Can.
When I work with disabled clients as a fitness instructor, I always focus on what people can do rather than what they can’t. I believe we all have the ability to do anything we want in life. Often we can lack confidence in ourselves and so when someone tells us we can’t do something we accept they are right and never achieve our full potential. Yet if we truly believe in ourselves and are encouraged to explore we can change those ideas and perceptions.

When I began my career as a fitness instructor, I attended a course to become an aerobics instructor. The course tutor assumed that because I’m a wheelchair user I wouldn’t be able to fulfil the course criteria, she said I “should be on a special course”. It’s fair to say I proved her wrong, my main career is as an aerobics instructor and I work to challenge people’s perceptions of what disabled people can achieve. Can I teach aerobics in a wheelchair? Yes I can!

It’s human nature to pigeonhole people based on first impressions. But disability comes in so many shapes and forms, visible and invisible that no one person can be considered the same. The same is true for people who aren’t disabled. We’re all the same because we’re all uniquely different.

Kris on set of the Channel 4 advert
Kris on set of the Channel 4 advert

Too many people look at the impairment, at what they think or assume someone can’t do, rather than what they can do. One of the things I like about Channel 4’s new ad is that it shows what disabled people are capable of, not just on a Paralympian level, but as people taking part in everyday activities that lead to a healthier, enjoyable and more independent life.

What do you think of Channel 4’s Superhumans ad? Tweet your response using the hashtag #Superhumans. 

 

Scope for Change: “Campaigning is a marathon, not a sprint”

Scope for Change, our training programme for campaigners, is supporting a group of disabled people to launch their own campaigns.  To help them on their way, we invited Kajal Odedra from Change.org and Lucy Ann Holmes from No More Page 3 to share their campaigning experiences and expertise.  

“Campaigning is a marathon, not a sprint”

This was one of the key messages which emerged from a training session on Saturday 9 July  when disabled  campaigners involved with Scope for Change came back together for the first time since their residential training weekend in early April.

Seb, a Scope for Change campaigner laughing
Seb, a Scope for Change campaigner

Since the training weekend, the campaigners have been developing their strategies, tactics, and creating change through their exciting campaigns.

The campaigners taking part in the programme come from all over the country and are aged between 18 and 25 with a wide range of impairments.

Coming from a variety of background with varying degrees of campaigning experience, the campaigners are focusing on very different issues and are using different methods to achieve their goals.

The training day was to give everyone the opportunity to meet up, compare their campaigns and share their experiences.

Diverse campaigns for a diverse community

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Kajal and the Scope for Change group

There are nearly 12 million disabled people in the UK.  The Scope for Change group reflects that diversity within the disabled community. Some of the group are focusing their campaigns on making train transport more accessible, while others want to raise awareness of hidden impairments.

A number of the campaigners are working together on a campaign to end domestic and sexual violence against disabled women. Other campaigners are focusing on making museums more accessible to people with autism, making wildlife reserves more accessible and improving access to gyms for disabled people.

Many of the campaigns have a very local focus, as the campaigners want to play role in improving their own communities.

A packed agenda

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Kajal presenting

We had a full agenda with presentations from Kajal Odedra from Change.org who spoke about building your campaign support.  Lucy Ann Holmes from No More Page 3 gave her own personal story of running a campaign and discussed the various challenges she faced.

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Richard from Scope and Lucy from No More Page 3 presenting

Other workshops covered areas such as the importance of robust research to help your campaign succeed and advice on fundraising techniques, as well as advice on how to sell your campaign to the media.

Jack Welch, who’s running a campaign to make museums more accessible, told us how he was going to use some of the more practical advice:

“It was brilliant to have some of the most experienced and prolific figures in the campaigning circuit. What especially struck me was that the more authentic and connected you were to your cause, the greater chance it is to be successful. For me, I’ll personally have to take Lucy’s advice that doing too much in such a short space of time can quickly exhaust you – the impact will be much better if you spread your efforts over an extended time frame. ”

Sarah Troke had been following  Lucy’s No More Page 3 campaign from the start, and thought it was really useful to hear about her positive and negative experiences first hand: “It was really inspirational to hear from someone who had succeeded on such a big campaign, but was also important to hear how she learnt to be realistic and how to deal with ‘campaign burnout'”.

A strong support network

It was great to catch up with everyone and see the progress they have made with their campaigns. It was wonderful to hear the campaigners talk about how being part of the Scope for Change programme has given them the confidence to speak publicly about their impairments for the first time, and explain the impact this had on their lives. Being able to share their experiences has strengthened their resolve to address the negative attitudes and discrimination that affect them and other disabled people.

The campaigners are working hard to improve the lives of other disabled people, including those who may not be able to campaign on their own behalf. Many of them have said that being part of the Scope for Change community has given them a sense of solidarity with other disabled people and boosted their confidence. No longer feeling like they are working alone, the campaigners are part of a group that is struggling for equality and for the same life opportunities that so many of their peers can take for granted.

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Scope for Change campaigners

This is the first time Scope has run this type of training programme. We will be working closely with the current group of campaigners to plan for the next stage for the programme in 2017.  We want to improve upon what has been achieved this year so watch out for applications to open for the next Scope for Change.