All posts by Alex White

Alex White is Scope's Information Content Manager.

“This child is spastic. Take her home.” – Disability History Month

Dr Lin Berwick MBE, counsellor, lecturer, journalist, broadcaster, homeopath, Methodist preacher is 66. She is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to the Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, Lin remembers how a doctor labelled her as ‘spastic’ and encouraged her parents to have another child. 

“This child is spastic. Take her home…”

When I went blind

Lin went to a school for physically disabled pupils. When she lost her sight, she was bullied.

“When I went blind, the kids at the school were really nasty and I went through some horrible jeering and bullying, and people laughing at me because I walked into things. You know, I went to walk through a door that had glass panels and, because I could see the light through I thought the door was open, and of course it wasn’t. I sort of smashed my face, and then I walked into a brick wall and things like that, and hit my face again and I had tripod sticks poked into, and walking sticks poked into my face and handfuls of mud rubbed into my face, and kids saying ‘Can you see that, then, Berwick?’ It was horrendous at a time when you’re really frightened, because you’ve now suddenly got a new disability which you don’t know how to handle.”

‘Telephonist required’

Lin Berwick on phone
Lin Berwick on phone

Finding a job was another barrier Lin had to face. 

“When I got to the bank, it was one of these banks with these horrible revolving doors, which wasn’t easy, going through on a pair of tripods. Eventually, I found my way into the bank, and made my way to the accountant’s office, and when he opened the door he, said, ‘Oh, I know they told me you were disabled’, he said,’ ‘but I didn’t realise you were that disabled, but you might as well come in and sit down anyway’, and I thought, ‘God, this is a really good start to your first job interview!’ But I thought, ‘Well, I’m here. I’ve got one chance, so I might as well really go for it’, and he took my mother around the bank, showed her some of the obstacles, and we came back into the office and we started to talk about the work, and he proceeded to ask my mother every single question about my training.”

Becoming a Methodist preacher

God's Rich Pattern: Meditations for when our Faith is Shaken
God’s Rich Pattern: Meditations for when our Faith is Shaken

Even in her spiritual life, Lin faced prejudice when she tried to follow her vocation and become a Methodist preacher.

“The Secretary of the meeting said, ‘I think we’re going to have a problem with you.’ I said, ‘Oh yes! Why’s that?’ ‘Well, due to your disability, I don’t know how you’ll cope with the public speaking,’ so I said, ‘Well, as someone who’s done over 300 radio broadcasts, I don’t think you’re going to have a problem.’ ‘Oh,’ and he said, ‘And I don’t know how you’ll cope with the academic study.’ I said, ‘Well, I have ‘O’ levels, and I have the equivalent of a degree in Psychology.’ He said, ‘Oh, you can learn then!’ and I thought, ‘God, if this is the kind of prejudice I’m going to get, this is just amazing stuff,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I can learn’ and he said, ‘And then we don’t know how you’ll cope with the access to the church buildings,’ and I said, ‘There, I’m prepared to admit you have a problem, but maybe together, we can work at it.’”

Listen to Lin’s life story on the Disability Voices website.

Books by Lin Berwick

Find out more about the Lin Berwick Trust.

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month

From callipers to climbing Ben Nevis – Disability History Month

Mountaineer and writer John Hawkridge is 68. He is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to the Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, John remembers when he could run as a child and how in later life he tackled Ben Nevis.

Wearing callipers

John as a boy sitting on a step
John as a boy sitting on a step

Unfortunately for me I got selected to be fitted with iron callipers. So all of a sudden you find yourself in leg irons, and you know from being able to run, they’ve put you in these leg irons, and you can hardly stand up, never mind run. And they put you in them, and they tighten all the leather straps on you when you’re in. You know, it’s basically, it’s just a form of torture; they’re just forcing your joints against what they want to do. And so, you find yourself, you might be wearing your callipers ‘x’ amount of hours a day. Now bearing in mind I could take these callipers off and run, and run, hop, skip and jump, that weren’t something that I enjoyed at all.

Climbing Ben Nevis

John Hawkridge
John Hawkridge

By seven o’clock I was out and away, and heading up Ben Nevis. Initially there was no one else about, and I had the route to myself, but as time progressed it wasn’t long before people started overtaking me. Throughout the day I made really steady and positive progress, and up through a place known as ‘the Red Burn’, and then the massive, steep zigzagging path that went to the sort of summit ridge, or plateau, and then finally across this, where there were still snow and an ice field to be crossed towards the summit, and I ended up, I arrived on the summit about four o’clock. There were a few people there, and one that stood out was an American chap who, when he saw me coming, started dancing up and down, shouting, ‘What the Hell? I’ve flogged my so-and-so guts out getting to the top of this mountain, and what do I find when I get here? A so-and-so cripple. You’ve ruined my day.’ At which he screwed his stars and stripes up, shoved it back in his rucksack, and stormed off muttering to himself; ‘And I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get back down again,’ and I leant over and shouted to him, ‘That makes two of us!’”

Hear about John’s descent of Ben Nevis with broken walking stick and boot.

Rock-climbing films

In the mid-1970s I’d bought a good-quality Super Eight Cine Camera and had made films of some of the walks that I’d done and rock climbs; the two walks which I’d filmed being the Three Peaks of Yorkshire and the Dales Way – a 100-mile walk from Ilkley to Bowness on Windermere, and also I had some quite good shots of me rock climbing at Ilkley and Brimham Rocks.

In the late seventies I had been showing these films at various places, you know, if I had to entertain anywhere I’d take along me Cine and compiled a film and showed these films. And the fact that I’d been doing these activities had come to the attention of Yorkshire Television who sent a producer/director out to see me, with a view to making a film, and I remember well as he watched this Cine film, an half-hour film that I’d put together, and when it had finished he says, ‘This is absolutely fantastic, this is absolutely brilliant,’ he said, ‘but unfortunately we could never show this or make a film about this, because the public wouldn’t be able to take it…’

Climbing Everest

Books by John Hawkridge

Uphill All The Way book cover
Uphill All The Way book cover

His first book Sticks and Stones was published in 1987. This was followed by Uphill All The Way in 1991.

Listen to John’s life story on the Disability Voices website.

Find out more about Disability History Month on our website.

My brother used to carry me on his back to school: Disability History Month

Alan Counsell is 79. He is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to the Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, Alan remembers his struggle to get an education and find a job:

Being carried to school

The Headmistress at the school had refused to take me, and my Grandmother was formidable, absolutely formidable, where I was concerned: and through that visit I got to go to school, with the rest of the family; and my brother, can you imagine this –  I thought nothing of it until I got older. I was five; my brother was about nine. He used to carry me on his back to school in the morning. Came for me during playtime, that means he carried me around because I couldn’t walk; carried me home at lunchtime, carried me back after school after lunch, and carried me back after school in the afternoon. That’s a bit much, you know, for a nine-year-old, to carry a five-year-old, and he did that every day and never complained.

I wanted to be a librarian

I wanted to be a librarian, and the careers officer Mr Jolly said, “No way, no way, could you ever do anything like that,” and what came back was a voice from the side, and that was the headmaster, who said, “Now then, how can you say that, because you don’t know our Alan: he can do whatever he wants.”

Working in a subnormality hospital

In the end, I got into trouble one day, big trouble, and I was absolutely furious because of my own experience. I couldn’t stop thinking that had the education authorities have had their way, when they said I was mentally defective, I could have ended up as a patient in that hospital; and that was a rather daunting thought: and they had a block, a ward, called ‘H Block’, and, you know, they had ABCD wards. H was a ward for low-grade patients; that meant their intelligence was very low, and they also had behaviour problems. Many of them had to be restrained for a time; every student had to do at least one month on H Block, and my first day there I just lost it. I went into orbit, oh, terrible. We had to feed the patients, and the staff on the ward got a main course and a dessert and mixed them both together, and fed it to the patients. I couldn’t do that. I kept thinking, ‘This could be me’, you know, ‘this could be me’. There’s no way I’d want my food like that: so I refused to do it…

Alan Counsell at desk
Alan Counsell at desk

In 1969, Alan became a teacher at Meldreth Manor School. He continues to have a keen interest in education, through visits to schools and through his writing and training.

Listen to Alan’s interview on the Disability Voices website.

Books by Alan Counsell

“All disabled women should be sterilised” – Disability History Month

Psychotherapist and writer Antonia Lister-Kaye is 85. She is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to The Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, Antonia looks back at how attitudes have changed to disability during her extraordinary life.  

I was kept in a chicken incubator!

Antonia with nanny
Antonia with nanny

My mother was a Christian Scientist, and she didn’t like doctors. I think it was explained to her that we must at least have a nurse. My father got a chicken incubator from his brother, who was a farmer, rushed to the house, and I never went to hospital. I was kept in a chicken incubator in my father’s study, and they did have this nurse, that was a compromise, but my mother didn’t see me for weeks and weeks, because she was quite ill. I don’t think she wanted me anyway. I know she didn’t, because she was only very young, and, you know, didn’t know much. She wouldn’t have had me if she’d known anything. But I think that’s how I came to be how I am.

“All disabled women should be sterilized.”

My mother-in-law was absolutely furious because I had a disability, and she thought it was genetic. A fortnight before my baby was born, she suddenly said, ‘Well, you know, personally, I think all disabled women should be sterilised.’

Teaching in a night school under Apartheid

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki

One of my students, for a short time, was Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa. He was a very clever man, and he was a very beautiful man, too. He was about 19, I suppose, when I taught him. We followed syllabuses from London External Examinations. You could do exams which were called ‘London External Degrees’, in those days, and we based our teaching on those. I taught History, and they were all mad keen to do the French Revolution and the feudal system, that was their two favourite topics… I think I only taught him for a short time, but there were equally interesting students, but he was the cleverest.

Hear more of Antonia’s experiences of the apartheid regime. 

Legalise cannabis campaign

Antonia smoking a joint in a Amsterdam cafe
Antonia smoking cannabis in Amsterdam

My naughty daughter, Frankie, used to get hold of cannabis; this was in the seventies, and bring it home and smoke it, so I said, ‘Oh hey, give us a go,’ and because I knew people who smoked cannabis in the fifties, in Hampstead, you know: well, they do everything in Hampstead, before they do it anywhere else, and so she gave me a joint, and I smoked it.

I did, I’m not a smoker, so I didn’t inhale properly, but I said, ‘God, Frankie, the pain’s dropping out of me fingertips,’ and so she said, ‘Oh Mum, isn’t that interesting? Have another one. I’ll roll you another one.’ … and after that, I read an article, in The Independent, written by somebody with MS, called Liz, who lived in Leeds, and she wrote about the marvelous effect of cannabis on her MS, so I thought, ‘God, I must find out more about this lady…’

Listen to Antonia’s life story on The Disability Voices website.

You can also buy Antonia’s memoir, Broccoli and Bloody Mindedness on Amazon. 

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month.

Tech4Good awards: inclusion means everyone’s a winner

The Tech4Good awards were created by the charity AbilityNet with the help of BT to highlight the empowering influence of digital technology – whether it’s at home, at work, in education.

There were lots of great ideas this year but here were some of my favourites that used technology to make the world a more accessible place for disabled people.


Visually impaired woman uses smartphone to navigate in station
Visually impaired woman uses smartphone to navigate in station

Accessibility Award winner Wayfindr is an audio-based, open source app that allows visually impaired people to navigate the world independently. It uses smartphone technology and offers directions for stations, hospitals and shopping centres. In the future the project aims to provide navigation wherever you are in the world!



OxSight have created ‘Smart Specs’, an augmented reality display system that allows people to regain a sense of independence. It helps make sense of the physical environment by simplifying the ambient light, translating it into shapes and shades so that people can discern physical objects and perceive depth.

The Great British Public Toilet Map

Toilet map on smartphone
Toilet map on smartphone

The NHS has estimated that 3-6 million people manage reduced continence due to medical or health reasons. Public toilets are a necessity, but with funding being cut, they can be difficult to locate, and are often not accessible. The Great British Public Toilet Map provide a database that allows you to filter results to suit you, including finding accessible toilets and baby changing.

South London Raspberry Jam

Inspired by his love of coding, and his Tourette’s Syndrome diagnosis at the age of seven, Femi Owolade-Coombes set up a crowdfunding campaign for an Autism and Tourette’s Syndrome friendly ‘South London Raspberry Jam’. As a result, Femi has introduced over 100 young people and their families to coding – all for free, and all at the age of just 10 years old.

AsthmaPi kit

But the overall winner of Tech4Good is aged just nine years old! Arnav Sharma has an aunt with asthma and set out to find out more about the condition and how he could use tech to help. Using Raspberry Pi, gas and dust sensors, Arnav’s AsthmaPi kit can help parents of children suffering from asthma. Using email and text message alerts, patients receive prompts to take medication and reminders for review visits.

Read more about the Tech4Good awards.

What is cerebral palsy?

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Scope helpline manager Veronica Lynch answers the most common questions she is asked about cerebral palsy, particularly the causes and effects of this condition.

Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition in which parts of the immature (up to age of 5 or 6 years) brain is injured or impaired. This injury generally affects muscles and balance and can result in a physical and/or sensory impairment. Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood disability affecting about one in 400 live births.

What are cerebral palsy symptoms?

The effects of cerebral palsy can range from extremely mild to profound with additional sensory or learning impairments. The condition is individual so no two people will be affected in the same way.

It’s impossible to give a list of symptoms as each person will be different. Doctors will generally look at any issues during pregnancy or at the time of birth, run neurological tests such as MRI scans (although a child could have cerebral palsy and this may not be depicted on an MRI) and observe the child as he or she develops. The average age for diagnosis is around 18 months to two years.

What is cerebral palsy caused by?

There could be a number of causes of cerebral palsy, such as an infection during pregnancy, oxygen starvation, failure for the brain to develop correctly. It is more common in twin or multiple births or in low birthweight and premature babies.

There is often no obvious cause. Recent research has shown there may be a genetic cause in about 14% of cases but more research is needed in this area.

Who does cerebral palsy affect?

Cerebral palsy can affect anyone although it is more common in boys than girls.

What is cerebral palsy life expectancy?

It’s possible for someone with severe cerebral palsy to have a shorter life expectancy either because the impairment to the brain is so severe that they do not survive to adulthood or because their posture and organs are affected causing respiratory or heart problems. However, in general, people with cerebral palsy will have the same life expectancy as anyone else. Read more about ageing and cerebral palsy.

We want to say a huge thank you to Veronica, who, after 26 years of working for Scope, is retiring at the end of March. Our helpline team especially will really miss her!

2015: a year in the life of Scope helpline

In 2015, the Scope helpline received over 17,000 telephone calls, 5,000 emails and responded to a huge variety of posts on Scope’s online community and social media networks.

People asked about all sorts of things relating to disability, from housing to Motability, from recycling disability equipment to taking part in sport. When we add views of our online help and information, we have supplied answers to over three quarters of a million requests in 2015. Continue reading 2015: a year in the life of Scope helpline

Disability services in Finland: a better life?

Recently Jean Merrilees returned from spending three months at a regional centre that assesses people for equipment in Finland, as part of her degree in Occupational Therapy at the University of Northampton. Having worked for Scope for a couple of decades, advising disabled people on a wide range of issues, it was a good chance to reflect on how disability services in Finland compare to those in the UK. Continue reading Disability services in Finland: a better life?

Self-publishing: How do I publish my book?

Following our In The Picture campaign to include disabled children in the books they read, Scope published children’s storybooks,  My Brother is an Astronaut and Haylee’s Friends.

As a result, we receive quite a few approaches from people wanting to publish books about their experiences of disability, either as a disabled person or family member.

Much as we might like to, we can’t become a mass publisher but we’d love to see your books get published! Here are some people we know who have done just that.

Brighton Face 2 Face parent befrienders

Brighton Face 2 Face parent befrienders with their Paperweights book
Brighton Face 2 Face parent befrienders with their Paperweights book

Parents and carers of disabled children in Brighton and Hove joined a creative writing group and have published an anthology of their moving poems and short stories.

Kate Ogden, who ran the group, says: “The woman on my course inspired me, impressed me and surprised me. I believe it was the first course of its kind for parent carers, and I really hope it wasn’t the last. We have dreams of taking this nationwide, and the group went from struggling to say things out loud to shouting from the rooftops: our stories must be told.”

Parent Tracy Harding agrees, “We came together as strangers with something in common: coping with our children’s diagnosis through every type of obstacles life put in our way. All of us felt the therapeutic effect that comes from listening to others’ stories. Deeply identifying with every personal story. Opening our hearts and feelings with complete strangers brought us so close. Even though the disabilities were so diverse among our group our experiences were all so similar. Our anthology shows evolution and the journey from acceptance to continuing progress.”

The collection, Paperweights, is available to buy at Waterstones in Brighton  for a donation of £5. All the money raised from the sale of the books will go to the Brighton Face 2 Face appeal.

Beaumont College: Creating Catpig

Disabled students from Beaumont College have written and illustrated a children’s book called The Adventures of Catpig.


Beaumont’s Lauren Blythe says: “We created the book by hand using various craft materials, then we scanned each page into a Word document. We then printed these flat pages out and went around each character with a permanent marker due to our lack of Photoshop technology. We then scanned in our hand-edited pages and pieced them together on a Word document. The next stage was to send this document to a printing service”

“We have been lucky enough to win a creative enterprise award, which we collected at a local awards ceremony. We also did a speech using a communication device to share with the public something new they might not have seen before.”

Contact if you would like to purchase a Catpig book, mug or shopping bag!

Crowdfunding for books

Here are some examples of books looking for funding:

Tips for aspiring authors

Helping with the extra costs of disability: our new money information hub

Following the Extra Costs Commission, a year-long independent inquiry into the extra costs faced by disabled people, we’ve been working with the Money Advice Service to develop the information on our website so it has a greater focus on the needs of disabled people as consumers.

The Extra Costs Commission found that disability-specific information can be hard to find on the web unless you know it exists. As a result, we’ve created a new area of our website to provide impartial money management and cost cutting advice to disabled people.

We hope that this new hub helps to filter useful information and that our online community offers a space for disabled consumers to share shopping experiences and tips.

Extra costs of disability

On average, life costs you £550 more a month if you’re disabled. These costs make it harder to save and increase the likelihood of falling into debt. Here’s how our new hub can help:

Managing your money

To help manage the extra costs of disability, here are a few positive steps you can take:

Bank accounts, credit cards and loans

As well as free and impartial money advice, our new money section features video guides on how to choose a bank account and access to online tools that can help you compare prices.

Savvy disabled consumers

We’ve also got money saving tips on a range of consumer issues, including:

Visit our money hub to find out more, or share your own money saving tips on our online community.