All posts by Hayley Tomkinson

I'm in the Stories team at Scope.

How it feels to experience endless harassment, just because you look different

Chris has dwarfism and experiences regular harassment. For Hate Crime Awareness Week, read his blog about the effect this had on him and why he’s keen to change attitudes.

A lot of people still think it’s socially acceptable to mock and effectively dehumanise people with dwarfism. For me, the physical side doesn’t get me down, it’s the attitudes that other people have towards it. There’s still a big stigma around dwarfism and the way we’re portrayed as freaks.

Experiencing harassment at work

I worked at a local pub for a few years. At first, I mostly did night shifts and of course people are drinking, and I was specifically targeted. I’ve had people run up behind me and try to pick me up, people patting me on the head, talking to me randomly about really personal and inappropriate things. People even take photos or film me, purely just to portray me as being different.

It got to a point where I had a breakdown and told my family and my managers at work about it. They were very understanding and agreed that I should do more day shifts instead. It’s a lot better. It’s nice to be able to just get on with your job without constantly feeling paranoid.

Chris arms folded, in front of a garden

The effect of endless harassment

Endless harassment can create paranoia. You just constantly feel paranoid if there’s someone behind you or if someone’s got their phone out, are they going to take a photo of me? And it’s the principle behind it – that they’re going to share it on social media as a joke.

Because I’ve been experiencing it for a long time it can be difficult when I’m in certain environments not to be too self-conscious. For some people, it can lead to depression and even suicide.

Comments and insults can be more damaging than physical assault, certainly for me – it’s just that concept of feeling excluded from society. It also affects my confidence when it comes to working and dating.

Changing attitudes

Through animation, I re-created some of the worst things that I’ve personally experienced. I hope it will raise awareness and change perceptions. I want to put this kind of harassment on the same grounds of nonacceptance that racism is.

I also want to challenge the dehumanising ideas about what disabled people shouldn’t and shouldn’t do. I think education is key to changing attitudes. One day I hope I can walk down the street and nobody cares about my height.

If you have a story that you’d like to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team.

Why you should run the Royal Parks Half – from someone who’s done it!

When keen runner Chris lost his leg in a motorbike accident he was determined to keep running. Last year he ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon for Scope and in this blog, he tells us why it’s such an amazing experience.

Getting back into running was a long journey. One of the first books I read after the amputation was Chris Moon’s autobiography. It got me excited about the possibility of running again!

The training does takes longer but don’t let that stop you. Get in touch with other people with a similar impairment and find out what’s possible. I learned that the right prosthetic makes all the difference. The first time I tried a pylon prosthetic I was dubious but we went to the running track, fitted the leg and I broke my para-athlete 400 meter record within about 10 minutes!

The Royal Parks is such a beautiful route

Last year I did the Royal Parks for Scope. I love those parks and used to train in them when I worked in Central London. It was good to go back. Despite losing my leg, I haven’t changed inside. I’m still the same person, life goes on and it can be as enjoyable. It’s just a new normal. I like to challenge myself and I’m always thinking “what can I take on next?”

It really is a beautiful run and the autumn weather was perfect – a beautiful, still, chilly morning with glorious sun rising over the trees. It took a while to get going because of the number of runners but once I got going, I relaxed and settled into a nice rhythm past Buckingham Palace. As well as the parks, you pass so many amazing London landmarks. They were familiar to me from years working in Central London offices and running at lunchtimes. Memories flooded back.

All the support spurs you on

With my right leg doing all the work I find uphill gradients take their toll so I eased up a little. Then I spotted the Scope supporters at their cheer spot and exchange shouts with them which spurred me on! I had my name printed on my vest and get lots of personal encouragement. At the halfway point, I saw that I had three minutes in hand, so I was feeling pretty good!

Just after 10 miles a runner suddenly brakes in front of me and I lose my footing. I almost save myself but eventually lose it and fall heavily on my right knee and forearm. Many hands lift me to my feet – I think I’m okay and I walk for about a minute, testing my body. There are lots of concerned spectators and runners who call to me. The camaraderie is great.

It’s less than a straight mile to the finish. I push myself and enjoy the cheering of the crowds for the last few hundred metres to the finish banner. And there is my wife, Denise, with that big smile, just past the finish line.

We called in at the Scope tent to see our friend Nicola Gale in the events team and then it was time to tackle the journey home to a long, hot bath and an even longer nap. Thanks to everyone’s support I raised £668 for Scope, beating my fundraising target of £300 and I beat my time target of 2 hours too! It was an amazing experience. If you’re thinking about doing it, don’t hesitate to sign up with Scope!

13.1 miles. 4 Royal Parks. 1 Team Scope. Get your Royal Parks 2018 place with Scope today.

My message to employers: disability is not a weakness

Azar lives in London and wants to work in the financial markets as a currency trader. He’s well on his way, with a 2:1 in business management, but he feels that attitudes need to change if he’s going to be successful.

Past job interviews didn’t go well – employers would focus on his impairment which made him feel uncomfortable and lose confidence. He’s supporting our Work With Me campaign to ensure that employers see beyond disability and focus on his strengths.

I have cerebral palsy which affects my right side and movement. It’s not immediately noticeable but there are small things that could make a big difference for me in the workplace. For example, I can’t type, so I use software programmes where I speak and it automatically writes down what I’m saying.

I found it really hard looking for work. I always tried to hide my impairment but during interviews employers would ask “Do you have a disability? How will you be able to do the job?” which made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to answer it.

I felt like the odds were stacked against me

Getting rejected again and again, you feel like it’s because of your impairment and that made me want to give up. I couldn’t explain cerebral palsy confidently and it made me feel like it was more of a weakness than I strength. I had all the skills but I felt like I was being judged. It seemed like employers were thinking there will be other people who aren’t disabled who can do the job better.

Work With Me

There’s a lack of awareness and understanding. I feel like employers don’t know how to adapt to disabled people’s needs, they just don’t think about it. Companies should be open about starting conversations in a way that’s not off putting. Their attitude should be “If you have an impairment we’re going to provide you the support you need to prosper in this role.”

A million disabled people can and want to work, but they’re not being given the opportunities. I think campaigns like Work With Me can have an impact by helping more disabled people get in to work and show what they can do. Work With Me can also educate employers about what they can do to improve and show them that it’s not about disability, it’s about competency.

Scope storyteller, Azar, holds up a placard which says #WorkWithMe
Azar is supporting Scope and Virgin Media’s new employment campaign, Work With Me

My advice to others

Knowing that there’s a million disabled people who, like me, want to work but aren’t being given the chance, makes me feel so frustrated. It makes me more determined to prove to employers that disability isn’t a weakness. My advice to other disabled people looking for work is use your strengths and show employers that disability doesn’t define you – you can defy the odds.

I feel more confident taking about my impairment now and what I need to prosper in a company. I feel more sure of myself and my skills. To all the employers who are put off by disability I want to say: don’t judge me by my impairment, judge me on my skills and my experience, look at my track record. Cerebral palsy is not a weakness and with the right adjustments I can succeed.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.

I was told “We don’t have any jobs for people like you”

Marie is a college tutor from Milton Keynes. Although her current job is ideal, she’s experienced barriers and negative attitudes in the past, including the time she was told ‘not to bother’ working. She passionately believes that everyone should be given a chance and is supporting our Work With Me campaign to make that a reality.

I’ve got osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones. It means my bones can break easily so I use wheelchair, I can’t stand or walk. The condition can make me very tired and there are nights when I can’t sleep at all so it would be difficult to do a typical 9 to 5 job.

My current employer is understanding of my needs and the job I have is so flexible. I’m able to work from home which suits me perfectly. If I can’t pick up work on a certain day, they’ll email it across or agree a different time for me to collect it. But it hasn’t always been so easy.

“We don’t have anything for people like you”

When I finished my degree in Health and Social Care in 2011 I didn’t have a lot of luck finding a job. I went to the Job Centre for support and their attitude was pretty much “Why do you want to work? We don’t have anything for people like you.” There was no help or aspiration.

Being told not to bother working it made me feel angry and upset. I’d spent so many years studying, I’d put everything into my degree, I’d worked in the past and I wanted to progress. It made me feel worthless, like I couldn’t contribute towards society like anyone else. It was frustrating.

I decided not to put that I was disabled on my CV because I felt like I wouldn’t get an interview. I often managed to get interviews but when I turned up I could tell by people’s reactions that I wasn’t going to get that job. I think it was largely because they didn’t understand my impairment and didn’t want to take the chance.

If you’re disabled, it can be difficult to progress in your career too. I’ve had many different jobs and at times I felt like I was being treated like a child because employers didn’t allow me to use my skills and knowledge. I ended up leaving one job. If people aren’t going to accept me for who I am and what I can do, why stay?

The things that people say to you never go away. There have been times where bad attitudes have made me feel like “What’s the point in working?” I just wanted to find an employer who would give me a chance, like anyone else would be given a chance.

A disabled woman, Marie, holds up a placard which says #WorkWithMe
Marie supports Scope and Virgin Media’s new employment campaign, Work With Me

Work With Me

Knowing that there’s a million disabled people out there who want to work but are being denied the opportunity, it makes me angry because everybody should be given an opportunity. We all want to contribute to society.

I think a lot of employers don’t want to hire a disabled person because they don’t understand disability and they just want the ‘perfect’ person. So, the way to change negative attitudes is for those of us who are disabled to prove them wrong. To show that we can do it, and it doesn’t matter if we use a wheelchair or we’re visually impaired – with the right support, it doesn’t affect your ability to work.

My advice to employers is just give someone a chance and think about what they can do, not what they can’t do. When I got my current job, the feedback was really positive. The interviewers said that I was confident, I clearly knew the subject and I had all the skills. Why can’t all employers be like this?

People shouldn’t be put into a box. Some people can’t work, but that’s not the reality for many disabled people. That’s why I’m supporting Work With Me. I think this campaign is going to open people’s eyes. Unless you see stories out there, people won’t know what’s possible.

Please join me and help change the future of employment for disabled people.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.

Don’t focus on my impairment, ask me what I can bring to the role

After graduating from university, Lauren embarked on a long and difficult journey to find a job.  In support of our new campaign, Work With Me, she spoke to us about the barriers she faced and gives some advice to disabled people who are still searching for a job.

When I graduated with a good degree and lots of volunteering experience, I thought I would find a job pretty quickly. Instead, I applied for over 250 jobs in a variety of roles but I only got interviews about 5% of the time. I said that I was visually impaired on my applications and my CV. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and I wanted to be open from the start.

Scope’s new research found that when applying for jobs only 51% of disabled applications result in an interview compared with 69% for non-disabled applicants. So it’s not just me. When I did get interviews, they didn’t ask the questions I expected.  They were more focused on my impairment than what I could bring to the role. I feel like people underestimated what I could do because I was blind.

Again, Scope’s research shows that this feeling is shared by many disabled people. Over a third (37%) of respondents who don’t feel confident in getting a job believe employers won’t hire them because of their impairment or condition. Towards the end of my job hunt I wanted to give up. I just didn’t think I was ever going to get a job. I knew I could do it but by the end it I was like “Can I?”

Eventually I was given a chance, and my employer was supportive right from the start. I want to see that happen for more disabled people. Latest Government figures show there are one million disabled people in the UK who can and want to work but are currently unemployed. It’s really unfair.

Change is possible

Disabled people face barriers left, right and centre. I want to contribute just as much as anyone else – and I can.  Having the right equipment ensures that I can do my job as well as my sighted colleagues and that’s provided through Access to Work. It doesn’t cost my employer anything.

Attitudes need to change. Employers often focus on limitations rather than the unique advantages that disabled employees can bring. For example, we’re incredible problem solvers because we have to be. All we want is to be given a chance. That’s why I’m supporting Scope and Virgin Media’s new campaign – Work With Me. I hope you will join me.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.

If you’re disabled, finding a job can be a difficult and disappointing experience – help us change that

Josh is 32 and lives in London. He is supporting Scope and Virgin Media‘s new campaign Work With Me, which aims to bring about real change, to ensure that disabled people who can and want to work, are given the same opportunities as everyone else. 

I graduated with a degree in Politics and International Relations in 2011, then I moved back to London and primarily looked for jobs in public administration. I’ve had a lot of voluntary opportunities but only two paid jobs.

I suppose, like many disabled people, I’ve found it difficult to go through the traditional channels. I’ve done countless interviews and applications but only had probably one or two interview opportunities from that. I think a lot of my work experience has been down to sheer perseverance.

I feel like the whole process of finding work and applying for jobs is so stressful for disabled people. There were days when it was terrible. You’re just sending loads and loads of messages but getting no response other than the standard email just sent by the system.

Scope’s new research found that when applying for jobs only 51% of disabled applications result in an interview compared with 69% for non-disabled applicants. Also on average, disabled people apply for 60% more jobs than non-disabled people when searching for a job. For me, it’s been a really difficult and disappointing experience.

Barriers to work

Behind any possible opportunity that I might get, there are always considerations that non-disabled people don’t have to concern themselves with. I’m always looking for opportunities but those opportunities need to physically work for me and there don’t seem to be many of them. I felt really supported in my last job but one of the reasons I left was that the travel was just impossible.

Support from the Jobcentre doesn’t really work for disabled people because it’s a very standard process, they’re not offering bespoke support. Sometimes you go to these places and their advice is just to do things that you’re already doing. Most of the time I made my way there for a face-to-face appointment and they would just ask, “How is your job search going?”  – just the basic questions.

The disability advisor in one Jobcentre was so good but that support wasn’t available in every Jobcentre. It just seems to be luck whether you get one. Having someone who could look at things from my point of view really helped. Sometimes, it was just having somebody to actually talk to who understood.

Attitudes can be a barrier too. Scope’s new research found that over a third (37%) of respondents who don’t feel confident in getting a job believe employers won’t hire them because of their impairment or condition.

Personally, I’ve felt quite intimidated bringing up my adjustment needs with potential employers because you just think “Well, if they find somebody who can do the typical 9-5, they’ll go for them.”

Work With Me

The latest Government figures show there are one million disabled people in the UK who want to work but are currently unemployed. I think that’s a real scandal and a real loss of potential.

That’s why I’m supporting Work With Me – a three-year initiative by Scope and Virgin Media which aims to understand and tackle the barriers disabled people face getting into and staying in work.

The campaign is inviting members of the public, employers and Government to work together to address these issues more quickly. So join me in supporting this campaign to ensure that disabled people who can and want to work aren’t denied the opportunity any longer.

Be part of making change happen, find out more on our website and share #WorkWithMe on your social media networks.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people. 

People treated me differently when I became disabled

Hannah is a 26-year-old part time student and also enjoys fundraising when she is up to it. She became disabled at 14 and, in this blog, she talks about how her experiences changed when she started using a wheelchair.

I was healthy and fine until I was 14. Then I had an ankle injury and from that I developed complex regional pain syndrome. My mobility deteriorated. I went from walking with crutches to needing a wheelchair and about a year after my injury, I was totally bed-bound. I spent 4 years in hospital and 18 months in a neurological centre. I also have hyper-mobility syndrome, dystonia, arthritis in my hip, osteoporosis and a plated femur. I came home with a 24-hour nurse and carer. I still use a wheelchair and I have an accessible car which has been good. I have more independence again. I can get to specialists and do things in the community.

People’s attitudes changed when I became disabled

In June my old school was doing a TEDx conference and they asked me to tell my story. I spoke about raising money for Starlight Children’s Foundation because they granted my wish in 2013 to go on holiday – I wanted to help them to raise money to grant other children’s wishes. I also spoke about how people changed when I became disabled.

One of my closing comments was “Next time you speak to a disabled person, try to look beyond their disability, they are just like you”. I was basically talking about how people used to see me as ‘one of them’ but now, because I’m disabled, they see me differently. I’m still the same person. It’s just that my legs and a few other things don’t work.

Some people were unsure of how to act around me. I thought if I was walking in here you wouldn’t act differently, so why are you doing that now that I use a wheelchair? It’s strange to think that people treat me differently, just because I’ve gone from standing up to sitting in a wheelchair.

Hannah smiling in her wheelchair in front of her sofa at home
Hannah sitting in her living room

Some people speak to my mum instead of me

Often people do avoid talking to me. If I’m in a supermarket and ask someone “Can you tell me where this is?” they give the answer to my mum. I don’t understand that. If a non-wheelchair user asked a question, you wouldn’t give the answer to someone else.

Whilst I was with my mum at the checkout of the supermarket helping put the groceries into the bags, it came to paying. I retrieved my debit card out of my purse and put it in the machine. I requested cashback and then typed in my pin. I took my card out and awaited my cashback. Which the checkout assistant then gave to Mum with the receipt. I paid the bill and Mum got the cashback. I’m not sure how that works?

Once when I was out with my mum, someone asked her ‘Can she speak?’ – meaning me. My mum, a bit taken aback, quickly replied “Why don’t you ask her!” I think people are afraid of saying the wrong thing but saying something is better than saying nothing.

Hannah smiling in the garden holding her TED talks programme
Hannah in the garden

People treat me like I’m just a wheelchair

Once, at a craft exhibition, it was crowded so a lady just stepped across me and held on to my armrest just to support herself. She said “oh sorry” when she realised what she was doing and I thought “don’t say sorry – just don’t do it.” That happens quite a lot. At the same exhibition a lady put her shopping bags on my feet. Which was actually really painful. I’m not some sort of stand for you to put your bags on!

People often lean over you or stand in front of you, which they wouldn’t to anyone else. Some people even switch my wheelchair off and move my wheelchair too. That’s really annoying. I wouldn’t go and switch off your car.

I often get asked personal questions

We went to go see a house to see if it would be suitable for me and the Estate Agent said to me “So what do you think of the house?” then their next question was “So what’s wrong with you?” then “Will you ever walk again?” – I’d never met her before! That’s literally your first question to me?

It’s so damaging. It’s different if people volunteer the information or if you know someone really well. I get that they might be interested but it’s very personal information. Especially someone you’ve never met before. They can walk away and just carry on with their life with no extra thought about it and you are left feeling deflated, reminded of the reality you are living in.

You look well so you must be fine

There are times when people have said “Oh you look wonderful” and I’m like “Well we’ve been up since 7 am getting ready”. I like to look smart and presentable but sometimes it gives the wrong impression.

People say “You must be fine if you’ve managed to do all that.” It makes it harder for people to understand. But we shouldn’t have to change our lives to fit into someone’s idea of what a disabled person should look like.

Everyday equality

People should think of disabled people like any other human being. We’re the same, it’s just that we have extra difficulties to face in life. Talk to them like you would anyone else and don’t make assumptions about what they can and can’t do.

You can watch Hannah’s TED talk on YouTube.

If you have a story you’d like to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team.

My advice to anyone with a hidden impairment

Alex has worked for West Yorkshire Police since 2006, where she first joined as a Police Community Support Officer. She was diagnosed with Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia in 2014. Alex is involved with the Positive Role Model Programme, a West Yorkshire Police initiative to encourage more people to be open about disability. The message is “It’s okay to be you” and in this blog, Alex shares her story.

Before joining the Police I had lots of ideas of what I wanted to do as a career, but I never seemed to be able to focus on any one single pathway.  I struggled at school in all things academic, especially Maths, but nothing was ever flagged up.

Hidden impairments were not really known about in mainstream schooling. I think it was partially due to excelling in my social abilities. My reports always said ‘Alex is a cheerful, chatty person, a delight to have in class, very sociable’, coupled with ‘but she could try a little harder, she needs to concentrate more’.

When I was diagnosed a massive weight was lifted

When I was diagnosed in 2014 with Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia a massive weight was lifted. I am not stupid, I do not need to concentrate more. I am already concentrating much more than most people on the simplest of tasks. I also realised I had to stay away from anything to do with numbers if I wanted a stress free life.

I once had a job as an Assistant Manager of a high street shop. Most of the time I was good at it until it came to cashing up the tills at night – nightmare! It was so stressful and I assumed I must be really stupid to get things wrong time after time. Thankfully, my personality has always kept me going even if sometimes I feel I am going to crack. Now that I know I have Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia I can give myself a bit of a break from being ultra-hard on myself and ultra-critical of my mistakes.

Alex laughing, with a park in the background

Fighting to succeed

In a way, not being diagnosed earlier made me the person I am today who works hard to achieve everything I want at work and at home. I am driven, confident and sorely honest with myself. My conditions do not disable me but they do challenge me and I am up for a challenge in any form. It is this drive to succeed at everything I do that keeps me fighting to stay at work.

In my 11 years in the Police, I’ve had several roles and I am currently in a dream position at the Regional Scientific Support Service, training to become a Fingerprint Identification Officer. This is my biggest challenge to date and my Dyspraxia is really putting up a fight with the capabilities required for the position. But I have had this battle before and it hasn’t stopped me succeeding!

We need to think about reasonable adjustments

The assessment did get me thinking: why make a person with Dyscalculia (someone with no natural ability with numbers) do a Maths based test? Is that not setting them up to potentially fail? I fully acknowledge the need to assess people’s skills and resilience – especially in jobs like the Police – but I feel the current methods of assessment do not match our modern day understanding of disability. I think assessments could be more reasonably adjusted – impairments are much more complex than requiring a bit of extra time.

I think the recruitment process has moved forward with the introduction of a presentation as it’s another means of demonstrating a specific skill. These are much more relevant than demonstrating you can work out percentages.

Woman smiling inside an office

My advice for anyone with a hidden impairment

Some people feel like they want to hide the fact they have an impairment but I almost want to shout it from the rooftops. It validates me, my quirks and my frustrations. It means that people know to give me that little extra time and patience and afford me the right to get things wrong more often than is considered ‘normal’.

I would say to anyone with a hidden impairment: be open, be honest, be confident, be adaptable! Life is challenging enough without a hidden impairment and in coping with both you already have one up on the rest of them.

If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with the stories team.

Read more experiences of having a hidden impairment.

I wish I could just ring up an insurance company and get a quote like everybody else!

Disabled people often struggle to access affordable insurance. Our research shows that 26 per cent of disabled adults feel they have been charged more for insurance or denied cover altogether because of their impairment or condition. Actress and disability campaigner Samantha Renke, who has brittle bones, shares her experiences.

Whenever I go abroad, travel insurance is always an issue. Given the nature of my impairment, and the high cost of wheelchairs, I wouldn’t dare go on holiday without it. Unfortunately, the lengthy process and the extortionate costs are something else.

Companies ask me the most intrusive questions

When I phone up to buy insurance, I have to go through a 30 to 40 minute interview. They’re not medical professionals at the end of the line but they probe into my health: Are you suicidal? Are you on medication? Have you had operations?

It’s such a lengthy process. You feel anxious. You feel interrogated. It really infuriates me because non-disabled people don’t have to disclose their mental state. Non-disabled people don’t have to disclose how much alcohol they’re going to consume. Why should disabled people be interrogated?

With brittle bones I get asked if I have scoliosis, a condition where the spine twists and curves to the side. My spine has been straightened and there is no issue, but this isn’t taken into consideration.

Black and white profile shot of Sam Renke smiling
Samantha is supporting our campaign for better access to insurance

My travel insurance is almost as much as my flights

Then the final quote I receive is through the roof. When I went to Mexico for two weeks the quote came out at nearly £500, which was nearly as much as my flights.

I’ve always been able to find a way to pay the extortionate cost for travel insurance, but I know a lot of people wouldn’t manage.  I wouldn’t go on holiday otherwise – I just wouldn’t risk it.

Ironically, I tend to be more vigilant on holiday

The irony is, with me having brittle bones, I’m not going to get on a jet ski! Disabled people on holiday are more likely to be hyper-vigilant because you’re not in your comfort zone.

I think attitudes towards seeing disabled people as ‘high risk’ needs to stop. Anyone can have accidents on holiday, anyone could die on holiday. What’s the justification for the high prices?

Hopefully things will change and disabled people will be able to ring up any old insurance company and get a quote like everybody else!

Join us in calling for better access to insurance for disabled people. Find out more about the campaign and how you can get involved.

We want to find out more about disabled people’s experiences of purchasing insurance. Please get in touch to share your story.

A challenge that reminds us what equality is really all about

Because of her particular impairments, cycling was not an activity Emma had ever considered, until her “super-sporty” colleague and friend Paula proposed that they should ride together in their firm’s annual networking cycling event. In this blog they talk about preparing for the event and their experiences of the day.

Do you fancy coming on a bike ride – I’ll pedal!?

Paula: I enjoy being active.   I am curious to test my limits. I am not a great athlete by any stretch of the imagination – far from it. I do however wholeheartedly buy into the mind-set that anything is possible with committed training.  Over the years, I have cycled London 2 Paris in 24 hours, completed multiple Ironman Triathlons and taken part in Race Around Ireland.

The other great love of my life is friendship. I cherish my friends.  I find their company restorative, life-affirming and joyful.  Emma is my friend and my colleague. When this year’s Leigh Day (the law firm I work for) cycle ride was announced I saw an opportunity to invite my colleague Emma into what I assumed was an unexplored part of the world for her – and because I enjoy cycling so much I just assumed she would too!

I  searched the internet for adapted bikes and was heartened to see so many different varieties. It was clear to me that the means were available – all I had to do next was check whether the appetite was there. Interestingly this presented me with the most significant challenge: how to ask Emma if she fancied joining me on the ride. It sounds so daft now to read that but it is true. I had no idea if my idea would be well received, or come across as insensitive, neither  did I know if  my research into adapted bikes would be seen as patronising. The last thing I wanted to do was cause offence.

Emma wrote an excellent blog about disability and awkward conversations.  So reassured with what I knew Emma thought about starting the conversation, I decided to park my discomfort and simply asked “Do you fancy coming on a bike ride – I will pedal!?”

Paula and Emma on the bike from behind, with other cyclists on the route
Paula and Emma on a trike with cyclists on the road around them

Overcoming challenges

Emma: It actually took a while for me to take the idea seriously! The first challenge was practical – how to find a suitable bike. Leigh Day put us in touch with Wheels for Wellbeing, a fantastic charity which works to remove barriers to cycling for disabled people. On our visit to try out the bikes, the link between wheels and wellbeing was very apparent on the faces of the people riding around the hall. There were people with a variety of imapirments and on a variety of bikes. We opted for a side-by-side tricycle (think Two Fat Ladies, but without the motor). For me this had the advantage of proper seats, so no saddle to feel precarious on, and a design that allowed for only one person to pedal.

The second hurdle – increasingly challenging as the day approached – was to sit with my fear of the ride and not chicken out. A corollary of being disabled is that you have to consciously build whatever measure of independence you can achieve, constructing your comfort zone almost brick by brick. So the prospect of abandoning the freedom and safety of (in this case) my car to effectively get on someone else’s bike was daunting. This mostly manifested itself as fear of accident and catastrophic injury, not because I had any doubts about Paula’s skill as a cyclist (she recently cycle-raced round the entire coast of Ireland!) but because we would be at the mercy of other road users without any protective shell. And more fundamentally, as a passenger, I would not be in control.

Paula and Emma mid race on their adapted bike
Paula and Emma mid race on their adapted trike

I look back on it as a day like no other

The day of the ride was blessed by sunny skies and a refreshing breeze. We were joined by our friend and fellow employment lawyer Tom Brown, who took turns with Paula on the 55kg trike. As the rest of the cyclists took off on their longer routes, we turned off onto our tailor-made route, only to discover later that we had done the whole thing backwards. The beauty of the Warwickshire landscape was a revelation, as was the universally kind reaction of all the people we encountered during the ride including all the drivers that got stuck behind us (this has made me reflect on my own habitual impatience behind the wheel!).

Now, after the event and still in one piece, I look back on it as a day like no other – a day of adventure, laughter, camaraderie and experiencing the countryside in a new way (in a car you are never really ‘in’ nature). Most of all, it gave me a new sense of what real inclusion means. Because for me, the best thing about the day was that despite the lengths to which all the people involved had to go to make it possible – from sourcing the bike, planning our route, exerting unfamiliar muscle-groups, heaving the bike over turnstiles and foregoing participation in the main ride – I never felt that they were doing it to be nice to me. While my physical limitations framed the practicalities of the day, my disability didn’t feel anything more than incidental; I was encouraged and facilitated to join the event not as a disabled person but as Emma, and for me that is priceless.

As we return to our day job of representing people facing discrimination and other forms of mistreatment, we both feel that we will often return to the experience of that ride as a kind of touchstone of what equality is really all about.

Take a look at other accessible events like the Superhero triathlon and Parallel London.

Or you can tell us your story.