All posts by Phil Marsh

I'm the Stories Manager at Scope. Our blog provides a platform for disabled people and their families to share their stories and opinions which raises awareness, educates on issues and drives social change. Get in touch and get involved. I can’t wait to hear from you!

I want employers to be able to talk to me about my needs

Holly moved to the UK from America over 10 years ago. Being blind, she has experienced many challenges in finding employment.

Here she talks about some of those challenges, bad attitudes she has experienced and what she thinks needs to change to ensure that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.

My first proper job over here was as a nursing assistant on a psychiatric hospital ward. Before I could start, I had to have an occupational health assessment. The woman in the assessment knew that I was visually impaired and she was asking me lots of questions like, ‘how would you see if someone threw something at you?’ and stuff like that. I obviously wanted to say I can see stuff like this but didn’t want to reply sarcastically because the job depended on this.

At the time, I had just moved to the UK, which was very expensive, and me and my husband had no money between us. It was so important that I got this job. We were just living day to day and having to borrow money which was just so miserable. I didn’t want to say anything wrong or make the assessors get mad at me or anything like that.

Holly, a young disabled woman, poses with her dog

It was worse than weird

The assessment was just really confusing. She kept asking me about medical records that I didn’t have any of over here. When she suggested that I should get my medical records sent from the US over to here, I didn’t know whether me getting the job depended on this happening.

Towards the end of the assessment, the woman pointed out that my shoelace was untied and I kind of nodded but thought it would be rude to interrupt the conversation to sort it. Before I’d even had a chance to say that or tie it myself, she leant over and did it for me. She actually tied my shoe for me!

It was one of those things where I just thought, I need to leave before I do or say anything! At the time I thought it was weird. But it was worse than weird. It was condescending and so horrible. It really didn’t imply anything good about what this woman thought of disabled people.

When I got home, I was just really confused and my husband was really upset on my behalf. He didn’t think that I was treated very well.

It was such a stressful time

After all this, I got the job and, because it was such a big hospital, I luckily never had to see her again after that! Unfortunately, this was only a one year contract and due to various reasons, it made me very ill and stressed. This resulted in me having over two years of job hunting and applying for ESA.

Looking for work was such a stressful time. It felt like I already had a full time job sorting out ESA. It was more exhausting than any job I’ve ever had and was just a total nightmare.

Not only was I foreign and disabled, but my qualifications were from a different country and I also now had a massive hole in my CV.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate what’s an effect of being an immigrant and what’s an effect of being disabled, but I think both of these things make employers look at me and say “there’s somebody else who’s easier”

Disabled people aren’t scary!

I think employers need to not be scared! I want them to be able to talk to me about disability.

If an employer could just ask us what we need or what they could do to make it possible for us to work there, everything would be so much better.

It should be ok to ask these things. Disabled people are less work, less scary and much less of a burden than employers think we are. I think there needs to be much more of a willingness to talk and more assurance for disabled people that there won’t be any nasty consequences of asking for what you need, that if you say the wrong thing, you won’t get the job.

I’m not that difficult to give a job to. Honestly!

Holly, a young disabled woman, smiles at the camera

The Government want to know what you think needs to change about the support disabled people get in and out of work. They want feedback on their proposals and will be accepting views until Friday 17 February 2017.

Why can’t the romantic hero be disabled?

Ellie Darkins is a romance author who has been published by Mills and Boon, Crimson Romance and Harlequin Books. Her latest book, ‘Holiday with the Mystery Italian’, features a disabled business tycoon as the romantic lead.

In this blog, Ellie talks about where the idea of including a disabled person came from, where she did her research and what she hopes the book will achieve.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s my pleasure to bring a little romance to the Scope blog! I write romance-packed novels for Mills & Boon, and my latest hero, the gorgeous, glamorous, gold-medal-winning Mauro, also happens to use a wheelchair.

I didn’t set out to write a hero with a disability. The early ideas for this book all centred around the concept of a couple meeting on a dating show, and from there I started thinking about who might be tempted to give that sort of experience a go, and why.

I always envisioned my hero as someone who is up for any challenge and any adventure, and it was when I started digging into why he was like this, it became clear to me that he had had some sort of accident in the past that made him not want to miss out on anything in life. That’s when it occurred to me that he could still be living with the physical effects of that accident, as well as the emotional ones.

Ellie Darkins, a romance novelist, and her family stand in a line whilst smiling and all holding up Ellie's disabled brother who is laughing
Ellie and her family laugh whilst holding up Ellie’s brother

Doing something different

Once it became clear to me that my hero had a physical impairment, I had some big decisions to make. When I read some other romances with disabled characters, I found some beautiful, touching stories. But in most of them, the impairment was a key part of the character’s journey. I knew I wanted to do something different – to write a character whose disability isn’t part of the story. A good romance is packed with conflict, with plenty of barriers standing between the hero, the heroine and their “happy ever after” – but I saw no reason for Mauro’s wheelchair to be one of them.

They say “write what you know” and in this case, I’ve been able to draw from a real-life example of someone who lives with a disability without letting it define them. My brother has had chronic lung disease since birth, but (while I have no desire to know the details!) it has never been an issue in his dating life. What it does do, occasionally, is throw up practical issues, such as the time my family nearly missed a flight home from Italy while the airport security staff tried to decide whether they would allow his oxygen cylinder onto the flight. They decided they would, but took so long that everyone had to run to make it to the gate in time.

Making Mauro as real as possible

Researching the practicalities of Mauro’s disability was an important part of writing the book for me. While I didn’t want his wheelchair use to be a big part of the romance storyline, it was important to me to try and portray Mauro’s life in a way that reflected the experiences of his real-life counterparts. I was in the privileged position of being able to give Mauro a bank balance that helps overcome many challenges, but even his billionaire lifestyle can’t get rid of all obstacles or remove all ignorant people from his path.

I hope Mauro and Amber’s story has done justice to the everyday challenges of the many wheelchair users who have shared their stories on this blog and elsewhere, and to whom I owe a debt of gratitude.

With Scope’s own Twitter poll revealing that three out of four people would like to see more representations of disability in literature, I hope that you’ll welcome Mauro’s story, and be as open to falling in love with him as I was.

Ellie Darkins, a romance author, smiles at the camera

Scope have been looking into the lack of disability representation in literature during National Storytelling Week. We hope that many more publishers and authors, like Ellie, include better representation of disabled people in books.

Visit Ellie’s website to find out more.

On Saturday 11 February, we are also giving you the chance to win one of two copies of ‘Holiday with the Mystery Italian’, find out more on our Facebook page.

Mental health – “It’s a conversation for everyone”

Abbi was born with a genetic bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as ‘OI’ or brittle bones. She also has mental health conditions.

In this blog, she responds to the speech the Prime Minister made at the annual Charity Commission yesterday. The Prime Minister made an announcement of additional support for those in the workplace with mental health issues.

On my ninth birthday, I was given a fluffy, purple, ‘Groovy Chic’ journal. It was one of those lockable ones which came with a set of tiny keys and quickly became one of my most prized possessions. Inside, I kept all my innermost thoughts – lists of my favourite Beanie Babies, ways in which I could become more like my idol, Jacqueline Wilson.

And regular updates on how much I wanted to die.

We need to feel able to talk about mental illness

In her speech at the annual Charity Commission yesterday, Theresa May noted that 50% of adults with mental health problems began to develop their illnesses before the age of 14. If that seems scary, it is. In fact, by the time I was 14, the only thing I detailed in my diary was my food intake and the number of sit-ups I’d done that day. Yet it would be seven more years before I finally received an intensive course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to treat my anorexia.

Since the days of my fluffy, purple diary, my mental illnesses have cost the government untold amounts of money in hospital admissions, medications and police call-outs. They have had a tangible effect on my performance at school and university and they continue to cause trouble in both my personal and professional life.

As Mrs May identified yesterday, early intervention is both critical to the recovery of those with mental illness, and of great long-term benefit to the economy. If we want to increase the recognition and treatment of mental illness in children and teenagers, then we urgently need to feel able to talk about mental illness ourselves.

Abbi, a young disabled woman, smiles and sits in her wheelchair behind a table

Mental illness isn’t palatable, but it’s a fact of life

When we talk about talking about mental health, we often make a comparison with how we talk about physical health. Whilst that’s not entirely helpful – our societal and medical treatments of physical illness still have a long way to go – it’s nevertheless often easier to discuss most physical illnesses than it is to discuss most mental ones. I’m happy to publicly disclose that I have both, yet even I regularly blame psychological symptoms on my physical conditions. After all, ‘my arthritis has flared up’ sounds a lot more palatable an excuse than, ‘I’m afraid that if I leave the house, the voices in my head will make me throw myself in front of a bus.’

Mental illness isn’t palatable. It’s rarely an easy fix. But it is a fact of life, and when we make it difficult for people to talk about – when we make employees feel uncomfortable disclosing mental illnesses, or brush off symptoms of self-harm as ‘teenage angst’, or refuse to believe that children might be capable of suicide – then we allow those illnesses to flourish.

Closing her lecture yesterday, Mrs May made an important point – ‘Mental health problems are everyone’s problem.’ Mental illness isn’t just a conversation for doctors’ offices and psychiatric hospitals. It’s a conversation for classrooms, and car rides, and water coolers. It’s a conversation for teachers and parents and friends. It’s a conversation for everyone. Join in.

Read Scope’s response to the Prime Minister’s mental health pledge.

For free information and support about disability, please contact Scope’s helpline at helpline@scope.org.uk.

You can also join Scope’s Online Community where you can share experiences, get disability advice and discuss the disability issues that matter to you.

A dinosaur isn’t just for Christmas! – “Christmasaurus” book review

As Christmas draws nearer, we’re getting into the festive spirit by getting stuck into a brilliant new Christmas children’s novel from bestselling author, Tom Fletcher.

Produced in collaboration with the disabled children’s charity, Whizz-Kidz, ‘Christmasaurus’ follows the story of William Trundle, a boy who uses a wheelchair, as he embarks on an extraordinary adventure with a very special dinosaur.

We asked writer and illustrator Dan White to review the book. He is the author of the brilliant Department of Ability comic book, featuring a cast of superheroes whose impairments are their greatest superpower. Keep a look out for the first book which is out in 2017.

I usually find that books for children that contain disability or a prominent wheelchair user fall into two categories. The first one is the “aww bless” category where the point is to generate a mood of sympathy, whilst the other is the “must educate the reader on the character’s disability”.

Thankfully a book has fallen into my eager hands. This is a book of such fun, majesty and colour that, even though its central character William Trundle uses a wheelchair, that’s not the overall arc of the story!

Disability inclusion

The “Christmasaurus” is a festive delight! Tom Fletcher writes with effortless wit. His musical skills are apt when it comes to the elves’ compulsive singing and the book was consumed by this proud dad in one joyful sitting. Yes! I am 44 and Scope asked me (a fellow writer, illustrator and dad of a basketball, book-loving 10-year-old wheelchair user) to review it! Unfortunately for my daughter, Emily, I got to read it before her!

Dan, a dad of a disabled daughter, reads a book entitled "Christmasaurus"

Mr Fletcher absolutely nails the issues and concerns of disability inclusion by having the discovery of William’s condition almost a full quarter of a way into the book. Even then you get a quick overview of Willy, his mum, dad and wheelchair that is snappy and refreshing.

The elaborate, layered storyline that opens the book combines dinosaurs, the end of the world, the ice age and Santa. This is all done with laugh out loud wit and pace. So much happens, so quickly. It’s so well written that you are lost in his magical world from page one.

Dealing with important issues

It is also refreshing how this hardback gem deals with the issues of family, bullying and loss. Nothing is straightforward and characters are well rounded. As you begin to boo, you then begin to cheer! Astounding!

Situations that involve bullying and disability are turned from what could be a “how awful” situation into a really funny one that all ages will get and chortle at. Yes, disabled kids DO get into funny situations (wider media world, take note) and Tom gives us refreshingly different family structures along the way – not just your typical mum dad and kids set-up.

This book is a gem. It’s illustrated beautifully and the pictures more than compliment the story. I have to admit I have a certain soft spot for the dinosaur. Without giving too much away, he is one of those quintessential characters who give you, regardless of age, a warm, winter, cosy feeling. He is probably my favourite character and he is brought to life, like all the other characters in your imagination, by Tom’s almost Dahl-esc writing and Shane Devries’ illustrations (jealous!)

Pick up a copy. It’s made to read out loud or just absorb with a permanent grin. From 5 to 55, it’s impossible not to want to take a Christmasaurus home with you to spend the big day with after reading this!

More please Tom (and not just at Christmas!). Right, here you go Emily, your turn to read!

Dan, an author holding up his comic book, poses with his daughter Emily who uses a wheelchair

Scope are giving away a copy of Tom Fletcher’s magical ‘Christmasaurus’ to three lucky winners. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize is visit this Facebook post and tell us about the most awkward Christmas present you have ever received.

This competition closes midday on Monday 19 December.

Full terms and conditions can be found on our website.

“You do not need to be in a wheelchair to be disabled!”

Guest blog from Fi Munro. Fi has been living positively with stage four ovarian cancer since her diagnosis at the age of 30. 

Since her diagnosis she has personally raised and inspired others to raise thousands of pounds for various charities by sharing her story. As a blogger and campaigner, she strives to improve awareness of ovarian cancer.

She uses a colostomy bag and has recently experienced a number of negative attitudes when using a disabled toilet at London King’s Cross Station.

Okay, I’m getting on my soap box.

I hate, hate, hate the ignorance and stigma around invisible disabilities. Let’s get one thing clear, you do not need to be in a wheelchair to be disabled!

In January 2016 I was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer and then in May 2016 I had a massive operation to remove five organs and a few partial organs. This resulted in me having a colostomy bag, which I’ve talked about at length in a post on my own blog.

One of the main impacts of this is that I need to use a disabled toilet now to ‘sort myself out’ and I even have an awesome universal radar key that opens all disabled toilets with a ‘radar lock’ – handy!

Fiona, a young disabled woman, smiles and poses for a photograph

Are you a doctor?

At the weekend, I was in London Kings Cross Station and before boarding the train I went to use the disabled toilet. Changing a colostomy bag on a moving train is not a pretty sight, especially if you are receiving ongoing cancer treatment. I’ll let you use your imagination!

There were two disabled toilets and both were occupied so I waited. On either side there were lengthy queues to the ‘normal’ male and female toilets. When one of the disabled toilets became free I went to enter and a staff member put their arm in front of me and told me that I couldn’t use it because I’m “not disabled”.

Erm, wait a minute!

Are you a doctor?

More importantly, are you my doctor?

Are you psychic?

Do you have any idea how offensive that presumption is?

I was so upset! In front of a crowd of people I had to explain my situation in detail before I was allowed into the toilet. And, as those of you with a colostomy know, time is precision in these moments!

When I was finally allowed in I locked the door and burst into tears!

It didn’t get better from there either. I came out to ‘tutting’ observers and staff shaking their heads. I was so upset and felt so stigmatised. This needs to change!

Not all disabilities are visible

Fiona, a young disabled woman, smiles with her colostomy bagWe need better public awareness and better staff training. I would like to highlight that I am not so much upset with the member of staff I mentioned – more so the lack of training given to them and also the lack of awareness from the general public around invisible disabilities.

Together we can make a difference and help remove stigma by recognising that not all disabilities are visible.

Please share and help ensure that no one else is made to feel stigmatised.

Thank you!

Love and light, Fi

You can follow Fi on Facebook or read more about her experiences on her blog.

“I have a love-hate relationship with my benefits”

Josie, from Bristol, was a nurse until 2008 where she developed a number of impairments which affect her health and mobility.

She has most recently been diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation, a condition which affects immunity and increases the chances of anaphylaxis attacks.

In this blog, she talks about her journey of getting different benefits she needs and the anxious days where her payments stopped completely.

I have a love-hate relationship with my benefits. I am grateful that they exist and that I can live as a disabled person, but I was a worker and I still find it hard that I can’t earn my own money.

When I became ill in 2008, I had just got a new job but hadn’t started yet. After a couple of weeks of no income, I went onto incapacity benefit . This was £ 73 a week. It was so little. Out of that I had to live, pay towards my rent and support my children.

My most heart-breaking moment

I did a depressing budget where I couldn’t afford to see my kids or contribute to them at all. My son asked if I was coming for half term to see him. I had to say no. It was my most heart-breaking moment. At this point, I had been denied three times by Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and was awaiting a doctor’s visit at home.

In 2011,  I was moved over to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). I filled in the 40-page form and got all my paperwork together. I was so worried. I was put in the work-related activity group (WRAG). This involved a trip to the job centre on my birthday. I had two people with me, wore a face mask and hoped I wouldn’t need to get out of my wheelchair and need the toilet.

Josie, a disabled woman, wears a face mask to protect against allergens
Josie wearing her face mask

In 2012 , the job centre invited me again. I was now single and having more reactions so they rang me. I was so so nervous. They put me in the support group and realised I was too unwell to study and other options like office work were a no and I couldn’t even go in a charity shop due to my allergies no matter work in one. So I was released into the utopia of the support group.

It made me anxious and worried

In 2012 , I was reassessed for DLA. My three-year award was up. Reassessment meant a full assessment as if I was applying for the benefit from scratch. I thankfully had an amazing social worker who I will be forever grateful for. Between her and the Occupational Therapist manager, I got all the assessments and paperwork together (again) and was awarded five years. This is due soon and with the move to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), I am not looking forward to it.

This year a work capability form arrived. At first, I thought it was a mistake. I rang, it wasn’t. I can’t write easily or well so I started answering the questions into my laptop. I was worried and scared and avoided dealing with it for a couple of weeks. It made me anxious and worried.

I knew I wasn’t going to be able to achieve it in the time given, so I rang. I was told to get the form back when I could, with no mention of money stopping. Two weeks after the date on the form I had it ready and was going to get it printed by my carer as I get two hours once a week for errands. Then I missed a payment and that day had a letter saying my ESA had been stopped. I rang and it was confirmed.

Josie, a young disabled woman, following a reaction where her face has swollen and become red
Josie following a reaction with swelling and redness

I asked for help, this took five phone calls. The first said no we don’t have your case anymore, ring ‘X’. I rang ‘X’ and they said ring ‘Y’, ‘Y’ said ring ‘Z’ first. Eventually, I broke down in tears, sobbing. A man rang and I answered the questions (including really personal things like how heavy my periods are, how often I need the toilet at night, if I was continent etc) and he filled in my form for me. He reinstated my money immediately. I was told a copy of the form would be sent for me to sign but it never came. But my money continues.

In the four days it took for me to get help, I had a p45 and a letter saying my housing benefit had been stopped. If I had been in hospital or unwell and not able to do the chasing, my life would have completely fallen apart and I would have lost the roof over my head.

Two days after the phone call I had an anaphylaxis. Stress makes it more likely I will have one. Anaphylaxis is not a minor allergic reaction, it’s where you swell up, your throat closes and your blood pressure and pulse drop. This happens quickly (within three to five minutes) and I have to be ready to give myself an EpiPen, otherwise, I would die. I have had to have 78 EpiPens so far and I will shock again.

What needs to happen next

My needs are documented in so many different places – if only these records could be joined up so I don’t need to repeat myself. I’m eight years in now and I feel battle weary.

We need to look at this Work Capability Assessment and find a more holistic, compassionate way forward.

Visit Josie’s blog site to learn more about Mast Cell.

If you have any questions about benefits or employment, contact Scope’s helpline where we provide free, independent and impartial information and support to disabled people and their families.

You can also start or join a discussion on our online community.

“Employing disabled people isn’t just about building ramps!”

Abbi was born with a genetic bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as ‘OI’ or brittle bones. Having had various experiences of employment, Abbi attended an event in which details of a new government Green Paper were announced.

This Green Paper marks the start of a consultation period to discuss a variety of different things including the support for disabled people in and out of work. In this blog, she talks about some of her own experiences and what she thinks needs to be done next.

As a person with both musculoskeletal and mental health conditions, I was really interested to hear about the Green Paper. I think that one of its real positives is the recognition that increasing the number of disabled people in employment needs to be part of a wider conversation about how we support sick and disabled people in this country.

The healthcare system and, in particular, the mental healthcare system, does not expect me to be in full-time employment, and my employer does not expect me to be as ill as I am.

Personally, I was very lucky to get a job straight out of university. I work in a large advertising agency in London which can afford things like a wheelchair accessible office, ergonomic furniture and any software I might need. My physical access to my office is faultless, but employing disabled people isn’t just about building ramps.

Abbi, a young disabled woman in a wheelchair, smiles and laughs

Having the confidence to ask for what you need

When I started my job, I was never given the opportunity to explain what my disabilities are and what effect they have on my life. As a junior employee, I didn’t feel comfortable asking for that conversation.

After a year of working 10 to 12 hours a day, five days a week, when I could no longer disguise my illnesses my employer didn’t know how to respond. I ended up having to take an entire month off work for reasons which could have been avoided had I felt comfortable explaining my conditions, and asking for a little flexibility, earlier on.

My agency is now working to make changes to my role but it’s been a real knock to my confidence in the workplace and has had a real effect on my mental health.

We live in an increasingly technological world, yet many employers consider employment to mean being physically present in a place of work, nine to five, five days a week. That’s something that for many disabled people is simply not possible. It’s something that I’m not going to be able to maintain forever and it’s not necessary to do a good job.

Feeling like a burden

In my experience, many disabled people at the moment have a real fear of appearing as a financial burden to employers. I recently worked with a disabled actress who was attending a casting for the part of a disabled character, and she didn’t want to bring her PA with her to the audition because she didn’t want to be seen as an expense. That’s wrong, but it’s a position with which I can only empathise.

I’ll say it again, wheelchair access is about more than building ramps. The key is flexibility. We need to create a culture in which disabled people feel confident asking employers and potential employers for what extra flexibility they need to do a good job. Whether that’s working four days a week, reduced hours, working from home or just taking a lie down once a day, a little flexibility can make all the difference for people with disabilities, especially those with fluctuating conditions.

We need the government to provide employers with the advice, education and perhaps even the financial support to make employees with additional needs, who might not work the same hours or in the same way as their non-disabled colleagues, still attractive to potential employers.

Disabled people have a lot to offer the world of work, and I genuinely believe that the world of work has a lot to offer us in return. But in order for disabled people to gain and maintain permanent employment, we must change opinions on what access to work really means.

Abbi, a young disabled woman in a wheelchair, smiles and poses for a photograph

Read Scope’s reaction to the Green Paper here.

We’d like to hear from disabled people about their experiences with things like claiming ESA, taking part in employment support programmes and getting support while at work.

We’ll put out more information over the coming weeks, but in the meantime, if you’d like to get involved please contact Mel Wilkes, a Policy Adviser on melanie.wilkes@scope.org.uk

“He’s really fit but it’s a shame that he speaks like that” – End the Awkward

James Sutliff is a Personal Trainer. In 2008, he developed a rare neurological disorder known as dystonia. His speech became slurred and the feeling in his hands deteriorated.

As part of End the Awkward, James told us the awkward moments he’s found himself in and how he thinks we can avoid these cringe worthy situations.

Attitudes and awkwardness

It’s hard to comprehend because physically to look at me, my disability is quite silent. I don’t generally ‘look like a disabled person’. I’m not in a wheelchair, I don’t have a missing limb. So people are often shocked. They think I’m taking the p***.

I think a lot of people can be quite nervous, it can be embarrassing on either end, because the person who’s speaking to me wants to understand what I’m saying but can’t and I feel awkward so I don’t want to carry on talking. It happens quite a lot.

I don’t think it’s that people can’t be bothered to listen all the time. It’s just maybe a little bit of embarrassment on their part, feeling nervous around not knowing how to approach it.

Some people are great. I like it if people just say “sorry mate can you say that again?” But being polite, as people generally are, they’ll just nod their head or whatever.

James, a young disabled man, lifts weights in a gym

How people can be less awkward

I do get quite a bit of female attention, probably because I work out and stuff. When they approach me and talk to me, they soon realise that I have dystonia and there have been a few instances where people make comments that are not very nice.

I was in a nightclub with my wife and this woman approached me. She was obviously quite physically attracted to me and then I started talking. She quickly finished her conversation and rejoined her friend. She obviously cottoned on that my wife was with me in the club and said to her “He’s really fit but it’s a shame he speaks like that”. That was it, she was in trouble. My wife gave her a really bad telling off!

James, a young disabled man, lifts weights in a gym

What not to do

You do get people staring. I don’t think they realise that they’re doing it but sometimes when I clock them I feel like saying “Stop it! If you want to know what’s wrong, come and ask!”

Children are great though because they basically have no boundaries. They’ll say “Why do you speak like that?” and I love that because they’re so honest. They’re just curious. And we’ll say, “Well it’s because of this” and they just go “Oh, okay then”.

I think as a nation we’re overly polite. But what people don’t realise is they’re actually being ruder by sitting and staring or nudging and whispering with their friend next to them.

Be open, have a sense of humour and don’t ignore me. Just talk to me and remember, I’m the same person I was before.

For more tips on sex and dating, check out the films and stories on our website.

You can also read the rest of our End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story.

I broke my spine, but became a wheelchair racer

Lizzie Williams is a full time student studying Sport, Health and Exercise Science. She has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and is also a wheelchair racer and a T54 British Athlete.

She talked to us about her long journey to wheelchair racing and the expectations she has exceeded along the way.

The hydropool is sort of where my sporting journey began. Swimming in a pool was the only really physical activity I could do. As you are weightless in water, there’s obviously no pressure on your bones. I started that when I was really little.

I came back home and started training with a local group, got scouted for the ParalympicsGB team and was heading in the right direction for the London games but in 2012 I discovered that I had broken my back. Everything just sort of ground to a halt. I couldn’t do anything physical at all. My fracture wasn’t stable so I didn’t want to risk anything.

In 2013 I had the surgery on my back. After my surgery I was supposed to be in hospital for five days and they said I’d be walking out of there in a couple of weeks. I woke up from my surgery and I could barely move from the waist down. It went a bit tits-up I suppose you could say!

Having to learn everything again

I was in hospital for three and a half months learning to walk again. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t even go to the toilet. I had to learn all those things again. I had to learn how to sit up in bed, how to transfer to chairs, how to take steps. That moment was the lowest in my life.

I was in my second year in college at the time and it just put a spanner in the works for everything. As I’d spend so much time in a hospital environment, I’d always wanted to work as a nurse because I really appreciated everything that they’d done for me. I wanted to make a difference. It sounds really cliche but I wanted to give back.

After my surgery I realised I couldn’t do that. There was no way. I’d been at college studying things like sciences and health and social care. I wasn’t going to be able to do that anymore.

When I came out of hospital my sister was applying to university and I didn’t know what I was going to do or what options were available to me. At this point, I couldn’t get back into sport because I had to wait 12 months for the metal work in my spine to fuse to my bones. I decided that I was going to start the process again, go to a different college, do a different course and get the grades that I knew I could.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races an adapted wheelchair on a race track
Photo courtesy of Peter Milsom

The journey to wheelchair racing

After the metal work fused I started getting back in the gym and doing physical activity again. I was volunteering at an event that had Steve Brown, who is a GB wheelchair rugby player. We were talking to some of the kids and he said he used to train down in Worthing for wheelchair racing and suggested I check it out.

I did the 100m in 25 seconds and the coach who was there was like ‘okay that’s pretty good’. Three weeks later I was entered into the London Westminster Mile and I came second. It’s just gone on from there really.

I don’t just want to be a great athlete, I want to be someone that people can look up to and I want to encourage people to get into sport because it is really great!

I can’t imagine what I would be doing without sport. I just love life. Every opportunity is a good one. It’s another chance to show the world that there may be wheels there but there are some pretty good things alongside them.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races in an adapted wheelchair on a race track

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about these findings.

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

 

Featured image courtesy of Peter Milsom Photography

End the Awkward is back for 2016 – tell us your awkward stories

End the Awkward is back and we want to change even more attitudes around disability.

Two thirds of the UK population feel awkward around disabled people, primarily due to lack of knowledge.

We also know that a significant chunk of that group feel so awkward that they’ve even deliberately avoided a disabled person for fear of saying the wrong thing or putting their foot in their mouth.

Paralympics host, TV presenter and Scope patron, Sophie Morgan, describes a time when this happened to her.

Disability is huge. It’s complex. It’s vast.Sophie, a young woman in a wheelchair, smiles during a photoshoot

There are so many situations that you’ll find yourself in. I always think I’ll find myself in awkward situations. I’m actually quite an awkward person myself!

There was this one time where I was sat in a bar, next to a guy, out of my chair on a sofa and he was chatting me up. Then I shouted to my friends to go and get my chair.

As they brought it along and I transferred into it, he stared at me, stared at the chair, stared at me again and then just stood up and walked off!

Got a really awkward story? We’d love to hear about it! Has anyone ever tried to avoid you or acted totally awkwardly around you? Tell us your story today.