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!

It’s time to shatter your perceptions of sport – #SportForAll

Souleyman is a Team GB Paralympic hopeful and World Junior 100m gold medalist. Having a visual impairment has never held him back in his sport and he is currently working towards competing at the 2020 Paralympics.

Here, he spoke to us about how he feels attitudes have changed since London 2012 and the challenges he faces in his own sport.

The attitude to disability in sport has definitely changed for the better in the past five years. London 2012 gave disability sport a focus, an exposure and a celebration it has never seen before and the world accepted this with huge interest and curiosity.

Since then, it has only improved with more people taking an interest in para-sport. There’s still work to be done such as giving para-sports more coverage and exposure on mainstream channels more frequently. At the moment, unless it’s the Paralympics or World Championships, people don’t get to see the amazing athletes that are competing all year round.

However, I think disability is finally being acknowledged in society and people are seeing that disabled people can do the same things that non-disabled people can do. They just need to do it in a different way.

Souleyman warms up before a race
Souleyman is World Junior 100m gold medalist

Sport challenges perceptions of disability

If you want to shatter your perception of what is possible, then you have to watch a para-sport competition at least once in your life. To see an athlete with no arms or legs complete lengths of a swimming pool or an athlete with one leg do the high jump is just something really extraordinary.

If you are disabled, I think it’s really important to get involved in para-sport at a level you feel comfortable with. It gives you a new purpose and challenges negative perceptions of disability. Your impairment isn’t something that holds you back.

Personally, my visual impairment has brought a number of challenges to my life. To go from being told that I wouldn’t be able to drive, read text or see the incredible sights of the world to now being able to train, compete on a world stage and inspire so many people at the same time is amazing. It’s given me a more positive definition to my visual impairment.

Souleyman pours a bottle of water over his head to cool down following a race
Souleyman cools down after a race

I’m a huge believer in whatever you can imagine for yourself, you can achieve it. It’s about finding what needs to be overcome – more often than not, it’s people’s attitudes.

As part of our mission for everyday equality, we are going to be running a ‘Sport For All’ series to encourage better representation of disability in sport, as well as challenging attitudes towards disability. Find out how you can get involved with Sport For All. 

You can expect new research, blogs, videos and social media events. These will showcase some of the best athletes and storytellers involved in disability sport today.

Keep up to date with #SportForAll on our Twitter.

Read more Sport For All blogs.

How CP Teens and sport changed my life – #SportForAll

Ellie was just 18 years old when she set up CP Teens UK as a way of reaching out to other young people who feel a bit lost and isolated. The response was fantastic and CP Teens UK has grown into a vibrant community, both online and offline. Now, at 22, Ellie continues to pretty much single-handedly run this amazing organisation.

When I was younger, people at school all wanted to be my friend because I’m a little bit different and children quite like that. But as I got older, by 14 or 15 they didn’t want to be with me anymore. At the time I didn’t really realise I’d become socially isolated because I was concentrating on my studies.

I felt like, socially, there was nothing out there for people like me and I didn’t have the confidence to go out and get a job. So I decided to set up CP Teens UK. I wanted to connect other people who, like me, just felt a little bit lost and to tell them that they’re not the only people out there who feel isolated.

It made me feel less alone

At first, I just set up a Twitter account because I was a bit bored! I thought it was going be something I would get tired of after a week and never log back on. However, I woke up the next morning to find that people like Francesca Martinez and Sophie Christiansen were followers!

Other young people were getting in touch saying “I’m a teenager too and I feel the same way, it’s so nice to find someone else.” I got so many emails like that I couldn’t believe it. So I just kept going. I set up a website and then a Facebook page and it just kind of grew.

I just thought it was me feeling that way so it was really nice to know I was helping other people through my own experiences. It made me feel less alone. I’ve met some really cool people too and I even hear from people overseas.

Ellie smiles with a London skyline behind her
Ellie Simpson, founder of CP Teens UK

I want it to be for everybody

CP Teens UK has an online service so people can connect and chat. We have social get-togethers and we do a ball every year. Teenagers and young people from across the UK come together. It’s really nice. We have a RaceRunning club which is really good and we also have partnerships with some fantastic charities, including CP Sport and Accessible Derbyshire.

I get a lot of parents contacting me who have young children who’ve just been diagnosed, so I’ve set up another part of CP Teens called CP Tinies and CP Tweens. It covers 0 to 13 years and children can get involved too. I want it to be for everybody.

In my gap year, I got into Paralympic sport and it just changed my life so much. I started to wonder how many other young people like me think they can’t do sports.

Sport can really change lives

Now that I’ve finished my university degree in Sport Development with Coaching, I work on CP Teens UK full-time. I also have a part-time role with Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association as a Sport Development Officer, particularly working on the development of RaceRunning.

In March, CP Teens UK received full charitable status and we’ve just moved into an office at the local football club. It is amazing to see how much it has grown and continues to grow. I am beyond excited for the future of CP Teens UK!

Ellie, a young disabled woman, races on an adapted tricycle on a racing track
Ellie competes in RaceRunning

I get so many emails from people saying “because of CP Teens I’m much more confident and I’ve done this and that”. I can remember, before CP Teens UK, thinking I was the only person on the planet with cerebral palsy. I think it’s important to let people know that they’re not alone.

Sport can really change lives. Before I was involved in sport, I avoided it at all costs and I most definitely did not see it as ‘life changing’. As well as it changing my life, it has also enhanced my life in so many different ways. I now don’t know where I would be without sport and RaceRunning!

To get involved with CP Teens UK and find out more about Ellie, visit the CP Teens UK website.

As part of our mission for everyday equality, we are going to be running a ‘Sport For All’ series to encourage better representation of disability in sport, as well as challenging attitudes towards disability. Find out how you can get involved with Sport For All. 

Read more Sport For All blogs

“Fix science fiction, not the disability!”

Deane Saunders-Stowe is a science fiction author whose debut novel, ‘Synthesis:Weave’, introduced a disabled main character.

In this blog, Deane talks about how science fiction often looks to ‘fix’ disability and how he wants to challenge the genre and bring something new to the table.

Alien worlds, sophisticated space stations, high powered laser weapons – but not a wheelchair, guide dog or hand-signing gesture in sight.

Science fiction has a problem with disability – it wants to fix it. With my partner, Kris, being a wheelchair user, I have a problem with that!

I believe fiction should provide role models and characters with which the reader can empathise rather than sympathise. If these characters are disabled, this should not be the focus. It should simply be an aspect of a character’s life, not their defining trait.

Above all, fiction should not attempt to ‘fix’ disability. It’s all too tempting to do this in futuristic sci-fi, simply because it’s the way technology is progressing and it requires less imagination to deal with. Prosthetics will become like real limbs, many medical problems will be solved and genetic therapy will cure many debilitating conditions.

Fixing disability tells readers that it is a negative. Disabled readers can feel betrayed if characters they enjoy suddenly lose their disability.

Instead, fiction should show positive ways in which disability can be dealt with creatively, or give characters insights or ways of solving problems that their non-disabled counterparts may not have.

Time to redress the balance

Inspired by my partner, who has a degenerative knee condition, I set about writing a novel to redress the balance. In ‘Synthesis:Weave’ I introduce Aryx Trevarian, a double amputee wheelchair user.

Aryx doesn’t feel as though he has to adapt to fit in with society. Society should adapt to accommodate him – and quite right, too! There aren’t only humans in the story, but a variety of alien body shapes and capabilities, and certainly no excuse not to put ramps and elevators everywhere.

A man sits in a wheelchair with holographic prosthetic legs and an alien looking device sitting on his lap
A promo image of Aryx, the disabled character in Synthesis:Weave

Fiction is all about tension, conflict, and plot twists. Conflict can be internal or external, emotional or physical and arises from a character’s desires being at odds with the reality of what they can achieve. If a character achieves their goals easily, there’s no conflict. If they do it quickly, there’s no tension.

With Aryx as an amputee wheelchair user, I knew there would be plenty of conflict and challenges that he would face on his journey. He’s comfortable in his role as an engineer, but his desire to do more would collide with his capabilities when a greater burden is placed upon him. Even though his home environment is adapted to his needs, he is aware that if he wishes to go farther afield he must change himself. To this end, he develops a prosthetic backpack that has its own drawbacks.

If I fixed his disability, readers would no longer relate to him, nor be able to see him as a realistic inspiration for them to overcome their own challenges. So whilst he can use his prosthetics in certain circumstances, he still uses his wheelchair throughout the book.

Don’t make assumptions

If you’re a writer wishing to use disability in a story, rather than make assumptions about disabilities and their impact on daily life as many people do, it’s important to get feedback from people living with those conditions, ensuring you can push boundaries without being insensitive. Ask people how they may deal with certain situations – you may be surprised at the creative and interesting ways people adapt.

I discovered this myself whilst writing the short story Synthesis:Pioneer, in which I had to pay special attention to all of the sensory descriptions I could use.

Above all, write with respect, give strong role models and provide an experience that is enjoyable for everyone.

To find out more about the Synthesis series, follow Deane on Twitter or like his Facebook page. You can also head to Deane’s website to find out more about his books.

Deane is currently working on the sequel to ‘Synthesis:Weave’ which he hopes will be finished late 2017 to early 2018. In the meantime, you can read the short story, ‘Synthesis:Pioneer’, free on Amazon.

Let’s celebrate a summer of sport for all

There has been a definite buzz of excitement in the Scope office as London hosted the World Para Athletics Championships. Over a thousand athletes from over 85 countries competed and it was clear everyone was behind them. The event boasted the largest audiences in world Para sport championship history outside of the Paralympic Games.

Our athletes won a staggering 39 medals, placing Great Britain third in the medal table.  #TeamScope were cheering them on all the way. If you missed out on the buzz, check out what was happening during the event over on Twitter.

It’s not over yet

The event may have drawn to a close, but there’s still work to be done.

Last year, disabled people told us they felt attitudes towards them had begun to change after London 2012. 72% believed the games had helped to lift the negative attitudes they all too often experience. However, they also told us that over half of them regularly experienced discrimination.

A group of Scope staff standing outside the Olympic stadium in London
Some of Team Scope at the Olympic Stadium

#SportForAll

As part of our mission for everyday equality, we are going to be running a ‘Sport For All’ series to encourage better representation of disability in sport, as well as challenging attitudes towards disability.

You can expect new research, blogs, videos and social media events. These will showcase some of the best athletes and storytellers involved in disability sport today.

To get you started, read Sascha Kindred’s blog on how he thinks disability sport can help combat negative attitudes.

How you can get involved

Tell us what sport means to you

If you’re a disabled person, let us know what sport means to you. Just tweet us (@scope) with a photo, video or tweet using the hashtag #SportForAll.

Like, comment and share

There will be loads of exciting content coming your way so make sure you stay tuned, like, comment and share! Look out for video and blog content on our social media channels, our blog and in the ‘Everybody’ series on Huffington Post.

Make a difference

Support us fundraisers this year in accessible events such as The Superhero Triathlon and Parallel London. Find out more about our full list of challenge events.

It’s clear that sport has the power to bring us together and sporting events have the power to change people’s attitudes.

However, we all have the power to ensure that disability is celebrated and championed all year round, not just during events like the World Para Athletics Championships or the Paralympics.

Being a parent – It’s kind of mind blowing to me

Phil Lusted is a web and graphic designer from north Wales who has most recently appeared in the BBC One documentary, ‘Big Love’.

Phil’s partner, Kathleen has a young daughter. For Father’s Day, Phil reflects on the things he is learning through being a parent with dwarfism and his hopes for the future.

Being a parent has opened my eyes to a lot of new things. I now have a child who looks up to me when she is in need of help or taking care of. I now have a responsibility to take care of our child when Kathleen is busy or needs assistance. It’s kind of mind blowing to me, in a good way. We are now officially a family and a team who strives to help, learn and care for each other through life.

I consider myself blessed to have met Kathleen’s daughter from her young age, as it’s beneficial we both learn to adapt together as she grows up. We have already learned so much from each other.

She often asks me for help when it comes to getting dressed, putting on her socks and shoes, jackets, and so on. During bed times she enjoys settling down with me as I read her a bedtime story, and we often have a giggle together before sleep time.

A man with dwarfism and his partner, a non-disabled woman, smile and laugh on a beach
Phil and his partner, Kathleen, are looking forward to raising their child together

Being a dwarf parent has its own challenges, as I do some things differently in comparison to an average height person and there are also situations where I cannot always manage. Often I can be hard on myself and feel down about the fact I wish I could do more in the way of being able to pick the baby up and carry her around when needed. I’m blessed to have Kathleen’s patience, as she reassures me that I am doing enough.

Below are just some of the things I’ve learnt as a parent so far.

Pull-ups instead of diapers

Diapers are a real struggle! Mostly because I find it fiddly to deal with my fingers (I was born with no knuckles), so pull-ups are a great alternative that myself and our child can manage without too much of a struggle.

Using a smaller/lighter stroller

Kathleen has an umbrella stroller in which I can easily manage to push around when it comes to getting out and about. It works a wonder for myself, the handles are low and the stroller is easy to push.

The safety harness

It’s not often the baby will try and outrun me, she’s very calm and will stay close, but using a harness on her to keep her close is always handy. That way, she is not needing to be carried and she also gets to walk around.

When I use a step

Keeping things out of reach from our child is important. I use steps to reach those particular things, or to do the dishes, brushing my teeth. Sometimes she will try and climb up on the step with me, so explaining to her that it’s not safe is important, we don’t want her falling and hurting herself!

A man with dwarfism and a non-disabled woman walk on a beach
Phil and his partner, Kathleen, on a photoshoot

I am excited about the journey of being a parent to this wonderful child as she gets older, learns, and grows. It is so nice and comforting to be able to form such a strong bond with her. I care so much for this child and her happiness.

Head to Scope’s website to read tips suggested by community members about pregnancy and parenthood for disabled people.

You can also join the discussion on Scope’s online community and speak to other disabled parents about their tips and experiences.

Dear Mum and Dad of a newly undiagnosed child

Around 6,000 children are born in the UK each year with a genetic condition that can’t be diagnosed because it is so rare. These are called syndromes without a name. A proud mum who is a member of the Swan UK community has written an open letter to other parents of undiagnosed children.

Dear Mum and Dad of a newly undiagnosed child,

This Rare Diseases Day, I want to tell you that you are not alone. We are here, in our thousands, living amongst the mostly unaware. You are now a part of the undiagnosed community. I am guessing that you feel lost, bewildered and don’t know where to turn. We too have been through the shock and disbelief. You now have a child known as a Swan – Syndromes Without a Name.

No-one knows what the future will hold.

I will never forget being told that 9 out of 10 children presenting my child’s array of challenges remain undiagnosed. It was confusing and incredible that in the world of modern medicine, undiagnosed was even a thing. I was in denial, googling frantically, unable to accept there was no answer. Yet, we are still here six years later. The living proof. I can honestly say that we have never reached the point of acceptance, we search hard for that elusive diagnosis.

Please believe me, our life is lots of fun. Every down turns into an up. Our child is an inspiration who continually reminds us what is truly important in life. It will become easier to live with, I promise.

There are many positives.

Without a label, no-one will set a limit for your child. They are free to reach any milestone without hindrance. No-one knows what the future will hold. Hold tight to the hope and don’t let anyone take it away. Many of us have experienced the joy of our child exceeding medical and developmental milestones and, believe me, it feels like magic.

Your child is unique. This will create an incredible bond between you, no-one will know your child like you do. Medical professionals will turn to you for an insight into your bundle of joy. Any siblings will be equally special and treasured in a way you can only describe. The love of a Swan unifies a family.

It won’t always be easy.

I should, however, warn you that you will plummet into the world of genetics. It will baffle you, it still does me. One tip, unless you are a scientist, don’t buy ‘Genetics for Dummies’ – I couldn’t get past the first few pages. Progress in genetics is nothing short of fascinating. There is a good chance in your lifetime that the ultra rare disease your child has will be identified. When that moment arrives, your reaction will be mixed – excitement, relief, not being sure if you want to know. The possibilities for future treatment and therapies and the opportunity to meet others with the same condition will hopefully follow.

I can guarantee that you will be welcomed with open arms into the Swan UK community. It’s a generous and caring group. We cry as one and laugh together – there is always someone who has had a similar experience. It’s a virtual listening ear sprinkled with a few regional get-togethers to meet up in person.

It won’t always be easy. There will be tough times ahead. It will take time to come to terms with the absence of answers but make sure you take time to enjoy your child. Focus on the positives and always remember, you are not alone. We are here in our thousands supporting each other.

Best wishes,

A proud mum

Visit SWAN UK’s website to find out more about the work they do.

You might not think it, but up to 30 million people may be affected by one of over 6000 rare diseases. Carole Villiers’ son Dexter is one of them. Read Carole’s blog where she shares the story of Dexter’s Angelman Syndrome diagnosis and how it changed her family’s life. 

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.