All posts by Scope Stories Team

Stories are at the heart of everything we do at Scope. Our blog is a platform for disabled people and their families to share their experiences and opinions.

“My guide dog isn’t a sat nav!”

Guest blog by Emily Davison, otherwise known as Fashioneyesta. Emily is a Scope for Change campaigner and stars in our new End the Awkward film made with UNILAD.

My name’s Emily Davison, otherwise known as Fashioneyesta. I’m a university graduate, writer, fashion and beauty blogger and YouTuber. I also happen to be visually impaired and work with a Guide Dog.

Every day I come across many misconceptions towards my disability and in turn I usually find myself in front of my camera or typing away at my laptop discussing these with my followers.

I was keen to take part in Scope’s End the Awkward campaign – to represent the sight loss community and to show that sight loss does not equate to ignorance, being un-fashionable or being stereotyped.

You can’t give my guide dog directions!

In my new film, you see me in an awkward situation around one of the most outlandish myths surrounding my guide dog – which is the common belief that people can give her directions instead of myself, and that she can follow them like a GPS system!

But, of course there are plenty more awkward moments where that one came from…

‘You’re well dressed for a blind person’

As a fashion blogger, comments I hear a lot are to do with my appearance. People will say ‘you don’t look blind!’ or ‘you’re very well dressed for a blind person.’

As if anyone with a visual impairment – simply because they lack sight – cannot have a conception of style, beauty or looking good, which is of course not true.

‘She’s blind and she’s wearing high heels!’

Another one I encounter on a regular basis is ‘Oh my god! She’s blind and she’s wearing high heels, how ridiculous!’ My answer to this is what does sight loss have to do with the clothes I wear? In what context do those two things relate?

I chose to take an interest in fashion because I enjoy the shopping process, I enjoy looking and feeling good and I happen to love wearing high-heeled shoes.

Awkward speed dating

Another time I went speed dating, and after talking to the person opposite me for a few minutes I got onto the subject of being visually impaired.

When I told him about my vision he sat back, blinked and said ‘Oh…Well what do you expect me do say to that?’ And the conversation came to an abrupt, very awkward end.

Young woman sitting on steps near a beach

‘But you don’t look blind…’

On the bus one day I sat on one of the priority seats – those usually reserved for disabled people, elderly people or those with child.

But my guide dog was out of view and therefore to some I could appear to be a ‘normal person’ – a term I use very loosely.

An elderly gentlemen boarded the bus and said to me ‘Can you move please! These seats are for disabled people.’

It just so happened that my stop was next and so instead of staring a brawl I got up to expose my little four-legged friend, in all her guide dog splendour (neon harness).

There was a deadly silence…..He then responded ‘Oh god! No sit back down… it’s…it’s just…you don’t look blind!’

We all make mistakes

Awkwardness is something I experience in my everyday life, we all do, but disability shouldn’t be something to feel awkward about.

If you have ever felt awkward around disabled people – maybe you said something wrong or made someone feel embarrassed – the thing to do is simply apologise.

We all make mistakes in life and as long as we move forward and learn from them, this is what truly matters.

Follow Fashioneyesta

If you would like to keep up to date with my work you can find me on my blog, Twitter and YouTube. And don’t forget to share your awkward stories too as part of End the Awkward.

I want a t-shirt that says “I’m allergic to exercise. No, really!”

Natasha Coates is an elite disability gymnast and Scope Role Model. When she was 18, she suffered a life-threatening allergic reaction and went into anaphalactic shock. Following this she was diagnosed with the rare condition Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

In this film and blog, Natasha talks to us about competing in disability sport and how the Paralympics is helping to change attitudes towards disability.

I think the Paralympics in 2012 really helped attitudes towards disability. Joe Bloggs down the street might not have had any exposure to disabled people so it made people aware and seeing it on TV and having the athletes interviewed inspired a whole generation of disabled people. It’s definitely helped.

It showed people that being a disabled person doesn’t mean you can’t do sport. Exercise is for everyone, no matter what your age or ability. You can give it a go. You can always adapt things. The Paralympics showed us that.

I’d love gymnastics to be in the Paralympics and to say I was going to Rio but unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen in my career. There’s just not enough of us and there’s not enough international squads. You have to be able to do World Championships first before you can put in a bid for the Paralympics. Hopefully it will get there. I’d love to see it in my lifetime.

I want to pave the way for the next generation. If in 50 years time, gymnasts get the chance to do something I wasn’t able to, that would be amazing.

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.

British Gymnastics ensure that gymnastics is a totally inclusive sport and can adapt mainstream gymnastics sessions for disabled people. You can find your local club on the British Gymnastics website.

Jordanne Whiley: going for double-gold at the Paralympics

Jordanne Whiley is a Paralympian, eight time Grand Slam champion and Britain’s most decorated female tennis player of all time. She was born with osteogenesis, more commonly know as brittle bone disease.

In this blog she talks about her hopes for Rio and why she wants to show young people that no matter what your background, or how you look, you can achieve anything.

My love for tennis started when I was three

I had my first leg break when I was three months-old and I had my last one at 12 years-old. In between that I had about 26 breaks. When I was three, my dad took me out to Israel because he was competing in a tennis tournament. I was in a wheelchair with my legs in plaster at the time. I didn’t think I’d be able to play but my dad’s friend gave me a racket and ball and I just started hitting it. Then it was all over Israeli news! I got a trophy from the tournament too. It all just kicked off after that.

I became professional around the time I was 16. Before that, I was part of the Tennis Foundation performance programme and I’d won national championships but not at a professional level. I was at school and I wasn’t sure if I was going to carry on with tennis or go into further academic studies. Then I qualified for the Beijing Paralympics on my sixteenth birthday, which was a nice surprise! So I went to Beijing and when I came back I quit academic studies and became a professional tennis player.

People care about the Paralympics a lot more now

In Beijing tickets weren’t sold and people were told to come and watch the Paralympics and told when to clap. Four years later, in London, there was an arena with 17,000 people who turned up to watch my bronze medal match. In just four years, that’s pretty incredible! I’m hoping that Rio will do just as well.

The sport has changed massively too. I’d say that wheelchair tennis is up there as one of the most successful Paralympic sports. The top ten men and women in the world are just a ridiculous standard. It’s actually world class tennis not just “disabled people playing tennis”. Some wheelchair tennis players have got fantastic profiles for themselves.  My own profile has shot up since London 2012.

Jordanne on the court, about to hit the ball

I want to be a role model for young people

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have any role models to look up to. I don’t like looking up to celebrities because I don’t know them. If I looked up to anyone, I’d want them to be a real person. I had my dad for a lot of it. He was my coach until I was 12 and both my parents were very supportive of my career. But it was just me and them for a very long time.

I want to be a real role model to people. I don’t own Bentleys and live in an 80 room mansion – I’m just a real person. I’m very successful in what I do but I’ve been through struggles. Paralympians have a good opportunity to become those kinds of role models. And I do look up to other Paralympians myself.

The bigger my profile gets, the more chance that people will listen to me. So when I’m trying to influence young girls to stop worrying about their body and get on with their lives, I’m more likely to have more impact. That’s what really drives me. I’m not interested in becoming famous, I just want to influence young people.

It doesn’t matter who you are, what background you’re from, what shape and size you are, you can still be successful. You don’t have to look a certain way to fit into society.  And if people think badly of you, you don’t need them in your life.  I know the people around me will always support me and accept me for who I am.

The Paralympics can change attitudes towards disability

The Paralympics definitely have the ability to change attitudes towards disability. You do have the group of people who think the Paralympics is just a load of disabled people playing sports, “Aww, let’s give them a chance!” but then there are other people who have seen it who are like “Actually, these people are world class athletes. Their disability doesn’t mean anything.” People making judgements should just watch some of it. They will be amazed at what they see.

It’s difficult because a lot of people don’t know what wheelchair tennis is. It’s really sad because it’s such a brilliant sport.  As well as that, you have fun, the social life is great and you meet so many different people. It really helps you become comfortable with your impairment as you meet loads of different disabled people. It can really help you accept yourself.

My hopes for Rio

Training is going really well. I’m definitely in a good position for Rio. A lot of people, including myself, know that I can go for double gold. I don’t want to let anyone down. I know I’ve got it in me to win two golds which is exciting. I just need to go out and play my best. I’ve trained for this for four years!

Visit the ParalympicsGB website to find out more.

Jordanne was one of our #30toWatch in our 30 Under 30 campaign. Find out more about Jordanne’s life and career

Photo credits: Header image courtesy of RKGsecond image courtesy of The Tennis Foundation.

“My life is pretty damn awkward” – find out what is making Kelly cringe

Kelly has shared her embarrassing festival tales, is on a mission to make the UK’s most accessible football club and even let us film her when she tied the knot last year!

Now, as part of End the Awkward 2016, Kelly is back to share even more stories that will make you cringe and want to #EndtheAwkward.

Have you got an awkward story to tell? Tell us your story today.

As a generally average British girl, my life is pretty damn awkward anyway so having a disability and using a wheelchair often makes it even more so. The hilarious thing is, it’s often not me that’s feeling awkward.

So many times throughout my life, I’ve been avoided, talked down to and just plain ignored because of my disability. I can make light of it now but it’s actually a really serious and sad issue.

At all kinds of places (bars, hotel, airports, restaurants) people just plain ignore me! It’s the worst! They will do anything from talk to the person with me, blankly stare at me as if I’m speaking a different language and other times just pretend that I’m not there! This is definitely the worst kind of awkward interaction and it can really effect your confidence as a wheelchair user.

It’s hard enough to keep the confident facade going as a young adult as it is, so when throwing a wheelchair into the mix, it gets harder.

Kelly, a young disabled woman in an electric wheelchair, smiles at the camera with her friend

Avoiding the awkward

I’m ashamed to say there have definitely been times where I’ve avoided situations or asked someone else to do something for me to avoid awkward interactions (such as reaching card machines in shops, signing room check-in keys when the counter is literally higher than your head).

I’ve realised, this is simply the worst thing I could do.

I’m the kind of person who likes to challenge myself daily, to the point of painful fear and regret. You’re talking to the girl who auditioned for The Apprentice with no business plan when she was 18! Sometimes I just love being uncomfortable. However, the kind of uncomfortable that avoidance brings is a kind of deja vu uncomfortable that on bad days you just don’t want to deal with.

The good, the bad and the awkward

Sometimes, when I’m out, people will just not talk to me. They will literally avoid talking to me to talk to anyone who is with me, whether it’s my mom, my husband or a friend. They will talk to them rather than me.

There have been times that I’ve been answering back and they’ve been sending their answers back to me via other people, like they are a spirit and I am using the person I am with as a vessel to communicate!

Now I know a lot of my disabled friends have experienced this and I think it’s one of the most common awkward and annoying moments that I experience.

But don’t get me wrong, using a wheelchair definitely also has it’s upsides!

A group of young disabled people in electric wheelchairs pose for the camera at a music festival. They are all wearing rain macs
Kelly and her group of friends at a music festival

As many of you know, I love festivals and I’ve been to most of them. I was recently at a music festival (I won’t say which as I don’t want anyone to get in trouble!) where myself and two others (both wheelchair users) literally just walked into the VIP area.

We weren’t asked if we had tickets or wristbands, we weren’t checked at all. So we spent most of the afternoon enjoying the hospitality that we hadn’t paid for. Thanks to the awkward security guard for not asking any questions!

As some of you may also know, I was an overly rebellious and not always well behaved teenager. At college myself and my friends were caught by the police doing something bad and teenager-like. The police proceeded to arrest all of my friends, except me, and took them to the station. At the time, this really annoyed me! Shouldn’t all police cars be able to transport electric wheelchairs? But now I look back on this and I guess it was a good thing as I got off scot-free!

A group of festival goers (some in electric wheelchairs) pose for the camera
A sunny selfie of Kelly and friends at a music festival

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

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.

We picked our #30toWatch, now it’s over to you

Throughout June, we shared one story a day from disabled people under 30. We wanted to help change attitudes towards disability by showing stories from disabled people who are doing extraordinary things.

Among these 30 amazing stories, we’ve had disabled racing drivers, actors, campaigners, musicians and gymnasts.

We’ve heard about volunteering stars, campaigners doing amazing things and Paralympians who are looking forward to Rio 2016.

The blogs have been a huge success and have been read by tens of thousands of people. We’d like to say thanks to those of you who have read and shared them and, of course, a big thank you to the 30 disabled people who have shared these fantastic stories.

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Now it’s over to you

We always want to hear new stories about disability. Our blog is a platform for disabled people and their families to share their experiences and opinions. Get in touch with the Stories team today to share your story.

You can also visit Scope’s website to find out more about stories at Scope and to meet the team.

If you missed any of the 30 Under 30 campaign, you can still read all of the stories on our website.

Instead of venting my anger towards people, I’ve put it into a song – Smiiffy the rapper

Smiiffy is a 21-year-old rapper from Birmingham who is looking to challenge attitudes and raise awareness of mental health and disability.

For 30 Under 30, he spoke with us about how he is using his music to spread awareness of mental health and what he hopes his music will achieve.

It’s really important to be open about impairments as it can help break down barriers and end stigma.

I have Bilateral Perthes’ disease which means my cartilage is degenerating. It’s quite painful now and again but I’ve learnt to live with it. I’ve had around 15 operations and probably a lot more to come in the future.

I also have depression, anxiety, memory loss and probably a long list of everything else!

I’ve been quite open about it, however I haven’t always been confident in talking about it. I always had the fear of being rejected by people if I told them. Lately, I’ve become a lot more comfortable from support online and have opened up a lot more.

Smiiffy, a young disabled man, smiles by a microphone

I find comfort through using humour and writing music. My music is all about my experiences but I sometimes also write songs about experiences of people I’ve met.

Knowing that there are people listening to the lyrics and finding them relatable is brilliant.

You wouldn’t believe I have anxiety when I perform on the stage, everything just kind of goes away. I’m in my element and absolutely love what I do.

An exclusive rap for 30 Under 30

It’s time I show some clarity

I face facts and reality

Every single person is perfect the way that you are

Don’t let any physical or mental issue break who you really are

I’ve had shackles on my wrists and I’ve been scared to speak

I’ve had times where I’ve let tears take over my cheek

But now I’m stronger than that, that’s what you call unity

And when I feel this strong there’s nothing that anything can actually do to me

You can see more from Smiiffy on his YouTube channel and by following him on Twitter.

Smiiffy is sharing his story as part of 30 Under 30. Throughout June, we have been sharing one story a day from disabled people who are doing extraordinary things. Visit our website to see all of the stories in the campaign.

My role on Holby City helps change attitudes about autism – Jules

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Jules is an actor and a regular on Holby City. He also happens to have Asperger syndrome, which is a form of autism.

As part of 30 Under 30, we chatted to him about acting, attitudes and how Access All Areas helped him break into the industry.

My love of acting came from watching a lot of Steve Martin movies which made me feel really good. I also loved going to the theatre and the cinema. I watched lots of films and always thought I’d like to do something like that. Acting made me feel good about myself. I think that really inspired me.

I did a course through Access All Areas, who also now act as my agent. I made some good friends during that time and it was a really good experience because it helped my acting. I improved so much. It meant I could get to the next level.

Landing a role on Holby City

I got an audition thanks to Access All Areas who also now act as my agent. I was fabulous (as always!) and I passed the audition with flying colours. It was very challenging at the beginning because I was walking into something completely new. As the months went on I became comfortable and settled in well and I actually really like it now. I think I’ve come a long way in the last year. I always jump out of bed with enthusiasm, even though I’m leaving at half 6 in the morning.

I play Jason Haynes. He has a different type of Asperger’s to myself. I think he’s a lot geekier than I am. He’s a very nice man but he lacks confidence. I feel like I’m playing a completely different person. That’s why it’s interesting. It’s really fun on set with the cast and crew. It’s a long day but it’s good. I always feel very proud of myself at the end of the day. I feel like I’ve tried my best and done a good job. I like that lots of parents with autistic children have enjoyed it. It’s a great thing that I’ve been able to do.

Jules, a young disabled man, plays a character smiling and lying in a hospital bed on Holby City

I hope attitudes in the industry get better

There was a point where I was very frustrated with the industry because I was seeing all these films that had a character with autism and it was so often played by a neuro-typical person. In Rain Man and Black Balloon, for example, the actors in those two films don’t have the condition. It’s frustrating that directors and producers don’t do enough research because there are people out there with the conditions that can play these parts.

It’s important for disabled actors to play disabled characters, and I think they can play characters who don’t have a condition too. I want the industry to be a little bit more understanding and to not ignore autistic talent like it has done for far too long. I would say it’s improving now but it could get a lot better.

I think it’s really good that shows like Holby City are starting to look into diversity more. When I first started I saw one negative comment on Facebook, someone who followed the show who didn’t understand Asperger’s. But everyone else has been really supportive.

It’s great to have role models

Steve Martin, John Travolta and Morgan Freeman are some of my favourite actors, and Kevin Spacey, Tim Robbins, Jeff Bridges – I’ve got lots. Jim Carrey as well. All these people make me so excited to be an actor and it’s really great to have these role models because I happen to think that actors and comedians are the best people in the world.

I hope that I’m seen as a role model. I hope that I’m encouraging people with other conditions or people who are on the spectrum and have autism or mild learning difficulties. If they watch me on Holby City I hope I’m showing them that it can happen for them and they shouldn’t lose faith and hope. I’m sure they can do it if they put their mind to it.

I think that I’ve done a good job at making people more aware of autism and making it relevant in the acting world. I’m showing that if people with autism want to do this kind of work they can, and it’s not impossible.

My advice for other young disabled actors

Keep a positive frame of mind and try your best. Of course there will be hard times but you’ll get through it. Try your very best to get where you want to go. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want but maybe it just takes time.

Holby City has been the highlight of my career. It’s a very rewarding job and I’m hoping that it will lead to other work in the future. It’s been my first big break really. I’d love to do movies here and in America, more TV and theatre. I’d like to do a whole variety of things.

Jules is sharing his story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

Setting up a disability community gave me a sense of belonging – Sam

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Sam is a student at Oxford and a Scope for Change campaigner. She is the current President of Oxford Students’ Disability Community and a founding member.

As part of 30 Under 30, Sam talks about the difficulties she faced when she started university, feeling isolated and how setting up a disability community changed things. 

For as long as I can recall, I’ve had a hearing loss. I remember my mum telling my teacher on the first day of school that I couldn’t hear well, and I got my first pair of hearing aids when I was 7. Despite my hearing loss I’ve always been in mainstream education, and coped pretty well. I never had any trouble with the work, made friends easily, and my hearing loss was largely an afterthought. This changed drastically when I left for university.

For the first time I began to think of myself as disabled

The switch from a small classroom environment was jarring, and I found I couldn’t hear at all in lectures. At school I’d been taught by the same teachers for years, but at university I had new tutors every term and not all of them understood my hearing loss. The majority of socialising took place in pubs, bars, or at dinner with the rest of my year group – I had a great group of friends, but spent most of our time together desperately trying to pick out their lost words from a solid wall of sound.

I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I felt like I was the only person struggling. At the same time my hearing began to deteriorate faster than it had ever done before, and at the end of my second year I found out I was now profoundly deaf. For the first time I began to think of myself as disabled.

I was becoming increasingly isolated

I’d never known anyone with a disability growing up. I’d met one other deaf person at university, but nobody in our social circle was disabled. I found myself becoming increasingly isolated – I couldn’t talk to my friends about losing my hearing as they had no experience of it themselves, and it was less upsetting to stay in on my own than to go out and struggle to hear the conversations. I was desperately unhappy.

Sam smiling, holding up a sign that says We Unite

Setting up the Oxford Students’ Disability Community

About a year and a half ago, one student at the university sent round a Facebook message inviting other students with disabilities out for a drink and a chat at a local bar. I didn’t know anyone, but I decided to go. About 20 other students turned up, and when we got talking and it was like a light had been switched on.

All of us were having a hard time, with tutors and peers not understanding our disabilities, and some of us had been experiencing discrimination because of this. Before, we’d all been convinced our troubles were individual, but it was now strikingly clear that this was a problem for many other disabled students at the university. We banded together, forming a working group of disabled students – the Oxford Students’ Disability Community (OSDC).

We began to spread the word, communicating with the university to improve support for disabled students, running social events, and starting a Facebook group where students with disabilities, mental health conditions and specific learning difficulties could ask each other for advice or support. We became the student union’s official disabled students campaign, and before long we found ourselves with a community of more than 400 people.

I no longer feel alone

For me, that sense of community is so important. So many of us had found ourselves isolated by our disabilities and the way others responded to them. I had never felt more alone than when my hearing began to decline, but once I began to meet other disabled students I realised I was anything but.

We have a wealth of shared experiences and whilst our disabilities are different, I’ve found we can relate to each other in ways no one else has done before. That understanding is so important in a culture that so frequently ignores and alienates the disabled, and I feel so grateful to have found it. OSDC has given me some of my closest friends, helped me find my voice as a disabled person, and fostered an overwhelming sense of belonging.

To find out more, visit the Oxford Students’ Disability Community’s website. 

Sam is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

Deafness doesn’t have to be a disability – Abbi

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Abbi was born with a genetic bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as ‘OI’ or brittle bones. Following learning BSL, she has set up a YouTube channel where she covers popular music in BSL.

As part of 30 Under 30, she talks about losing her hearing, how she started her YouTube channel and recalls surgery she had to regain her hearing.

Both my mum and I have OI which, aside from making our bones fragile and prone to fracture, has also led us to develop a plethora of related disorders. We both underwent scoliosis fusion surgery as teenagers, we both have arthritis and limited mobility (although my mum walks, I now use a wheelchair), and we both have otosclerosis, a degenerative hearing impairment.

I began wearing hearing aids around the age of eight. Within six years, my hearing had deteriorated to what’s classed as a ‘severe’ loss. I could no longer hear male voices at all, even with powerful hearing aids, and survived life in the hearing community through lipreading, guesswork and a bunch of magnificently patient friends. I was a huge fan of music and played several instruments, even though I had no hearing in the lower frequencies and could only understand lyrics if I saw them written down.

My mum grew up in a world where disguising her disabilities made life easier, so when it came to teenage rebellion, I embraced my disabilities as much as possible. I spent a lot of time learning about sign language, deaf history and the deaf community, and eventually signed up for BSL evening classes at a local school. I even convinced mum to come along, too!

Abbi, a young disabled woman, smiles as she sits in her wheechair

Songs and signing

To tie in with Adele performing at Glastonbury, Abbi has created a BSL cover of one of her most popular songs.

We had a wonderful BSL teacher, Jill Hipson, and after finishing our Level 1, Jill agreed to continue coaching me and a classmate through to Level 2.

As part of our study, Jill introduced us to sign song, which I instantly recognised as the perfect way to preserve the music I loved so much, even as my hearing continued to deteriorate. The first song I recorded – ‘Lucky’ by Britney Spears, of course – was clunky and awkward, but when I uploaded it to YouTube I received a huge amount of support, both from BSL users and from other learners like me. That was a huge source of encouragement to me, and a great way to broaden my understanding of the language.

I’d finally found a way to reconcile both my deaf and hearing worlds which, as a shy, anxious teenager in an increasingly unreliable body, was a massive boost to my confidence. My YouTube channel really took off just as my physical health declined. In hindsight, having such a positive experience of one disability really helped me in the transition to using a wheelchair full-time.

Since ‘Lucky’, I’ve recorded over 50 videos and gained 8,000 YouTube subscribers. I’m not fluent in BSL and I do make mistakes, especially as my hands don’t always work as well as I’d like, but the YouTube community has been incredibly supportive. Not only have I received lots of really helpful constructive criticism, I’ve also had some truly moving messages from both d/Deaf and hearing people all over the world and established genuine friendships. It’s incredible to think how the internet can facilitate such connections which, twenty years ago, would never have been possible.

An alternative way of experiencing the world

In 2011 and 2012, after much deliberation, I decided to undergo two risky but thankfully successful stapedectomy surgeries, which restored most of my hearing. Learning to hear again after ten years was fantastic, and actually fuelled my desire to keep recording sign songs – the more of the song I could hear, the more I wanted to sign!

I recently began to lose my hearing again. Despite having previously worn hearing aids every day for ten years, now that I’ve experienced the luxury of ‘real’ sound, I’ve found adjusting back to ‘hearing aid sound’ difficult. I wear my aids at work, but as soon as I leave the office, they go straight back into their box.

I consider myself incredibly privileged to have experienced both hearing and deafness; facing hearing loss as an adult, I’m taking my time figuring out what that means to me. Deafness doesn’t have to be a disability; for many, it’s simply an alternative way of experiencing the world. I hope my sign songs demonstrate how enriching and expressive that world can be.

Head to Abbi’s YouTube channel to watch more BSL covers of popular songs.

Abbi is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

Natasha Coates, the gymnast who is allergic to exercise

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Natasha Coates is an elite disability gymnast. She has a condition called Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD). It means that she is allergic to a long list of different things, including exercise.

For 30 Under 30, she talks about disability sport and how she manages her condition whilst doing gymnastics.

I started gymnastics when I was eight at my local leisure centre.

When I was 18 I suffered a life threatening allergic reaction. I went into anaphylactic shock completely out of the blue and we didn’t know what had triggered it. Then it happened eight times in two weeks and it’s pretty much not stopped since. I’ve probably had over 250 life threatening allergic reactions since then.

I’d been doing gymnastics for a long time and I switched to disability gymnastics at 19 because I was unable to keep up with mainstream gymnastics. Disability gymnastics gives me the opportunity to still train and compete safely.

It was difficult to go from being perfectly fine one day to having this condition the next. It happened pretty much overnight. I found it difficult to refer to myself as disabled, I didn’t really know what it meant. Doing disability sport really made me realise who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, lies in a hospital bed holding her thumb up and smiling

Adjusting to train

I’ve made a lot of adjustments to my training because of my condition. I can’t train nearly as much as I used to. I maybe do six or seven hours a week. Most gymnasts do 30.

So when I exercise I lose the feeling from my elbows down and knees down which makes it difficult to feel the equipment. So when I’m on bars I can’t actually feel my hands catching the higher bar, I can only feel the drag down if I’ve caught it. So it creates quite a few barriers, especially whilst doing gymnastics!

I’m incredibly hard on myself and sometimes I do think I can do everything like everybody else because I train with mainstream athletes so I try to keep up with them. I get frustrated when I can’t.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, leaps into the air during a gymnastics performance
Photo courtesy of B C Gym Photos

The British Championships

When I competed this year I was waving at the crowd, showing everyone what I could do. I placed first on floor and I’d only started tumbling a few days before. I’d just got out of intensive care 12 weeks before that.

I came off the floor and just burst into tears. My best friend is my coach as well and she knew the lyrics to the song I’d chosen and what it represented and we were literally just sobbing into each others’ arms.

I’m not aware of the crowd when I’m performing because I’m so focused, but when I did the end I could hear the audience. I presented to everyone and people came up afterwards saying my floor was amazing and it was really nice to see the emotion. After all the work and effort that I’d put into that floor routine it was really nice for them to feel it as well.

Making way for the next generation

I’d love gymnastics to be in the Paralympics and to say I was going to Rio but unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen in my career. There’s just not enough of us and there’s not enough international squads. Hopefully it will get there. I’d love to see it in my lifetime. I feel like the more I raise awareness of disability gymnastics, the more I can pave the way for the next generation.

I’d recommend anyone to try disability sport. You don’t have to be representing Great Britain, you don’t have to be good at it – if you’re enjoying it that’s all that matters.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, flips upside down during a gymnastics competition
Photo courtesy of B C Gym Photos

Natasha joins us for a Facebook Live session at 4pm on Friday 24 June.

She is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

To find out more about Disability Gymnastics and how to get involved, visit the British Gymnastics website.

Header image courtesy of Alan Edwards