Category Archives: 30 under 30

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

30 under 30 logo

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.

Calum is using magic to challenge attitudes

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Calum Morris is a 21-year-old magician from Sheffield. He has spent years honing his skills and has set up his own business.

As part of 30 Under 30, he talks about the opportunities his career has given him and how useful magic can be in changing attitudes.

I’ve been interested in magic since being a kid, but it wasn’t until I saw Dynamo walking across the river Thames that I decided I wanted to do it professionally. I was impressed at how he’d taken it to the next level and that night I got my old pack of cards out and started practicing again.

Four years ago I set up my own business. I came up with my stage name, Magi-Cal, and used it as a personal brand. I like to entertain people, cheering them up and putting a smile on their faces, magic gives me the chance to do that everyday. I now perform at birthday parties, corporate events and weddings. I do a mix of stage shows, micromagic and impromptu street performances.

This job has also given me the opportunities to meet world famous magicians. I get on really well with Dynamo, last year he invited me to go backstage at one of his shows, he’s a really nice, likeable guy. It was great to meet Derren Brown and David Blaine as I’m a big fan of them both.

Calum, a young disabled man, holds up a deck of cards and poses for a photograph with famous magician, Dynamo

Breaking down barriers

I like to think I’m challenging misconceptions of disability through my work. I’ve always been told what I can and can’t do. At a young age my parents were told that I would never be able to speak, but they never gave up on me. These negative attitudes have only propelled me to overcome the barriers I face. I like to disprove people and always strive to be the best I can possibly be.

People often don’t know how to act around disabled people, they feel awkward and think they have to speak differently to us or talk down to us. Magic is a great way to interact with people and challenge these attitudes. Over my career I’ve definitely seen things start to change and I want to continue to do this.Calum, a young disabled man, performs a card trick in front of a group of people

My disabilities can make learning some tricks more difficult. Being dyspraxic means I’m a bit clumsy, my hand movements are not as fast as people without the condition. This has meant I’ve had to work very hard to master card manipulation and sleight of hand. I always have a deck of cards on me and take every opportunity I can to perform, constantly practicing has helped me really hone my skills.

Most people learn tricks through books but this has never been easy for me because I’m dyslexic. Reading can be a struggle, but I make the most of what I’ve got and think of creative ways to overcome the challenges I face.

As much as my disabilities have been hindering, they’ve also helped me in the industry. I’m able to be much more imaginative with my magic because I’m able to see opportunities for tricks that others can’t. I’ve come up with some really weird pieces that others may not have thought of. I’ve managed to get into Sheffield’s Magic Circle, which wasn’t easy but has really helped me to progress and grow.

I really want people to see past my disabilities. I don’t want people to book me because they feel sorry for me, but because I’m a likeable person and a good magician.

What the future holds for Magi-Cal

This summer I’ll be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’ve been going every year since I was born and in August I’ll be doing street performances on The Royal Mile. This was always my favourite place to go as a kid, and I’m excited that I’ll be there as an entertainer this year!

Magic is one of the few things that helps people forget about the troubles of day to day life, that’s my favourite thing about it. It’s all about the good feeling it gives people. And if I can make people’s day that little bit better, if I can bring a bit of happiness into the world, I think I’ve done my job well.

Calum 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 something extraordinary. Visit our website to read more of the stories from the campaign.

 

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

30 under 30 logo

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

30 under 30 logo

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

30 under 30 logo

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

I want people to have a say in the future of our country

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Alice is a keen campaigner and star of our Scope for Change training program.

As part of 30 Under 30, she shares her experiences of the program, how it has given her the confidence to run her own campaigns and why it is important that everyone uses their vote in the EU referendum.

I’ve been interested in activism ever since my dad introduced me to grassroots politics as a kid. He took me to my first demo when I was twelve years old and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I love the way direct action works, how it unapologetically demands our voices be heard. Change will never come about whilst we are unwilling to engage in the system, despite how broken it may be. Direct action gives us the opportunity to challenge and offer an alternative.

Alice, a young disabled woman, smiles at the camera with her dad

Getting the tools I needed

I had never organised my own campaign until I joined Scope For Change. I applied to the program last year and I was over the moon when I found out I had been accepted. We are a group of twenty-two young disabled people all interested in activism.

In March we attended a ‘bootcamp’ where we had extensive training on how to run a successful campaign. We were taught a wide range of tactics from how to utilise social media to getting the support of politicians. This training not only gave me the tools I needed, but also the confidence!

Running my own campaign

Currently I am running a campaign to encourage people in my neighbourhood to vote in the EU referendum. Engaging people in politics is something that I am passionate about. Too many people bury their heads in the sand and become ever increasingly apathetic. I can understand why this happens, I too have little faith in our current political system.

However, I believe referendums give the electorate a rare chance to participate in a form of direct democracy and we should be excited about this opportunity!

Our community is one which doesn’t have much of a voice in society. We live in social housing and the vast majority of us can’t find work because we are disabled. We are often judged and not listened to.

The aim of my campaign has not been to tell people how to vote but to empower them to go out and exercise their democratic right. I wanted people to know that not only does their opinion matter, but that it is significant and can make a difference.

A pile of leaflets relating to the EU referendum. They say "Should we stay or should we go?"

A unique opportunity to have a say in the future of our country

Over the last few weeks I have made hundreds of leaflets and posters explaining how to register to vote and why it is so important to do this. I have printed these in a large font and on coloured paper to make them as accessible as possible. Two of my lovely neighbours have been wonderful and helped me deliver these. I have assisted people to sign up who would have otherwise struggled to do this independently. Door knocking has also played a big part as some people are unable to read English, this has sparked conversations and it’s been interesting to hear how people are voting and why.

Throughout my campaign I have emphasised that we will not be voting to elect someone to represent us, but are being asked a direct question. Should we remain in the EU or should we leave? This is a unique opportunity to have a say in the future of our country and we should embrace this.

On 23 June, I have arranged a meeting place for local people to gather at various times throughout the day. We will be walking to the polling station and voting together. I believe this will encourage people, especially those who are unsure where the polling station is or are unfamiliar with the process. I know some of my disabled neighbours will really struggle to do this independently and my hope is that voting collectively will provide the support they need.

I have always been an activist, but Scope have given me the confidence I needed to run my own campaigns and I can’t thank them enough for this gift. I plan to run many more in the future which I hope will be as successful as this one promises to be!

Alice is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are sharing one story a day throughout June from disabled people who are doing something extraordinary. Visit our website to read the stories so far.

Are you voting in the EU referendum? We want disabled people to have a clear understanding of their voting rights and options. Read our blog about voting and elections for more information.

We need to do more for disabled survivors like me – Ashley

30 under 30 logo

 

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

Trigger warning: mentions sexual assault, rape, suicide attempt

Ashley is a campaigner. As a survivor of sexual assault, Ashley is passionate about bringing about change for disabled survivors, who are often overlooked. Through Scope for Change – Scope’s training programme for young disabled campaigners – Ashley has teamed up with others to set up Disabled Survivors Unite. Their goal is to combat domestic abuse and sexual violence against disabled people.

As part of 30 Under 30, Ashley talks about the need for disabled survivors’ voices to be heard, shares their own journey and talks about their plans for the future.

I am a survivor of sexual assault

I’m going to share my story because I don’t want others to feel ashamed or alone. I was drugged and assaulted in London when I was 21. Due to my autism, I often go non-verbal under stress, but I was very clear that I did not want to have sex with this man, this stranger. What I wanted was of no importance to him. Afterwards, I fell into a deep hole that no one seemed prepared to help me out of. The knowledge wasn’t there for someone like me, a rape victim with autism, chronic illnesses, and ill mental health.

And so the months went by without proper support and, upon hearing the case would not go forward, I tried to kill myself. I remember waking up in the hospital bed with an apologetic doctor explaining that England didn’t have any support set up for people like me. My family watched as my physical health deteriorated and I retreated further into my head. No one knew what to do.

I found support from other survivors

Two years later, I made it to a survivor’s writing session and found a group of people just like me. Most had disabilities of varying kinds and it was the first time since my assault that I felt a sense of purpose. We decided to band together and start something – we came up with The (re)Storytellers Project.

The idea was to create a template to be used at universities for writing groups of survivors and victims to support each other, as the waiting lists for Rape Crisis counselling can be incredibly long. Through this group, I discovered that the most important thing to me was to protect the countless others who had been through what I had.

Ashley at a garden party, smiling with a drink

Working with other young campaigners

Through Scope for Change, a training programme for young disabled campaigners, I learned just how valuable our voices are as young disabled people. We were taught how to utilise social media, film, and various other campaign tactics to get our voices out there; but, most importantly, I think we all came away more confident in asserting ourselves and our varying needs.

It’s hard to express just how important Scope For Change is to me as a disabled person who has spent most of their life incredibly isolated – to be in a room full of fellow disabled people who want to change the world is absolutely glorious.

Why we set up Disabled Survivors Unite

I struggle every day with the knowledge that my situation is not an uncommon one. As I’ve become more involved with the disability community, it’s been made very clear that sexual violence is an epidemic that is rarely discussed with us in mind. It’s my goal to change that.

People like me often go unheard. Disabled people are desexualised to such a degree in the eyes of the public that the possibility of us being victims doesn’t even occur to people. When I was raped, my disabilities were ignored by those in charge of helping me.

At the Scope For Change residential several of us realised we wanted to campaign about similar issues. As a survivor myself, I’ve had many difficulties getting specialised support and couldn’t stand to let others feel alone in that. We want Disabled Survivors Unite to become a non-profit organisation built around fighting domestic abuse and sexual violence against disabled people.

Our plans for the future

Our first step towards our goal is The (re)Storytellers Project. With Disabled Survivors Unite, we’re taking that idea to the next level and collecting stories, letters, and notes of support, anonymously or otherwise, to better amplify the voices of disabled victims and survivors.

We hope that sharing these stories will both create a feeling of community for those involved and bring about change in the way that disabled victims and survivors are viewed and treated.

If you have been affected by the content of this blog, you can contact the Samaritans or Scope’s helpline for support.

To find out more and support Ashley’s work, visit Disabled Survivors Unite.

Ashley is sharing their story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read other stories from 30 Under 30.

This World Music Day, record breaking pianist Nicholas McCarthy shares his incredible story

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Nicholas McCarthy is a British pianist. Born without a right hand, he was the first left-hand-only pianist to graduate from the Royal College of Music in London in its 134-year history. 

As part of 30 Under 30 he chatted to us about his journey to success and talks about breaking barriers, his love of music and his advice for other young disabled artists. 

Here’s an extract from the full blog which we’ve shared on Medium, along with some of Nicholas’ music. 

I didn’t play piano until I was 14. I saw a friend of mine play a Beethoven piano sonata in assembly and I just had one of those moments where I thought “Oh my God, that’s what I’m going to do”. I had a small keyboard from years before so I got my parents to get it out of the loft and started really slowly learning. One day, my dad shouted up “Nick, turn the radio down” and it was actually me playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. So I said “It’s not the radio dad, it’s me” and there was a deathly silence from downstairs. Then they said “Do you want piano lessons? You’re quite good actually love!” — and of course I said yes.

After a two years of lessons my piano music teacher said I should go to a specialist school. My friend who played that Beethoven piano sonata had been to a specialist piano school with very high standards and I really wanted to go there. I knew I needed to audition so I rang up the headmistress. I remember it like it was yesterday. She said: “To be honest I haven’t got any time to see you because I don’t know how you can possibly play scales without two hands”. Being a cocky 15-year-old at this point, I replied: “I don’t want to play scales. I want to play music” and she put the phone down on me.

In my head, that was my one chance of becoming a concert pianist and I felt completely shattered. This woman, sadly, couldn’t think outside the box and I thought “That’s it, poor me”. Reality isn’t like that, there are many paths around things. I found a different way.

That wasn’t the only barrier that Nicholas has had to overcome. Head over to Medium to read about the path that he did take, which led to his record-breaking success at the Royal College of Music and performing at the London Paralympics 2012.

To hear more from Nicholas, visit his website and his YouTube channel.