“Inclusive sport shouldn’t be something we have to fight for”

Kris is the founder of Wheely Good Fitness, which offers exercise classes for both disabled and non-disabled people in Herefordshire.

On the weekend, he and a group of 32 people, headed to Dorney Lake in Berkshire to take part in the Superhero Triathlon – the first fully accessible triathlon of its kind.

Here, Kris tells us about his experiences of the event, attitudes towards disability in sport and why sport for all is so important.

There is an assumption that just because someone is disabled they’re not going to want to do sport, which has an impact on the opportunities available.

Unless you live in a main city, there’s not really a lot going on. If we took away the need to segregate, everything would be accessible to everybody and we could all go to our local leisure centres and take part in whatever it is they are running. I run mixed ability classes and there is no need to segregate at all.

Health and safety is always used as an excuse. To me, health and safety is one of the most patronising things used to discriminate against disabled people. London Marathon, for example, only allow 12 places for standard wheelchair entries on the grounds of health and safety. It’s absolute nonsense. They can allow a guy to run in a tumble drier but people who use a wheelchair every day of their life are “not safe”.

Accessibility shouldn’t be something we have to fight for. Disability sport should be given the same amount of precedence as mainstream sport but you don’t see a lot of it and when you do, the coverage of it is very different. It’s not seen as being as serious or respected as other sports. It’s a shame. And if you haven’t got a huge demand [for specialist disability fitness equipment] you can’t reduce the production costs which makes it hard for people to get involved. It’s a vicious circle.

My clients like the social aspect of doing sport. Most of the groups become like a little family. They have a drink afterwards and a chat. Their confidence improves – not only from talking to other people, but they also feel they’re achieving things in the class, instead of their impairment being a negative thing.

Two people take part in the Superhero Tri
Two of the participants at Superhero Tri

Things are improving but it’s a slow process

I’ve been running my fitness classes for four years now. Things have improved in accessible sport but it’s an extremely slow process. There are more and more organisations out there organising accessible bikes and equipment hire. So you can tell attitudes are changing. I think disabled kids have an advantage now to grow up with a much more positive attitude towards themselves that people didn’t have 20 or 30 years ago.

We’re starting to see more inclusive events too. There’s Parallel London which is in its second year and that turned out to be really good event. I was really excited as soon as I heard about the Superhero Tri as were many of my clients. There is so much adaptation. The run can be done in a chair, walking or on crutches. The cycle can also be done in a chair, they allow people in power chairs as well. You can also have a buddy compete with you to help with direction, encouragement, support or balance, so everyone can take part.

The Superhero Tri was a great event

We had eight teams altogether and 21 team members. It was a fantastic opportunity for people of all abilities to compete. The event has an understanding of disability so you’re not having to fight to take part, you’re not having to get people to make allowances for you, you are welcomed for who you are and what you can do. They’re saying “you tell us what you need in order to take part” – that’s what’s so good about it.

A group of women in swimming gear pose and smile during the Superhero Tri
Participants in the Superhero Tri smile during warm up

I was excited to take part. The only thing I was apprehensive of was trying to get that many people together at the same time, without anyone dropping out. The majority of people were really excited, there are a few I could sense were apprehensive, but they really wanted to do it.

I tried to put teams together of people who work well together in my fitness classes, or socially, so they can encourage each other and feel good about their achievements. Whilst it is a competition and it’s timed, to me and many of the team, it’s really about enjoying it and doing the best you can and saying ‘I did it’.

Most of those taking part hadn’t done anything like this before. There’s a mixture of abilities – some are quite confident and some are new to my classes and actually this was a huge step for them to take. It’s a nice journey for everyone. It takes time to start believing in yourself and realising what you’re capable of.

It was a great day, the weather held for us and everyone managed to beat the nerves and turn up. Everyone did well giving everything they could to be the best they could be. The atmosphere was fantastic and everyone was high spirited and extremely supportive of one another.

We were asked by Channel 4 who were filming the event to demonstrate our Wheel-Fit aerobics class for their highlights programme due to air next weekend which was a nice surprise for everyone and, despite being between races, we managed to squeeze in 10 minutes between transitions to demonstrate what the class was about.

Kris and his team smile and pose at the Superhero Tri
Kris and his team were all smiles at the Superhero Tri

Supporting Scope

I’ve been involved with Scope ever since I started running fitness classes. If I’m doing anything for charity, I do it for Scope. Scope is a leading force in changing ideas and perceptions of disability and leading the way to a positive future for disabled people.

Sport is a powerful tool encouraging people to seek their true potential, capabilities and discover their strengths and weaknesses, whilst creating and expanding social lives for a more proactive and rewarding life. It’s not just for the elite, the super fast or the super fit, it’s something for everyone, that can benefit everyone through improved fitness, well being, confidence and social skills.

Sport can be empowering and character building and should be open to all. It’s time to remove the barriers and discrimination and open up the world of sport to everyone of all abilities and all backgrounds on an equal footing.

Get involved in a challenge event for Scope today. Whether it’s running, swimming, cycling or trekking, we have something for everyone.

As part of our mission for everyday equality, we are 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

People treated me differently when I became disabled

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

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

People’s attitudes changed when I became disabled

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

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

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

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

Some people speak to my mum instead of me

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

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

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

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

People treat me like I’m just a wheelchair

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

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

I often get asked personal questions

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

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

You look well so you must be fine

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

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

Everyday equality

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

You can watch Hannah’s TED talk on YouTube.

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

My advice to anyone with a hidden impairment

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

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

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

When I was diagnosed a massive weight was lifted

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

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

Alex laughing, with a park in the background

Fighting to succeed

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

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

We need to think about reasonable adjustments

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

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

Woman smiling inside an office

My advice for anyone with a hidden impairment

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

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

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

Read more experiences of having a hidden impairment.

“I thought I’d broken my baby” – Scope’s helpline helped me see a future

Families up and down the country turn to Scope for support in times of need. The information and support we provide can make all the difference, you can help us be there for every family by fundraising with us. With your help, we can be there for every family who contacts us.

Jenny found out her son Harry had cerebral palsy and didn’t understand his condition or how to support him. Here she explains how calling the Scope Helpline was the moment everything changed and how vital your support will be to families like hers.

Two years ago, my son Harry – who was five years old at the time – was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

He’d been complaining of tiredness and pains in his legs. A physio told me he was a typical boy, being lazy. But I knew there was more to it.

Harry would also keep falling over, his feet turned inwards and there was other behaviour I couldn’t understand. Even the slightest change to his routine would result in a meltdown.

“I thought I’d broken my baby”

I had to fight to get an appointment with a consultant. When finally we saw him we talked for only a few minutes. He told us that Harry had cerebral palsy.

I asked, ‘what is it?’ and ‘how did it happen?’ He said I must have fallen during the pregnancy, which scarred Harry’s brain. That was that. We left without any leaflets or explanations.

I hadn’t fallen whilst I was pregnant, I knew I hadn’t. But, even with this in my mind, I burst into tears. I thought I’d broken my baby.

Jenny talks on the phone in her kitchen
Jenny turned to Scope’s helpline for support

Finding the support that we needed

I’m so thankful I found Scope’s helpline number. Straight away, I realised I was talking to people who understood. I could finally see a future because they could help me understand Harry’s needs and how to give him the help that he needs.

Scope have been an amazing support ever since that first emotional phone call I made. They understand cerebral palsy and they understand Harry. That’s invaluable to me.

With Scope’s help, we’ve adapted to Harry’s needs and so has everyone in his life. Harry is doing really well at school and we are looking forward to what the future will bring.

It isn’t just Harry’s life that’s better, it’s the whole family’s.

Harry, a young boy, plays with a Superman toy set
Harry’s future seems much brighter now

You can help ensure that we can be there for every single family that contacts our helpline, find out more about fundraising with us or call on 020 7619 7270.

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

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

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

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

Companies ask me the most intrusive questions

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

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

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

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

My travel insurance is almost as much as my flights

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

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

Ironically, I tend to be more vigilant on holiday

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

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

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

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

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

A challenge that reminds us what equality is really all about

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming challenges

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

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

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

I look back on it as a day like no other

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

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

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

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

Or you can tell us your story.

Why businesses need to think about disabled consumers

Will Pike is a games developer from London whose parody of Channel 4’s Superhumans advert went viral last year. Tens of thousands of people have signed his petition for better access. In this blog, he talks about how this affects disabled consumers, and what needs to change in media representation.

Back in September 2016, I made a short film to highlight the poor disabled access found up and down our high streets. As a wheelchair user, I wanted to demonstrate how frustrating these obstructions are from my everyday perspective. I also wanted to demonstrate that establishments are missing out. By not being accessible, they’re losing multiple paying customers. Regardless of the fact that I can’t walk or overcome a set of stairs without assistance, I still have money in pocket to spend.

The ‘Purple Pound’ is worth in the region of £240 billion. This spending power is exactly why society should be a more opportune place for everyone. Why are so many businesses unable to recognise this?

We need to see more disabled people in mainstream media

Whilst accessibility is fundamental, it’s no good just making a bunch of logistical improvements if attitudes to disability don’t change. I’m not simply talking about seeing disabled people as an untapped purple cash-cow. I want society to see the purple person behind the purple pound. It’s so important that disabled people are given a more prominent place in mainstream media, where they can contribute to reversing poor public perception and ignorance.

Will in his wheelchair outside a restaurant where there's a step
Man in a wheelchair unable to access a restaurant

Fundamentally, this is the reason why diversity is so important. If we only have a monosyllabic representation of society displayed upon our TV screens, then we’ll continue to limit the prospects of anybody who doesn’t conform to a notion of the perceived norm. We must challenge this. It obviously goes beyond disability to include race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and age. It also means evolving our perceptions of beauty and happiness. For instance, in the film ‘Me Before You’, the main character is a quadriplegic chap called Will, who ultimately concedes that life with a disability, even with love and financial stability, is so miserable that he must end it all. What kind of message does this send out to the world? For those with a disability it’s insulting and heartless. While for those without a disability it simply reaffirms the (misplaced) need for pity.

Change is happening, but we need more

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Change is happening, but society needs to do more than the bare minimum. We need to see more disabled people on telly, while ensuring that the inclusion of disability isn’t a token gesture toward equality. There also needs to be a comprehensive strategy to improve the quality of life for all disabled people, positioning us as simply part of the normal spectrum of human experience. Only then will society truly benefit from the Purple Pound.

At present only 2.5% of all characters on TV screens are disabled. It’s hardly surprising then that 81% of the 13 million disabled people in the UK do not feel they are well-represented on TV and in the media. This has to change. It’s time for businesses to recognise the value of the purple pound and put more disabled people at the heart of their campaigns.

Will supports Scope with our mission to drive everyday equality, so that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Visit our website to find out more about our work and how you can support us.

Read more blogs on the power of disabled consumers.

“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.

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

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