Inspiration without condescension

Guest post from Nick who blogs as Marzipanman. You can also follow him on Twitter.

A week or so before the Paralympic Games started, comedian Laurence Clark wrote in The Guardian:

“I came to realise that the less fortunate you are perceived to be, the less you have to achieve before you’re labelled ‘inspiring’. It was a polite way of people telling me they thought I probably wouldn’t amount to much, but had somehow surpassed their low expectations.”

When I first read this I thought it made perfect sense. After all, what frame of reference do I have on which to base any kind of disagreement? I could see his argument – why should his achievements (or otherwise) be considered any more inspiring than anyone else’s, just because he happens to be disabled?

But then the Games started and something unexpected happened – I started to disagree with Laurence, for a very specific reason.

My daughter Robyn

Robyn was born two years ago, the younger of twins and eight weeks premature. Two days after she was born we were told that she had experienced a severe bleed in her brain before, during or after her birth and that this was likely to cause her permanent damage. We were told that the prognosis was not particularly good.

Happily, Robyn is developing well, far better than that early prognosis. She’s not walking yet and has limited mobility down her left side, but thanks to support from NHS professionals and an undoubted strength of character she is shuffling around on her bottom, developing her vocabulary and generally taking over the household!

That said, I worry about her. From the moment we were told Robyn would probably have some form of disability, most likely cerebral palsy, I pictured her in a wheelchair, maybe learning disabled, maybe unable to ever live independently. I didn’t want to read about the condition or its effects because I was scared about what lay in store for my daughter.

And you know what? I felt sorry for her. I know that’s not the right thing – but it’s how I felt. She’s my daughter, and I want the best for her – and with the best politically correct will in the world, being disabled doesn’t necessarily fit in with that.

The Paralympics

During the Paralympics I’ve been watching athletes, swimmers, footballers, rowers and other Paralympic competitors, and I’ve paid particular attention to those with cerebral palsy. And you know what? They’re sensational. And not just in a “hasn’t she done well for a disabled person?” way, they’re just sensational.

Hannah Cockcroft has cerebral palsy as a result of two cardiac arrests at birth. Her parents were told that she would never be able to walk, talk or do anything for herself or live past her teenage years. On 31 August she won GB’s first track and field gold medal of the 2012 Paralympic Games in the T34 100 metres race with a Paralympic record time of 18.05 seconds.

Hannah Cockcroft, Olivia Breen, Sophia Warner and others are inspirational to me, and no doubt to parents across the country, because they remind me to look beyond the disability and the struggles that our children will no doubt have, to the chance – no, the likelihood – that they will have lives where they can fulfil their ambitions, whether that’s to be a champion sportsperson, to have a successful career or a great education, to get married and have children or even be a stand-up comedian.

Changing attitudes

I think the London 2012 Paralympic Games has done more for the public perception of disability in this country than any number of well-meaning campaigns or training courses ever could – this is especially timely given the current government’s clear agenda to stigmatise disabled people as benefits scroungers or burdens on the economy.

And it’s also done something for me. It’s made me positive for Robyn’s future. I’ve always seen what a fighter, what a character, what a person she is (and what a pain in the arse she can be as well) but now I have far more confidence that other people will see the same things as well.

Inspirational? Oh, go on then.

Sorry, Laurence.


Steph Cutler hands out her own Paralympic medals

Guest post from Steph Cutler

Even though the Paralympics has yet to finish, I think London already takes gold.

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are being shown in more countries than any previous Paralympic Games. Organisers have agreed a series of TV deals which mean over 100 countries are screening the games.

While we have a long way to go in the UK before disabled people enjoy equality, it is worth remembering that we are streets ahead of many other countries. It is simply amazing that more countries than ever are showing the 2012 Paralympics. Raising awareness often leads to change and what could be better than the most global platform to date to do this? This alone scores my first gold medal.

Not only is it being shown in countries who have previously taken little or no interest, but big players in sporting nations have committed to hours of airtime. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is showing 100 hours, and Channel 4 is broadcasting 150 hours of live coverage with BBC 5 Live covering the radio waves.

Paralympic power!

What I love more than this, is that the new profile of the Paralympics has the power to shame! Broadcasters in the United States have been accused over many years of ignoring the Paralympics, but this year they have been forced to rethink their scheduling.

NBC was planning just four 60-minute highlight programmes followed by one 90-minute round-up after the Games were over. NBC is now running a daily highlights package via the US Paralympics YouTube channel following public pressure. Some way to go before America get it, but 2012 is the year they can learn from a small island!

Of course people power is compelling, but let’s not get too wrapped up in the bubble of Paralympic fever. Let’s keep our feet, or blades, or whatever alternatives to feet we have (suddenly anything goes and I love it!) on the ground.

My next gold comes in the commercial backing that the Paralympics is experiencing. Companies in the US are running slick TV commercials featuring disabled athletes endorsing a range of products. Sponsoring the Games is one thing but for companies to use disabled people to endorse a product takes this a step, no actually a leap, further.

Disabled people mean business!

While disability is riding the crest of a huge public profile coupled with an increasingly enthusiastic audience we cannot be ignored. Right now it is not about it being a nice thing to do. We can’t be ignored because we mean business, and better still, that business knows it!

Sainsbury’s is the first, and indeed only, Paralympic exclusive sponsor the Games has ever seen. Evidently, the retailer believes the Paralympics are not secondary to the main event and so there is a commercial benefit by association. This gets my third gold medal.

My next gold medal is given on the basis of legacy. Heathrow Airport has had the challenge of welcoming thousands of Paralympic athletes through the airport. Heathrow has invested in a package of permanent accessibility improvements which include staff training and specialist lifts and facilities. These changes will continue to benefit all passengers with reduced mobility long after the last medal has been awarded.

My final gold is driven by public demand. The Royal Mail has said it will now issue the individual stamps of our Paralympic gold medallists and get the gold paint out again to paint the local post boxes of winners.

Ironically, the reason behind the initial decision not to offer the same congratulatory gesture to Paralympic gold medallists as was offered to their Olympic counterparts, was that there are too many gold Paralympians! Basically, disabled people are too successful! Now isn’t that a nice change?


William’s day at the Paralympics

Guest post from Vicki Lee – mum and carer.

Team GB fan

The most fascinating thing about our early morning train journey down to the Olympic Park, according to my disabled son William, aged nine, was that “the train had tables!”

I was hoping that this visit was going to inspire him. This is the boy who came last on sports day. This is the boy who nobody wanted to pick for their team.

His big sister Joanna, 15, and I hung on to Will for dear life as we made our way from Stratford station with thousands of others to take our seats at the stadium.

It wasn’t long before Will attracted a fair bit of attention with his wonderful enthusiastic cheering, yelling, clapping and flag waving. He’d certainly already won a medal in packed-lunch eating!

By the end of our session we’d seen field heats of discus, long jump, hammer throw, and shot-put as well as track wheelchair races and running – the highlight being GB’s Richard Whitehead winning the gold medal in the 200 metres.

As the Union Jack was raised to the National Anthem, Will yelled at the top of his voice: “I know this one everyone!”

The hours had flown by (so much so there’d not even been a trip to the toilet!) and the volunteer games-makers were truly fabulous.

After a glorious day out we made our way back to the train ‘with tables’. I asked William whether he thought he’d like to try any of the new sports he’d seen, and he said simply: “I think I’d like to try that one where you throw yourself in a sandpit!”

Mission accomplished. He was definitely inspired!

Orchard Manor helps promote nature, food and farming

Orchard Manor student

Sixty farmers, SEN teachers, group leaders and care home managers gathered on 4 July 2012 for an inspiring Let Nature Feed Your Senses conference at Southfields Farm, Coleshill, near Birmingham. The purpose of this, the third national conference, was to share learning and understand the impacts of the sensory farm visits that have been hosted for over 10,000 visitors over the last three years across the network of 75 farms.

Tracey Demartino, Orchard Manor Skills Tutor, has been working closely with Liz Nottage from Russell-Smith Farm in Duxford over the past two years and presented the Orchard Manor story at the conference.

Find out more about the conference and view Tracey’s presentation with photos of Orchard Manor residents participating in the farm programme.

Channel 4 coverage of Paralympics

So I made it to the games and am now an official resident in the Paralympic Village. It’s amazing to walk round an enclosed campus, with heavy security, and to see so many disabled people in one place. There is an enormous food hall with every type of cuisine catered for, there is even a fully kitted out McDonalds! All the apartment blocks have been given team makeovers and it really is a sight to behold to see the flags and banners of all the nations living together united by sport.

Despite my previous reservations I am happy to say that my uniform fitting went very well and everything fits! We have a few technical meetings and our Wheelchair Fencing competition begins on 4 September at 9.30am. We are currently in the training hall at Excel whilst the hall previously used for visual impaired Judo is converted to the Fencing Hall, we are hoping it will be ready on time.

Hopefully you may have been able to catch some of the TV coverage on Channel 4. For me it’s been a mixed bag with some good stuff and some pretty poor commentaries. In particular the Opening Ceremony was so depressing as virtually each team was introduced as being ‘war torn’ or ‘civil war’. I do personally have issues with the use of ‘superhumans’ to describe the athletes, but it seems C4’s angle is to promote the ‘journey’ and overcoming adversity – at least it’s on TV I suppose…

I was pleased to hear that the Post Office agreed to continue the theme from the Olympics by celebrating Gold Medal winners at the Paralympics with a commemorative postage stamp, however I would have preferred the irony of the stamp being second class, perhaps to reflect the attitudes still prevalent to disabled people?

London 2012 Paralympics fervour

I’ve just got back from the Olympic / Paralympic stadium. What a day….again! And I was there to see David Weir collect his gold medal!

Paralympics fervour has truly taken over nation GB! More competitors, more countries, more TV coverage, more spectators than ever before.

The Paralympics opening ceremony watched by 11.2 million viewers, has given broadcaster Channel 4 its largest audience in a decade. There are more competitors (around 4,200) from more countries (165, up 19 from Beijing four years ago) and the Paralympics are being broadcast to more countries than ever before (over 100). At the time of writing Team GB are 2nd in the medals tablewith 56 medals (17 Gold). The target is 103 medals (one medal every hour of competition) and in Beijing we won 102 (42 Gold). After three days of athletics there have already been 31 world records! It really is fantastic. Who would have believed that the euphoria from the Olympics could have been picked up again?

Amid all of these amazing statistics there are bound to be a few that are just too good to be true. Last week I came across some stats on twitter about pre-sales, quickly tweeted it on without confirming the numbers and they have since been questioned. Next time I’ll double check but the point is that ticket sales really have been amazing, with Paralympic record ticket sales of 2.4 million advanced sales, ensuring more Brits will get a chance to experience live Paralympic sports and raising the profile and appetite for Paralympic spectator sports. I can’t wait to be at the athletics this week.

Without doubt this is all creating a once in a generation opportunity to show Britain as a nation that celebrate Paralympians as sporting equals. The sport has been incredible – David Weir’s finish in the 5,000m was simply breathtaking. But above all more people than ever seem to be talking about disability and asking questions about disability and disabled people. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to raise awareness and improve attitudes….and there’s still a week to go!

Enjoy the Paralympics and do tweet me or Scope with your thoughts.

Drummonds residents sensory garden

Drummonds gardeners

In 2011 leading designer and manufacturer of ergonomic tools, PETA UK, donated a selection of Easi-Grip® gardening tools to the residents of Scope’s Drummonds residential care home in Feering to enable them to make the most of their beautiful sensory garden.

A year later, PETA Managing Director Genny Crockett visited Drummonds, which is home to 39 adults with physical disabilities and other needs associated with cerebral palsy, to see how they are getting on with the tools!

Resident Karen, who has lived at Drummonds for 30 years, explained that Drummonds approached Writtle College and asked if they could help with a new garden design to create a sensory garden. “It was a wonderful idea because it gives us something different and fun to do. It took about five years of planning and a lot of fundraising, but it was all well worth it. We thoroughly enjoy it, sitting out in the evenings when it’s nice, and everyone chips in and helps with the gardening. We get out as often as possible and have gardening lessons once a week which is really interesting. The garden gives us a bit of peace and quiet too! I love it because it reminds me of my dad who always enjoyed gardening so it’s a nice way to remember him.”

Passion for gardening

Karen’s passion for gardening has been somewhat restricted over the years as she struggles with standard gardening tools: “It’s frustrating because I know what I want to do but can’t do it! Conventional gardening tools are out of the question but, because of the way they are designed, the Peta tools give me the ability to do gardening and enjoy it.”

Debbie Foster has been a tutor at the Drummonds Centre for six years and teaches the weekly gardening lessons. “We were delighted with the donation from Peta last year! We have so many different physical challenges among residents so it’s difficult to find products they can all use, but they adapt the Peta tools to a way that suits them. They have definitely helped the residents, who find getting out in the fresh air and actually doing something for themselves gives them a real sense of well-being.”

Genny Crockett was delighted to visit the centre and see the residents enjoying their garden with the use of Peta tools: “It really is great to see how our tools are helping the residents enjoy their garden and achieve something they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. They have done a fantastic job developing their sensory garden and I can see why they all love spending time in it. Our ergonomic tools cater for a wide spectrum of users, so it’s important for us to understand how people of all abilities find our products, and it was really interesting to see how each resident had their own method and style of use.”

Peta products, including gardening tools, kitchen utensils and scissors, have been designed in response to feedback from occupational therapists.

Missing the Olympics? Don’t worry, the Paralympics are coming!

Guest post from Neil Ross

Olympic flame

With the Olympics now over, already social media sites are being bombarded by people starting to miss the spectacle as their favourite sports competitions come to an end. Leaving a huge void in their lives and giving their sofas a chance to recover from the excessive use received over the past two weeks – if only they gave out armchair Olympic medals…

If, however you are one of the masses who crave more sport on TV, fear not – the Paralympics are coming! Channel 4 is the official broadcaster of the games and promises to have bigger and better coverage than ever before. Indeed their pre-games shows and the inclusion of disabled presenters has been very well received. A BBC insider told me in confidence that they were ‘gutted’ not to have secured the Paralympic coverage, but admitted that the C4 bid was ‘far superior’ to theirs.

Over the next few weeks and during the games I will be hoping to keep you informed from an insider’s point of view as I take my post as member of the Technical Official team at the Wheelchair Fencing Event at the Excel Centre in London.

As part of the International Wheelchair Fencing Committee, I along with my fellow members from Spain, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong and Brazil, will form a Technical Delegation that act as an arbitration, enforcement and rule-making body if required. We currently operate with several large rule books covering equipment, competition and organisation, and it is our responsibility to ensure that all wheelchair fencing is undertaken fairly and in the spirit of sportsmanship. If it isn’t in the rules – we make a rule!

Wheelchair Fencing was one of the first sports introduced as rehabilitation for disabled people and we have a proud heritage linked with the etiquette inherent with a combat sport such as fencing, which was used to settle matters of honour with duels in days gone by.

I hope the newly found pride in being British will transfer to the Paralympic spectators and that our Paralympians rise to the occasion and draw on the home support and make a ‘Gold Rush’ of medals in a similar vein to our Olympians – so wave your flags and make some noise!

Scientific success in the skills centre

Guest post from Tracey deMartino – Orchard Manor Skills Tutor

Orchard Manor science week

Throughout Sports and Science week, Orchard Manor residents attended sessions in their flat/day group. We received brilliant feedback about this as everyone seemed to really enjoy working with their flat mates which created a lovely atmosphere.

Monday was the day for building and naming our rockets. The young people worked with each other and if someone was stuck for a name, the rest of the group were there to lend a hand – with names from “The Fizzard of Oz” to “Flying Without Wings”! In drama we made up stories about the adventures we might have in space if we could take off in the rockets built with Tracey, whilst in Art there was plenty of glitter to make the rockets go intergalactic.

On Tuesday we moved onto the launching of our rockets which was thoroughly enjoyed by all – except Tracey! (“I smell like I’ve been working in a fish and chip for a week without any washing facilities!”) Everyone was cheering each other as we launched our rockets and there was a brilliant atmosphere. The winner was Jess’ rocket (Pink Lady): it cleared 10 metres! Elizabeth (Adonis) and Joe’s (Beat Machine) were runners-up.

Experiments galore!

Wednesday was filled with numerous experiments. A competition started in Tracey’s room as we had a go at the Balancing Ball experiment (suspending a ball in a stream of air). There was lots of shouting by all – we’re sorry to say some were trying to put their competitors off! Emily beat all the competition by keeping her ping pong ball in the air for 1 minute and 26 seconds. The experiments in Shelley’s room focussed around sound. Amongst these experiments we listened to each other speak through: cups and string, homemade loud speakers and balloons filled with different things! In Vicky’s room the UV lights were working their magic, ice moulds were rubbed with salt to create holes and craters which the residents covered in fluorescent paint and sand, making them look like tiny glowing planets. These were left outside to melt – creating a space inspired, marble painting. We also made our own fluorescent lava lamps with glowing beads, which fizzed when we added effervescent powder. Rowena and Gemma were outside making volcanos using different shaped bottles, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and food colouring. Everyone was encouraged to make choices, mix the ingredients together and let the volcanos erupt! There were also giant bubbles and balloon rockets.

It was an exciting week!


GASP: Emotional and thought-provoking theatre

Guest post from Ben Miles – Creative Director at Full House

This year’s production, GASP, was the sixth collaboration between Bedford-based professional theatre company Full House and young disabled actors from Bedford and District Cerebral Palsy Society.

BedFringe theatre festival

But this year was very different. Instead of a light-hearted, 25-strong cast on a summer school, eight young disabled people wanted to express their creativity and get their message across in a gritty and emotional studio piece. The young people leave school this year and move on to adult services so emotions were running high. The cast asked themselves questions about what was next? What they hoped for the future? What were their fears and what excites them about a bright new future outside of school?

Over a period of eight weeks the young people and the team from Full House came together to explore new ideas, express emotions and have new experiences with the aim of creating a contemporary performance piece. The final production was performed at two venues. The Hat Factory in Luton and Bedford’s The Place Theatre as part of the BedFringe theatre festival in July.

Martial arts, physical theatre and movement

The performance used media, martial arts, fantasy storytelling, physical theatre and movement to tell the story of a fish breaking free from its bowl and journeying to the ocean. The young people were encouraged to explore exactly what they wanted to express and this lead to a wonderfully varied and visually stimulating piece of theatre. Elements of performance ranged from: a rapper performing urban music written by a cast member, a scene set in a pub in which three young men expressed their wish to let loose and make their own choices, an abstract fantasy of a young girl who dreamed of becoming Snow White and a very brave young actor who chose to express to camera how he felt about his uncertain future and his love of his family. All this was punctuated by three dramatic sequences of African drumming. The beautiful, simple set and subtle lighting contributed wonderfully to the thought-provoking and abstract world that the cast created.

Audiences were staggered by their achievements. The young cast did a wonderful job. Some of them had never performed before and had to over come severe stage fright, others were simply overwhelmed when at last their voices were heard and their opinions expressed through art and music.

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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