Tag Archives: accessibility

Why the fashion industry needs to include disabled people

Meghan is studying fashion at the University of South Wales. For her end of year show she designed a sportswear line which is specifically adapted for different impairments. In this blog she talks about the reasons behind it and her hopes for the future.

At school I was good at Product Design and Art, so I knew I wanted to go into a form of design. I wouldn’t really say I was a big fashion person in the typical sense which is why I wanted to do sportswear – it’s design for a purpose.

Discovering a gap in the market

I’m in my third year now and I have to do a final collection. I started looking into adapted clothing and I discovered a massive gap in the market. A lot of the people I spoke to said that the clothing that is out there is quite unfashionable or really expensive. There’s not enough choice for them in mainstream fashion.

I feel like the fashion industry does forget disabled people. When it comes to adaptive clothing, there are maternity sections in shops but disability is almost completely forgotten about. All the clothing is just t-shirts and trousers, there’s nothing stylish, which is what they want.

 

Molly posing on the catwalk

In some ways it sends a negative message to disabled people regarding sports and they might not feel confident enough taking part in sports or going to the gym, especially if they are wearing something they aren’t comfortable in themselves. But I think there has been a change in attitudes more recently because I have been seeing more representation, but I also don’t know if that’s because I’m involved in it, so I’m noticing it more.

Accessibility can be an issue too. The girl who I have as my visually impaired model, she’s got her own business helping websites and apps make their stuff more accessible for disabled people.

Kyron posing on the catwalk

Developing my sportswear line

After talking to various people, I decided to design pieces to suit four different impairments: visual impairments, dwarfism, amputees and down’s syndrome. I got in contact with a charity called “Follow your Dreams” which is for people with down’s syndrome and learning difficulties. I went to a few focus groups with them to meet people who have down’s syndrome and to get information about what they would want out of clothing and sportswear. I also spoke to Disability Sport Wales.

The Fashion Show

For the show, I had four outfits shown and I used the same models that I’ve worked with on my photo-shoots. I’ve got Tony, who is a world champion athlete, Kyron who is a Paralympian. Molly, who has ushers syndrome and runs her own company – Molly Watts Ltd – and finally, Emily who has down’s syndrome. The show was on 26 May and was a great success.

I really wanted to have all disabled models because otherwise it would completely take away the impact. I just hope that I raise more awareness from it and show people what’s possible.

If you have an experience you’d like to share, get in touch with the Stories team.

Photos by Michaela Harcegova.

How can the next government ensure disabled people have the support to live independently?

We want the next government to deliver Everyday Equality with disabled people. It must put the interests of disabled people at the heart of its agenda, and deliver meaningful change over the next five years to tackle the barriers that prevent disabled people from participating fully in society.

A key part of Everyday Equality is having the right support to live the life of your own choosing. However, there are still a range of barriers that make this difficult for disabled people, from inadequate social care provision, to inaccessible physical environments and digital exclusion.

That’s why we are calling on the next government to ensure disabled people have the support to live independently.

Increasing investment in social care

Social care is an essential public service that supports disabled people to get up, get dressed and get out of the house.

Around a third of social care users in England are working-age disabled people. However, we know that more than half are not receiving the right care to support them to live independently.

Text says, Over half of disabled people using social care can't get the support they need to live independently

This means not enough disabled care users are getting the support they need to live independently, work, volunteer, and live full, meaningful lives.

In order to ensure disabled people are getting the right level of support, it is crucial that the issue of inadequate funding in social care is addressed. Whilst we have seen some recent investment, the funding gap in our social care system is estimated to rise to £2.8 billion by 2020.

That’s why we are calling on the next government to increase investment in social care so that disabled people of all ages are able to access the support they need to live independent lives.

Improving access to everyday services  

Living independently means being to have choice and control over your life, whether as a consumer, whilst travelling, or whilst socialising.

However, we know that disabled people often face barriers in accessing day-to-day markets, services and amenities.

For instance, less than a quarter of disabled people think the accessibility of pubs, restaurants, clubs and shops has improved since 2012. In the digital world, 25 per cent of disabled adults have never used the internet compared to 6 per cent of non-disabled adults, often due to a lack of digital skills or inaccessible websites. This means disabled people are more likely to miss out on the best deals and offers which are commonly found online.

We want the next government to ensure equal access to goods and services for disabled people by increasing compliance with the Equality Act, and tackling the digital divide between disabled people and non-disabled people.

Tell us what living independently means to you  

You can read more about our priorities for the next government and how you can register to vote in this election.

What does living independently mean to you? What would getting the right support from social care enable you to do? Email the stories team and tell us your experience – stories@scope.org.uk 

You can also join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #EverydayEquality.

Paying extra to live my life

Jean has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which means her joints dislocate easily and she is in a lot of pain. In this blog she talks about her experience of extra costs and shares her hopes for the next government to bring about everyday equality for disabled people by 2022.

I came home from work one day, fell over, was taken to hospital because I couldn’t get back up. I came out of hospital a week later in a wheelchair. I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome several years ago. Since then I’ve been trying to get on and live my life, but I face a huge range of extra costs which makes things harder than they should be.

The things I need to live my life

Many of them aren’t obvious. Things like adapted cutlery and kitchen equipment are vastly more expensive than an ordinary set. I’m supposed to have specialist knives to help me with preparing veg and things like that – with the handle at a 45 degree angle – but they are about £15 a blade. They are not covered by the NHS, you have to pay for them yourself, and we can’t afford them.

I’m a careful budgeter, tracking what I spend down to the penny, but I can’t scrimp on the things I needs or it can take a big toll. I have to eat a particular diet because my condition affects my gastric system, and if I am not very careful with what I eat then my gastric system will start going downhill. Our shopping bill comes to about £120 a week.

We had a situation a couple of years ago where we were living on essentially £50 a week, so we were buying the really, really cheap basic stuff. We managed to make sure we had enough to fill us but I was really ill. I was bed-bound for a year because I was having so many problems with my stomach and lower back and with pain in my hips and my pelvis. I couldn’t move.

I have all kinds of other costs. Some are really big. For example, I get a basic wheelchair provided for me, but I really need an ergonomic one to reduce stress on my joints, which is very expensive. You expect that any equipment you need you’d get from the NHS (you get for free), but you only get the very basics. It’s around £1,200 to £1,500 to get a wheelchair that suits my needs, and we couldn’t afford that.

Jean sitting at a desk with an open laptop in front of her
Jean struggles to pay for essential equipment that she needs to live

Everyday equality by 2022

People think that because you are disabled you shouldn’t be allowed to have a normal life – to do the same things that they do. I’m just trying to have a normal life.

My future vision for disability equality would be that all buildings and public spaces are built with disability in mind from the outset. Anyone can use accessible facilities but disabled people cannot use all facilities.

I would also like attitudes to change so that disability was seen in the same way as race, sex or gender – just an everyday difference rather than an inconvenience that has to be managed by companies, corporations and institutions.

I want disabled people to be involved (not represented but representing themselves) at all levels of responsibility. The old adage of “nothing about us without us” still isn’t utilised enough in my opinion.

Tell us what being financially secure means to you

Scope is calling on the next government to improve disabled people’s financial security.

You can read more about our priorities for the next government and how you can register to vote in this election.

What does being financially secure mean to you? Email the stories team at Scope and tell us your experience – stories@scope.org.uk

You can also join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #EverydayEquality

Visit our new online technology hub – in partnership with AbilityNet

Technology is transforming the lives of disabled people. We are working with tech experts from AbilityNet to highlight some of the software and equipment that can make life easier, more productive and fun in our new technology section.

Adapting your computer

Sometimes your existing computer has accessibility features on your existing PC that you might not be aware of. Try My Computer My Way, a free, interactive tool developed by AbilityNet that makes any computer, tablet and smartphone easier to use.

Check out our keyboard shortcuts, too!

Computers and autism

People with autism spectrum disorders can use a variety of multimedia applications and programs to experience the world around them within clear and safe boundaries.

How tech can support people with learning difficulties

Find out about touchscreens, keyboard and mouse alternatives and software that can help people with learning difficulties to access computers.

Visual impairment apps and suppliers

For people who have difficulty seeing conventional displays, there are many useful apps and specialist suppliers in visual impairment products. Other options to accessing information online include magnification and screen-reading.

Voice recognition

If you think you have never used voice recognition, think again! Voice recognition is becoming more and more mainstream so if you have a Windows computer or an Apple product, you already have it! Find out how you can use voice recognition more effectively.

Computer training and resources

One of the biggest barriers to disabled people accessing technology is training. We offer links to a wide range of private and voluntary organisations that offer computer training and support for disabled people.

Talk tech

Join our online community to talk to an AbilityNet advisor to discuss technology.

Read our equipment tips.

AbilityNet is a UK charity that helps older people and disabled people of all ages use computers and the internet to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education.

Disabled people and domestic abuse – we need to do better

Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse than non-disabled women, yet support services aren’t always accessible. Disabled people can also face unique challenges in recognising and reporting abuse. It’s an issue that isn’t often spoken about. This needs to change.

With this in mind, domestic abuse charity Safe Lives is doing a ‘spotlight’ throughout October and November, focusing on how professionals can better support disabled people experiencing abuse. They have been posting resources, webinars, blogs and podcasts and they are doing a live Twitter Q&A on Friday 2 December.

We spoke to Carly, an advocate for autism and girls, about why this is so important.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 32 which is a late diagnosis, but autism in girls wasn’t really understood. I have three daughters; two of them are autistic as well, which is how I found out that I was. I was looking up everything I could about autism and girls and thought “I’m autistic too” – I ended up being diagnosed on film!  The consequences of not being diagnosed can be severe, including being in unhealthy relationships.

Recognising and reporting abuse can be harder for disabled people

For us all in society, disabled or not, the very nature of what abuse is can be murky. All too often we see adverts of women with bruises as an image of domestic abuse. Abuse, however, takes many forms. It’s difficult enough to recognise and report abuse for anyone experiencing it, but for disabled people it can be even harder.

The choice for a disabled person to leave their abuser is not an equal choice to those who do not rely on their abuser for their daily care as well. And how can a person with a social and communication condition have the equality of access to leave, when they may not even realise that what they are experiencing is abuse?

A lot of autistic people are vulnerable because of our lack of social imagination which is about understanding “If I do this, what happens next?” – consequences. We’re very often so consumed in our own thoughts that we think other people have the same wants, needs and agendas as we do, which can lead to us being very vulnerable. Another thing is our theory of mind – we imagine that other people have similar thoughts to us. So if you knew you were experiencing abuse, you may not report it because you think that other people already know. Because you know, they must do too. It can lead to an autistic person being very angry and resentful because they think “Why aren’t you helping me?” – it’s because that person doesn’t know. You need to ask us direct questions, basically.

Carly sitting at the UN with a few people in the background
Carly, speaking at the UN about autism and girls

A “one size fits all” approach to domestic abuse doesn’t work

It’s only in recent times that coercive control has become a legal offence. For someone on the autistic spectrum who requires support with their routine, the control of their lifestyle, the control of their access to social events and family and control of their money, this could easily disguise an abusive relationship to an onlooker. Mix this with an autistic person’s fear of dramatic change, delay in emotional processing and the theory of mind differences described above, and you can see how someone may not seek help.

We need our safeguarding explained in a different way and support services need to be more accessible. The stuff that’s out there is really good but some little add ons would help. I’ve had a meeting with the NSPCC about their schools workshops and I’ve created a short online course on safeguarding for people with autism, which is free to do. Hopefully it will help people think differently.

Including disabled people in these important conversations

Safe Lives’ spotlight on this issue is vital. The protection of disabled people from abuse is a multi-layered complex matter that simply is not covered by standard safeguarding projects. The media also all too often leave our unique needs and experiences to one side in the vital adverts  and workshops on abuse – how to recognise it and how to seek help.

I think for many people, disabled adults are either viewed as not having relationships or sex and therefore void from these conversations, or seen as just being able to access the same sexual health and abuse information as everyone else. Of course, in reality, this is not the case. The most vulnerable in society are often the last to be supported. Disabled people aren’t asking for special treatment but we are asking for a fitting reflection of our experiences in society and to be part of the conversation, a seamless inclusion and not an afterthought.

If you have been affected by the content of this blog, you can contact the Samaritans or your local Refuge service for support.

You can find all Safe Lives’ content on their website and take part in the Twitter Q&A on Friday 2 December.

Disabled Survivors Unite is an organisation working to improve access to services for disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence. Visit their website to find out more.

“Yes I Can, If…” – campaigning for better disability access

Will Pike is a games developer from London whose parody of Channel 4’s Superhumans advert has gone viral with over half a million views. Tens of thousands of people have signed his petition to ask the two high-street chains which feature in the film for better access.

In this blog, he shares the story behind his campaign and talks about the changes he’d like to see as a result. A text description of the video is available at the end of this blog post.

In 2008 I went to India, on the way back home we had a stop over in Mumbai and the hotel I was staying in was attacked by terrorists. 168 people died, my spine was injured I am now paralysed below the waist.

I’ve been in a wheelchair for eight years now and in that time have been through ever emotion under the sun. I have days when I just can’t be arsed with the barriers and negative attitudes. I made this film because too many shops and restaurants are effectively off limits to wheelchair users like myself.

Inspired by the Paralympics

After the London Paralympics I was expecting there to be a big shift in places becoming more accessible but it just hasn’t happened. Two weeks before this year’s games started I approached my friend Heydon Prowse about the idea and he got a team of people together to produce the film. Errol Ettiene directed  it and did an incredible job, the team turned a good idea into a slick, professional-grade commercial.

It tops and tails with Paralympic references because I wanted to show how day to day life can feel like Paralympic event for a wheelchair user. But whilst the whole thing was inspired by the Paralympics, these issues still remain for disabled people now the games have ended. This is bigger then just me having a unique experience, this is a global issue indicative of a massive absence of consideration for disabled people. My experiences aren’t isolated and sharing them makes them more powerful and potent. It turns individual struggles into a social issue.

The film isn’t in any way a criticism of the Superhumans ad, but it could only ever do so much. Channel 4 started a relay race about disability awareness and they passed the baton on. They didn’t know who they were passing it on to, but it just so happened it was me. I’m leveraging the awareness their brilliant ad created to further the message. My film couldn’t exist without theirs and whatever success we get is their success too.

Will sat on a sofa against a brick wall

The petition

I’ve been asked why I chose to focus my petition on American Apparel and Caffè Nero and the honest answer is, it was just their lucky day. We were filming on Tottenham Court Road and it just so happened they were the shops that didn’t have wheelchair access. But it was also important that we didn’t pitch this campaign at one-off shops because whilst they have a responsibility, it’s the big chains that have a major responsibility and the ones who are neglecting their civic duty. It could also have a domino effect across all their stores.

It’s not that people are fundamentally thoughtless, it’s just that it’s simply not in the social conscience to be considering these things. It’s only when someone comes along and questions access that things will change.

The people I spoke to in the film felt bad and wanted to help but they are purely innocent in this whole thing. It’s the companies they work for who are responsible for disability access and inclusivity. It’s irresponsible to expect hapless shop assistants to have to deal with that situation. I hope American Apparel and Caffè Nero can see it from that perspective too, it will protect their staff from these embarrassing and awkward situations that they shouldn’t have to go through.

Reasonable adjustments

The Equality Act states that all buildings and public places have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged when accessing their services.

However, in terms of holding public places accountable, it’s actually down to the customers and patrons of that establishment to draw attention to their inadequacies. If that premises doesn’t then do something about their lack of access or facilities, that person is then responsible to bring them to court. Which basically means that all those people with disability – who may or may not have had their benefits cut, or are finding it difficult to gain employment, or even struggling to leave the house – are the ones who must embark on an inevitably time-consuming and costly legal case.

We really hope that this film, though aimed at Caffé Nero and American Apparel, is able to shine a light upon a flawed and, frankly, ridiculous system. It should not be the responsibility of each and every disabled person to flag up a high street chain; it should be the responsibility of the Government and Councils to assess disability access, educate businesses, and ensure funding is in place for reasonable adjustments.

People may think little things like step-free access won’t make a difference to the majority of the population, but it makes a massive difference for a selective few which in turn has a positive influence on the relationships we have with non-disabled people. In turn the whole community will be accessible and better for everyone. And that’s where the #AccessForEveryone hashtag came from.

Will in his wheelchair outside a restaurant where there's a step

What’s next?

We just have to wait and see! I haven’t been contacted by Caffè Nero or American Apparel, but I wonder whether someone is going to bring it to the big bosses. One way I’d like that conversation to go is that the big boss turns round and says: “Are you telling me we haven’t got step free access in our Tottenham Court Road branch?! Right, heads are gonna roll!” That’s far fetched but I am an optimist at heart.

Both brands have a real opportunity to turn this bad situation good by handling it well. If they acknowledge they were wrong and make changes they can come out of this smelling of roses and will get so much good publicity from this. I will be giving them every chance to handle this magnanimously, with humility, and with a real ownership. But if they don’t, we will do everything we can to highlight their ineptitude.

They really can lose a lot of business because of this. Some people have been commenting saying they will boycott these shops until they make a change and if that becomes the consensus, if that becomes the rallying cry, then together we can change a lot.

You can visit change.org to sign the petition or follow Will’s progress.

Will’s story is also a great example of disabled people being ‘bold and loud’ as consumers – something called for by the Extra Costs Commission. Led by Scope, this was an independent inquiry that looked at ways to drive down the additional costs faced by disabled people. Next month a report will be published reviewing progress with the Commission’s recommendations for tackling extra costs.

Video description: Paralympics billboard, zooms into the word “superhuman”. Alarm clock turns to 7.00am. Man laid in bed opens his eyes, sits up, and smiles. He spins around his bedroom in his wheelchair. Plays plastic toy trumpet. Dances into the bathroom. Sits in the show, miming the lyrics into the shower head. Puts a shirt on, grabs his hat with a reaching tool. Leaves his house, flipping hat onto his head. Wheels down the a busy high street. Tries to enter Caffè Nero, wheels crash into a step. Tries to enter Pizza Express and speaks to a waitress about accessible toilet facilities. Does a wheelie and dances down the street. Goes into American Apparel and talks to staff member. Wheels into a pub, stops himself at a flight of stairs. Then wheels down the ramp, sits with a friend both clinking their pint glasses. Text reads “Leaving the house can feel like a paralympic event for wheelchair users. change.org/accessforeveryone”.

Why I’m trying every Paralympic and Olympic sport

This year, to raise funds for his charity Power2Inspire, John Willis embarked on the Road2Rio challenge. John was born without hands and without feet, but he hasn’t let that stop him from trying out every Olympic and Paralympic sport in the run up to Rio. We caught up with him in Cambridge as he tested out some newly designed paddles for his kayaking challenge, and this is what he said:

I was born without hands and without feet. The good news is that I’ve never suffered any pain or anything like that. But the difficult part is that the world is set up for people with hands and with feet. But, with some ingenuity, some design – my car is adapted – that sort of thing, I can actually do most things.

John, a disabled man with foreshortened arms holds an adapted tennis racket and smiles.
John demonstrating his new Tennis racket.

When I was growing up it was a much less enlightened period back in the 1960s. I was not able to participate in sport with my contemporaries, my peers. I was put in the corner. Just “there, there John – you go over there and don’t join in.” Now people are prepared to allow me to join in. So I wanted to stop that happening today and encourage everybody to be included. And surprise, surprise, wherever we’ve taken it, people have loved the idea!

Inclusive sport

Power2Inspire is a charity that helps disabled and non-disabled people do sport together. We’re passionate about doing sport – everybody doing sport. So it’s not just about disability and non-disability. It’s about everybody doing sport.

John, a disabled man with forshortened arms and legs poses for the camera on a horse.
John ready for his horseriding challenge.

The biggest challenge to inclusive sport is mental attitude. It’s thinking that people can’t be involved. It’s not thinking outside of the box; not adapting sports; not making games accessible. We use inclusive and adaptive sports in schools to show that that isn’t the case.

So this year, to raise funds for Power2Inspire, I’ve embarked on the Road2Rio challenge, which is to do all the Olympic and Paralympic sports before the end of Rio 2016. We calculated that at 34 sports, and so far I’ve done about 27 of them, which leaves me just 7 to go. They’re very varied. Some are exciting. Some are scary. And some are technologically challenging.

The scariest challenge so far has to be between diving off a three metre high spring board and riding up on a 14 hand horse, without hands and feet.

John Willis, a disabled man with foreshortened arms and legs, waits on a diving board for the signal to dive into the pool, in front of an audience of adults and children.
John waiting on a diving board for the signal to dive into the pool.

Diving really taught me that it’s not only just about one’s physical limitations, I was actually mentally scared. And that had nothing to do with my disability. And that was really, really interesting.

The Paralympics

The Paralympics is inspiring. It’s exciting. I think the wheelchair basketball is way more exciting that ordinary basketball because it’s a real effort to score a basket. Wheelchair rugby is completely and utterly mad. And the track wheelchair racing is so strategic and skillful, it has to be watched.

The London Paralympics made a huge difference to the whole attitude to disability. In particular it showed people could do things rather than that they couldn’t. It showed people are superhumans. Absolutely amazing! But we’ve still got to go much further at the grassroots level. That’s what I believe. We’ve got to get a lot more disabled people who can do limited amounts, to actually realise that they too can join in with the fun of sport.

In terms of my favourite Paralympic sport to watch, I think I’m torn between the wheelchair rugby and some of the swimming events. I love the relay swimming where you have different abilities swimming against each other. So actually, they have to swim against themselves, as much as they have to swim against each other. The relay is superb.

John, a disabled man with foreshortened arms and legs, raises his newly adapted paddle on the River Cam.
A delighted John raises his newly adapted paddle, after successfully Kayaking on the River Cam.

I think peoples’ attitudes are different between the Olympics and Paralympics. People can relate, I suppose a bit more to the Olympians in the first instance, until they realise quite how far they’re throwing, jumping, or whatever. Then they can be inspired by the Paralympians, and see that actually it is worth getting out of bed in the morning.

Can’t wait for the Paralympics to start? Read all our Paralympic blogs.

Tech4Good awards: inclusion means everyone’s a winner

The Tech4Good awards were created by the charity AbilityNet with the help of BT to highlight the empowering influence of digital technology – whether it’s at home, at work, in education.

There were lots of great ideas this year but here were some of my favourites that used technology to make the world a more accessible place for disabled people.

Wayfindr

Visually impaired woman uses smartphone to navigate in station
Visually impaired woman uses smartphone to navigate in station

Accessibility Award winner Wayfindr is an audio-based, open source app that allows visually impaired people to navigate the world independently. It uses smartphone technology and offers directions for stations, hospitals and shopping centres. In the future the project aims to provide navigation wherever you are in the world!

OxSight

SmartSpecs
SmartSpecs

OxSight have created ‘Smart Specs’, an augmented reality display system that allows people to regain a sense of independence. It helps make sense of the physical environment by simplifying the ambient light, translating it into shapes and shades so that people can discern physical objects and perceive depth.

The Great British Public Toilet Map

Toilet map on smartphone
Toilet map on smartphone

The NHS has estimated that 3-6 million people manage reduced continence due to medical or health reasons. Public toilets are a necessity, but with funding being cut, they can be difficult to locate, and are often not accessible. The Great British Public Toilet Map provide a database that allows you to filter results to suit you, including finding accessible toilets and baby changing.

South London Raspberry Jam

Inspired by his love of coding, and his Tourette’s Syndrome diagnosis at the age of seven, Femi Owolade-Coombes set up a crowdfunding campaign for an Autism and Tourette’s Syndrome friendly ‘South London Raspberry Jam’. As a result, Femi has introduced over 100 young people and their families to coding – all for free, and all at the age of just 10 years old.

AsthmaPi kit

But the overall winner of Tech4Good is aged just nine years old! Arnav Sharma has an aunt with asthma and set out to find out more about the condition and how he could use tech to help. Using Raspberry Pi, gas and dust sensors, Arnav’s AsthmaPi kit can help parents of children suffering from asthma. Using email and text message alerts, patients receive prompts to take medication and reminders for review visits.

Read more about the Tech4Good awards.

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.

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.