Tag Archives: accessibility

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

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

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

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

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

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

Landing a role on Holby City

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

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

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

I hope attitudes in the industry get better

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

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

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

It’s great to have role models

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

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

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

My advice for other young disabled actors

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

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

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

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

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was becoming increasingly isolated

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

Sam smiling, holding up a sign that says We Unite

Setting up the Oxford Students’ Disability Community

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

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

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

I no longer feel alone

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

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

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

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

Wildlife photographer shares his top ten snaps

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Oliver Hellowell is a young nature and wildlife photographer who happens to have Down’s syndrome. This Nature Photography Day, Oliver tells us what photography means to him.

I was about 10 years old when I first started taking pictures. I like wildlife, I like birds and I like the landscape and taking pictures of the trees. I like water and I like going for walks out into ‘the wild’ and the countryside.

We once had an exhibition and lots of people came to see my pictures. I gave a speech and we sold lots of pictures and with the money I bought a Chinese takeaway for us on the Sunday night when we finished, and bought a week in a holiday cottage in Wales in the middle of nowhere! I’m very proud when I have an exhibition.

My fans say ‘that’s amazing!’ about my pictures and write messages to me. I like it when we get more places to put on the map!

You should give photography a go. Just do it. Just go out there and do what you want!

As part of 30 Under 30, Oliver shares the top 10 photographs that he has taken.

Canada Geese Flying

This is my all-time favourite image. I have a canvas of it in my bedroom. This is my best one with the three Canada geese flying.

A photograph taken by Oliver Hellowell. 3 Canada geese fly over a field

Clown fish in an anemone

I took this through the thick glass of an aquarium which is very difficult. I got the clown fish just right – it’s a really good picture.

A photo taken by Oliver Hellowell. A clown fish hides behind an anemone

Cormorant

I took this one and the cormorant was in the tree and looking out and I got it.

Photo taken by Oliver Hellowell. A cormorant bird sits in a tree.

Grey Squirrel

I was on a day out with my friend Adrian and I got this picture of a squirrel. I got it straight on and he’s got his paws up eating and everything it’s brilliant. 

Photo taken by Oliver Hellowell. A grey squirrel eats a nut with its front paws.

Red Kite

I took this at the International Centre for Birds of Prey in Newent. I love the sharpness of this one and the brightness of the eye. It’s just very cool!

Photo taken by Oliver Hellowell. A red kite bird of prey looks menacing.

River Dart in Devon

This is a long shutter speed shot which I’m very pleased with. It takes a bit of effort and you have to keep the camera dead still or on a tripod. I love the colours in the water.

Photo taken by Oliver Hellowell. A shot of a still river shaded by trees. The trees are being reflected in the water,

Single swan

I waited as all the swans bobbed their heads up and down in and out of the water to pick up the food which had just been given out and sunk to the bottom. I waited to catch a shot with just one head and beak showing.

Photo taken by Oliver Hellowell. A group of swans huddle. One swan has his head poking up out of the group.

Tulips

I said to my mum, “Mum you know those red flowers outside in the corner? Well, look! I really got them!”

A close up shot of a bunch of red tulips

From the ground

When I’d just taken this, I called my mum over to where I was standing, pointed to the ground and said, “see that bit of ground there? I’ve just got it just right! See the little green leaves and the light? I got that perfect!”

Photo taken by Oliver Hellowell. A close up shot of the forest floor. A number of small plants are growing through the the soil.

Watersmeet in Devon

I was very pleased with this long shutter-speed shot. I got it by standing my camera on a rock.

Photo taken by Oliver Hellowell. A small waterfall in a river. Trees surround the banks.

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

You can visit Oliver’s website to see and purchase his photographs as prints or greetings cards. You can also like Oliver’s Facebook page and get up to date news from his sightings in your newsfeed. 

“Being a consultant for Rio 2016 was an amazing experience” Emily, the accessibility consultant

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This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Emily Yates is an accessibility consultant, travel writer, presenter and freelance disability awareness trainer.

For 30 Under 30, we chatted to her about her involvement in making Rio 2016 more accessible for all, and her hopes for the legacy of the Games.

My passion for travel and accessibility started when I volunteered at the London 2012 Games as a Games Maker. I was invited to a press conference and Seb Coe happened to be sat next to me. I said that the Paralympics had “lifted the cloud of limitation for people with disabilities” and he re-quoted that in his closing ceremony speech. I thought to myself “Wow, if there’s ever been an opportunity this is it!”

So I called his office to ask if he could spare 15 minutes of his time and he very kindly said yes, and gave me so many contacts. I managed to get a meeting with the British Consulate in Rio, and with some Brazilian NGOs. This was back in November of 2013, and Rio was nowhere near ready for the Games at that point, but I so desperately wanted to work towards writing an accessible travel guide to 2016 and beyond.

Being an accessibility consultant for Rio was an amazing experience

Whilst out there, I was invited to a large meeting, run by the organising committee, to give a presentation on my experiences as a volunteer but also as a disabled person. There were members of staff there, volunteers, secretaries of state, ministers for people with disabilities; it was pretty nerve-wracking! A man called Vivaldo Rangel also attended to represent MetroRio – Rio’s equivalent to our Transport for London – and after my presentation he invited me to work as an accessibility consultant for them in the lead up to the Games.  He ended up changing my life and I have so much to thank him for.

I worked with MetroRio for nine months, advising on everything from installing and modernising elevators, to equipment for those with visual and hearing impairments, bilingual signage and step-free access for those with disabilities, parents with small children and the elderly. I worked with architects to plan the layout for the new metro stations leading to the Olympic Park, but I don’t know if they’ll be finished in time which is a real shame. Vivaldo and I also trained some of the MetroRio staff in disability awareness (in an interactive and bilingual session!).  It was really a truly wonderful job to have, and I have so many fond memories of my time there.

Emily under water, snorkelling

Writing an accessible travel guide with Lonely Planet

After my consultancy work I got in touch with Lonely Planet and asked if they’d thought about writing an accessible travel guide to the Rio 2016 Games. After some crazy email conversations with their accessibility manager, Martin Heng, I’ve just been out to Rio and written it, and it will be out in the next couple of months – how exciting! It’s what you’d expect from a ‘normal’ travel guide, but also has plenty of accessibility advice regarding places to eat, party and sleep, as well as the big tourist hotspots like Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf.  Fingers crossed it’s really useful to all who use it!

The guide is being distributed free of charge so anybody can download it as an e-book. The International Paralympic Committee have also endorsed it so we’re printing 2,500 copies for them to give to athletes and their families. My ultimate dream would be that it really changes things for disabled locals as well.

Researching for the guide was a real eye-opener

Writing the guide was a really good learning experience for me as both a writer and a wheelchair user, as I slowly felt myself experiencing Rio as a local, rather than a tourist.  At MetroRio, I’d got taxis or the underground to work, spent a lot of time in the office or advising in stations with Vivaldo, and then I’d gone to my apartment to sunbathe, go out with friends or sleep! Travel writing is an incredible job, and it was a very different experience to the one I’d had with MetroRio. 

Firstly, I was alone, and whilst I was reviewing some amazingly accessible attractions and museums, I was also spending so much time trying to navigate Rio’s layout and districts, some of which are so different to the pretty inclusive Zona Sul, or South Zone, that most tourists stay in and I knew so well. It did open my eyes to how difficult travel can be if you have a disability, especially if you are living in Rio and have to navigate similar things on a daily basis, rather than for a two week holiday.

What’s really special is that my time writing for Lonely Planet has really changed my own perceptions of my own limitations and capabilities.  When it comes to large curbs and flights of stairs, I’m pretty useless, but I’m now great at asking a local for help in Portuguese! I feel that I have a duty to make sure whatever I’m doing is always helping to change the perceptions of others, too. It’s really important that disability has positive representation wherever possible, especially as this may be the only experience of disability the new people I meet might have had!

Emily being pulled on a mat in the sea, on a sunny beach

Why representation is so important

The Olympics and the Paralympics are so well publicised on a global scale. The more positive stories and anecdotes about disability and access that surround major events like these, the more likely it is that other businesses and companies at home and abroad will take notice.

I hope that CEOs of businesses watch the Games and start thinking about how many disabled people they’re employing and whether their workplace is accessible.  This might be a ‘big ask’, but I’d also like to think that politicians will watch and remind themselves that what they need to be doing is ensuring that disabled people have enough support, equipment and resources to continue reaching their potential, be that in sports or other fields(!)

Advice for anyone with a disability going to Rio and the Games

First and foremost, remember that Rio is not the UK, and that patience will have to be exercised around accessibility, however annoying that may be.  Anyone going to the Games will find that Brazilian people are ridiculously warm and friendly; you’ll never be waiting for more than thirty seconds for a bit of assistance!

By reading the Lonely Planet guide, contacting people ‘in the know’ and doing a bit of planning and preparation, you’ll be able to have a really amazing time. Book any flights and accommodation now, as time is running out and prices are soaring!

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

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” – Francesca, the theatre star

Francesca Mills is a 20 year old actor who has achondroplasia, a common form of dwarfism. She is currently on tour with a Ramps on the Moon production,of the Government Inspector where she plays Maria.

As part of our 30 Under 30 campaign, she talks about inclusiveness in the industry and her top tips for breaking into the world of theatre.

Kids who are interested in performing arts and children who have gone to drama school are much more open-minded and much more accepting. They just love anything diverse. So this meant that breaking into the industry was never an issue for me. No-one has ever been like ‘you can’t do that because you’re disabled’, my family and friend are always 100% behind me.

Changing attitudes

I think roles in theatre for disabled people are very important in changing attitudes towards disability.

Audiences are very accepting without realising it. If you’re out on the street just living everyday life, you’ll get stares and people don’t quite understand but if you walk on stage playing a character, it’s different. Maybe in the first two minutes an audience member might be thinking ‘oh that’s a little person’, but then they’ve completely forgotten and they’re completely on board with what you’re doing.

It may also make them think ‘why do I over-think this? Disability really isn’t a big thing, it’s fine’.

It’s also really important for kids to see disabled actors represented in roles of authority. In the show I’m doing now we have a deaf judge, who’s also a woman, which is brilliant.

A group of disabled actors perform on stage. Fran, a young woman with dwarfism, smiles as a man with a cane kisses her hand.

How the industry has changed

I’m growing up in a time where people are starting to realise they should do projects that are inclusive. I’m lucky in a way that I’ve mainly seen the positive. People older than me have memories of a lot more prejudice. They’ve had a much more tough time which is good to know about because people can appreciate how it’s changed and how things are getting better.  It’s on the way up.

From my experience, a lot of casting directors are becoming more versatile and opening their gates to disabled actors for parts that aren’t specifically disabled parts. If they have a brief for a blonde haired girl with blue eyes, they might open it up to someone with an impairment and it’s not an issue.

I think we’ve still got a long way to go but it’s better than what it was.

Advice for others

If you really want to do it, just go for it, even if people question it. My motto is ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish’. If you want to get into acting think about how you’re going to do that.

Get involved in local amateur productions just to get some confidence, like I used to do. See if local theatres are auditioning. If you’ve got an appetite for it just go for it and everything else will fall into place.

Just have fun and enjoy it because it really is the best job in the world.

Top tips for breaking into the industry

Enjoy yourself

Have fun and let people know that you’re having fun, it’s really nice to see! I did Peter Pan in Wimbledon. I was playing Tinkerbell and there were kids playing the Lost Boys. Just seeing their faces when they were in the theatre and how excited they were was amazing. It’s just a really nice quality to have.

Go to the theatre

It’s important to go to actual shows and enjoy shows and see as many as you can.

Learn from everyone

Watch people and learn from them. With the amount of actors that you come across, make sure you ask questions. Watch their technique and etiquette. You can pick up a lot from people.

Never be late!

I’m ridiculous with how early I am. It makes you more relaxed when you get to the theatre and have plenty of time. Never leave anything until the last minute. Give yourself time to settle ahead of a brilliant day.

A large group of disabled actors perform on stage in a theatre. They are looking out to the audience with shocked faces.

Francesca is sharing her story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read more from our #30toWatch on our website.

Watch Francesca perform in one of our End The Awkward shorts from last year.

 

“Really? Deaf people can dance?” – Chris Fonseca, the deaf dance teacher

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Chris Fonseca is a deaf dancer and dance teacher. He has performed internationally and recently featured in Smirnoff’s advert – We’re Open #deafdancers.

As part of 30 Under 30, he shares his story and talks about changing perspectives, becoming a dance teacher and why more deaf dance role models are needed.

I became deaf through meningitis when I was two years old. At first I tried hearing aids but unfortunately they didn’t work for me. The next step was for me to try a Cochlear implant which I had when I was about five. In school, I had speech therapy but I didn’t like it because I felt quite embarrassed and quite isolated. The deaf world is really small and I grew up going to mainstream schools which was quite difficult. Eventually, I started meeting deaf people and I realised “oh these people are the same as me”.

Developing a passion for dance

I started listening to music through friends. I could feel the beat through my Cochlear implant and I’d look up the lyrics to understand the words. Then my Aunty gave me a video called Breaking 1984. I was obsessed with it and I taught myself how to dance. Just through repetition and practising at first. Then I decided that I wanted to improve my skills but having no deaf role models made it really difficult. So I stopped, unfortunately, and I just carried on with my life.

Then, in my second year of university, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to get involved in a deaf dance group. Dance had been my dream for years, so I thought it would be amazing to get involved. It was fantastic because everyone was deaf and everyone had the same passion as me, and it was an opportunity to show both deaf and hearing communities that deaf people can dance. That nothing is impossible. We did a tour, then I left the group to focus on giving back to the deaf community.

What I love most about dance is the freedom and enjoyment. And it’s a stress release. It’s like when I’m dancing, I just kind of fall into my own world. Dance really is my best friend – it’s always there for me.

Chris dancing in front of a crowd
A still of Chris in the Smirnoff ad

Changing perceptions

I started going to hearing dance classes in 2009. It was my first class ever. I went to the class and looked at all the people there and just noticed that their level was incredibly high. It made my confidence drop because hearing dancers are very, very fast. It’s fast paced and it’s not very accessible for deaf people. So I just focused on my skills and not on my deafness. There were a lot of mistakes to begin with but the mistakes just proved that I was trying. I just kept persevering with it over time.

I went to these classes regularly and when I struggled, I’d go up to the teacher in the breaks and say “can you please give me a cue?”. The teacher was like “You what, sorry?” and I’d say “I’m deaf so I could use a cue” and they’d be like “What? You’re deaf?”. I’m trying to show that, by getting these cues, a deaf person can dance.

I think a lot of hearing people are surprised because there’s a lot of stereotypes about deaf people and dance. They kind of look and go “Really? Deaf people can dance?” because a lot of hearing dancers connect to music through listening. But deaf people can dance in a different way. We feel the beat through vibrations and we look at the visual movement of dance. When I’m looking at choreography for example, I’m looking for visual movements and visual cues and then I feel the beat. And I guess that through telling hearing people that, you change their perception and they become more respectful.

I became a dance teacher to make dance accessible to deaf people

I started trying to get my friends to come to the hearing dance classes I was going to but they were like “no no no, it’s too scary, it’s not accessible”. I’d had the same experience so I encouraged them to just push through the barriers but they didn’t want to. I got home and thought what we really need here is a deaf dance teacher. So I decided to become one.

I went to an academy and learnt the skills and different methods of how to teach, how people’s learning processes work. Naturally, deaf and hearing people have different learning processes. Deaf people are reliant on counts, whereas for a hearing person most of it is sound. So I started teaching my class in 2013 and it’s still going now. It’s a huge passion of mine – teaching and dancing.

Chris performing a dance move next to the quote - dance is not an option it's who I am

Being involved in the Smirnoff advert is one of my proudest achievements

Since I left the dance group, I really just focused on improving my own skills and teaching. Trying to break in as a deaf dancer is hard and you just kind of get ignored, so I really had to push to sell myself and bother a lot of people to get my work recognised.

Then, one day, I got a random email. I read it and I was like “Is this spam or not?” so I emailed them and asked them to clarify the information. I read all the information about the project and I thought “wow, this is incredible”. It was an amazing opportunity to create a platform to celebrate deaf culture and also help to change hearing people’s perspective.

Since then, time has gone really fast. I auditioned, did the shooting day back in January, then we released the advert in March and there’s been lots of promotion through social media and billboards all around the UK. It’s been one of my proudest achievements. The advert helps to change hearing people’s perspective about deaf people and show that they can do anything except hear.

People have said that I’ve inspired them a lot and I’ve received a lot of positive messages which has been really lovely and heart-warming. My aim is to give something back to the deaf community and get more recognition of sign language. I want to show the importance of deaf culture and get hearing people interested.

We need more deaf dance role models

Teaching is my passion. I like sharing my knowledge and my passion with other dancer. I’ve noticed that lots of the younger generations are excited about getting involved with dance, they just need that little bit more encouragement.

When I gave up dancing, it was mainly because there were no deaf role models. Everybody has their dreams when they’re young but the first thing you need when you have that dream is a role model to give you that motivation, something to aim for. I went through a lot of struggles and barriers trying to learn in the hearing world, but now they don’t have to do that. I can pass what I’ve learnt on to them.

The deaf world is quite small and the deaf dance world is even smaller. Over time, I’ve tried to research and go out and perform in different places like Europe. One of my favourite things was when I went to perform at the Click Festival – a deaf film festival in France. It’s an opportunity for deaf people all over the world to come together at this one festival and I managed to meet some deaf international dancers there. It’s a great networking opportunity.

There’s obviously a lot of hearing role models for anyone who wants to be a dancer, but now, I think we need to have deaf dance role models too. My next step is to go on tour. I have more work to do to continue inspiring and breaking barriers. And I have lots of exciting projects to get involved in. All will be announced very soon!

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

To find out more about Chris and keep up to date with his work, visit Chris’ website.