Tag Archives: disability

My tips for ending awkward dating moments

Guest post from Phil Lusted, a web and graphic designer from north Wales.

For End the Awkward, he talks about awkwardness when it comes to dating and sex and gives some tips for getting over it.

When I was born, I was diagnosed with a rare form of dwarfism called diastrophic dysplaysia which means my bones don’t grow like an average height person would. Being only 3ft in height, I have come across many awkward moments in my life, one of the most common is being mistaken for a child or spoken to like a child.

Everyone wants to be loved unconditionally. This includes those who have visible or invisible disabilities. We are still human, with feelings just like any other able-bodied person. Unfortunately, for disabled people, dating can involve uncertainty and more than a few awkward moments. Like the time a waitress asked my date if I needed a high chair before we got to our table. Needless to say, I did not.

My tips for dating

A first date can be nervous for any person, some thoughts that would typically run through my head would be: “What will she think of me and my height?” “Will she think I’m a weird shape?” “What if she feels embarrassed around me?”. It is perfectly normal for us to think like this, we all do it no matter what size or shape we are, it’s all part of being human and how our brain works when in a nervous or first time situation.

To help avoid awkward situations with your date, don’t be ashamed to educate them on your disability before actually going on the date. Tell them any needs you may have or any assistance you may need while on the date, this will put yourself and your date more at ease, you will both be pretty much on the same page with her or him knowing more about your disability and needs.

I knew my girlfriend three months prior to our first date which gave her plenty of time to learn about myself and my dwarfism, which resulted in our first date being comfortable for the both of us, that way we could enjoy our time together without any awkward situations taking place.

Phil and his girlfriend hugging and smiling, on a wooden bench with trees in the background

Sex and confidence

A lot of nervousness may also be from your own body confidence; I know this from my own experience. Because I was born with severe scoliosis, my back and chest are a funny shape which has in the past affected my confidence. Something as simple as taking my shirt off in a public swimming pool would never happen.

It’s important to be confident in yourself by not being ashamed of your appearance, at the end of the day, we all come in different shapes and sizes, it’s something we should embrace and be positive about. Life would be a little boring if we all looked the same. Also keep in mind that if your partner loves you unconditionally, then you have nothing to fear or feel awkward about when it comes to showing your body.

Communication is important

One of the biggest issues caused by feeling awkward or embarrassed is a lack of communication. Despite sex being considered a “private” or “taboo” subject, all relationships require communication and dialog. I think being open with your partner is very important, especially as disabled people.

Talk with your partner about sex and discover what’s best for the both of you to avoid having close-minded expectations. Remember that not everything works with every partner, so it is important to be patient with one another.

The more you talk to one another the less chances you will feel uncomfortable and awkward when it comes to being intimate together.

You can read more about Phil’s awkward moments in his blog for last year’s End the Awkward campaign.

For more tips on sex and dating, check out the films and stories on our website.

Not a superhuman? Never feel guilty for not doing ‘enough’

Anna Scutt is an actor, singer and hypnotist. In this blog she writes about the impact that adverts like ‘Meet the Superhumans‘ had on her, and how she’s come to accept that it’s okay to admit you’re not okay.

That ‘Meet the Superhumans’ advert. It, and programmes like ‘Disabled Daredevil’, used to make me feel inadequate for not doing something amazing like a bungee jump or a triathlon.  Until two things happened last weekend to change my mind.

One, I read Kim Daniel Daybell’s blog ‘You don’t have to be an athlete to be superhuman’, and two, I got talking to a man sitting next to me at the theatre.

“How does your CP actually disable you?”

He was very impressed that I had come to London on my own.  In the course of conversation, I told him I had also been to Milan to the opera, and that I’d sung in opera myself at university.  At which point he asked ‘Forgive me, but how does your cerebral palsy actually disable you?’

That made me think. Things that I consider ordinary – I drive, I sing, I’ve got a language degree and can watch all those Scandi-noir dramas without subtitles – non-disabled people consider superhuman because they realise that those things are way more difficult for me than they would be for them. They’re not being patronising, they’re just being non-disabled. He was genuinely interested though, so I answered his question: I am in constant pain. I didn’t tell him I hate it. And it took me a long time to admit it, but it’s OK to hate it.

Anna acting on stage. She sits on a mans knee, turned towards each other, in period costume
Anna playing Gwendolen Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest, with Paul Henshall as Jack Worthing

Never feel guilty for not doing ‘enough’

There are so many inspirational stories on the internet that not being OK with my CP made me feel like a failure.  But who doesn’t hate being in pain? That doesn’t make me a failure, it makes me human.

All these inspirational people tell you that you can do anything you put your mind to, but actually, ‘Yes, I can’ might not apply to you.  And that’s OK too.  I mean, it sucks, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  I want to dance – tap, jive, quickstep – but my body doesn’t.  I am an actress and I would love to be in a lavish costume drama, but there aren’t many wheelchair users in Jane Austen.  Feel sad about it, feel angry, but never feel guilty.

Anna smiling at the camera in her wheelchair

If you want to play sport, opportunities have improved thanks to the Paralympics.  But if you don’t, nothing much has changed.  Coronation Street did more to raise awareness for me.  I used to get glared at in public if I got out of my wheelchair and walked, as if I was faking my disability. (I blame Little Britain’s Lou and Andy!)  But since Izzy Armstrong stood up out of her wheelchair at the bar of the Rover’s, the glaring has stopped.

Equality is still some way off, but it’s OK not to be a trailblazer or an activist. Someone else will raise awareness; someone will take that inaccessible shop to court, but don’t feel guilty if it’s not you.

You’re only human, after all.

If you want to find out more about Anna’s career, check out her webpage or watch her showreel. 

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

 

“I hate it when people fake” – and other things you hear as a part time wheelchair user

Chloe is a student and blogger, creator of Life as a Cerebral Palsy student and an Ambassador for CP Teens. 

She has mild cerebral palsy, seizures and sometimes uses a wheelchair. For End the Awkward, she talks about some of the awkward moments this brings and how a balance of education and humour is the way to improve attitudes.

People often think I’m drunk

I’ve had various nights out where people thought I was completely wasted. I have cerebral palsy but I can walk unaided, with my stick. On a night out I don’t tend to wear my splints. I probably look ‘normal’ when I’m sat down and when I stand up people are shocked. People assume that, because I’m on a night out with friends, I’m drunk, when actually I can’t drink a lot with the medication I’m on anyway. At most, I might be a bit tipsy but bar staff will say “Oh you’ve had one too many”.

I tend to go one of two ways – I either make a joke, like “Oh yeah I guess I am… wonder why I’ve got this stick though” or I just say “Well actually I have cerebral palsy, I’m not drunk”. To which they’re usually like “oops”.

Misconceptions about wheelchair-users

Once, I was out clothes shopping with friends and I was in my wheelchair. My friends went one way to look at something and I was looking at a dress. It was on a higher hanger so I was leaning forward, not even standing up, just reaching and this woman looked at me and said “Ugh I hate it when people fake.” I was thinking “What?!” and obviously my friends weren’t there to back me up. I said “Excuse me?” and she said “Well you know, all these people pretending” and I said “Do you know what a part time wheelchair user is?” and she still didn’t believe me. I was just a bit speechless so I just went in the opposite direction.

Should we carry you down the stairs?

I’ve been at a restaurant where there were stairs to go down and the waiter came over like “We could carry you down the stairs?” so I said “I’ve got my stick, I can get down myself if that’s okay” and he just stared at me. I was like “I can walk. I may be exhausted by the time I get to the table but then I can sit down for the meal and I’ll be fine. And he was like “Oh… okay… so do you want me to carry your chair” and I said, “Well yes, that would be very helpful”. I’m amazed by how many people still think you either use a wheelchair all the time or you don’t, or you can either walk or you can’t.

Photo of Chloe in her wheelchair, wearing her leg splints

Fear of the unknown

Because I also have seizures I get avoided quite a bit – people don’t want you to go unconscious on them! It can happen anywhere, like in the middle of busy city centres! There can be warning signs but it varies. I have three different kinds of epilepsy. It can range from “Sit me down now, I’m about to pass out” to no warning whatsoever and I’ll just fall.

I definitely think it’s more a fear of the unknown that anything else. People aren’t sure what to do if it happens so they don’t want to be in that situation. There are so many different kinds of seizures. People think about the ‘typical seizure’ but a lot of mine aren’t like that. So they don’t really know what’s going on. Their instant reaction is to call an ambulance or stare at me, neither of which is helpful. I rarely need medical intervention.

There’s no need to avoid me though. Once I collapsed on one of my friends and she wasn’t sure what to do but I came round and it was fine. She knew that I had seizures but she’d never actually seen one until then. She just joked “A warning would have been nice!” and now she’s used to it.

Ending the Awkward

I think you have to use it as an opportunity to educate people but maybe with a slightly humorous twist. You don’t want to be too serious because I think they’ll just go “Right I’m avoiding doing that again ever in my life”  but if you laugh it off too much they might not realise that what they’ve done is bad. It’s about getting that balance right.

To hear more from Chloe, visit her blog. 

Read the rest of our End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story. 

“My guide dog isn’t a sat nav!”

Guest blog by Emily Davison, otherwise known as Fashioneyesta. Emily is a Scope for Change campaigner and stars in our new End the Awkward film made with UNILAD.

My name’s Emily Davison, otherwise known as Fashioneyesta. I’m a university graduate, writer, fashion and beauty blogger and YouTuber. I also happen to be visually impaired and work with a Guide Dog.

Every day I come across many misconceptions towards my disability and in turn I usually find myself in front of my camera or typing away at my laptop discussing these with my followers.

I was keen to take part in Scope’s End the Awkward campaign – to represent the sight loss community and to show that sight loss does not equate to ignorance, being un-fashionable or being stereotyped.

You can’t give my guide dog directions!

In my new film, you see me in an awkward situation around one of the most outlandish myths surrounding my guide dog – which is the common belief that people can give her directions instead of myself, and that she can follow them like a GPS system!

But, of course there are plenty more awkward moments where that one came from…

‘You’re well dressed for a blind person’

As a fashion blogger, comments I hear a lot are to do with my appearance. People will say ‘you don’t look blind!’ or ‘you’re very well dressed for a blind person.’

As if anyone with a visual impairment – simply because they lack sight – cannot have a conception of style, beauty or looking good, which is of course not true.

‘She’s blind and she’s wearing high heels!’

Another one I encounter on a regular basis is ‘Oh my god! She’s blind and she’s wearing high heels, how ridiculous!’ My answer to this is what does sight loss have to do with the clothes I wear? In what context do those two things relate?

I chose to take an interest in fashion because I enjoy the shopping process, I enjoy looking and feeling good and I happen to love wearing high-heeled shoes.

Awkward speed dating

Another time I went speed dating, and after talking to the person opposite me for a few minutes I got onto the subject of being visually impaired.

When I told him about my vision he sat back, blinked and said ‘Oh…Well what do you expect me do say to that?’ And the conversation came to an abrupt, very awkward end.

Young woman sitting on steps near a beach

‘But you don’t look blind…’

On the bus one day I sat on one of the priority seats – those usually reserved for disabled people, elderly people or those with child.

But my guide dog was out of view and therefore to some I could appear to be a ‘normal person’ – a term I use very loosely.

An elderly gentlemen boarded the bus and said to me ‘Can you move please! These seats are for disabled people.’

It just so happened that my stop was next and so instead of staring a brawl I got up to expose my little four-legged friend, in all her guide dog splendour (neon harness).

There was a deadly silence…..He then responded ‘Oh god! No sit back down… it’s…it’s just…you don’t look blind!’

We all make mistakes

Awkwardness is something I experience in my everyday life, we all do, but disability shouldn’t be something to feel awkward about.

If you have ever felt awkward around disabled people – maybe you said something wrong or made someone feel embarrassed – the thing to do is simply apologise.

We all make mistakes in life and as long as we move forward and learn from them, this is what truly matters.

Follow Fashioneyesta

If you would like to keep up to date with my work you can find me on my blog, Twitter and YouTube. And don’t forget to share your awkward stories too as part of End the Awkward.

Dyspraxia and social anxiety: why I’m not hiding anymore – End the Awkward

Guest post by Rosie, who has dyspraxia, which affects her movement, balance and sensory processing. For End the Awkward, she talks about feeling different, her journey to acceptance and how she stopped hiding.

I’ve always been aware of how differently I learnt and how tasks which everyone else found really easy took me so much longer. At the age of 4 I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, an invisible difference which is still very misunderstood. Dyspraxia is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body. This affects my ability to perform movements in a coordinated way, balance, motor skills and sensory and emotional sensitivity.

Every person with dyspraxia is affected differently. Even though I’ve always been very determined, I was also very shy and self conscious. I hated being centre of attention and any fuss made feel uncomfortable. I really struggled making friends as everyone was very different to me.

People didn’t understand

The lack of understanding which surrounds dyspraxia didn’t help at all, a lot of people didn’t and still don’t know what it is. I was misunderstood, judged and negative assumptions were made about me. I was called clumsy, careless, stupid, lazy and told that I simply wasn’t trying hard enough.

If you had asked me to describe what dyspraxia was and how it affected me I would have avoided the subject completely. I just didn’t know how to talk about it and was scared that people would run a mile if I disclosed to them. Awful bullying and ignorance at work had left me too anxious to speak, struggling with social anxiety and in a dark place.

Feeling different

A common theme for many dyspraxics is feeling different and struggling to make and maintain friendships. Over the years I’ve beat myself up a lot and wondered why I couldn’t be as socially confident as others, which is an ongoing challenge. I struggle with managing my emotions and can be prone to panic attacks and sensory sensitivity, which means the environment around me can be very overwhelming.

I’ve also spent a lot of my life hiding. Hiding from situations or environments which either triggered my anxiety or where I’ve felt uncomfortable. I concealed my  dyspraxia and social anxiety which lead to me experiencing depression. For ages I thought it was just me being me.

Rosie dressed up for an event

Anxiety was taking over my life

Social anxiety made me feel in constant worry that I was going to embarrass or make an idiot out of myself. I worried that I would have a panic attack, experience sensory overload in public or say something that nobody “gets”and have everyone laugh at me.

Then there’s the constant worry that you’ve done something to upset someone and that people hate you and are simply putting up with you. When you’re anxious your whole body can tense up, you can start feeling sick and you can struggle to give eye contact, which is hard enough when you’re dyspraxic. It was easier to avoid doing anything or going anywhere.

After hitting a very low patch I realised I couldn’t  go on like this. Anxiety was slowly taking over my life, stopping me enjoying the things I loved and leaving me fearful, low and constantly on edge, unable to sleep and with zero confidence and self-esteem. The more anxious I became the more clumsier I was and the more mistakes I was making and the more I beat myself up. It was a vicious circle.

Meeting others helped me stop hiding

I got involved in Dyspraxia Foundation where for the first time I felt like I could be myself. Nobody judged me if I made any mistakes. I met others who were dyspraxic and I didn’t feel so alone. I began to learn about how dyspraxia affected me but also the strengths which dyspraxia can bring, which to me are being caring, creative, able to think outside of the box and I’m a very determined soul.

By spending so much time hiding I wasn’t showing the world all of Rosie and I was missing out on so much. With the support that’s out there, I’ve been able to achieve a degree and a masters degree. I’m also learning strategies to help me cope with day to day life and support my mental health.

Ending the Awkward

I’ve been able to help others by writing blogs and raising awareness, helping them feel less isolated and alone. It’s given me more empathy when supporting students in my job as a learning support assistant. I’m determined that nobody should go through or feel what I have. Learning to be kind to myself is something I’m still working on but I’m fighting my fears one little step at a time.

That’s why I’m getting involved in Scope’s End The Awkward campaign. Disability and difference is nothing to be scared of – we’re human beings with feelings. A little bit of patience, time, and kindness can go a long way. Nobody deserves to be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of being different. After all, wouldn’t the world be such a boring place if we all were the same? You never know what you might find out when you take the time to get to know someone.

You can stay up to date with everything End the Awkward on Twitter and Facebook using #EndTheAwkward or visiting Scope’s End the Awkward webpage.

To read more from Rosie, visit Rosie’s blog.

“It’s nice knowing my hard work will make a difference” – Caroline takes on the Great South Run

Caroline is doing the Great South Run for Scope in honour of her friend, Vicky, who lost her leg in the Alton Towers Smiler crash.

For this blog, she chatted to us about her reasons for doing it, her journey so far and her determination despite her own injuries.

My friend Vicky was involved in the awful Alton Towers Smiler Crash where she lost her leg. She has had an incredibly tough time adjusting to her new life but has shown outstanding courage and bravery. She has overcome so many barriers and inspired thousands of people.

Despite her own heartbreak Vicky has helped me so much. Her courage has given me courage.

Vicky has sadly faced criticism and trolling online, which does get to her. I want to show her and other disabled people who have to deal with prejudice just how much support they have. It was after having a chat with one of my close friends, that I decided I wanted to do more for charity and for Vicky.

Why I’m supporting Scope

I chose to support Scope because they do such incredible work supporting disabled people and their families. They also campaign for equal rights which I think is amazing. I work as a teaching assistant, working with disabled students at a college in Cornwall. It’s an incredible job but sadly I see the prejudice they face every day, so the work that Scope does is very close to my heart.

caroline-2You’ve got to believe in yourself

Running or walking 10 miles doesn’t come naturally to me, but I know I can do it if I work at it. With help from my friends I have done lots of training for the run.

I have foot injuries so to run it would be very difficult. walking will be tough enough but I am determined to jog some too. I know that I can make it. You’ve just got to believe in your own abilities.

I organised a big fundraising event in my local pub

Tyacks Hotel have been so supportive and cannot thank them enough for all their help. I got so many incredible donations from so many local and national companies.

With all the amazing support from my family and friends it was a brilliant night and we raised £471 in just 3 hours. I was so pleased that I could do this for Scope and Vicky.

Some people didn’t think I’d be able to get great prizes or thought that it wouldn’t raise much. But I emailed a lot of companies, put myself out there, and got so many incredible prizes. The determination to help my friend was all I needed.

It’s nice knowing my hard work will make a difference

I get to help amazing charities and have an opportunity to do something great for myself and others. I feel like my hard work will make a real difference. Knowing it’ll be tough only makes me more determined to do it. I am very excited and just know it will be an incredible day.

My advice to anyone out there looking to take part in an event or raise money is don’t doubt yourself, we can all do things that we never expected.

If you feel inspired by Caroline and want to support Scope by taking part in one of our events, you can read more here. You can also sponsor Caroline here.

“I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary” – disability and employment

At a fringe event at the recent Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, organised by Scope and the Fabian Society, senior Labour Party parliamentarians, policy experts and disabled people shared their experiences of employment. The group considered how to ensure disabled people played a key role in the changing world of work.

The panel consisted of Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Debbie Abrahams MP, Neil Coyle MP, General Secretary of the Fabian Society Andy Harrop, Scope’s Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs Anna Bird and Lauren Pitt.

In this blog Lauren talks about her experiences of employment and her thoughts following the panel event.

I lost my sight at the age of 13. When I graduated from university in 2015, I began what turned out to be a long and difficult job hunt. I applied for over 250 jobs but despite being qualified, I only got interviews about 5% of the time. The interviews were generally very negative about my disability. They’d ask “How are you going to be able to do this job?” and I would think “Well I can, otherwise I wouldn’t have applied” but it’s difficult if you’re not being given the chance.

“In phone interviews, when I mentioned that I was disabled their attitudes changed. Potential employers were suddenly less interested in what I had to say.” – Lauren, in her opening speech

I eventually got offered a job and I’m really enjoying it.  When Scope invited me to speak at this event, I immediately said yes. For me, none of the process of getting into work was easy. I came because I wanted to make that process easier for other people. I’m keen to change attitudes towards disability in the workplace and by sharing my story, I want to help disabled people have the confidence to get jobs.

I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary

People think it’s extraordinary that disabled people work but I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary. We want to contribute to our communities as much as an able-bodied person. We have no reason not to be and we shouldn’t be stopped from doing that.

Employers may see disabled people as having certain disadvantages, but those disadvantages can actually be very advantageous. We have to be problem solvers, we’re determined, resilient and we want to work.

A massive barrier is people’s attitudes. People see us in the Paralympics and think “oh look at that blind person running” but we can do so many other things. People need to see the variety of jobs that disabled people are in.

The panel sit behind a white table in front of a screen that reads "An inclusive future"

Policies and support need to be better

At the Job Centre, there was the assumption that I only wanted part-time work. Well, no. I might be disabled but I can still work full time. I want to contribute as much as anyone else and I can.

Information about the support available also needs to be better. Technology is essential in supporting me to do my job as well as anyone else can and that’s provided by Access to Work. But it took four weeks after my assessment for my equipment to arrive – four weeks where I wasn’t able to do my job. Also, research done by Scope showed that around half of people said they don’t know about Access to Work or don’t know how to get it. Well, that needs to change. Without Access to Work, there’s no way I could do my job.

Stories show people what’s possible

We need to share success stories and use them to show disabled people and employers that disability doesn’t have to be a barrier. Stories change people’s minds. Scope’s End the Awkward campaign has changed people’s minds already – people often talk to me about it. By seeing disabled people doing things, you believe that it’s possible.

It’s also important that disabled people believe in themselves. When you see others succeeding, you think “Maybe I can do that”. Commonly more negative stories are shared and people see those and think it’s not going to happen. I know towards the end of my job hunt I wanted to give up. I just didn’t think I was ever going to get a job. I knew I could do it but by the end it was like “Can I?”

A massive thing for disabled people is confidence. The world is not an easy place to live if you’re disabled – you’re faced with barriers left, right and centre. But there are also ways to overcome those barriers. And it’s about learning those ways and being given the right support. You get ground down by applying for jobs and not getting anywhere.

Lauren crouching down with her guide dog, both wearing robes at her graduation ceremony
Lauren and her guide dog at her graduation ceremony

Sharing knowledge is really important

Another thing I would love to see would be the option to have a mentor – either another people who is disabled and currently in work or an employer. Sharing experience is a massive thing because it builds up that self confidence and that knowledge. You’re not going to learn something unless you’ve got someone showing you. I want everyone to see that disabled people can work just like everyone else. My line manager went for an interview and said that she worked with someone who’s blind and they were like “How?” and she was liked “Well, like this…” and that’s the thing, it’s a transfer of knowledge.

I also think it’s important to educate people when they’re young, which is something Scope are doing at the moment, with their Role Models programme. The more people see at a younger age, the better their attitudes will be. Sometimes older people say it’s amazing that I’m working – well, it’s not really that amazing and they wouldn’t say that to my brother, who’s sighted.

Working together to change the future of employment

Today was great. Everyone on the panel spoke about the many things that can be done to help disabled people find and stay in work. We also spoke about things that aren’t being done that should be – some things that can easily be implemented and other things that may be more difficult and how funds can be better used.

I really enjoyed having this opportunity to talk to disabled people, politicians and people who worked for different charities, all of us coming together to share the knowledge and ideas that we have, to help change the future for disabled people in employment.

Scope has partnered with the Fabian Society to produce a series of essays that look at how the modern and future world of work can be inclusive for disabled people.

To read more about Lauren’s journey into work, read her previous blog.

If you have an employment story you would like to share, get in touch with the Stories team.

The hidden sex lives of disabled people – End the Awkward

Alice is a disability rights activist and journalist. As part of our End the Awkward campaign, she shares her views on the media’s portrayal of sex and disability.

Content note: this blog references offensive disablist language and contains discussions about sex.

Disabled people don’t have sex, do they? It certainly seems that way as our sex lives are so rarely represented in the media, if at all.

Have you ever seen a disabled person having sex in a film, TV program, or a mainstream porno? Me neither.

We are a generation which loves to talk about sex, so why aren’t disabled people part of the conversation? Why are our sex lives are being hidden? And why are we being desexualised? We are consistently portrayed as people who never get our leg over and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

However, things have started to change with Maltesers recent ad campaign. The brand launched three disability-themed adverts which premiered on the opening night of the Paralympic Games, and one in-particular really stood out to me.

A text description of the advert is available at the end of this blog post.

Three women are sat around chatting about sex and one (who is a wheelchair user) talks about getting frisky with her boyfriend who didn’t complain when her hand started spasming! Funnily enough Storme Toolis who plays the part is thought to be the only disabled actor to ever have had a sex scene on UK TV.

It is hard to put into words just how happy I was to see this advert, it reminded me of the conversations I have had with friends leaving them in stitches when sharing my sex stories.

Disability in the bedroom

I have spasms and seizures, and I have them when I’m in bed. This can make sex both awkward and absolutely hilarious, not too different from non-disabled sex right?

In the past I’ve had to explain to a partner that my legs weren’t shaking because I’d had an orgasm – they were going into a spasm.

I’ve also come round from seizures before and not remembered who the person on top of me was. You can’t really get much more awkward then that, especially when you’re in a long term relationship!

Disability certainly keeps sex interesting and there are also some perks. Having so many seizures during sex forces me and my partner to have regular breaks which means it usually lasts much longer then it would without them. And telling people I’m disabled early on is also a great dickhead-filter, especially when online dating. You’d be amazed at how many people have stopped talking to me once they discovered I was disabled, but this has meant I’ve only ever met up with open minded people who I know I can trust to get into bed with.

Having barriers in the bedroom also means disabled people have to be more creative and our sex lives are often far from vanilla, trust me. Look at Scope’s A to Z of sex and disability if you want to find out more!

End the awkward

Maltesers are paving the way to end the awkwardness around sex and disability, but there is a long way to go yet. This is evident from some of the online comments left on the advert such as: “Retards who have sex are disgusting.” And: “I don’t really understand how disabled ‘people’ can be sexual beings without having souls.”

These attitudes need to be challenged, and the best way to do that is for more brands and broadcasters to follow in Maltesers footsteps. The more disabled people’s sex lives are accurately represented, the better perceptions will become. I hope one day I can turn on my TV and see disabled characters (played by disabled actors) having sex and for it not be out of the ordinary.

Beyond the bedroom

But this goes beyond sex, Scope’s 2016 Disability In The Media Study found that 80 percent of disabled people felt underrepresented by TV and the media on the whole.

It seems like this is only addressed for a few weeks every four years when the Paralympics comes around and this needs to change. We are the world’s largest minority group and we need representation every day of the year.

So decision makers, please don’t stop broadcasting about disability just because the games are over, let’s keep it on the box, and while you’re at it why not start representing disabled people’s sex lives too?

Read more End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story.

Video description: Three women sat outside around a picnic bench. The person telling the story is a wheelchair user and she is holding a bag of Maltesers in her hand. As she tells the story she shakes the bag and chocolates spill over the table. Her friends looked shocked at first but then everyone laughs. Text reads: “Look on the light side”.

“He’s really fit but it’s a shame that he speaks like that” – End the Awkward

James Sutliff is a Personal Trainer. In 2008, he developed a rare neurological disorder known as dystonia. His speech became slurred and the feeling in his hands deteriorated.

As part of End the Awkward, James told us the awkward moments he’s found himself in and how he thinks we can avoid these cringe worthy situations.

Attitudes and awkwardness

It’s hard to comprehend because physically to look at me, my disability is quite silent. I don’t generally ‘look like a disabled person’. I’m not in a wheelchair, I don’t have a missing limb. So people are often shocked. They think I’m taking the p***.

I think a lot of people can be quite nervous, it can be embarrassing on either end, because the person who’s speaking to me wants to understand what I’m saying but can’t and I feel awkward so I don’t want to carry on talking. It happens quite a lot.

I don’t think it’s that people can’t be bothered to listen all the time. It’s just maybe a little bit of embarrassment on their part, feeling nervous around not knowing how to approach it.

Some people are great. I like it if people just say “sorry mate can you say that again?” But being polite, as people generally are, they’ll just nod their head or whatever.

James, a young disabled man, lifts weights in a gym

How people can be less awkward

I do get quite a bit of female attention, probably because I work out and stuff. When they approach me and talk to me, they soon realise that I have dystonia and there have been a few instances where people make comments that are not very nice.

I was in a nightclub with my wife and this woman approached me. She was obviously quite physically attracted to me and then I started talking. She quickly finished her conversation and rejoined her friend. She obviously cottoned on that my wife was with me in the club and said to her “He’s really fit but it’s a shame he speaks like that”. That was it, she was in trouble. My wife gave her a really bad telling off!

James, a young disabled man, lifts weights in a gym

What not to do

You do get people staring. I don’t think they realise that they’re doing it but sometimes when I clock them I feel like saying “Stop it! If you want to know what’s wrong, come and ask!”

Children are great though because they basically have no boundaries. They’ll say “Why do you speak like that?” and I love that because they’re so honest. They’re just curious. And we’ll say, “Well it’s because of this” and they just go “Oh, okay then”.

I think as a nation we’re overly polite. But what people don’t realise is they’re actually being ruder by sitting and staring or nudging and whispering with their friend next to them.

Be open, have a sense of humour and don’t ignore me. Just talk to me and remember, I’m the same person I was before.

For more tips on sex and dating, check out the films and stories on our website.

You can also read the rest of our End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story.

“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”.