Tag Archives: Physical impairments

“Can I teach aerobics in a wheelchair? Yes, I can!” #Superhumans #Paralympics

Kris Saunders-Stowe is one of the stars of Channel 4’s new Paralympics TV advert. As the Superhumans return to an uplifting soundtrack of Sammy Davis Jr’s Yes, I Can, Kris talks about his passion for dance and how the Paralympics show the importance of focusing on what disabled people can achieve. 

My parents always encouraged me to try new things. I loved watching Come Dancing, which was primetime Saturday night viewing back then and my aunt and uncle were competitive ballroom and Latin American dancers.

I remember visiting my aunt and she would be surrounded by bags of sequins, netting and brightly coloured feathers, busily making costumes for their next competition.

I started learning ballroom and Latin American dance when I was seven. I was hooked – progressing through all the levels to ‘gold bar’ – my teacher thought I had potential and wanted to coach me to become a professional dancer.

But sadly outside the studio things were not as positive.

My mother, proud of my achievements, sent me to school loaded with my medals and certificates, and I’d be called up on stage during assembly to share my success.

The intentions were good, but I became the odd one out. I ended up being bullied quite badly, which changed me and how I saw myself. So I gave up dance in a bid to stop it, but the bullying carried on throughout my school life.

I’ve often wondered what my life would be like if I’d carried on dancing. But as my health deteriorated and I lost most of the function in my legs due to a progressive degenerative condition, the idea of dancing again faded away.

Using a wheelchair it felt like I was taking back control

When I started using a wheelchair it felt like I was taking back control and regaining my independence. I became a fitness instructor and I was able to enjoy music and rhythm again through teaching aerobics. I learnt wheelchair dance and qualified as an instructor through the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association.

A few months ago, I was invited to audition for a part as a wheelchair dancer in an advert. I found out after the auditions that I’d been chosen to be part of Channel 4’s Paralympics advert, which was fantastic.Kris holding his dance partner aloft

The experience has reignited my passion for dance and opened up further opportunities to do so. I let the bullying end my dreams of dancing and when I first became disabled I felt like I ‘couldn’t’ dance, but now I can because of my disability. I met many new friends through working on the ad, there was a great mix of personalities and we share being part of something iconic.

Yes I Can

Kris-Florence3The ad for London 2012, which was created by the same director, was dynamic and punchy, conveying the passion, drive and commitment of Paralympians. This year’s will share those qualities, but it also features disabled people, not just Paralympians, doing a wider range of sports, playing music and other activities. It sends a simple message to everyone who thinks or is told they can’t do something: Yes I Can.
When I work with disabled clients as a fitness instructor, I always focus on what people can do rather than what they can’t. I believe we all have the ability to do anything we want in life. Often we can lack confidence in ourselves and so when someone tells us we can’t do something we accept they are right and never achieve our full potential. Yet if we truly believe in ourselves and are encouraged to explore we can change those ideas and perceptions.

When I began my career as a fitness instructor, I attended a course to become an aerobics instructor. The course tutor assumed that because I’m a wheelchair user I wouldn’t be able to fulfil the course criteria, she said I “should be on a special course”. It’s fair to say I proved her wrong, my main career is as an aerobics instructor and I work to challenge people’s perceptions of what disabled people can achieve. Can I teach aerobics in a wheelchair? Yes I can!

It’s human nature to pigeonhole people based on first impressions. But disability comes in so many shapes and forms, visible and invisible that no one person can be considered the same. The same is true for people who aren’t disabled. We’re all the same because we’re all uniquely different.

Kris on set of the Channel 4 advert
Kris on set of the Channel 4 advert

Too many people look at the impairment, at what they think or assume someone can’t do, rather than what they can do. One of the things I like about Channel 4’s new ad is that it shows what disabled people are capable of, not just on a Paralympian level, but as people taking part in everyday activities that lead to a healthier, enjoyable and more independent life.

What do you think of Channel 4’s Superhumans ad? Tweet your response using the hashtag #Superhumans. 

 

Recruiting personal assistants means I can live my life how I want to – Nadia

Nadia is 24 and lives in West Yorkshire. She’s a student and a campaigner with Scope for Change – Scope’s training programme for young disabled campaigners. Nadia employers her own personal assistants and last year, she won an Employer of the Year award.

She told us what this meant to her, what she looks for in her employees and how they support her to live a busy, independent life.

I’m profoundly deaf and I have cerebral palsy. To communicate, I use a communication aid called DynaVox. I can also sign British Sign Language but my body physically limits my signing. I’ve been employing personal assistants with the help of my family since I was eight years old. I started off with two or three and now manage a team of eight, as well as one volunteer and a communication support worker.

With support from my team, I can enjoy a busy life

I volunteer at a college and I like to meet friends, go to concerts, festivals, weekends away, travel and go for cocktails. I also need support to go to conferences, events and college. My team help me to be independent. For example, I’m planning a backpacking trip around Europe. They also help with everyday life including personal care, showers, writing and communicating, feeding and dressing me. All of these responsibilities are done respecting my autonomy.

I like to recruit personal assistants myself

I find staff through advertising on the internet. I also use Facebook groups, Twitter, Gumtree, the deaf community and students learning sign language.

I’m often pre-judged so I feel it’s better to meet people myself. I like to meet face to face and assess their skills. Employing my team myself, as opposed to through an agency, means I can plan my life how I want. If I want to socialise until 2am, I can arrange it. If I plan something that others may think is impossible, I have a fantastic team that will work with me to make it possible.

I look for people with similar interests, open personalities and honesty. I welcome diversity. I like people with skills in deaf awareness, signing and good receptive body language. I also need people who understand my thoughts and how I process language, someone with a good sense of humour, who can think quickly if problems arise. My team have supported me at the best times, but also at some of my worst times.

Working together with my team, we get to know each other well. I support my team emotionally, with advice and through training. I also plan nights out which my team are welcome to join and this builds relationships.

Nadia on a night out with a group of female friends all smiling

I’ve had moments I will always remember

In 2015 I visited London. I was going to the Houses of Parliament to give a speech with Trailblazers. Afterwards, we were at St Pancras station and there was a man playing the piano. He was an old Italian man and he sang a song called ‘That’s Amore’. My personal assistant, Sam, signed and I danced with my electric wheelchair. We were in the middle of the train station. I felt so happy and free.

Then we went to King’s Cross Station and I saw what looked like a big birdcage lit up with different colours. We went to have a look and saw that it was a swing. I told Sam to go on it and she said “No, you get on it!”. I felt safe so I agreed. She got me on the swing and held me while pushing. I felt excited and it was so different. Every day I’m sat in my wheelchair. I felt air on my legs while I was swinging and I laughed so much. I will always remember that experience.

I was so proud to win an award

This year I was nominated for an award – “Best individual employer who employs their own care and support staff”. The event organisers were Skills for Care. On the night of the awards I had a headache, felt so sick and I wanted to go to bed. My clinical support worker persuaded me to stay for the results. When they announced that I had won, I was surprised, happy and proud.

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

 

A doctor said that he’d never walk, now he’s a professional racing driver – Nic Hamilton

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Nic Hamilton is a racing driver by profession and is currently competing in the British Touring Car Championship. He was born with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy and has caused a stir in the racing world as one of the few disabled racers on the track. He is now setting up XeedX, a website he hopes will inspire and motivate people from all walks of life.

As part of our 30 Under 30 campaign, Nic talks about getting into racing, setting up XeedX and how he has exceeded expectations throughout his life.

I always wanted to do racing. My brother Lewis had started to race when he was eight years old and we were following him and supporting him throughout his career. I was at every race, every weekend and it’s something that I always wanted to do but didn’t think it was possible due to my condition.

I had a little go in a car park when I was seven. It didn’t go too well. I ended up crashing into a kerb and down a ditch! My legs weren’t strong enough to operate the pedals. It was pretty much a no go for me at that point. It wasn’t looking good for me as that’s normally the time when you’d start your career in motorsport. It wasn’t until I was around 17 or 18 that we thought it might be possible.

Making adjustments

Cerebral palsy isn’t really built for doing all the strength you need to drive a car. I don’t think people realise how physical it is and how fit you have to be. I’ve had to really build up my strength, do my stretches and have a lot of physio.

I’ve had to adapt the car but I try and keep it as standard as possible. I still have pedals but I do have a hand clutch on the steering wheel so I have two pedals instead of three. The pedals are a little wider than standard so I have a bigger area to put my feet when I’m accelerating or braking.

To start with, it was very difficult. The first task was to obtain my race licence. Normally, for non-disabled people, it would take around two weeks. You just need to prove that you can drive a car at high speeds.

I passed the test first time, no problems. However, the governing body for motor sport had a lot of questions to ask in terms of my condition. It was quite difficult because they were really coming down hard on me and wanting every single little detail. It ended up taking me four months to get it and then every time I renewed it, it was always an issue.

However, since they’ve seen that I’m beating non-disabled people and that I’m making quite a name for myself, it hasn’t been an issue. Originally it was tough, but now it feels like I’m treated as an equal. I’m just trying to do the best job I can, be the best I can be and see where my career takes me.

Setting up XeedX

I basically thought XeedX up in my bedroom. I wanted to see if there was a way to use what I’m about and use the opportunities I’ve been given to give something back to other people.

I wanted to try and start a movement of people exceeding opportunities in their own way and wanted to put everyone on the same level. As much as everyone has a role model to look up to, people need to realise that they are most likely a role model to someone else also. I want to start moving out of the limelight and focus on people who deserve it more. It will be a way to motivate and inspire people.

My whole thing is being told I’d never walk to then going on to racing a race car. I managed to exceed all expectations of what everyone had of me and what I had of myself.

Throughout life, you’re always exceeding expectations. It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, it could just be getting up and running to the shop or doing something you’d never normally do or something that you didn’t think was possible. I want people to start showing us what they’re doing.

The whole point of XeedX is to help people be proud of who they are and to make them realise that they are as important to society and the world as anybody else. If you put your mind to it, you can really push your limits and exceed expectations in any way that you can.

Nic, a young disabled man, is dressed in a smart suit and stands by a podium speaking to an audience.

Nic is sharing his story as part of our 30 Under 30 campaign. This is where we are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Read other stories from 30 Under 30.

Visit the XeedX website to find out more and how you can get involved.

Accessible holidays: how I became a cruise-convert

Fiona Gosden is the Disability Specialist at DisabledHolidays.com and is a wheelchair user with Ollier’s Disease. Fiona has travelled extensively throughout Europe and is excited about going even further afield as her confidence grows.

She is keen to support others with disabilities or health conditions to enjoy independence, gain confidence, and create happy memories by encouraging people to go on holiday.

Before I had experienced an accessible holiday, I felt overwhelmed by the thought of travelling abroad because of my previous experiences of the barriers and challenges I had faced.

The thought of travelling highlighted my disability and I felt disadvantaged compared to my friends who were always planning to travel. I thought it was easier to accept that I would never explore the world like they could, but then I thought ‘how is that fair?’.

When it was suggested that I should try cruising I imagined an over-crowded ship where I had to endlessly circle around looking for an available sunbed and feeling claustrophobic whilst away from land. I also imagined being restricted to staying on board because of excursions not being accessible – and what about if I couldn’t access all the areas of the ship?

I couldn’t have been more wrong!disability_cruise_SCOPE_blog2

“I’m now a cruise-convert”

I know others with a disability can experience the same anxieties about going on holiday, and I can completely relate to it, but I hope that this blog will reassure you that with a bit of planning and careful selection about which companies you book with, everyone can enjoy a wonderful accessible holiday. Despite my pre-conceptions about cruises, I am now a complete cruise convert – they are an absolutely fantastic option for an accessible holiday!

Here are some of the reasons I love cruises:

  • Accessible cabins – many ships have accessible cabins, and the newer ships in particular are excellent. They are larger than standard cabins, have wide doorways and a fully adapted wet-room with roll in shower. There are even companies that will allow you to hire equipment and deliver it to the cabin, including hoists and electric beds! It’s a wonderful feeling not having to worry about accommodation accessibility, especially if you have a balcony cabin to just sit and watch the world go by!
  • Visiting the world without having to fly, and only unpacking once! I have found long flights to be very uncomfortable and thought that there would be countries I could never visit, but cruising takes you to the locations you want to go – what can be better than having locations brought to the doorstep of your luxurious floating hotel!
  • Floating from city to city and island to island without having to consider the accessibility of buses, trains and ferries. Before cruising I often found it impossible to get to a bus stop let alone get on the bus, but when cruising adapted shuttle buses come to the ship so you can explore your destination without barriers.
  • Waking up to a new exciting place every morning and exploring a wide range of adapted excursions. The first time I cruised I didn’t realise that there were adapted excursions and I felt limited by barriers after I’d be dropped into a city on the adapted shuttle bus. I have now discovered adapted excursions which can be booked before your holiday to avoid stress and disappointment, and are a great way to see new countries and cities.
  • Relaxing on-board your floating hotel. I didn’t know what to expect when I heard that cruising was like being on a ‘floating hotel’. On board most cruise ships there is a huge choice of activities which are all accessible, including entertainment, shops, indoor and outdoor cinemas, swimming pools, a huge choice of restaurants and bars, outdoor activities and spas. The range of entertainment is genuinely staggering and the food in the restaurants is some of the best I’ve had; you could stay on the ship for days and still have more to do.

I have discovered that travelling with a disability is easier than I thought and it has helped me to discover who I am in a way that only a holiday adventure can bring. I haven’t felt like my disability is my identity since travelling and there are always stories and memories to share which means I can join in when my friends chat about their travelling experiences.

I am delighted to say I now work as Disability Specialist at DisabledHolidays.com (the UK’s largest travel company specialising in holidays for people with disabilities and mobility impairments), and I can use my experience to help even more people with a disability or health condition to experience a perfect holiday.

Working here has really opened my eyes; there’s so much more than I ever thought would be possible, not just in the UK but abroad too – from adapted cottages and caravans to villas and hotels (and even adapted skiing and safaris) – and , of course, cruises!

I want to enable others to experience the satisfaction I feel when I finish a trip and look back at everything I have been able to accomplish; a disability does not have to be a barrier to going on holiday. This satisfaction gives me the energy and motivation to plan future travels without feeling restricted.

Looking for more information on accessible holidays? Read our help and tips suggested by members of Scope’s community

My experience on People’s Strictly, as a dancer with MS

Trishna Bharadia was a contestant on the People’s Strictly for Comic Relief.

Trishna was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 28 in 2008. She works full-time as a translator for an information services company but in her spare time has collaborated with various MS and disability organisations, to ensure that people with MS are supported and their needs are understood within the wider community and by the general public. Here she talks about her experience on the show. 

Dancing out of my comfort zone

I’m someone who has always loved the idea of dancing but never had the confidence to do it. Being diagnosed with MS brought a huge amount of unBlack and white photo of Trishna in rehearsal with her dance partnercertainty into my life and changed the way that I viewed things. The nature of the condition means that I could quite literally wake up tomorrow and not be able to move my arms or legs. No warning. It can just happen.

This led me to taking the bull by its horns and I started to do all the things that I’d always wanted. Dancing was one of them. I took up Zumba classes, where I really fell in love with dancing. It taught me that actually you don’t need confidence or even a certain level of physical ability to dance, you just need a passion for it and to be able to think outside the box.

Trishna wearing all yellow, posing with her dance partnerI’m a big fan of Strictly Come Dancing and when my sister heard that they were looking for people to participate in the first ever People’s Strictly for Comic Relief, she knew she had to enter me.

There were over 11,000 nominations and just six of us were chosen. It was an honour that the producers believed my story was worth telling and that the work that I’d done with various MS charities since being diagnosed warranted me making one of my dreams come true!

Facing Challenges

Dancing with MS or other chronic conditions or impairments isn’t easy. While I was having the time of my life on the show, dancing with the wonderful Aljaz Skornajec, behind the scenes I was also struggling with fatigue and the uncertainty of my condition. The four months were physically, emotionally and mentally tough, Trishna wearing a white sparkly dress, posing in a dance move with her partnerparticularly as I was still working full-time, as well as filming and dance training.  Training was anywhere between 10 to 25 hours per week for six weeks.

Just a few weeks before we were going to do our final dance, my foot went numb and I was terrified I was having an MS relapse; one of my relapses had previously involved me losing the feeling down one side of my body. Turns out afterwards that I actually had localised nerve damage from poorly fitting dance shoes, but it served to remind me just how uncertain my condition can be.

The production crew, other contestants and professional dancers became like a family to me. I’m used to having a strong support network around me, which enables me to do all the things that I want to do. On filming days it was my new Strictly family that ensured I was able to get enough rest and that adjustments were made to ensure I was being shown at my best.

Aljaz was fabulous and there were parts of our jive routine that we adapted and adjusted to take into account my fatigue and wobbliness when my muscles started tiring!

Doing Strictly has helped me to appreciate further what I’m capable of physically and also allowed me to push myself and find Trishna and her dance partner giving each other a high fivenew limits. I would do it all over again given half a chance! I was supremely aware, however, that not everyone with MS would be able to do what I did. I was contacted by the Wheelchair Dance Sport Association (WDSA) and have since helped them to promote wheelchair dancing. I mean, who says that dancing has to be standing on two legs? Dance is a beautiful and challenging art form and disability definitely doesn’t have to be a barrier to people who want to give it a go!

Want to know more? You can connect with Trishna on Facebook or Twitter

Have you got a dancing story you’d like to tell us? We’d love to hear about it – just comment below.