Tag Archives: role model

My advice to anyone with a hidden impairment

Alex has worked for West Yorkshire Police since 2006, where she first joined as a Police Community Support Officer. She was diagnosed with Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia in 2014. Alex is involved with the Positive Role Model Programme, a West Yorkshire Police initiative to encourage more people to be open about disability. The message is “It’s okay to be you” and in this blog, Alex shares her story.

Before joining the Police I had lots of ideas of what I wanted to do as a career, but I never seemed to be able to focus on any one single pathway.  I struggled at school in all things academic, especially Maths, but nothing was ever flagged up.

Hidden impairments were not really known about in mainstream schooling. I think it was partially due to excelling in my social abilities. My reports always said ‘Alex is a cheerful, chatty person, a delight to have in class, very sociable’, coupled with ‘but she could try a little harder, she needs to concentrate more’.

When I was diagnosed a massive weight was lifted

When I was diagnosed in 2014 with Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia a massive weight was lifted. I am not stupid, I do not need to concentrate more. I am already concentrating much more than most people on the simplest of tasks. I also realised I had to stay away from anything to do with numbers if I wanted a stress free life.

I once had a job as an Assistant Manager of a high street shop. Most of the time I was good at it until it came to cashing up the tills at night – nightmare! It was so stressful and I assumed I must be really stupid to get things wrong time after time. Thankfully, my personality has always kept me going even if sometimes I feel I am going to crack. Now that I know I have Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia I can give myself a bit of a break from being ultra-hard on myself and ultra-critical of my mistakes.

Alex laughing, with a park in the background

Fighting to succeed

In a way, not being diagnosed earlier made me the person I am today who works hard to achieve everything I want at work and at home. I am driven, confident and sorely honest with myself. My conditions do not disable me but they do challenge me and I am up for a challenge in any form. It is this drive to succeed at everything I do that keeps me fighting to stay at work.

In my 11 years in the Police, I’ve had several roles and I am currently in a dream position at the Regional Scientific Support Service, training to become a Fingerprint Identification Officer. This is my biggest challenge to date and my Dyspraxia is really putting up a fight with the capabilities required for the position. But I have had this battle before and it hasn’t stopped me succeeding!

We need to think about reasonable adjustments

The assessment did get me thinking: why make a person with Dyscalculia (someone with no natural ability with numbers) do a Maths based test? Is that not setting them up to potentially fail? I fully acknowledge the need to assess people’s skills and resilience – especially in jobs like the Police – but I feel the current methods of assessment do not match our modern day understanding of disability. I think assessments could be more reasonably adjusted – impairments are much more complex than requiring a bit of extra time.

I think the recruitment process has moved forward with the introduction of a presentation as it’s another means of demonstrating a specific skill. These are much more relevant than demonstrating you can work out percentages.

Woman smiling inside an office

My advice for anyone with a hidden impairment

Some people feel like they want to hide the fact they have an impairment but I almost want to shout it from the rooftops. It validates me, my quirks and my frustrations. It means that people know to give me that little extra time and patience and afford me the right to get things wrong more often than is considered ‘normal’.

I would say to anyone with a hidden impairment: be open, be honest, be confident, be adaptable! Life is challenging enough without a hidden impairment and in coping with both you already have one up on the rest of them.

If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with the stories team.

Read more experiences of having a hidden impairment.

Jordanne Whiley: going for double-gold at the Paralympics

Jordanne Whiley is a Paralympian, eight time Grand Slam champion and Britain’s most decorated female tennis player of all time. She was born with osteogenesis, more commonly know as brittle bone disease.

In this blog she talks about her hopes for Rio and why she wants to show young people that no matter what your background, or how you look, you can achieve anything.

My love for tennis started when I was three

I had my first leg break when I was three months-old and I had my last one at 12 years-old. In between that I had about 26 breaks. When I was three, my dad took me out to Israel because he was competing in a tennis tournament. I was in a wheelchair with my legs in plaster at the time. I didn’t think I’d be able to play but my dad’s friend gave me a racket and ball and I just started hitting it. Then it was all over Israeli news! I got a trophy from the tournament too. It all just kicked off after that.

I became professional around the time I was 16. Before that, I was part of the Tennis Foundation performance programme and I’d won national championships but not at a professional level. I was at school and I wasn’t sure if I was going to carry on with tennis or go into further academic studies. Then I qualified for the Beijing Paralympics on my sixteenth birthday, which was a nice surprise! So I went to Beijing and when I came back I quit academic studies and became a professional tennis player.

People care about the Paralympics a lot more now

In Beijing tickets weren’t sold and people were told to come and watch the Paralympics and told when to clap. Four years later, in London, there was an arena with 17,000 people who turned up to watch my bronze medal match. In just four years, that’s pretty incredible! I’m hoping that Rio will do just as well.

The sport has changed massively too. I’d say that wheelchair tennis is up there as one of the most successful Paralympic sports. The top ten men and women in the world are just a ridiculous standard. It’s actually world class tennis not just “disabled people playing tennis”. Some wheelchair tennis players have got fantastic profiles for themselves.  My own profile has shot up since London 2012.

Jordanne on the court, about to hit the ball

I want to be a role model for young people

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have any role models to look up to. I don’t like looking up to celebrities because I don’t know them. If I looked up to anyone, I’d want them to be a real person. I had my dad for a lot of it. He was my coach until I was 12 and both my parents were very supportive of my career. But it was just me and them for a very long time.

I want to be a real role model to people. I don’t own Bentleys and live in an 80 room mansion – I’m just a real person. I’m very successful in what I do but I’ve been through struggles. Paralympians have a good opportunity to become those kinds of role models. And I do look up to other Paralympians myself.

The bigger my profile gets, the more chance that people will listen to me. So when I’m trying to influence young girls to stop worrying about their body and get on with their lives, I’m more likely to have more impact. That’s what really drives me. I’m not interested in becoming famous, I just want to influence young people.

It doesn’t matter who you are, what background you’re from, what shape and size you are, you can still be successful. You don’t have to look a certain way to fit into society.  And if people think badly of you, you don’t need them in your life.  I know the people around me will always support me and accept me for who I am.

The Paralympics can change attitudes towards disability

The Paralympics definitely have the ability to change attitudes towards disability. You do have the group of people who think the Paralympics is just a load of disabled people playing sports, “Aww, let’s give them a chance!” but then there are other people who have seen it who are like “Actually, these people are world class athletes. Their disability doesn’t mean anything.” People making judgements should just watch some of it. They will be amazed at what they see.

It’s difficult because a lot of people don’t know what wheelchair tennis is. It’s really sad because it’s such a brilliant sport.  As well as that, you have fun, the social life is great and you meet so many different people. It really helps you become comfortable with your impairment as you meet loads of different disabled people. It can really help you accept yourself.

My hopes for Rio

Training is going really well. I’m definitely in a good position for Rio. A lot of people, including myself, know that I can go for double gold. I don’t want to let anyone down. I know I’ve got it in me to win two golds which is exciting. I just need to go out and play my best. I’ve trained for this for four years!

Visit the ParalympicsGB website to find out more.

Jordanne was one of our #30toWatch in our 30 Under 30 campaign. Find out more about Jordanne’s life and career

Photo credits: Header image courtesy of RKGsecond image courtesy of The Tennis Foundation.

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. 

“I’m running the world’s only wheelchair spin class”

Guest post from Kris Saunders-Stowe, a fitness instructor working with both disabled and non-disabled people. In Scope’s film, he explains why we need to change the way we think about disability and fitness.

We hope it will inspire you to sign up to our inclusive fundraising event, Steptember and get moving this September!

DSC_0184My first response to the idea of using a wheelchair started with ‘f’ and ended with ‘off’! I was an active person, and never saw myself as a wheelchair user.

But my joint problems, which started 14 years ago, progressively got worse and I was doing less and less. Over time – and no word of a lie – I became a hermit. Going out became more and more difficult, and eventually I just thought, ‘What’s the point of going anywhere?’ I never went out apart from to the doctor and the supermarket.

‘It was so liberating’

Then some friends of mine were going to Alton Towers, and the only way I could realistically join them was by borrowing a wheelchair.

And that was it. It was so liberating. Suddenly I was back to normal. It was a completely different perspective – I was free to move about as quickly or slowly as I wanted, and I could do so much more.

That was two years ago, and I’ve never looked back since. My personality has come back, and I take things in my stride rather than letting them get on top of me. In actual fact, I think I’ve got a better life than I’ve had in probably 20 years.

Getting into fitness

I’ve always worked in horticulture and retail – never in sports or fitness at all. But then in 2012, I was in Cardiff and the Australian Paralympic team were staying in my hotel! We got chatting, and I followed the team during the Games and got quite engrossed.

DSC_0518I took up wheelchair basketball and we didn’t have a proper coach, so I had a go at standing in myself. I loved it, and I started thinking: ‘Could I do this for a job?’

Within a couple of months, I had started the qualifications I needed to become a fitness instructor.

While I was training, I realised that there aren’t enough fitness programmes properly tailored for disabled people. The few classes I could find on YouTube were extremely slow and sedentary. The instructor training manuals would say, ‘You may need to adapt this routine for disabled people…’ – but what does that mean? They didn’t say. It was a token gesture.

Wheely Good Fitness

So I decided to set up my own business, Wheely Good Fitness, running classes adapted for physically disabled people. That doesn’t mean they’re gentle or easy – they are pretty intense!

I currently run a variety of classes, including what is quite possibly the only wheelchair spin class in the world. We have a huge range of members, from people with slight mobility problems to those with very complex needs.

It’s incredibly rewarding for me because I can see the change in people. Within a few weeks they’re sitting up straighter in their wheelchairs, their flexibility increases, their confidence grows.

Suzy (right), one of our most committed members, recently pushed herself round a shopping centre for the first time in years. The change in her has been unbelievable.

Changing attitudes

I’m currently writing a set of qualifications for instructors, explaining how to create fitness regimes suitable for disabled people. My hope is that these will be accredited by awarding body Skills Active, which means the qualification will be available for instructors across the country to take.

I am so surprised that no one has looked at wheelchair-based fitness from a different perspective.

People seem to have got used to seeing disabled people as delicate and fragile, rather than as somebody who’s just got a different way of doing things. Being disabled doesn’t mean you need to be wrapped in cotton wool, it just means you need to think creatively about exercise and fitness.

Getting fit and taking control of your body is just another way of demonstrating your capabilities – and suddenly, you’re taking down those barriers.

Find out more about Steptember, and sign up today!