Tag Archives: sport

“Inclusive sport shouldn’t be something we have to fight for”

Kris is the founder of Wheely Good Fitness, which offers exercise classes for both disabled and non-disabled people in Herefordshire.

On the weekend, he and a group of 32 people, headed to Dorney Lake in Berkshire to take part in the Superhero Triathlon – the first fully accessible triathlon of its kind.

Here, Kris tells us about his experiences of the event, attitudes towards disability in sport and why sport for all is so important.

There is an assumption that just because someone is disabled they’re not going to want to do sport, which has an impact on the opportunities available.

Unless you live in a main city, there’s not really a lot going on. If we took away the need to segregate, everything would be accessible to everybody and we could all go to our local leisure centres and take part in whatever it is they are running. I run mixed ability classes and there is no need to segregate at all.

Health and safety is always used as an excuse. To me, health and safety is one of the most patronising things used to discriminate against disabled people. London Marathon, for example, only allow 12 places for standard wheelchair entries on the grounds of health and safety. It’s absolute nonsense. They can allow a guy to run in a tumble drier but people who use a wheelchair every day of their life are “not safe”.

Accessibility shouldn’t be something we have to fight for. Disability sport should be given the same amount of precedence as mainstream sport but you don’t see a lot of it and when you do, the coverage of it is very different. It’s not seen as being as serious or respected as other sports. It’s a shame. And if you haven’t got a huge demand [for specialist disability fitness equipment] you can’t reduce the production costs which makes it hard for people to get involved. It’s a vicious circle.

My clients like the social aspect of doing sport. Most of the groups become like a little family. They have a drink afterwards and a chat. Their confidence improves – not only from talking to other people, but they also feel they’re achieving things in the class, instead of their impairment being a negative thing.

Two people take part in the Superhero Tri
Two of the participants at Superhero Tri

Things are improving but it’s a slow process

I’ve been running my fitness classes for four years now. Things have improved in accessible sport but it’s an extremely slow process. There are more and more organisations out there organising accessible bikes and equipment hire. So you can tell attitudes are changing. I think disabled kids have an advantage now to grow up with a much more positive attitude towards themselves that people didn’t have 20 or 30 years ago.

We’re starting to see more inclusive events too. There’s Parallel London which is in its second year and that turned out to be really good event. I was really excited as soon as I heard about the Superhero Tri as were many of my clients. There is so much adaptation. The run can be done in a chair, walking or on crutches. The cycle can also be done in a chair, they allow people in power chairs as well. You can also have a buddy compete with you to help with direction, encouragement, support or balance, so everyone can take part.

The Superhero Tri was a great event

We had eight teams altogether and 21 team members. It was a fantastic opportunity for people of all abilities to compete. The event has an understanding of disability so you’re not having to fight to take part, you’re not having to get people to make allowances for you, you are welcomed for who you are and what you can do. They’re saying “you tell us what you need in order to take part” – that’s what’s so good about it.

A group of women in swimming gear pose and smile during the Superhero Tri
Participants in the Superhero Tri smile during warm up

I was excited to take part. The only thing I was apprehensive of was trying to get that many people together at the same time, without anyone dropping out. The majority of people were really excited, there are a few I could sense were apprehensive, but they really wanted to do it.

I tried to put teams together of people who work well together in my fitness classes, or socially, so they can encourage each other and feel good about their achievements. Whilst it is a competition and it’s timed, to me and many of the team, it’s really about enjoying it and doing the best you can and saying ‘I did it’.

Most of those taking part hadn’t done anything like this before. There’s a mixture of abilities – some are quite confident and some are new to my classes and actually this was a huge step for them to take. It’s a nice journey for everyone. It takes time to start believing in yourself and realising what you’re capable of.

It was a great day, the weather held for us and everyone managed to beat the nerves and turn up. Everyone did well giving everything they could to be the best they could be. The atmosphere was fantastic and everyone was high spirited and extremely supportive of one another.

We were asked by Channel 4 who were filming the event to demonstrate our Wheel-Fit aerobics class for their highlights programme due to air next weekend which was a nice surprise for everyone and, despite being between races, we managed to squeeze in 10 minutes between transitions to demonstrate what the class was about.

Kris and his team smile and pose at the Superhero Tri
Kris and his team were all smiles at the Superhero Tri

Supporting Scope

I’ve been involved with Scope ever since I started running fitness classes. If I’m doing anything for charity, I do it for Scope. Scope is a leading force in changing ideas and perceptions of disability and leading the way to a positive future for disabled people.

Sport is a powerful tool encouraging people to seek their true potential, capabilities and discover their strengths and weaknesses, whilst creating and expanding social lives for a more proactive and rewarding life. It’s not just for the elite, the super fast or the super fit, it’s something for everyone, that can benefit everyone through improved fitness, well being, confidence and social skills.

Sport can be empowering and character building and should be open to all. It’s time to remove the barriers and discrimination and open up the world of sport to everyone of all abilities and all backgrounds on an equal footing.

Get involved in a challenge event for Scope today. Whether it’s running, swimming, cycling or trekking, we have something for everyone.

As part of our mission for everyday equality, we are running a ‘Sport For All’ series to encourage better representation of disability in sport, as well as challenging attitudes towards disability. Find out how you can get involved with Sport For All. 

Read more Sport For All blogs

We want to show disability discrimination the red card

We’re teaming up with Virgin Media to highlight disability discrimination in football grounds.

New research shows that disabled football fans feel excluded from live games. Eight in ten people who attend football stadiums across the UK say they have experienced some form of discrimination such as abusive language and negative attitudes from other fans and other issues resulting from their disability.

As a result, the majority 62% of disabled fans said these experiences had stopped them from going to a live match again.Text reads: 62% of disabled fans that have experienced discrimination said it stopped them from going to a match again"

To highlight the issue and put disabled fans at the heart of the game, Virgin Media is donating its shirt sponsorship of Southampton FC to Scope for the Saints home match against Manchester United FC next Wednesday (17 May).

This special one-off activity forms part of Virgin Media’s partnership with Scope to help transform the lives of disabled people, and to date, the company has donated £1 million to Scope.

Together with Virgin Media, we’re calling on fans and clubs and governing bodies to help improve the experiences of disabled fans at grounds across the UK and deliver everyday equality for disabled people.

Football is our national game and should bring people together. We know that large numbers of fans want everyday equality and that means an inclusive game where discrimination of any kind isn’t tolerated. Disabled fans shouldn’t feel forced out of the stadium.

Side-lined in the stands

The survey reveals disabled football fans feel unwelcome in the terraces because of the reception they receive from some non-disabled fans.

The findings show that nearly 40% of disabled supporters who go to matches say they have experienced negative attitudes from other fans and 29% said they had been victim of verbal abuse.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of disabled football fans think the football industry needs to do more to prevent abuse and discrimination towards disabled people.Text reads: "62% of disabled fans think that the football industry needs to do more to prevent abuse and discrimination towards disabled people"

This is also backed by a separate poll of non-disabled fans who go to matches, where more than half (52%) think more should be done to prevent discrimination towards disabled people at football matches.

Disabled fans want a better experience

The poll has also found that football clubs could do more to improve the experiences disabled fans have at live games.

Less than half of disabled fans (43%) said their club had staff who are well trained in disabled fans’ needs, while only 42% said their club had a zero-tolerance statement on abuse for example, which may cover the use of negative language. More than a third (38%) of disabled fans who go to matches said a lack of appropriate facilities at other stadiums stop them from going to an away game.

More than half of non-disabled football fans think more should be done to make clubs more accessible for disabled fans.

Gold medal hero backs campaign

The shirt-swap is being backed by Paralympic gold medallist and avid football fan, Richard Whitehead MBE.

Richard will help coach five Southampton supporters for a penalty shoot-out during half time at the match to raise up to £25,000 for Scope. Virgin Media will donate £5,000 to Scope for every goal scored. The penalty takers will have to score past formidable opposition in the shape of Southampton FC’s official mascot Sammy the Saint.

Virgin Media is the UK’s only TV provider to offer all the football on Sky Sports and BT sports in one package.

You can follow all the match day action using the Twitter hashtag #AllTheFootball

Sign up to hear more about Scope campaigns.

I want a t-shirt that says “I’m allergic to exercise. No, really!”

Natasha Coates is an elite disability gymnast and Scope Role Model. When she was 18, she suffered a life-threatening allergic reaction and went into anaphalactic shock. Following this she was diagnosed with the rare condition Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

In this film and blog, Natasha talks to us about competing in disability sport and how the Paralympics is helping to change attitudes towards disability.

I think the Paralympics in 2012 really helped attitudes towards disability. Joe Bloggs down the street might not have had any exposure to disabled people so it made people aware and seeing it on TV and having the athletes interviewed inspired a whole generation of disabled people. It’s definitely helped.

It showed people that being a disabled person doesn’t mean you can’t do sport. Exercise is for everyone, no matter what your age or ability. You can give it a go. You can always adapt things. The Paralympics showed us that.

I’d love gymnastics to be in the Paralympics and to say I was going to Rio but unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen in my career. There’s just not enough of us and there’s not enough international squads. You have to be able to do World Championships first before you can put in a bid for the Paralympics. Hopefully it will get there. I’d love to see it in my lifetime.

I want to pave the way for the next generation. If in 50 years time, gymnasts get the chance to do something I wasn’t able to, that would be amazing.

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about these findings.

British Gymnastics ensure that gymnastics is a totally inclusive sport and can adapt mainstream gymnastics sessions for disabled people. You can find your local club on the British Gymnastics website.

I broke my spine, but became a wheelchair racer

Lizzie Williams is a full time student studying Sport, Health and Exercise Science. She has osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and is also a wheelchair racer and a T54 British Athlete.

She talked to us about her long journey to wheelchair racing and the expectations she has exceeded along the way.

The hydropool is sort of where my sporting journey began. Swimming in a pool was the only really physical activity I could do. As you are weightless in water, there’s obviously no pressure on your bones. I started that when I was really little.

I came back home and started training with a local group, got scouted for the ParalympicsGB team and was heading in the right direction for the London games but in 2012 I discovered that I had broken my back. Everything just sort of ground to a halt. I couldn’t do anything physical at all. My fracture wasn’t stable so I didn’t want to risk anything.

In 2013 I had the surgery on my back. After my surgery I was supposed to be in hospital for five days and they said I’d be walking out of there in a couple of weeks. I woke up from my surgery and I could barely move from the waist down. It went a bit tits-up I suppose you could say!

Having to learn everything again

I was in hospital for three and a half months learning to walk again. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t even go to the toilet. I had to learn all those things again. I had to learn how to sit up in bed, how to transfer to chairs, how to take steps. That moment was the lowest in my life.

I was in my second year in college at the time and it just put a spanner in the works for everything. As I’d spend so much time in a hospital environment, I’d always wanted to work as a nurse because I really appreciated everything that they’d done for me. I wanted to make a difference. It sounds really cliche but I wanted to give back.

After my surgery I realised I couldn’t do that. There was no way. I’d been at college studying things like sciences and health and social care. I wasn’t going to be able to do that anymore.

When I came out of hospital my sister was applying to university and I didn’t know what I was going to do or what options were available to me. At this point, I couldn’t get back into sport because I had to wait 12 months for the metal work in my spine to fuse to my bones. I decided that I was going to start the process again, go to a different college, do a different course and get the grades that I knew I could.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races an adapted wheelchair on a race track
Photo courtesy of Peter Milsom

The journey to wheelchair racing

After the metal work fused I started getting back in the gym and doing physical activity again. I was volunteering at an event that had Steve Brown, who is a GB wheelchair rugby player. We were talking to some of the kids and he said he used to train down in Worthing for wheelchair racing and suggested I check it out.

I did the 100m in 25 seconds and the coach who was there was like ‘okay that’s pretty good’. Three weeks later I was entered into the London Westminster Mile and I came second. It’s just gone on from there really.

I don’t just want to be a great athlete, I want to be someone that people can look up to and I want to encourage people to get into sport because it is really great!

I can’t imagine what I would be doing without sport. I just love life. Every opportunity is a good one. It’s another chance to show the world that there may be wheels there but there are some pretty good things alongside them.

Lizzie Williams, a young disabled woman, races in an adapted wheelchair on a race track

We’ve published the findings of a new poll which asked disabled people whether the Paralympics can change attitudes to disability and asked what life is like if you’re disabled in 2016. Read more about these findings.

Visit the ParalympicsGB website for more information.

 

Featured image courtesy of Peter Milsom Photography

“As a disabled person, you don’t have to be an athlete to be superhuman”

Kim Daybell is a Paralympic table tennis player and is studying medicine at the University of Leeds. He represented ParalympicsGB at the London 2012 Paralympics.

We spoke to Kim about London 2012, attitudes towards disability and Channel 4’s flagship Paralympics trailer.

Competing in London has been the highlight of my career so far and it’s been amazing to see a change in attitudes towards the Paralympic Games over the last few years.

London helped break down a lot of barriers, it challenged people’s perceptions and showed the public that disability isn’t something to be scared of.

Instead of people seeing Paralympians as disabled people, we started to be viewed as athletes. I think the focus is becoming less about disability and more about seeing us for who we are and what we are achieving.

Kim, a young disabled men, competes in a table tennis tournament

Channel 4 did such a great build up and coverage of the games people were suddenly realising that we can really compete. I think shows like The Last Leg have definitely helped reduce some of the stigma too.

London’s legacy has also helped to bridge the gap between the Olympics and the Paralympics. Before 2012, Paralympians weren’t really in the public eye and we didn’t get a lot of media coverage.

Now athletes have become household names, people like Ellie Simmonds, Johnny Peacock and Richard Whitehead have become just as big as some Olympians. Paralympic athletes have been in the shadow of Olympic athletes for so long, it’s good to see that starting to change.

The games becoming more mainstream has also encouraged young disabled people to get into sport. Since London, kids are now being given more opportunities because we’ve had a lot of money put in at a grass roots level. Our squad now has a pathway program and we have someone who goes around and looks for young talent to bring in. Initiatives like this have meant we’ve seen many more disabled people playing sport.

We’re all superhumans

Recently I featured in Channel 4’s trailer for the Paralympic Games, it was a great experience and I was really pleased with how it turned out. I know there has been some controversy around the advert, specifically around the ‘superhuman’ theme. I have seen the term be interpreted in different ways, but to me it just describes disabled people who are doing things above and beyond what non-disabled people can do.

Access an audio described version of the advert.

Some people have said it comes across as a bit patronising, but I don’t see it like that. I think the people in the advert are great role models and great examples for disabled people out there.

However, that doesn’t mean that as a disabled person you have to fly a car with your feet or be an athlete to be superhuman. A superhuman achievement could be anything from completing a university degree to going shopping, it doesn’t just apply to Paralympians. To me, it represents the idea that disabled people can go out and do anything they set their mind to.

I think that’s why they chose to feature disabled people who aren’t athletes in this campaign. The superhuman concept is inclusive, it encompasses all disabled people who are doing amazing things and the advert celebrates this.

People have also questioned why the Paralympics are marketed differently to the Olympics, but I don’t see this as a negative thing. It is to be expected because they are completely different things. They’re separate sporting events and separate organisations, so it makes sense that the marketing isn’t the same.

There is nothing you cannot do

I’d encourage disabled people who are interested in sport to embrace the opportunities that are now available to them. Look online for what’s available in your area, sports clubs are now catering for disabled athletes more than ever. ParalympicsGB are always looking for talent, they’re willing to take on anyone who wants to give it everything they’ve got.

Having been on the Paralympic scene for a while now, I honestly believe there is nothing you cannot do. I’ve seen some truly amazing things, we’ve got a guy in our squad who hasn’t got hands who plays table tennis. Anything can be achieved if you set your mind to it.

You can follow Kim on his Paralympic journey on Twitter.

Find out more about ParalympicsGB on their website.

Natasha Coates, the gymnast who is allergic to exercise

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Natasha Coates is an elite disability gymnast. She has a condition called Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD). It means that she is allergic to a long list of different things, including exercise.

For 30 Under 30, she talks about disability sport and how she manages her condition whilst doing gymnastics.

I started gymnastics when I was eight at my local leisure centre.

When I was 18 I suffered a life threatening allergic reaction. I went into anaphylactic shock completely out of the blue and we didn’t know what had triggered it. Then it happened eight times in two weeks and it’s pretty much not stopped since. I’ve probably had over 250 life threatening allergic reactions since then.

I’d been doing gymnastics for a long time and I switched to disability gymnastics at 19 because I was unable to keep up with mainstream gymnastics. Disability gymnastics gives me the opportunity to still train and compete safely.

It was difficult to go from being perfectly fine one day to having this condition the next. It happened pretty much overnight. I found it difficult to refer to myself as disabled, I didn’t really know what it meant. Doing disability sport really made me realise who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, lies in a hospital bed holding her thumb up and smiling

Adjusting to train

I’ve made a lot of adjustments to my training because of my condition. I can’t train nearly as much as I used to. I maybe do six or seven hours a week. Most gymnasts do 30.

So when I exercise I lose the feeling from my elbows down and knees down which makes it difficult to feel the equipment. So when I’m on bars I can’t actually feel my hands catching the higher bar, I can only feel the drag down if I’ve caught it. So it creates quite a few barriers, especially whilst doing gymnastics!

I’m incredibly hard on myself and sometimes I do think I can do everything like everybody else because I train with mainstream athletes so I try to keep up with them. I get frustrated when I can’t.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, leaps into the air during a gymnastics performance
Photo courtesy of B C Gym Photos

The British Championships

When I competed this year I was waving at the crowd, showing everyone what I could do. I placed first on floor and I’d only started tumbling a few days before. I’d just got out of intensive care 12 weeks before that.

I came off the floor and just burst into tears. My best friend is my coach as well and she knew the lyrics to the song I’d chosen and what it represented and we were literally just sobbing into each others’ arms.

I’m not aware of the crowd when I’m performing because I’m so focused, but when I did the end I could hear the audience. I presented to everyone and people came up afterwards saying my floor was amazing and it was really nice to see the emotion. After all the work and effort that I’d put into that floor routine it was really nice for them to feel it as well.

Making way for the next generation

I’d love gymnastics to be in the Paralympics and to say I was going to Rio but unfortunately it’s unlikely to happen in my career. There’s just not enough of us and there’s not enough international squads. Hopefully it will get there. I’d love to see it in my lifetime. I feel like the more I raise awareness of disability gymnastics, the more I can pave the way for the next generation.

I’d recommend anyone to try disability sport. You don’t have to be representing Great Britain, you don’t have to be good at it – if you’re enjoying it that’s all that matters.

Natasha, a young disabled woman, flips upside down during a gymnastics competition
Photo courtesy of B C Gym Photos

Natasha joins us for a Facebook Live session at 4pm on Friday 24 June.

She 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.

To find out more about Disability Gymnastics and how to get involved, visit the British Gymnastics website.

Header image courtesy of Alan Edwards

Meet the only female climber competing with one arm – Sianagh, the paraclimber

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Sianagh Gallagher is a para-climber who climbs and competes for Great Britain. She was born without her left arm and shoulder but never let that hold her back. When she tried climbing, aged 10, she loved it and she’s gone on to win many national and international competitions.

As part of 30 Under 30, Sianagh shares her story and talks about attitudes, her passion for climbing and being inspired. We are also posting more photos of Sianagh in action on Instagram: @scopecharity.

I’ve been climbing for about 9 years now. When I was 10 my primary school started a climbing club. I said no at first because I thought climbing would be a bit out of my league, but they forced me to go, and I loved it.

At first it was quite daunting because climbing is such a unique sport and being a little kid – I was scared! But the first climb I did I got to the top, which was a huge achievement for me personally. I did it regularly after that. The high school I went to is attached to the gym where I climb, so I could get in for free every day after school.

I’ve had to develop my own style of climbing

For non-disabled people the rule is always have three points of contact on the wall, so obviously that doesn’t apply to me! It’s been quite good developing my own unique style. It’s taken a couple of years to really perfect it. At first I didn’t have a clue about climbing, I didn’t know the rules and regulations or how to climb as a good climber, but over the years I’ve developed my own technique and really got into it.

I’ve also learnt from climbing with friends. Then I’d look at people like Shauna Coxsey, who’s the world’s best boulderer, and she’s a huge inspiration. I’d look at other professional climbers to see how they climbed and when you climb with friends, you always compete to be better than them. It gets really fun!

Sianagh on the climbing wall, turning to smile at the camera

Negative attitudes just make me more determined

Once when I was in year 8 or 9, there were 6 of us climbing with an instructor. You’re only allowed 6 people at one time so when a seventh person came we were like “Sorry, it’s busy, you can’t come in now”. Then they turned to me and said “Well she’s not going to do anything. She’s only got one arm. She can’t climb.” That was kind of an eye opener for me because I thought “Well, actually I can and I’m going to prove you very wrong.” It made me more determined to carry on.

Some people can be quite negative and quite closed-minded but those people don’t come around often. And when they do you’ve kind of just got to feel sorry for them because if they’re going out of their way to put other people down, they’re living quite a sad life really.

Then there’s the subtle kind of people who don’t necessarily mean to be mean, but they just don’t think outside the box. They just assume that disabled people don’t really do much with their lives. Often people are like “Wow, I was so impressed, when I saw you walking here I didn’t think you’d be able to do it.” And I’m like “Oh, thanks.”

When you’re around someone with a negative attitude it makes you a bit depressed, but when you’re around someone with a positive attitude, you want to be more like them. You want to look at life with life with as little negativity as possible.

The first time I competed I came first

The first competition I ever went to was in 2010. It was the first competition for disabled people that was ever run in the UK. My teacher from secondary school took me and I came first, which was huge. I thought “Wow, I can really get serious about this.”

I’ve done so many competitions since then. As the years went on the competitions became more serious and we developed a team for Great Britain. You have to go to these British competitions and try out for the team. I was too young the first time I tried, then the second time I tried I made the team. I think that was one of my biggest ever achievements. It was so amazing. It means that now I’ve got the opportunity to go to international competitions. Two years ago, I did the World Championships and came third. That was incredible – the first World Championships I’d been to and I made the podium.

I’m good friends with all the international climbers and chat to them on Facebook. Even though they’re your competitors. Then you meet people who have the same disability as you and it’s a massive learning curve because they might be able to climb higher than you so you know where to set your own standards.

Sianagh scaling the indoor climbing wall

We’re waiting to find out if climbing will be in the Paralympics 2020

Paraclimbing isn’t a Paralympic sport yet but we find out in August if we’ve been accepted into the Paralympics 2020. For the public, I think it would be amazing for them to be able to watch climbing and for it to get a lot of publicity. It’s such a huge sport but the highest you can go is the World Championships. It would be great to give it a step up and allow athletes to really train for something huge and get recognised like the should be, for doing such an amazing sport.

I always watch the Paralympics when it’s on. It’s such a big thing for disabled people to prove themselves, even if they don’t feel they should have to. People do generally have low expectations of disabled people and don’t know what they’re capable of. So when they go out there and they’re as good as, or sometimes better than, non-disabled people, it’s really inspiring for everyone. I get really inspired by other disabled athletes. If I see other athletes that are just so motivated and upbeat about the sport it makes me want to try harder.

What I love about climbing

Climbing is so unique. When you go to a climbing wall there’s always something different try. There’s always different routes, there’s always harder stuff and there’s always area for improvement. You can never be at your best, you can always work on little things and improve to become the best you want to be.

I teach kids how to climb and I really enjoy doing that. I think it’s nice for them to have a disabled person teaching them. At first you kind of get the stare, and they don’t know whether to ask or not, and then they do and they’re like “Why are you born with one arm?” and I’m like “Why are you born with two?” and they go “Oh yeah” and then they leave it and just act normally.

In the future, if climbing gets into the Paralympics I’d like to compete in that. If not, I’d like to be first in the World Championships. I think that would be amazing.

Sianagh standing in front of the climbing wall smiling

 Paving the way for others

There are only a few para-climbers with only one arm, especially people like me who don’t have shoulders. A lot of people have stumps with they can use when they’re climbing. There’s a guy who’s the same as me, but no female climbers yet.

It’s still crazy thinking that people might be inspired by me. I just climb because I love it. When people look at you as an inspiration you think “What have I really done to deserve it?” but it’s a good feeling.

Sianagh is sharing her 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.

If you want to find out more about Sianagh and keep up to date with her climbing adventures, visit her Facebook page.

“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! 

“Do you have a license for that?” #EndTheAwkward

Smiling man with glasses
Tom is used to other people’s awkwardness

Guest post from Tom, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. 

I’m sharing a few awkward stories as part of Scope’s End the Awkward campaign – all have happened to me at least once, and some on multiple occasions!

I believe strongly in the social model of disability, and the only disability I have is the attitudes and barriers society places upon me.

“I’m just in my wheelchair for fun!”

I was shopping in Sainsbury’s last year when a stranger stopped me and said “Do you have a license for that?” (Meaning my wheelchair) so I said “I haven’t heard that one before!”

The man then added “How long have you been in that then, because many people are just faking it and don’t actually need a wheelchair.” To which I replied “I just do this for fun because I have nothing better to do!”

“Do take a seat…”

My first job interview was for an IT job in the NHS and I remember being quite apprehensive. I sat waiting to be called in before a lady came to greet me and said “Mr. Fadden would you please follow me to the interview room.”

When we got to the interview room I positioned my chair next to the desk, when she said “Mr. Fadden please do take a seat” to which I replied “that’s okay I brought my own!”

From that point on the interviewer didn’t know where to look, or what to say apart from “sorry”. I didn’t get the job but my nerves had disappeared from that moment on!

“Has he been in a car crash?”

Man in wheelchair and basketball shirt
Tom at a wheelchair basketball game

I recently joined a gym and had to go for an induction. The instructor completely ignored me and said to my personal assistant (PA) “Are you his PA and are you here with him all the time?”

My PA turned to me and said “Tom am I here with you all the time?” The instructor’s face was priceless!

At a different gym and somebody came up to my PA in front of me and asked, “What happened to him has he been in a car crash or something?”

Before my PA could answer she added “He’s doing jolly well isn’t he” to which I replied, “Yes I am thank you!”

My own awkward moment

I want to share one final moment where I was the instigator of the awkwardness!

When I got my current job working for a disability rights organisation in Norfolk, I found myself working alongside a number of disabled people.

One of my colleagues is blind and I found I was subconsciously censoring myself, particularly around the words ‘see’ and ‘look’, for example I wouldn’t say “did you see that TV programme last night?” Or “have you had a chance to look at that email yet? “

I wasn’t sure of the best way to approach this with my colleague but in the end I tackled it head on and asked her what she would prefer. She said “To be honest if it sounds wrong to change it don’t because it’s just awkward.”

This does make a lot of sense. You wouldn’t say “Did you hear that TV programme last night?” or “Did you have a chance to listen to my email yet?”

Final thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog. If you only take one thing away I hope that it’s to not be afraid to talk about disability, or to talk to disabled people! If you’re worried about what to say, just go ahead and ask!

Do you have an awkward story to share? Submit your awkward stories, and we’ll publish our favourites on our blog and social media. 

Find out how Scope is ending the awkward this summer.

“I wasn’t going to do it for charity this year. But I saw Scope is the official charity – it made sense!”

On 2 August more than 15,000 amateur riders will take to the streets of London and Surrey for the third Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 – a 100 mile route on closed roads.

700 of those will be taking part for Scope as part of our official charity of the year team, and one of those is Carl. He knows the route having taken part in 2014 and will be hoping the sun shines, unlike last year!

“Box Hill was okay. But Leigh Hill was shut, we had to go down a diversion because of the weather and that was horrendous. So I’m hoping it’s not like that!” A keen cyclist, he’s often out with his friends testing themselves on the local hills. But there’s nothing quite like event day. “I think if you ride for a charity, the support you get on the day is fantastic. I rode with a couple of friends who weren’t riding for charity and they were completely in awe of us getting cheered on.”

Carl’s reason for taking part is his nephew. Connor was born prematurely and has cerebral palsy. Connor’s mum, Lauren, explained how they initially found out about his diagnosis through their physiotherapist. “One day I got asked to fill in some forms – I asked her for help because it asked what was wrong with him and I didn’t quite know what to say. She just said “well it’s cerebral palsy” but nobody had actually told us that. We were quite shocked. We just thought it was because he was premature, that he would catch up.”

Connor has received fantastic support from the local community. His first play group had a sensory room and it was here that he first walked – a great milestone when the family had been warned he probably wouldn’t walk or talk. “He walked properly. He was nearly three when he started, the same week as his cousin who was one.”

The family first came across Scope when they were looking for help choosing Connor’s secondary school – the local authority recognised that Connor was bright and wanted to place him in a mainstream school. But Lauren and her husband, Kevin, felt that Connor progressed more with one to one support at a specialist school. Connor went on to prove them wrong, attending the local secondary school and gaining good results in his GCSEs. From speaking to Scope and another charity called Network 81, they were able to encourage the school to make the alterations Connor needed for his education, including having his lessons on the ground floor instead of up two flights of stairs. But now, the real work begins – deciding what Connor should do once he leaves college. Connor is keen to get involved in a local community project, the Harwich Mayflower project, where he can socialise and discuss doing an apprenticeship.

Cricket posterWhen Carl saw that Scope were the official charity for this year’s Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100, he felt it made sense to do the full 100 mile route with us. “Technically I didn’t complete it last year. It was 87 miles; it wasn’t 100 (due to the weather) so I felt a bit of a cheat.” He’ll be continuing his training and fundraising over the next few months, including a cricket night called Essex Legends, hosted at a local venue.

There’s still time to be a part of Scope’s Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 team. Get your place today and be treated to a hero’s reception, a massage in our chill out zone and TLC for your bike!