How not to organise a Paralympic Games (and what to do about it)

Over recent days, weeks and months it has become very clear that the Rio Paralympics was in big trouble.  Financial problems with the games have led to frantic planning and significant cost cutting measures.  At one stage, whether the games would even take place was doubted.  All of this is a world away from London 2012, which captured the public imagination and was described as the best ever Paralympic Games.  Rio represents a great example of how not to organise a Paralympic Games in 5 main ways:

  1. Making it difficult or impossible for athletes to get there – At the risk of stating the obvious, without the athletes, there can be no games.  Difficulties and delays over the funding of travel monies have been well publicized over recent days and have now been resolved to some extent.  Nonetheless, it would appear that some athletes will not be able to attend due to these funding problems.   It is difficult to overstate how bad this is.  Imagine you have trained for years to get to the Paralympics, only to be denied your hard earned opportunity to compete for non-sporting reasons.  Would it happen with the Olympics? Unthinkable.  Why then has it been allowed to happen with the Paralympics?
  2. Don’t sell tickets – Paralympic ticket sales have been woeful, with just 12% sold according to figures quoted this week.  The lack of a crowd will damage the atmosphere of the games and images of empty seats beamed across the world will damage Paralympic sport in general.  This is not news though.  As early as March the poor ticket sales were highlighted. What has been done since then?  Has anything been done since then?  Whatever the measures taken, it is clear they have had little impact.
  3. (Allegedly!) divert money to the Olympics – It has been consistently reported that money has been ‘diverted’ from the Paralympics to the Olympics.  Why?  It is not widely known, but the IOC actually have much influence over the Paralympics in terms of the structural organisation of the games.  What responsibility have they taken and how are they helping to resolve the situation now?
  4. Reduce volunteers – Anyone who has attended any mass sporting event will understand the value and importance of volunteers to making good things happen.  In Rio, the number of volunteers will be reduced, as part of cost cutting measures.  This means that running the games will actually be made much more difficult.
  5. Make media coverage more difficult – the number of media centres will be reduced as part of cost cutting measures, making it more difficult for the games to be covered.  Media coverage is fundamental to the success of any games so this is particularly concerning.

Why the fuss?

Just as with the Olympics, the Paralympics is about more than just sport.  It plays a critical role in raising awareness of the capacity of disabled people to be extraordinary, and is arguably more important than the Olympics in terms of making disability more widely understood.  As such, the state of the Rio games represents such a missed opportunity on a number of levels.  This is especially the case after London, which was the coming of age for the Paralympics.  The contrasts could not be greater.

So what now?

With the games a matter of days away, there is little more than hope to be frank, that the games is a success in spite of all the above.

More positively, there are measures that can be taken in the short term and the long term.  In the short term we need to back our athletes more than ever before – so get behind them on social media and make sure you watch the games.  In Great Britain, there will be coverage on the BBC and Channel 4, so rest up after the Olympics, and get ready for some more medals and early mornings.  I promise you it will be worth staying up for!

In the long term, a few things need to happen in my view:

  • The ring fencing of the budget for the Paralympics
  • Greater independence for the IPC from the IOC
  • A wider examination of how the world can be helped to ‘get’ Paralympic Sport
  • Some serious questions need to be asked of how we have reached this point

As I said above…would it happen with the Olympics? Unthinkable.  Why then has it been allowed to happen with the Paralympics?  Some serious questions need to be asked.

 

2 Disability and Depression: Addressing the elephant in the room

This is a highly unusual blog for me dear reader.  Why? Well, I’m actually sacred while I’m writing it and the topic of depression isn’t something I’d normally discuss.  It is however this fear that is driving me on as I write.  I fear the topic because of the stigma that endures around it.  Yet it is that fear which drives me on to write this blog.  I’ve never ducked a topic before in the short life of this blog, and I don’t intend to start now.

I should say at the outset that this may not be an easy read, so if you aren’t in the best frame of mind, perhaps come back later.  Know this though, no matter how bleak it feels, you can come back from the darkest of places.

Things started to unravel for me quite quickly.  I was in the middle of a PhD which was little more than an exercise in prolonged misery at the time, which was causing a strain.  I then lost a couple of grandparents in quick succession and things just got on top of me.  I then began to take out my feelings on those closest to me.  I was looking for answers in all the wrong places and found them in a shape of a girl I met at the time.

Before I knew it I was a wreck.  My state of mind got worse and worse and I was unable to make even simple decisions.  One example was whether to board a flight to France.  I couldn’t decide what to do and was so conflicted that my mental knots made me a human ball of string.  My emotions were everywhere and I stood in the departure hall fighting back the tears.  I had actually been to see the doctor to talk about what was quickly diagnosed as depression and anxiety.  They prescribed a sick note and some tablets, which I refused to take.  At the time, I thought I knew best and didn’t need chemicals that I feared would a) have terrible side effects and b) turn me into a zombie.

I eventually returned from France, coming back with my poor sister.  Again I didn’t know what to do or if I could come back.  It took me an hour and the persuasion of my sister but I eventually boarded the plane back home.  I was a wreck and the depression was sucking all the life out of me.  In my wisdom I decided it would be a good idea to move out to live with the girl I had met.  That was not a good move.

I had isolated myself from anyone who could help.  Apart from my parents that is, who understood what was going on and still spoke to me.  The depth of their compassion and understanding knew no bounds.  Things were still getting worse.  At my lowest points, getting out of bed to have something to eat was a good day.  This for someone who had graduated from Cambridge a few years earlier and who seemingly had the world at his feet.

You have to hit the bottom though to bounce up.  This for me took the form of setting off for a train station and not intending to come back.  I had written a note and just didn’t want to be here any more.  I saw no way back.  I couldn’t bring myself though to follow through with my plan.

Instead I phoned my parents.  Before long I had returned home with my tail between my legs.  The flip side of being suicidal at that point was that I got quick access to therapy through the NHS, which literally saved my life I think.  I had a brilliant therapist called Graham who, through a combination of carrot and stick, got me to see where I was going wrong and gave me the tools to dig myself out of the hole I was in.  To the frustration of the numerous professionals involved, I maintained my refusal to take any form of tablets, so of course things took longer.

Eventually, having built up my levels of resolve, I returned to my PhD.  I probably should have not completed it, but by now it had assumed a great significance and I was determined to see it through whatever the outcome.  My supervisors continued to doubt whether I would be successful, which was fantastic motivation.  I also gradually began to repair my relationships with family and see friends who I had isolated myself from for about 2 years.  By making myself do the things I used to, I gradually became my ‘old’ self.

I then met Fran, which was a real turning point in my life.  I was honest with her about where things were at, and we were able to build something that became, and is to this day, life defining.  I was back to my old self.  Almost.  One thing I learned was that the depression was always there, and I always had to be self aware and manage it, as I do to this day.  Continuing improvement saw me building up my own athlete management business whilst I finished my PhD corrections (much to the surprise of my supervisors I got through my viva with relatively minor things to address.)

I eventually was told I was to be awarded my PhD and be Dr Chris just before the start of the London Paralympic Games and one of the busiest few days of my life!  By now I had moved in with Fran and settled in Cambridge (it’s funny how things go in circles, returning a few years after I graduated.)  However.  Things had taken their toll and my old ‘signs’ of depression were returning.

To stop this, I decided I needed to look for part time work.  I got an interview with a local charity.   The first interview, somehow went really well.  Now for the second interview.  I needed to prepare a presentation.  All my nervy habits were set off again.  I nearly didn’t go back.  The day before the second interview I went to see the local GP and was in floods of tears again.  This time though, I actually took the tablets prescribed!  And they helped..in the end!

I convinced myself I had nothing to lose and went into the second interview.   Pure adrenaline got me through.  I was offered the job and was delighted to accept.  Three years later, I still work there!  I took the decision to tell my line manager about my depression, who was brilliant and never looked back.  I have to keep an eye on things, and am still on the tablets, but have managed to negotiate a path to being comfortable in my own skin and quite successful at ‘life.’  In my darkest moments, I never thought I’d be able to say that.

Depression is awful and the stigma around it endures.  I offer this blog as my own contribution to helping to gradually break that down, and to show that it is possible to come back from the darkest of places.

Thank you for reading.  Now my final battle with this blog…to hit ‘publish.’  Here goes..!

 

Disability and growing up: A letter to my younger self

Picture yourself as a 16 year old.  What would you say to yourself?  What advice would you give?  That’s my task in this blog.  There is a bit of a back story here, as after reading my blog, the parent of a 16 year old got in touch with me.  I thought I’d use this as a positive opportunity to reach out, and hopefully do some good in the process.

Dear Chris,

I’m now writing this as someone who is, scarily, double your age.  I wanted to write this letter, not only to reassure you, but also to give you some gentle advice, which hopefully will be useful.  The big news is that you are going through a difficult time now, but being able to negotiate these years well will open up some really exciting opportunities for you.  It is a time where you get to take an increasing amount of responsibility for your actions and choices as you find your feet as an adult.  There is loads to learn too, which is both fine and to be expected.  We never stop learning!  There is so much I want to say to you but I have limited myself to just 5, so that the key things stand out.

  1. Be yourself and accept who you are

You may think this is a really obvious one but it lies at the heart of everything.  You know by now that you are who you are and that there are things that you can’t change.  The only way is to accept those things and make the best of them.  Through this acceptance, you’ll be able to grow to be more comfortable in your own skin.  In terms of being yourself..totally vital.  Take the time to explore who you are and where you want to be.  You have lots of opportunity to do that now, and working these things out, though a little scary, will help you make good choices later.  Likewise, this will help you to stop being someone you are not, which is always a waste of time and never a good move.

  1. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness

So we both well know by now that you are stubborn. Good, to a point at least. This stubbornness gives you determination, resilience and will help you to prove people wrong.  However, there comes a point when you are cutting your nose off to spite your face.  In these situations, asking for help in order to maximise what you can do is a real strength and not a weakness.  Have the courage and strength to speak up (especially when it feels scary to ask for help – that’s probably when you will most need it!) and you’ll be amazed how further it gets you.  Everyone needs help from time to time.

  1. Don’t beat yourself up

This may be the hardest.  Thing is, that deep down, there is an amazing person within you.  You probably won’t grasp just how much potential you have and how many possibilities there are.  There will be this nagging voice in your head though that doubts this, which constantly beats yourself up as never good enough.  Suppress that voice and believe.  Give yourself credit for the strides forward you make (however small they might seem.)  By being good to yourself, you’ll give yourself the most chance of letting your best self emerge.

  1. Comparing yourself to others is a waste of time

This one is really tricky too, but I promise you that by stopping comparisons with others, you’ll save so much time.  Go and look in the mirror..go on..:)  Do you see that person looking back at you?  That is the person you have to compare yourself to..you and you alone.  That is the person who will have to live with the direct consequences of the choices you make.  Everyone has to find a path that they are comfortable with and has their own things that shape that.  Don’t worry about the comparisons*.

(* – that doesn’t mean to say you can’t learn from  others.  On the contrary, you’ll learn from everyone you meet.  Keep the good points and discard the bad!)

  1. Treasure those closest to you

There are people around you that love, care and support you and will do so no matter what.  This is the most precious and valuable thing you’ll have.  They will be impacted by the choices you make, so keep them in mind too as you make them.  Above all, show them that love back.  They might not always be around forever, so make the most of every bit of time you have together.  Especially keep the ones close who will challenge you.  That challenge will keep you honest and help you to keep making good choices.  The people who challenge you constructively are often also the ones who respect you the most, so remember that this comes from a really good place.

I hope this letter is useful Chris.  You are going to have some really exciting times ahead.  Keep making good choices, working hard and the above advice in mind, and all promises to be well!

All the best,

 

Chris

 

 

2 Why talking about disability is essential: Freeing my ‘imprisoned’ self

When I am blogging, I have three simple rules.  The first is that I must write the blog in 30 minutes.  Second, that the blog must be no longer than 500 words and third that I must be making a clear point.

I fear that in this post, I may break the first two of these rules, so apologies in advance dear reader (blame my past as a law student and criminologist – I spent years studying how rules are broken!)  For the avoidance of doubt, my clear point is this: that is it ok to talk about disability.  This was partly what was behind the very title of this site…I wanted to ‘speak out’ and finally had the means to do so.

This wasn’t always the case though.  For years, I kept my disability in an invisible (yet tangible) prison.  It was there, and I could see it, but I didn’t know quite how to talk about it.  I’ve done some reading about this lately and in his earlier work, academic Tom Shakespeare makes a reference to ‘coming out’ in terms of disability, and from what I do know, there are parallels.

For me though there were two big turning points.  A first was going to school.  I’ve spoken a lot about education and inclusion in the past, and when I do, I say that it was really down to me to talk about my impairment and how it impacted on me. If I did not, I couldn’t help other people understand it and the impact it had.

As I got older though, I started to build a few walls around talking about it.  Ironically in some ways I became really reluctant to talk about my impairment and felt really awkward about it, more so than other people in some ways.  Fortunately in some ways, as I got older in school and more familiar (some would say stubborn!) in my surroundings, I just became increasingly focused on school results, girls and other typical teenage pursuits.  I moved away from anything to do with disability, fearing that involvement would lead me to being ‘pidgeon holed’ and I didn’t want that.

The imprisoned space got really big, all thoughts about disability and talking about it openly locked away.  Something for my private thoughts.

However, then came my second turning point.  Before I met Fran I hadn’t dated anyone who had an impairment.  She changed all that.  When we met (we both have cerebral palsy) it was as if there was a deep understanding that only someone who had the same lived experience could know about.  The nearest example I can think of to convey this is sport related.  Think of it like both following a football team.  You understand how much to support that club means and what it is all about.  Nothing else like that understanding ever really comes close.

My ‘imprisoned’ self was freed.  Even creating the blog and writing a post like this as recently as a couple of years ago would have been unthinkable.  Now, I want to use my own lived experience of disability in a positive way to help break down barriers and increase understanding.  This was why I created the blog, and that is why I would encourage everyone to talk about disability and learn more.

It is also true to say that for me, my disability isn’t the sum total of my identity, and nor should it be.  It is part of who I am.  Just as I have released my disability from prison, I won’t allow it to imprison me now. I’ll always try to maximise the things I can do, whilst acknowledging the limitations I have.  But then, who is limitless?  If you are, then I want to meet you!!

Prison isn’t ever a space for something as important for disability to be.  Keep it out of prison and let us all keep talking about how we can get along together.  Talking about disability is not in fact just ok as I said at the outset, but is essential.

A historic day for Paralympic Sport

Today is a historic one for Paralympic sport.  Minutes ago, the International Paralympic Committee announced that it had suspended the Russian Paralympic Committee with immediate effect for violations of anti doping regulations.

This decision stands in direct contrast to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  Here, decision making was delegated after the IOC, in my view, effectively ducked the issue and passed the buck to individual bodies.  Why could the IOC not take this stance?

The tone of the IPC statement was surprisingly strong, with Sir Philip Craven saying that a “medals over morals mentality” “disgusted” him.  The decision was a unanimous one.  It was also fair in my view, that extra samples were tested and that dialogue was sought with the Russian Paralympic Committee over several hours of meetings.  These steps of ‘due process’ and administrative good practice may also curtail efforts to have the ruling overturned.  

No doubt Russia will appeal in due course.  Given the strength of the statement issued by the IPC and the extent of the issues uncovered, it will take something very compelling for this ruling to be overturned.

It is no less than a defining moment for Paralympic sport as a whole.  A bold, (and some would say controversial) stance driven by an unwavering commitment to clean sport.  Whilst personally, I do sympathise for the Russian athletes who did not cheat, this decision safeguards the wider matters pertaining to the integrity of Paralympic sport as a whole.   The pressure that the IPC will have been under, whatever the decision taken, should also be remembered.  All of this makes the leadership and strength shown commendable.

A message to the rest of the world is also clear.  Paralympic sport can stand independently of the Olympics, and functions to its own standards, beliefs and values.  The IPC now must continue to take this stance in other areas of the work it presides over, in order to ensure that the integrity and fairness of Paralympic sport runs throughout.  There will still be issues for Paralympic sport to address, but the measures taken today shows the capacity exists for them to be successfully negotiated.

Hopefully we can now look forward to a Paralympic Games in which, unlike the Olympics, does not have a shadow lingering over it.  When the world watched, the Paralympic movement delivered a verdict that did justice to the athletes who will legitimately be representing their country.

 

The power of words and ‘speaking out’

Its been an interesting few days to say the least.  On Saturday morning, I wrote about an incident involving Fran and I.  It was then picked up by a few people followed by a response in the form of an open letter to ‘John.’

Since then, unbelievably, those blogs have been read by literally thousands of people from half way across the world.  It wasn’t something I expected to happen.  Today, thanks to some brilliant support from my lovely work colleagues, there was some press interest.  It was one of those rare instances where my personal and professional lives became intertwined. Tomorrow, there is more press…so i’d better write up this blog promptly!!

Where does all this leave me feeling?  Partly still a bit conflicted.  I’m still reflecting on what happened.  Partly that annoys me..why should I let it get under my skin so much?  I think that this annoyance also shows two more things. Firstly, that I have lots more to learn about everything in life. Secondly, there is a long way to go in terms of disability equality too.

Above all though, I’m taking it as a positive thing.  It’s been a way to raise awareness about disability and get people talking and thinking, which is good.  Fran has taken it all in her stride, and has seen it in a similar way.  She’s a real rock for me.  I’d be lost without her..though that’s between you and I! 🙂

Another important thing is not to dwell on negatives.  Life is such a precious thing that it doesn’t do to overly focus on the past.  You have to dust yourself down, get on with it, moving forward with your head held high and the positive lessons learned.  I also tweeted about resilience, and its important to have that too.

It has also made me realise a few things i’m not.  I’m not defined by my disability (its a part of me, not the sum of me), i’m not wrong to speak out, and i’m not the only one.  I have got lots of messages from people who have has similar experiences (and far worse in my view) so we have to keep talking.  It is through difficult (sometimes painfully) honest conversations that we’ll make progress.

Speaking of progress…if this humble blog can ‘go global’ it also shows the power we all have to reach others – and the importance of speaking out.  However daunting it may seem, don’t be afraid to do so. You never know where it might take you, and how it can positively impact on others. I’d encourage you, dear reader, to personally speak out too 🙂

Lastly..thank you.  I have been overwhelmed by the kindness, empathy and support that has been sent in our direction over the last few days. The support is genuinely appreciated, and the difference it makes massive.

Wishing you all the best for now dear readers..until next time 🙂

2 An open letter to the man who called me a ‘window licker’

Dear ‘John’,

I don’t even know your name but I really wanted to write to you and tell you how I felt after our conversation last night. Your use of the words ‘window licker’ to describe my wife and I was deeply, deeply hurtful. So much so, that hours after you use those words, I’m still sitting here and thinking about them. That’s not right.

Let me tell you about my wife and I. After all, it’s only fair you know about the people you judged in that way. My wife is called Fran. She has a first class degree.

Fran has also studied disability issues in her masters (she has 2 degrees) so she understood how awful that term is. It’s use implies that we shouldn’t be out and about and living our life in the independent way we try to. It is actually one of the first times Fran has been out of the house in two years to a social event as she’s been having really bad problems with her foot. So it’s a knock for her at an unfortunate time. 

Despite that, she’s still been able to make a difference for other disabled people. She works to do that every day. She doesn’t normally let things like last night impact on her, but she was visibly shaken after last night.  

As for me. Thankfully I didn’t really take in what you said until after the event. As for me. I might seem a confident person, and I am in lots of ways. Remarks like yours however, have a lingering, corrosive effect on my confidence. Friends have contacted me since I shared what you said to us saying they would have been devastated by that remark. Others have said to report it to police as a hate crime.

I’ve not yet. Instead I contacted the festival and praised them for the good things they do. I also offered to work with them in the future to make sure that people understand the damaging effect that words like that can do. Hopefully, that’s a way that a postive outcome can come from a really horrible situation.

The words you use, and the implication that we shouldn’t be out and about, is also upsetting. Imagine if someone said that to you. How would you feel. Now imagine it’s made harder because you have a disability. Now how would you feel? Imagine that was your mum or sister or brother and someone said that to them. 

I wonder if you’ve thought about what you said again last night. Whether you have or not, I hope that this letter helps you to think about the power of language and your actions.

Above all, please don’t judge a book by its cover. Each person you see is a complex combination of things that you can’t dismiss with the kind of words you use. Think about the person you impact upon, disabled or otherwise. 

I hope that nobody subjects you to the kind of thing I’ve described. Hopefully you’ll even take this as a moment to reflect and think twice. 

Enjoy the rest of your festival, as we will try to, and treat others as you’d like to be treated.

Best Wishes,

Chris 

5 On being called a ‘window licker’ and what to do about it

Fran and I were coming home from a great day at the Cambridge Folk Festival yesterday. It’s our second visit here. We came last year and found it to be really disability friendly. It’s a compact site with good access and it’s quite easy to get around. We also found the staff to be brilliant and the atmosphere really chilled.

Last night however, we were coming home and called into the festival tent to get a programme. As we were walking away there was a reference made to us being ‘window lickers.’ Luckily at the time I didn’t realise what was going on but Fran most certainly did and was shaking with rage. She finally explained to me and I was livid.

Thankfully, situations like this are still relatively rare. We’re used to being stared at when we go out and about. Human nature is that we focus on difference and that is fine. However, the incident described isn’t. 

Situations like this though always make me feel conflicted. I hope by now dear readers you’ll have read a few blogs and realise that we try to get on with life and make the best (and most!) of it.  I have a worry about not being a person with a chip on his shoulders and sometimes you just have to rise above it.

Posting what happened on Facebook drew an instant reaction of shock and empathy from my friends. So do I report it? It’s also important to emphasise that the festival as a whole is brilliant, as are the staff. Do I just put this down as a rogue individual?

Is this ignorance on the part of the individual? Were they trying to be malicious, funny…? Is this ignorance (if that is what this is) so ingrained that reporting it won’t change anything?

I raise all of this to help highlight the issues that sometimes are faced, and the questions raised. I’m still not sure what the answers are.

Two things are for sure though. We won’t let it spoil the festival, and we still have our heads held high.

N.B. This is a much shorter blog than normal as I typed it on my phone! Apologies for any poor spelling or grammar!!:)

Update: Since this blog I have spoken directly with Folk Festival staff. They were v apologetic. I have also offered to engage with the festival longer term on disability related issues, which is a positive outcome:)

Disabled people: ‘second class citizens’ or ‘superhumans’

It is an interesting time to be a disabled person.  Lately, I have been told I am a ‘second class citizen’ by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, whilst disabled athletes have been portrayed as super human.  Meanwhile, shouty disability campaigners DPAC tell me that welfare to work companies are out to get me!  What am I to think?

For me, it comes down to two things: context and nuance.  Of all these representations, my own personal lived experience (I can’t speak for anyone else!) is that the reality is somewhere in between.  Context is really important.  Similarly, nuance tells us we need to take care to look at the broad spectrum of disability and the experiences that people have, and that ‘one size’ doesn’t fit all.

In reality, am I a second class citizen?  Generally it doesn’t feel like it.  It is true to say that life can be much harder,  I have to be good at problem solving, and find workarounds to things.  It is also true to say that as someone who is working full-time and owns their own home, the impact of austerity policies like the ‘bedroom tax’ hasn’t really been directly felt.  I know that this isn’t the case for everyone though.

Am I a super human?  No.  I should declare an interest here though as someone who has been involved with disability sport for a long time, and who is a passionate advocate of it.  The super human tag is a bit of a mixed blessing for me.  On the positive side, it promotes the positive abilities and capabilities of our world-class athletes, of whom we should rightly be proud.  However, not every disabled person aspires to be or will be a Paralympian.

In terms of the assumption that every disabled person is a Paralympian, let’s think about this for a second.  Applying this logic  would mean that, for example, everyone who played football, at whatever level, aspired to play in the premier league.  This is simply not the case, and would neglect that people play football for a wide variety of reasons in a wide variety of contexts (there is that word again!)  Similarly, I wouldn’t expect every person who was not disabled, to aspire to be an Olympian.

A much wider exploration of disability, to harness the positivity around the Paralympics, is needed.  To explore how each person can be able to be the best version of themselves and achieve their aspirations.  There is much more to be done to address this, and to examine the various ways in which disabled people can reach their potential in all areas of their lives, be that work, love, travel or whatever else.

Lastly, I must turn to  so called disability rights activists.  Are people out to kill me?  No.  Does campaigning which purports to speak for all disabled people, and in reality speaks for a minority help me?  No.  There are some of these so called ‘campaigners’ that present a really distorted view on disability.  One driven by bitterness, negativity, frustration and quite frankly, having a chip on both shoulders in some cases.  Is this the kind of thing we really need to help take disabled people forward?  Not at all.  Much more balance is needed, to carefully assess and address issues.  Do things need addressing?  Of course they do.  Making shouty, hyperbolic claims just isn’t the way to go about it.

So..i’m neither a second class citizen or a super human.   I’m not a shouty disability rights activist either.  I do though try to negotiate life in a constructive way and try to focus on the positives around disability, and life in general.  I’d encourage you, dear reader, to do the same.

“How do you have sex?”..and other questions to avoid

I read an article today that made me think about my own experiences.  The article, 9 things you should never say to a wheelchair user, had some real classics in it.  I should say that it’s not often that people will comment directly about my disability, but when they do it is usually quite memorable.

I’m often asked what is the right ‘etiquette’ around a disabled person.  For me, it boils down to four simple things:

  1. If you wouldn’t ask a friend it, then it’s probably best not to
  2. If you wouldn’t like or expect to be asked it yourself in passing then don’t
  3. Treat others as you’d wish to be treated yourself
  4. Don’t be scared around disabled people

The eagle-eyed (no political puns today, promise) reader will note that I said ‘in passing’ above.  Of course, if invited somewhere to talk about disability specifically then I’d discuss it.  In fact, i’d generally encourage openness about disability and will generally answer most questions, in passing or otherwise.

However, there is a time and a place!! 🙂  I vividly remember one day when I was in Sheffield and a religious person said he wanted me to confess my sins and be cured.  Now I know my way around a bible, so an animated debate around his right to a) make that statement, and b) know that I had sinned, followed.  I’m normally quite relaxed, but this guy happened to catch me on a bad day (we all have them!) so got very short shrift.

If you want to be funny, try stand up comedy.  If you want to become more informed, start a conversation.

The other question I get asked is: what my sex life is like.  Now that I am married to my lovely wife I get to have a bit of less fun with this one(when I was single my responses used to involve a subtle invitation to find out more!).  But yes, people still ask, and yes, it’s still great, thanks!! Quite where that question sits on the 4 guidelines above I’m not sure.

I’d welcome more thought and engagement around disability.  I used to be scared of it myself but then meeting my wife Fran (who is herself disabled) gave me a bit more confidence to be ok in my own skin. Don’t be scared around disability, just ask genuine questions out of a desire to know more about those who are in the world with you.  Beyond what i’ve said above, there really are few right or wrongs.

Making the odd ‘witty’ remark in passing isn’t the way to go about it though.  Particularly if humour is borne out of fear, or worse still i. If you want to be funny, try stand up comedy.  If you want to genuinely become more informed, then start a conversation.