Choppy Waters? Classification and Paralympic Swimming Part 1

Classification is the foundation of modern competitive Paralympic Sport.  It is the basis on which athletes are assessed according to the nature of their impairment.  An assessment is carried out so that athletes can be grouped together and compete against athletes who have a similar functional ability.  The IPC website opens its webpage on classification by saying “Challenging the interests of para-sport is the threat of one sided and predictable competition, in which the least impaired athlete always wins.”

I agree.  Classification is not without its difficulty.  The nature of impairment does not lend itself for straightforward comparison, and for this reason sports use several different categories of classification.  Swimming, for example, has no fewer than 14 broken down as follows:

s1-s10: Physical impairment

-s11-13: Visual impairment

-s14: Intellectual impairment

There have been instances where the classification process has been challenged.  Yesterday it was reported that UK Athletics would investigate the classification of athletes following concerns from those including Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson that the system can produce unfair results. I have wondered if the same thing could be said of other sports.  So I decided to have a look into swimming.

This is a sport I know well, having lived with a former Paralympic Swimmer, represented Paralympic swimmers and followed the sport for a number of years at a local, national and international level.   From these experiences, I knew there was anecdotal evidence of problems with the system.  There have also been widely reported examples where problems have been highlighted.  Mallory Weggemann, for example was reclassified from an S7 to an S8 after having broken many world records, only to win gold in her new class competing alongside those with less severe impairments than previously.

In swimming, you would generally expect times to improve over time, as in any other sporting competition.  There is of course the odd exceptional athlete who will come along and raise the bar.  There are also potential other reasons for changes in times such as changes in an athletes impairment or coaching.  In order to see how results have developed over time I downloaded the IPC World Rankings from 2011 to 2015 and analysed the data.  Looking at patterns in the results and comparing the year on year performance of athletes allowed an understanding of what you might expect to see in an event.

The results of my analysis concerned me.  After a first sweep of the data, I decided to concentrate on events for male athletes in classes 1-5.  I focused on the top 3 times in the world in each year.  I will publish the results of a similar exercise with the female events in due course.  The headline results were as follows:

Events examined: 41

Events following an expected pattern: 23 

‘flagged’ due to questionable times: 18

I was concerned at the number of events in my analysis that were flagged. Examples of events that were flagged included where the first placed athlete had beaten the second placed athlete with a significant time gap (more than 30 seconds in some instances) or where the performance of an athlete had changed significantly in a 12 month period (in one instance an athlete who had been competing internationally knocked 30 seconds off his time, which is unusual to say the least.)  Though I have not published the full findings here, I am happy to share my results in full if you wish to see them.

These results suggest significant issues with the classification of athletes with higher levels of impairment in swimming.  More must be done to ensure that the systems in place are fit for purpose and maintain the integrity of the competition.  As the IPC say themselves, it should not simply be the least impaired athlete who wins.  We owe it to Paralympic sport to see that those who make their way onto a podium are there due to ability, not a flawed system.

Growing Up and pushing the potential

I have been reflecting a lot on my childhood of late and growing up.  I think there are a few reasons for this.  Firstly the feelings of broodiness I have referred previously seem to be constantly there.  A lovely family visit also prompted a bit of a deep and meaningful chat between Fran, myself and my parents.  In this chat both Fran’s mum and my parents reflected really honestly on their experiences of bringing us up.  Both Fran and I were really lucky I think in that we were encouraged to push ourselves and what we could be.

At this point, I feel its only appropriate to acknowledge the giant of a man who made it possible for me to be who I am today, Dr Bob Pugh.  My mum had a really difficult pregnancy with me and I was very premature.  It was touch and go whether I would even live and the dedicated care of Dr Pugh and his team made this possible.  I don’t know if he will ever read this but I am always grateful to the life he gave me the chance to live.

It’s really hard to explain what having a chance like that does for you.  Growing up, there were some really tough times but knowing that just by being here in the first place you’ve fought one of the hardest battles you ever could gives you a real sense of belief and determination.  I’ve also been driven by the numerous people who have helped me to be the person I am – from Dr Pugh to the brilliant teachers I had at school and my friends as well as inspirational people I’ve worked with.

Family is everything though, and its to mum, dad, Rachel and Fran who I owe so so so much.  The love, dedication and judicious telling off I’ve been given has been worth its weight in gold.  The enduring support I get pushes me on and gives me my drive and determination to (hopefully!) make a difference in what I do.  Since starting the blog I’ve been contacted by a few parents who are bringing up people like me and my message to you is a simple one: keep going!  Keep challenging yourself and those around you to push the boundaries in a positive way and to fulfil and then exceed your potential.  I have also just asked my parents to do a guest blog from their own perspective, which hopefully will be coming soon.

If you are reading this and growing up with your own you I say this: You only get one chance at this life and its no dress rehearsal so make the most of it 🙂

If you don’t believe me, believe Fran, who wrote a blog on a similar theme herself (well, she wrote mine before I did, so would probably tell you I’m copying her!!) We both can’t be wrong 😉

#filltheseats and why it matters

If you have read this blog for a while you’ll know that Rio has had a troubled build up to the Paralympics. It is right to highlight a much more positive development in the form of the #filltheseats campaign.

This campaign will help Brazilian children see the Paralympic Games. This is such a powerful thing. I’ll never forget taking my uncle to see Fran compete at Ponds Forge in Sheffield.

He had never seen any disability sport prior to that point. It’s a big cliche but he was inspired and moved by what he saw. Most importantly he also left the day with a greater understanding of what people could do despite their impairments. That day was 5 years ago now and is still talked about now.

This is why the #filltheseats campaign is so important. It will bring Paralympic sport and the awareness of disability that comes with it to thousands of children who will carry it with them for the rest of their lives.

#filltheseats has also been backed by a whole host of people including the International Paralympic Committee, Coldplay and Paralympic athletes across the globe.

You can find out more here. Please support this initiative however you can and tweet using #filltheseats. Thank you:)

Brazilian Vogue and Rio Paralympics: An insulting way to miss the point?

So you are the host country to host a sporting event. It’s not going great, ticket sales are down and the eyes of the world are on you. So you have to do something, right?

Hmm. Perhaps this was how the meeting that lay behind the Brazilian vogue photo shoot in question. To promote the Rio Paralympics, non disabled models were photoshopped to appear disabled

This has not gone down too well to say the least. I can see why. The Paralympics has arguably a broader significance than the Olympics in terms of promoting understanding of disability and the issues around it. The advert actually creates a barrier to that, obscuring disability, which isn’t something that can be merely airbrushed out.

A far more effective approach has been consistently taken by Channel 4 in the UK. Here the message has been about presenting athletes who achieve what they do, working with their bodies to achieve what they do in sport. This surely is a more powerful message.

It is troubling that a host country of the Paralympics can display such a lack of understanding of the meaning and spirit of the games just a few days away from the start of it.

An understanding of disability is help to be arrived at by a careful representation of it. Disabled people don’t have the luxury of choosing to be disabled. Every day brings challenges to negotiate that can’t be magicked away. The only solution comes in the form of hard work. 

This is where the Paralympics has its wider social value, and why it resonates so powerfully. The games also has a vital responsibility to represent the broad spectrum of impairments that people have. Again, the Brazilian Vogue advert falls down here. 

Some will argue that for the Paralympics, any publicity is good publicity. This may especially the case given the troubled build up to Rio and poor ticket sales. I would counter by saying in which other context would it be ok to sell a product by distortion?  Perhaps if a better plan was devised to promote the games from the outset, such desperate measures would not have been required.

Personally I think the whole episode is in danger of being a wider reflection of the games itself: A missed opportunity. It is good that the photo shoot has been highlighted and that we can have wider discussion around it. Every empty seat we will see in Rio though is representative of both a wider failure to execute a properly planned games and a chance to learn more about disability generally. The chance to see anyone being world class is an opportunity that should never be passed up.

One only hopes that Brazil does a better job in responding to Paralympians. Come the games themselves, there will be no airbrushed representations available, which is an entirely good thing.

Two teams and one missed opportunity: Team GB and Paralympics GB

Today the ‘I am Team GB’ day is making a big splash.  A national broadcaster here in the UK even switched off its channel for an hour as part of efforts to promote the day in an unprecidented move.  At one level, I think this is a good thing.  People are rightly being encouraged to come together to celebrate the incredible success of Team GB in Rio.

However, scratch beneath the surface and for me, it is a missed opportunity.  We have not one Team GB, we have two different groups.  Team GB compete at the Olympic Games and Paralympics GB compete at the Paralympics.  On one level, this is totally understandable, and even commercially desirable  Both Team GB and Paralympics GB have separate commercial relationships with sponsors which they can use to further their respective interests.  You might not know this, but even the lion for the Olympic and Paralympic team is different.

Besides the commercial reasons though, the waters become muddied.  People can’t understand the reasons behind the two different team names and it creates a barrier to understanding where they need not be one.  For me there is also the wider symbolic aspects of the difference.  It implies a division between disabled and non disabled people which is not helpful.  We are one nation and should have a united banner with which to celebrate the achievements of all of our athletes.

Days like today also highlight why the separate identities of the teams can be unhelpful.  The Paralympics GB team are in a critical phase of their preparations for Rio with 11 days to go to the start of the Rio Paralympics.  Just as with the combined events to celebrate the achievements of our athletes, was there no way in which the festivities of today could have been moved back a few days?

For now, we will continue to have two sporting teams competing under one flag.  It will fall to us to show that, despite the difference in name, there will be no difference in the magnificient level of support we can give to our athletes.  I hope that in future, a way forward can be found to give us one Great Britain team that we can take to our hearts as a nation.

When a social worker comes calling..

I was at work today and got a text from Fran saying that her social worker had come, unannounced.  I froze.  Getting a message like that from Fran is one of the few things that will stop me in my tracks and worry.

Before I go on, let me be clear as to what the purpose of this blog is (and is not) about.  It is not about having a go at social workers, the majority of whom in my experience, do a great job in increasingly impossible circumstances due to the chronic underfunding of social care (gotta love those Tories, he says, with deep sarcasm!)  It is though to show how as a disabled person, that there is very little that is private, and answering deeply personal questions is the norm.

I was annoyed.  The social worker had come unannounced.  This is not unusual for this to be the case.  It was an important visit too, so I was frustrated that I could not be there to support Fran.  The potential power that social workers can have over your life is scary.  A few strokes of a pen can radically alter your life, especially in the aforementioned financial climate when everyone is under pressure to save money at any cost.  We have not long (well, I say this, 9 months in!) moved house so that has the potential to change *everything.*  Luckily it did not.

The funding for social care has come under particular stress, especially after the closure of the ILF at a time when Local Authority budgets are under unprecedented pressure.  Following a drastic reduction in Fran’s support we’d written to our local MP who had investigated the matter for us. Surprise surprise, the interest of the MP meant that the initial decisions were reviewed and Fran had escaped with much less severe cuts, which she has still noticed, but is able to get by.

Given this backdrop I was relived when Fran said that the social worker had discussed her funding with her and it was staying the same.  I wasn’t sure whether this would be the case, particularly as it was a new social worker.  Fran and I tend to struggle a bit with social workers.  Our lifestyle just doesn’t ‘fit’ with the way ‘the system’ works.  Basically it is set up on the assumption you don’t work so things are more difficult if you do (how wrong is that?!) and Fran tends to be about the only one on the social workers current case load who actually works.  The social workers we have seen just aren’t used to dealing with that and the way we lead our lives.

All of which goes to show how scary it is when a social worker comes calling, even with the nicest of social workers.  And that is for us…when we have 5 degrees between us and an understanding of how ‘the system’ works.  I really don’t know how people who struggle to have their own voice are able to navigate the system.  Mind boggling in so many sad ways.  Then the questions start..being asked about every aspect of your life from how you wash and go to the toilet to asking for your bank balances to see how your money is spent.  This is all par for the course, and the social worker has their job to do but can feel really intrusive.

Next comes the revelation that Fran’s referral for an Occupational Therapist is 18 (yes 18) months overdue.  In theory it should take six weeks.  That’s one long six weeks.  We have moved to a bungalow which is much more accessible but in the mean time Fran has been showering on a garden chair and struggling to get in and out of the house.  You try to find workarounds (hence the garden chair in the shower!) but these aren’t always great for your self esteem or morale!

So, another social work visit safely negotiated.  Fran even told them that we were thinking about having kids and the social worker managed not to fall off her chair in shock.  That’ll bring a whole other set of questions assessments and visits as, if and when we decide to take the plunge.  That challenge can wait for now.

I know its easy to say but it shouldn’t be like this.  Social care and social work is on its knees and struggling to cope.  There has to be a better way to support people.


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 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 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,





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.