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Category: Personal

Does it wet the bed? – Free Wheeling

Posted in Cerebral Palsy, Disability Aids, Disability Awareness, Does it wet the bed?, Fighting for Change, My writing, Personal, and Uncategorised

I’m just putting together a book proposal for “Does it wet the bed?” as even though the  book is almost complete, many agents request a proposal as well as sample chapters.

In doing so, I’ve chosen an anecdote to start the overview so I thought I’d share it here! More to come over the coming weeks.

I was at work and my electric wheelchair had broken down. Again. The phone number for the repair service was down ingrained on my memory and I braced myself for another frustrating conversation as I dialled it.

As I’d expected, there were no engineers available for the next three days. The receptionist really didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation and after so many call outs, I was on the verge of losing my patience. I took a long, deep breathe and asked how she expected me to get home safely that evening. Her response was deadly serious: “Can’t you free wheel it home?” It took me a minute to process what she’d said and I almost asked her to repeat herself, just to be sure that I’d heard correctly. Maybe I had wax in my ears? But no, I’d heard her alright and my blood was absolutely boiling. I had to make my explanation to her crystal clear this time:

“If I was capable of free wheeling an electric wheelchair home or anywhere in fact, I wouldn’t require the wheelchair in the first place, would I?.”

Finally time to look for a literary agent

Posted in Does it wet the bed?, My writing, Personal, and Uncategorised

I’ve been pretty busy over the past few months. As well as working on my campaign to make Great Barr great for Disabled People (Great Barr Accessibility Report), and raising my little boy Jack, I’ve been trying to finalise the first draft of my autobiography.

Although I regularly write articles for my blog and campaign, this is my first book and I’ve been working on it for almost five years, in between working and living life!

Does IT wet the bed?”  tells the story of my life living with Cerebral Palsy and all of the challenges and triumphs along the way.  There have been Headteachers who didn’t believe I could cope with mainstream education; there have been bullies who have picked on me for walking a bit funny. There have also been employers who have discriminated against me because of my disability. But there has also been a 2:1 Honours degree from Oxford Brookes University, as well as a fairytale wedding and my own business. Despite my disability, I’ve achieved almost everything I’ve put my mind too and that’s why I’m writing this book. To show that disabled people are just as capable as anyone else and that if you’re determined enough, anything is possible.

Now that the first draft is almost complete, I have decided to turn my attentions to the huge task of finding a literary agent who is prepared to take me and my work on. After reading the Writers’ and Artists Yearbook 2014, I am not underestimating the time and effort that this will require. There is so much to do in preparation for approaching agents, that it is much more daunting than writing the actual book! I need to prepare a concise synopsis of the book, as well as a chapter summary and research at least five other books which are similar to mine and justify why my book fills a gap in the current market. The list of tasks which lay ahead seems endless!

I’ve invested so much time and effort into the book, that I am absolutely determined that one day soon, it will be available in a bookshop near you!

Right then, where to begin?!

Helpful tools for New Writers

Posted in Does it wet the bed?, My writing, and Personal

Ever since I was young, I’ve enjoyed reading and writing.  I remember being in the final year of primary school and writing a short story which won the annual writing competition.  I was so thrilled and it really ignited my passion for writing.

For years though, people kept telling me that I should write a book about my experiences of living with Cerebral Palsy.  It’s a project that I kept putting on the back burner – always fearing that I wasn’t good enough or that people wouldn’t be that interested.  Later I reasoned that even if it never got published, it would be an enjoyable project and one which I could at least share with family and friends.

As I started making my notes, I began to realise how much material I had – so much in fact that it was difficult to manage.   I had notes everywhere and no idea how to organise them.  My hubby introduced me to OneNote – at first I didn’t quite get it but now I am not sure what I would do without it. I started writing my book using Word and then my hubby introduced me to Scrivener – a programme specifically for writers which enables you to organise notes, sort them into chapters, move text around and compile manuscripts in various formats.  You might think that surely Microsoft Word would suffice for this task but editing and moving text can be very time consuming in 100 page plus document!  Scrivener allows writers to break text down into manageable chunks which can easily be edited and then puts it together, creating a seamless manuscript in seconds.

I’d highly recommend Scrivener to any writer and think it is well worth the small investment – no matter what you’re writing.

The Media: Friend or Foe of Equality?

Posted in Disabled Parent, Media, Personal, and Uncategorised

I recently delivered a bespoke training session for an organisation in Reading. As part of their equality objectives, they had identified some issues surrounding stereotyping so I was asked to focus on this specific area, addressing the causes of stereotyping and its impact.

So what causes individuals and society to refer to people using negative stereotypes?

With regard to individuals, a person’s upbringing, their community, fear of the unknown and simply ignorance can all impact upon their personal stereotypes. Most of these factors are beyond an individual’s control or conscientious , hence the need for Equality Training so that attitudes and approaches can be examined and reviewed in a safe and non judgemental environment.

In relation to society as a whole, I believe that one of the biggest causes of stereotypes is the media. Whether people are conscience of it or not, the media has a huge impact on how we view certain people or groups of people in our society. The words “black”, “disabled”, “muslim” (to name just a few) are regularly dropped into headlines when they bear absolutely no relevance to the actual story. By including such irrelevant descriptions serves only one purpose which is to fuel stereotypes.

However, I’ve recently been forced to re examine my own negative stereotype of the media as a negative influence. I have to admit that one of my favourite past times is watching the British Soaps and over the years, they have dealt with many issues of diversity. They haven’t always done so sensitively but nonetheless, they have opened up subjects which were previously taboo and at least, got people talking about and debating the issues. Disabled characters have always featured in the soaps but many of the storylines have been negative, doing very little to change the negative stereotypes which surround disabled people.

I am currently closely following the story of Izzy in Coronation Street. (Played by Cherylee Houston) Izzy has a long term physical disability and has recently discovered that she is expecting a baby with her partner, Gary. They are both thrilled by the news, having been reassured by a doctor that her condition will not affect the pregnancy. However, her father’s reaction to the news is one of shock, disappointment and fear. Her father, played by Ian Puleston-Davies, worries about the emotional and physical demands of pregnancy and motherhood will have on Izzy.

Having spoken to several disabled people (some of them parents), this is quite a common reaction. People see a disabled person with a child and automatically assume that it can’t be theirs or that the pregnancy wasn’t planned. The disabled parents that I’ve spoken to say that this couldn’t be further from the truth. They are very conscious of the possible implications of pregnancy and parenthood and the decision to have a child is made after careful consideration and in many cases, after seeking medical opinion. Therefore, the assumptions that people make are all the more hurtful and patronising.

There was also a recent documentary on BBC called “We won’t drop the baby”. It focused on a couple, both with cerebral palsy, who already had a young son and were expecting their second baby. It was a brilliant documentary which showed that despite obvious difficulties, it is possible for disabled people to be good parents. The documentary featured the couple’s parents who naturally expressed some anxiety and concern. But despite this, they stood in the background and like with everything else their children had achieved, they let them learn how to do things their way and it was obvious that the children were well looked after.

I think such programmes, whether real or fictional, do a lot to challenge stereotypes. So is the media a help or a hindrance in challenging the negative stereotypes that still exist in society? I think the jury is still out on that debate but I like to think that the media is doing a lot more to break down prejudices and make people question their assumptions. Like I said, as human beings, I don’t think we are always conscience of or to blame for our own stereotypes. But we are responsible for realising that we have them and for challenging them regularly.

I obviously don’t know how Izzy’s storyline will pan out but I congratulate Cherylee and Ian on their performances and hope that the storyline will continue to make people question the stereotypes surrounding disabled people.

The Secret to Self-Respect

Posted in Employment Support, Flyinglady Training, Personal, and Uncategorised

One of my favourite TV Shows at the moment is The Secret Millionaire on Channel 4.  After a long day, I love to watch as the latest millionaire leaves behind his comfortable lifestyle and goes in search of people in need of help.

I’ve recently watched a repeat episode which particularly struck a cord with me.  It featured John Elliott, a self made millionaire and life long supporter of the Conservative Party.  John travelled to Kensington, Liverpool which is an area known for high unemployment.  He desperately wanted to find people in need of his help but this proved difficult.  Why?  Because as he looked around, there was no shortage of jobs available for people to apply for.  The high unemployment rate wasn’t down to a lack of jobs – they were there in abundance.  John met various residents of Kensington but none of them seemed in desperate need – the state were taking care of their basic needs.

It seemed like John would be the first Secret Millionaire not to part with any cash.  He was reluctant to give away money unless he was sure that it would make a real difference.  Then he met a young couple with a baby.  They were up to their eyes in credit card debts and living in rented accommodation.   The husband was working 12 hour days driving a taxi to pay off his debts and provide for his family.  He didn’t come home until he’d earned the money he needed.  Though struggling and in debt, he wasn’t afraid of hard work and was paying the price for racking up so much debt.  Finally, John had found a family that he could help.  But he didn’t do the obvious thing and pay off the credit cards.  It would have been all too easy for them to just build up further debt.   Instead, he gave them a deposit for a house of their own.  They could get a mortgage and finally start enjoying the rewards of working hard.

John also befriended a young refugee who had been granted leave to stay in the UK.  He was a qualified accountant but despite his best efforts, he couldn’t find employment and so spent his time volunteering instead.  John decided to help him but not with a hand out.  He gave him a job in his company.  This gave him so much more than a handout – it gave him his confidence and self-respect.

I had to admire John’s approach.  He didn’t want to find problems and then throw money at it.  In his mind, that was pointless and a waste of money.   Although he had over £60 million, he didn’t want to see his hard earned fortune wasted.   He wanted to enable people to solve their own problems and give them their self-respect in the process.

I also agree with John Elliott’s stance.  In my time supporting disadvantaged people into employment, I saw many people who were desperate to work.  If I’d given them a handout, they wouldn’t have accepted it.  I also saw an equal number of people who were fairly comfortable on their state benefit and so had little interest in “rocking the boat” by finding a job.  If they did look for work,  they were only interested in jobs for less than 16 hours a week so that they could remain on state benefit.   But this approached failed to give them any pride or the self respect which John valued and rewarded.

The programme inspired me and made me more determined than ever to develop Flyinglady so that we can eventually set up employment support programmes to help people who really want to find work.  I think if there were more John Elliotts around, encouraging and supporting people to stand on their own two feet,  we could reduce the JobCentre queues.

My Winning Founder Story

Posted in Disability Awareness, Employment Support, Equality & Diversity, Fighting for Change, Personal, Starting Flyinglady, and Uncategorised

I recently entered a story writing competition with the Entrepreneur’s Circle about why I founded my business.  I am delighted to say that I won the competition – my submission follows:

I was suited and booted and ready to impress.  It was my second year of my Business Management degree at Oxford Brookes University and my third year would be spent on a paid work placement.  I’d managed to bag an interview with a small marketing company near Oxford and the job sounded perfect for me.

The interview went really well and I came out feeling fairly confident – this could be the one, I thought to myself.  A few days later my confidence was in tatters as I read an email from the MD of the company.  He stated quite bluntly that he couldn’t possibly employ me as his clients wouldn’t be able to communicate with me.  Why? Because I have cerebral palsy and subsequently, a speech impairment.

He hadn’t faulted my skills or my abilities compared to other candidates.  That was his one and only reason for rejecting me.  I was fuming!  I know my speech isn’t that difficult to understand as I successfully communicate with people on a daily basis. I knew I couldn’t just let this go so I sat down and composed a polite reply.   I told him it was a shame he felt the way he did as he’d dismissed a huge asset to his team.  I continued that there were many ways of communicating with clients and that if every employer were to have his views, I would sadly remain unemployed.  My aim wasn’t to get him to change his mind but to educate him.

The experience made me realise the extent of discrimination that disabled people face and I knew I wanted to do something about it.  I eventually secured a placement working for a charity which supported disabled and disadvantaged people into work and training opportunities.  It was a rewarding role and upon graduating, I returned to the charity and became a senior manager.

But still the discrimination was apparent.  One day I took a phone call from an unemployed client looking for some help.  He had the cheek to ask me why someone like me with cerebral palsy could secure a job whilst he remained unemployed!

As my role developed, I undertook a qualification to become a trainer and I started delivering sessions to both clients and employers.  I realised that far from being unable to understand me, people responded really well to me and I had a talent for teaching.  I was able to share my personal experiences and inspire others. I felt comfortable and confident in the classroom.

Being a small charity, I eventually felt there were no more opportunities for me to develop and I was bored in my role.  I always embrace a challenge but I was no longer being pushed to my potential.  So I took a leap of faith, handed in my resignation and Flyinglady Training was born.

I now specialise in Equality and Diversity Training, as well as employment preparation training and although I only started up in January, I’m passionate about making a difference for other disabled people who may have had similar experiences and also helping employers to realise the benefits of a diverse workforce.