Intro to my blog

My name is Helen McLaughlin. I am a University Student, who has physical disabilities, both visible and invisible conditions. Raising awareness of all things disability-related has always been something important to me, but I’ve recently been inspired to do a blog after experiences that come down to simply not enough awareness existing. I want to do my bit to change this. In this blog, I want to focus on points of discussion around disability. All opinions are my own, unless stated otherwise. I hope that you find my blog interesting and engaging. Please feel free to let me know what you think, or if there are any topics you particularly want me to cover. You can leave a comment or email:

disabilityawarenessblogger@hotmail.com

Please see my Facebook page, where I am posting my blog posts and also interesting articles etc. called: Disabilityawarenessblogger

Update from the year and the future of my blog :)

Hi, first things first, I’m back!!! It’s been such a long time since I wrote my last own blog post so I thought I’d do an update on what’s been happening and my thoughts about this blog for the future. Lots has happened this year; I’ve graduated and started a new course in Counselling, as well as it being a year full of lots of wheelchair dance times. It’s also been a year where I’ve taken the chance to reflect a lot on my thoughts and feelings on disability in the past and present, which brings me onto the future of these blog posts.

When I started this blog post originally, it was something I did because I wanted to talk about particular experiences and ideas about disability that I felt are not always talked about enough. I guess I wanted to use the blog to present what I feel is often underrepresented. And that will still be part of my blog, but reflecting this year has taught me a lot about my feelings on wanting to present particular underrepresented parts of disability (potentially future blog post material) and in many ways, this past year has shown me that my experiences of disability, what disability means for me and my thoughts and feelings about this aren’t such concrete ideas, but things that change for me as I do too. I think partly being a young adult, I’m at a stage where things are changing a lot for me and I’m thinking through my future and what my goals, priorities and values are, and so the role that disability has in my life, as well as my thoughts and questions about this are changing too. So…. I’ve decided I want my blog page to go down a slightly different path. I would like my blog page to show the overall journey that I’m on, so some posts may elaborate on ideas I shared in earlier posts and some may differ in opinion to ones I’ve previously written, based on what my experiences have been since then and how my understanding is changing. I would like my blog posts to be a chance to reflect on some of my experiences and thoughts and feelings as I learn and develop, so I want each post to be like a snapshot of  how I experienced things and what was coming up for me about my experiences at the particular time that they were written. I hope you will  find my journey interesting – feel free to keep sharing posts, and if you have comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Helen x

Riding Everest: Interview with Max

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Hi Max, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi Helen! Well, I live in London with my girlfriend and our cat, I work in the finance industry in the City, I ride horses every week in the Hyde Park Barracks and I have lived with Cerebral Palsy for my whole life. Oh, and one other thing – in April this year, I’ll be riding to Everest Base Camp on a horse!

How do you experience your impairment?

My Cerebral Palsy affects my life in many different ways. It makes my muscles tight and difficult to control, especially the muscles in my hands, arms and legs.

This means that I use an electric wheelchair to get around, and I need help to do almost everything in my life – washing, getting dressed, going to the loo, eating… I need 24 hour care.

What is your Riding Everest project about?

I started riding horses when I was 5 years old, because my parents saw an advert for the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) in the newspaper. Now, RDA are building a national training centre in Warwickshire to allow many, many more disabled people like me, as well as people with learning difficulties, and a whole host of other conditions to access the amazing benefits of riding, both as a social activity and as a physical therapy.

I’ve always wanted to do something crazy like ride a horse up a mountain, and when I heard about RDA’s plan for the national training centre, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to raise money for a charity that has done so much for me.

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What I’ve found since starting it though, is that it has been amazing to have a social impact too, and change people’s perceptions of disability while I’m at it. So many people with Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities have got in touch with me to tell me what an awesome project it is. I’ve also heard from lots of parents of young children with disabilities, and I think my story gives them hope for their kids, hope that they will be able to live independently and happily when they are adults.

What is involved in your training?

Training has been tough so far, and in the final stretch before the trek it’s only getting tougher! Lots of endurance riding, around the countryside with my team, mostly!

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Also, for parts of the trek, such as bridges or steep steps, I’ll have to get off the horse and walk with the help of two Nepalese Sherpas. To train for those bits, I’ve been climbing the stairs in my block of flats with physiotherapist and my girlfriend. It’s not quite Everest but it sure feels that way sometimes!!

What do you wish there was more awareness of when it comes to disability?

For me, visibility is awareness. There aren’t enough disabled people in the media – Paralympians are amazing, but they seem to be the be-all and end-all of disability representation on the TV. I’d like to see more disabled people in drama and comedy, more disabled comedians make it to the mainstream, and for more stories about disabled people in Hollywood – stories where we are the heroes and stories that don’t focus on tragedy!

That’s why I’m so excited about the documentary film that’s being made about this trek! I’m looking forward to creating an opportunity to show the wider public that disabled people are diverse and interesting and do amazing things!

Being disabled and the world of work

The reality of being disabled in the world of work isn’t being less productive. It’s not getting a job out of kindness that you don’t deserve. The reality is debating whether to disclose. When and how to disclose. And whether it will affect your chances. It’s working hard to get the grades and experience you need to prepare you for your career. It’s not hearing back about your applications. It’s being rejected from jobs that you have all of the experience and grades for. It’s waiting for that dream job and that employer who will see beyond a diagnosis and see your potential. That employer that you know is out there who will see the impairment as one part of you, but not the defining part. That it is part of who you are, and in a good way too. That it brings so many positives as well as  challenges. That it has formed your character. Made you more determined. It’s getting that yes, that chance after so many applications. Getting that dream job. That job that you contribute so much to.

Presentation of disability: realistic?

For today’s blog, I decided to write about the presentation of disability in the media. In recent years, there has been a shift in how disability is presented, moving from disabled people as ‘charity’ and ‘objects of sympathy or pity’ to the idea of the ‘supercrip’, particularly when it comes to adverts with Paralympians. And of course, I’m happy that society is moving away from disability as something to pity or ignoring its existence altogether. But, the ‘inspirational/ heroic supercrip’ is presented as somebody who works to overcome their impairment and becomes a top athlete. The problem with the idea of the ‘inspirational/ heroic supercrip’ is it presents disability as something to be ‘overcome’, something that can be overcome with hard work, and the ‘successful goal’ becomes to be a no. 1 athlete, something for disabled people to aspire to. But when it comes to the existence of an impairment, it isn’t something that can just be overcome if you put in the effort and work on it, and being no.1 in sports isn’t a goal for everybody. Life happens with a disability, not despite of it. And yes, that does often mean overcoming social barriers. But, what it doesn’t mean is that the impairment is overcome or not there anymore. The idea that an impairment is something to be overcome is just not true. Disabled people can do incredible things, just as much people without an impairment can, but those brilliant things happen at the same time as the impairment existing; Paralympians still experience disability in everyday life in a world that hasn’t necessarily been set up with disabled people in mind, or through the experiences of their impairment. People’s experiences happen and being disabled is one part of those experiences, not necessarily the dominant thing, but it’s there. If we want to have more accurate portrayals of disability, we have to move away from ideas of disabled people as ‘objects of sympathy’ as well as ideas of ‘the supercrip’. Both of these make the experience of disability something extraordinary, when in fact a lot of the time it isn’t that interesting, just a part of everyday life doing everyday things.  Disability is something that anybody can experience at any time, and the more we can approach the ‘everyday’ of disability, the more realistic we can be about it.