Wow, what a month! I’m feeling really honoured at the moment.
First I was sent a link to a document that listed me as one of 238 most trusted journalists from the NCTJ, with some super respected names. The list was voted for by other journalists too so it was stunning to be nominated by my peers.
I mean, I’m up there with Frances Ryan, Jon Snow and Kate Adie! Just super WOW!
Then last night I attended the launch of the Shaw Trust Power 100. This is an annual list of disabled people who are shaping the future in some way… and guess what? I was on it! For my work in the media and journalism.
It’s weird because you work away just getting on with it, not really thinking about acknowledgement. Then all of a sudden you find yourself being held up as a role model and someone who is making real change, as well as being trust worth by your peers! (yes still a bit blown away by that one!)
So many other amazing disabled people are on the Power 100 list, I am in such esteemed company.
Still a bit fragile after last night, as the wine did flow a little too freely. I’ll take a better picture of my Power 100 page soon. In the meantime, here’s a photo that’s as blurry as I feel today!
I haven’t had much time recently I write as I’ve been rushing around the country with my work as an equality and inclusion trainer, and much of that rushing has been done on the train. As a disabled passenger I have to face the constant fear that my journey will fail due to a mix up around the assistance I need to train by train. If you believe the news and media disabled people never have a good experience when using any form of public transport, and while we do all have many nightmare stories it is mostly getting better year on year. One of my major clients is Network Rail and I train their customer facing staff to give high quality assistance to disabled train users. I also have trained senior management on how to develop policies that ensure the needs of disabled passengers are at the heart of decision making within Network Rail. I tend to find my train journeys go fairly smoothly, but I have faced the usual issues. I’ve found myself on long journeys with no accessible toilet provision, I’ve been forgotten on trains when they terminate meaning I wait for ages to be gotten off and have even crawled out of a carriage, and have been stuck on a train as it leaves my destination station because no assistance has arrived.
So it’s with a happy heart that I can announce a good news story for disabled rail passengers that may make these events a thing of the past.
Last week I was lucky enough to be invited, by Paralympian and campaigner Anne Wafula-Strike, to the Rail Delivery Group’s London offices for a demonstration of their new Accessibility App. Within the rail industry there has been talk of this fabled app for many years, but it is now ready to announce to the traveling public. Hooray. With a final roll out time of autumn 2019, following a period where rail staff from every company involved in the UK’s rail network, this app does appear to be a real game changer for disabled people. The plan is for this app, downloadable for Apple and Android phones, to run alongside the existing assistance process, but also to allow rail staff to have access to all assistance requests in real time. So if you prefer to either use the phone or web based services to request assistance to travel you can, but the staff member will get the information about your travel requests on the app, via a smart phone or tablet. The new element for the passenger is how the app itself allows you to do everything on your phone too. It is also makes the process of Turn Up And Go much easier and more efficient.
The first innovation is that when you start using the app, you set up an account which then records all of your access requirements, meaning you never need to repeat them again. Any disabled rail user knows the frustration of repeating your access needs over and over, and then finding they have been noted down incorrectly. Once the app is rolled out you will be able to ensure your details are correct, and change them in real time too. You can also highlight your journeys and then request assistance. This is sent to the staff on the day of travel, after being checked and noted by rail staff. The true benefit is for people who cannot or do not want to book assistance in advance. You can get up, decide to take a journey and as you travel to the station or after buying your tickets request assistance, and it is sent immediately to the station you are traveling from and to.
During the demonstration, Anne Wafula-Strike and myself were very impressed. Anne stated “Although passenger assistance usually works, I’ve had awful experiences when it has failed so it’s great to see the rail industry addressing this and planning to change and improve for the benefit of disabled people. The app will make it so much easier to get assistance, and more importantly it will empower disabled people to travel without any fear. This is truly inclusion.”. Sarah Ward from Shrewsbury, who uses a wheelchair and has Asperger’s Syndrome, has been trialing the app since May and found it made a big difference to her experience of rail travel. “For me, the current system of booking assistance in advance is really frustrating. Whilst staff are generally really helpful, it’s not very flexible, and it often feels like I have to fit into the system, rather than the system working for me. With the app, I’ve found everything so much easier. It’s great being able to do things, on the spot, literally at the touch of a button. I think that the app provides a really positive step in opening up rail travel to disabled people. It has enabled me to be much more flexible with my travel plans, and it’s given me much more confidence in making journeys.”
Let’s hope that this is the beginning of a flurry of good news stories about disabled people and transport. I know from my own experience in the rail industry that there is a genuine desire to improve the service for disabled people and that this app will make it much easier for us all to travel by rail. If you are disabled and have avoided taking the train due to past bad experiences, the time may soon be right to dust off your hobo attitude and ride the rails again.
OK, I know I’ve been terrible about putting stuff on my website. To be honest I’ve had an awful year so far with technology. My computer died on me, thanks to a Windows 10 update that killed my Windows 7 operating system. I was also still recovering from my broken leg, a saga I will regale you with another time, and to be honest not much was happening I wanted to tell the world about. However, I’m now out of my plaster and life is fun again. There’s loads to catch up on too, so keep you eyes out for more posts soon.
In March I found myself in a packed comedy club in East London, about to do my first attempt at stand up. I’d been asked by the BBC to take part in an event called Storytelling Live, that was being put on by BBC Ouch. I was one of seven disabled people, some comedians and some not, who were going to tell their story about love or relationships. I chose to tell the story of how i came to terms with my sexual dysfunction, but in a way that would put the audience at ease. And it worked, phew! The room laughed all the way through my set, despite it being a rather personal one, and I left the stage buzzing, sure I would do more comedy.
The event was being filmed by the BBC and soon an edited version of my set went live on the BBC News On-line website. Within the first 24 hours of going live, it had been watched by over 1.5 million people, and was number 6 in the most watched on-line videos for the BBC. So now everyone knows about my willy! Since then I’ve been asked to help on a project that aims to advise GP’s and medical professionals how to help people who have lost the ability to work like they should in the bedroom department, which is amazing. I am very lucky, as I am totally happy with the way my body works and have an amazing sex life, but I know most people who loose the ability to sex like they teach you in text books think that’s the end of their sex life. So to do something to change that, however small, is amazing.
Anyway, without further rambling, the article I wrote for the BBC and the video clip of my stand up routine can be found here. As soon as it goes live on Youtube I’ll put the link up.
Before I go, this is the cartoon of me from the BBC art department. Cool huh?
After a while waiting for this series of stories to go live, I am proud to announce that Disability Now has published a special series on the subject of Cybernetics what I have wrote. I spent a long while rushing around the country meeting experts, builder and users of the most up to date bionics and found out what tomorrow might bring. As I did this I wanted to look deeper at what the advancements in this technology might mean for disabled and non-disabled people in the future. It’s an entirely new way of looking at the subject and I am really happy with the finished product.
Bionics: Who’s Disabled Now? – So if technology might be able to rebuild or repair disabled people, I explore whether we should go down that road. What would it’s use say for the wider society and disabled people’s identity?
Bionics: The Right To Choose – I finish the series by asking disabled people who use current bionic tech what they think about the wider implications of augmenting their bodies in this way.
I hope after you’ve read the articles and listened the to podcast you have had to examine the subject a little differently. Far too often society sees any advancement of technology as a good thing but as this field of science reaches a point where more and more is possible I wanted to just ask “before we do run towards a future when technology can fix impairments, have we stopped to ask what it might lead to?” I’m not against this kind of tech, in fact working on the series has made me much more open to it that I was before, but all scientific advancements must be explored to ensure we see what might be coming. That way we can all be ready.
I did it! I went on The Wright Stuff! A show I’ve watched since it started way back when almost every day, and I’ve been in it! OK Mik, calm down dear. In fact way back when the show first stated I was in talks to come on, but as I was very ill with an undiagnosed spinal injury at the time so couldn’t make it. Since then I have watched jealously as different people appeared on the show, but now I am one of those faces who got the chance to air their views on the news of the day!
It went really well and allowed me to explain both my views on many of the issues facing disabled people today but highlight the Scope campaign End The Awkward, which I have written several blogs for and appeared in a couple of short films. More than that, I then proved that disabled people are more than their disability by having opinions on other subjects! Yes, I know.
It was real honour to appear on the show, especially with the panel of the amazing columnist YasminAlibhai-Brown and poet Murray Lachlan-Young, who I worked with oh so long ago on Wham, Bam, Strawberry Jam. Matthew Wright is such a professional, as he was fighting a real pig of a cold, and he was a real joy to work with. Watching him work makes it look easy, but trust me his job is one of the hardest in TV. Live, every day, chatting with the public? All he needs is a load of kids and animals to put the cherry on the tough job cake. Of course I’d love to give it a try, hint hint! (If you ever need a stand, or sit, in Matthew I’m in!)
You can watch the show until Monday on Demand 5 here, with a little taster clip being found here
All I hope now is that they ask me back. Hint, hint… again!
OMG! This Monday, November 2nd, I will be appearing on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff as a panelist. Debating the stories of the day hosted by the amazing Matthew Wright, I have wanted to appear on this show ever since it started. During the first series I was in discussion with the production company but sadly I was too ill to make it when they wanted me. It later transpired I had broken my back again, so it was a good excuse. Anyway, I then underwent loads of treatment, my career did a tumble and ended up healthy but no longer well known enough to go on the show. Boo! I’m not sure I’m anywhere near the level of fame I was back then, but whatever the reason I am going on The Wright Stuff. (Mik now does a little dance). So tune in from 9.15am to 11.10am on Monday and see what happens! If you can’t see it in person then Channel 5 on demand or Sky+ it. Can’t wait! Wish me luck!
Wow, what a month this has been. After spending an amazing weekend up in Derby enjoying their arts festival Derby Feste, it was off up to Stockton on Tees, to perform in Pauline Heath’s ground breaking play Occupation. I joined a truly talented ensemble cast and played to a packed house, as we challenged many stereotypes around disability trotted out by today’s right wing media. It was a joy to be a part of and has rekindled my love of stage acting. I want to do more!
While rehearsing I was contacted by ITV’s This Morning to take part in one of their debates. So after a hard day’s fighting with my script I jumped on a train and shot off back to London. Then it was up early to appear on This Morning, meeting Phillip Schofield again after decades, to debate why non-disabled people park in Blue Badge bays. It wasn’t the hardest debate I taken part in to be honest, but it is a subject that needs airing. Especially if people really feel the other person on the sofa… speechless!
Then back to Stockton for play time, with Occupation going live. The audience loved it, and I must admit I’ve fallen in love with the North East. Lovely place, lovely people. I will be back soon. Of course, I said this was a busy month, and so no sooner did I return to Camden and the wonderful Diane than I was up at 4am to shoot off to Sky News, for their Sunrise program. Yes, it was new review time again and I was on with Anne Diamond. I get so starstruck when I’m on with Anne, and she is one of the loveliest people in TV. But the Sky studio is a great set, and Stephen Doxon and Gillian Joseph are great too, so it’s a job I don’t mind getting up at stupid o’clock for. Even if I am a pinko liberal that annoys many Sky viewers…. or that’s how it seem thanks to Twitter!
With that all in the bag, you’d think it might be time for a rest… but no. Or no then yes. On Wednesday Diane and I jet off to Barcelona as I have been commissioned to write a story about the city. Of course as it is one of our favourite places on the planet, we have booked some extra time there for a holiday. Can’t wait, even if the weather forecast is for rain. Being wet in Barcelona is still fantastic. Then when we get back it’s off to London’s Forum for three nights of Gary Numan as he recreates his three hit LP’s from the 80s. I’m going to be in synth heaven!
During all this I recorded a voice over for a film I am in, but I can’t say too much about that. Top secret and all that!
Gonna need a rest in November… although it is our 10th wedding anniversary so better get planning eh?
This weekend Diane and me are off to enjoy Derby Feste, the city’s annual arts festival. It’s always a thoroughly enjoyable weekend for us, as Derby is one of those places that gets access for disabled people and so allows the disabled visitor to switch off while they are there. When you combine this freedom with a fun filled itinerary of arts for all the family, from street theatre through to the music and firework extravaganza that ends the festival, which this year is courtesy of Les Commandos Percu and Deabru Beltzak, it’s one of those events that is a must see. Luckily I will be accompanied by my mate and local actor Emily Howlett, founding member of Deaf Arts company PAD Productions, who will be giving me the skinny on the secret side of Derby. I am planning a review for the Huff, both of the festival and of any key shows that grab my eye. So watch this space. And if you are knocking around Derby this weekend and see Di and me come and say Hi! Especially if you have something in mind that you think we just have to see!
Argh! August was a crazy busy month. It’s started with three days of training at the BBC weather department, as part of their weather presenting training scheme. It was an amazing three days and I learned loads. Being a weather presenter is one of the hardest jobs in TV, and I doff my cap to anyone who does it. You never know, one day it might be me!
Next I spent a great afternoon scooting around Richmond Park in an amazing powered all terrain wheelchair, called a Boma 7. I had a blast as I think you can see by this video –
Another video clip that came out in August was my contribution to the Scope campaign. End The Awkward. I originally did one about always being asked if I could have sex, but they went with a less rude experience instead. See what you think…
Then I spent a week celebrating hitting my 50th birthday, ending in a humdinger of a birthday party. A huge thanks to everyone who came. Here’s to the next 50 eh?
But I had no time to recover as I was then off to Brighton to act in a short film, directed by 90’s heart throb Toby Amies. I can’t say too much but I got to fire a gun… for the first time ever in my life. While it was a really long night shoot, I can’t wait to see the finished result as the film looks like a gore fest with a superb twist!
I’ve also just finished my regular column for PosAbility magazine, and an article exploring sex with a spinal injury. I also shot a film with Enhance the UK about the problem page I write for, The Love Lounge, alongside my partner Non-expert Sexpert Emily Rose Yates. I’ll keep you posted when that is ready to look at.
So as September begins it still looks just as busy. I have been asked to create an access guide to Camden by the owners of the market, have loads of Disability Equality Training coming up as well as a visit to Derby to review the up coming Derby Feste. If you are up that way for the festival maybe see you there?
Anyway, I will try to up date this website on a more regular basis. I did say try of course……