Busy little Beaver!

Been rushed off my wheels recently. Been writing and appearing at events all over the country. Here’s a round up of events so far!

Proof we can still cut it and look cool!

Proof we can still cut it and look cool!

Things started off rather glamorously as Diane and me were invited to the launch of Firetrap’s Deadly Denim ad campaign in East London. It was a great night, and we even danced.

Sea Changers 02

The Sea Changers panel.

Next I was asked to appear at a literary event in Brighton, called Sea Changers. It was an amazing night, and a real honour to be involved with such talented writers, all of whom campaign to make the world a better place. However, it was a little marred by how inaccessible Brighton is as a town. I wrote an article for the Huffington Post exploring how inaccessibility leads to disabled people being seen as a problem and now part of the community which was then taken up by the local Brighton and Hove Independent.

A stormy faced Mik in keeping with the sky!

A stormy faced Mik in keeping with the sky!

Then I went to an event at Channel 4, which I covered for Disability Now. They announced the launch of the channel’s commitment to ensure inclusive casting of disabled actors in their future dramatic output. However, I won’t deny I have been to a few of these things, so I will believe it when I see it. I also met some talented actors, and smoozed as usual.

Posing with New Tricks Actor Storme Toolis

Posing with New Tricks Actor Storme Toolis

I also began running Disability Equality Training for Leonard Cheshire Disability in November. The plan is to roll it out next year, and if a business wants to hire us they will get a bespoke training course created for their business and sector. It means I have to dress rather smartly too.

Suited and Booted!

Suited and Booted!

Lastly it was off to the BBC, for the Xmas edition of the BBC Ouch podcast. It was a great show and as soon as it goes live I will post the link. I do like getting paid to have a laugh and eat mince pies. I just pity Damon Rose, BBC Ouch’s editor, as it will be a nightmare to cut.

Xmas Ouch fun

Xmas Ouch fun

This weekend I am off for a break in Cardiff. Two days of respite, with nothing to do but shop, rest and eat. Then it’s off to Roma Sports to collect my new Vida wheelchair. Can’t say too much until I collect it, but it is a totally bespoke wheelchair at the cost of the standard wheelchair. And it looks amazing too. I will be reviewing the chair for Disability Now very soon.

This is all you can see until next week!

This is all you can see until next week!

So that’s it for now. There was more but I have forgotten it right now. Well, it is nearly Christmas! Can’t wait!

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Memories of Representation!

On Friday August 22nd I took part in the monthly BBC Ouch Podcast, with presenters Simon Minty and Shannon Murray. It was great to be back at the BBC, to be in a studio covering stories about disability and to be working with such great people. However the whole experience did leave me a little saddened.

Mik outside New Broadcasting House

Outside the Beeb

I was filled with the memories of a time when disabled people were featured on radio and TV so much more often. It might sound crazy to any body who is young reading this, but when I started in the media over 25 years ago disabled people appeared regularly on both TV and radio. All of the TV channels had a regular show dedicated to disability, fronted and made by disabled people and in radio we not only had a dedicated show but disabled people worked in the mainstream all over the air waves. I myself started out in mainstream TV, working on prime time on ITV, before going over to Channel 4’s “yoof” output. I was also picked up the the BBC’s disability show One In Four which was reaching the end of a highly successful run, featuring a team of disabled presenters that were minor household names. When the show ended, the BBC created the Disability Programs Unit, which ensured that all disability based TV was made by entirely disabled production staff as well as being fronted by disabled onscreen talent. They made the series From The Edge, which ran for 10 years, and Over The Edge as well as other award winning shows such as Disabled Century. All made by a team of talented disabled people. The other channels also had specialist disability programs too, but the BBC was most committed to ensuring a visible disabled presence within their output.

In The Studio

In The Studio

What is most important about having shows about disabled people being made by disabled people was the representation was fair and truthful. We made sure no one was exploited and that we always covered a story in such a way to empower those involved. Sadly the landscape of the industry changed as the century came to a close and by the year 2000 all disability TV had been canceled. At the BBC all of the onscreen talent were told we would be “integrated” into the mainstream, but what actually happened was we pretty much all ended up on the dole. After that disabled people disappeared from our screens, and so we ended where we are today. With the exception of The Last Leg and ParaSport I would say disabled people are either invisible or the object of “freak TV”. We now hear that the industry wants to increase the numbers of disabled talent on our screens, but will these moves get anywhere near to the level we once had? I doubt it. Even if they slowly do, will this talent have the ability to control what they are expected to do and be involved in shaping the output as not to create exploitative or unrepresentative programs? I hope so, but I would say that if the programming that has been produced in the last ten years is anything to go by my hope may be misplaced.

Recording in the Bag!

Recording in the Bag!

While it is great that disabled people still have somewhere to go to find out about news that impacts on them, thanks to the podcasts of the BBC, Disability Now and Disability Horizons, it is a real shame that these are the only resources. Especially in a media that has now proliferated and grown in a way we could never have imagined way back when. If there had been a real integration of both the disabled talent and the stories that are of interest to the disabled community then I doubt we would be needing yet another big push to increase disabled people in the media. Instead of creating a representative media back in the late 1990s, we were written out of the industry, with only few people like those at BBC Ouch and the ubiquitous BBC Radio 4 presenter Peter White remaining. So we end up where we are today, with the industry acting like they are doing great things by trying to increase the numbers of disabled people in the media, while not admitting that they are only trying to correct mistakes made decades ago. Disabled people can be great on our screens and working behind the action, and anyone of my age will know this to be true. I mean, without blowing my own trumpet, I won an Emmy in 1992 and was voted Children’s TV Presenter of the Year in the same year. Not disabled presenter, just presenter! To think that back then there were so many disabled faces on our screens your needed both hands to count them! We must get back to those days and keep it that way.

Will Disabled Talent Always Be On The Outside?

Will Disabled Talent Always Be On The Outside?

Right, rant over. One last thing…. of you are a media exec looking for disabled talent…. gizza a job! (Shameful I know…. but if you don’t ask, you don’t get!)

The Podcast is available from the BBC Ouch website now!

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How do you like dese tragedy?

Right, it seems that the entire media wants to focus on the tragedy of the disabled, whether we have managed to triumph over it or not. I have always been against this kind of coverage but it seems that people who agree with me are being ignored. So if everyone out there wants to hear the tragedies of disabled people I intend to be on that band wagon. (I do hope you getting the irony here… it doesn’t always work in the written medium)

So where shall I begin? Well at the beginning I suppose. I was born in 1965 to Michael and Joyce McGrath (pictured above). They had been trying to have kids for three years and were overjoyed when they found they had fallen pregnant. When I was born my Dad ran round my home town of Luton shouting with joy, hugging strangers and handing out cigars. But as soon as I came home they began to worry. I just would not stop crying. Nurses and doctors visited and told my Mum she was a panicky parent. This went on for five weeks. Just screaming and screaming. Then I went quiet. My parents rushed me to an aunt who was an ex-nurse and she said something was wrong… very wrong. They took me to hospital and it was soon discovered I had cancer. It was in fact an Adrenal Neuroblastoma, which even today is very difficult to beat. I was extremely lucky, as my surgeon had just read about an experimental drug that was being trialled and he applied to have me put on the trial. So with a major surgery, radical radiotherapy and this new chemotherapy, which lasted for five years, I now faced an uncertain future. In fact my [parents were told not to expect me to live long. “Go home and enjoy the time you have left with him” my Mum was told.

So home I went. That’s me with my Mum, all ill but very loved. I didn’t die though. Obviously. In fact I went from strength to strength. There were hick ups. I got two huge sores on my feet, which nearly killed me with infection, and I broke my right leg almost in half, while trying to pick up a train that I was playing with – kind of forgot I couldn’t walk that well – but when I got to the age of five my parents were told he is in remission. Cancer free. I had a future at last. At which point my Father died, from a heart attack. My Mum had a nervous breakdown and life sort of fell apart. My Dad’s parents were awful, and our lives were thrown into turmoil yet again. My brother came out worst. My Mum had to spend so much time looking after me that Steve had kind of become Dad’s kid. So when Dad suddenly disappeared he couldn’t understand what had happened. Mum tried to explain, but he was so little the “Dad is with Jesus” didn’t help much. So the great news of my beating the big C didn’t matter much once Dad was gone.

I started school and was immediately bullied for being the limpy kid. I fought back, but as anyone who has been the target of the bully knows it’s not fun. When I was eight, my Mum remarried. Now I will admit that by now both Steve and me were horribly spoilt kids, but our new Step Dad was… let’s say very strict. As he is still around I won’t go into it all too deeply, but it wasn’t much fun. But time passed as it does and I was soon nearing an age where I could protect myself. But at the age of fifteen my spine collapsed. It actually happened at Wembley Arena at the farewell gig of my hero Gary Numan. I had great seats, in the fifth row, but had to remove myself to the back as the pain was unbearable. I somehow managed to get myself home and fell into bed. The next day I arose early as it was the day of my German O Level (no I did not spend the night studying – I was a Numanoid!) but when I tried to get out of bed I collapsed into a heap on the floor.

Oh, this is the last picture I had of me standing up. I’m in the middle, with my Mum and brother Steve. Anyway, I was still sent to school in a cab, but when I arrived I collapsed again and was rushed to hospital. While I was there I was told I was dying as I had cancer again. But no it was actually a huge spinal collapse, caused by a side effect of my experimental chemo as a baby. After two major operations (14 and 15 hours), two bouts of MRSA and one heart attack on the operating table I spent nine months in hospital only to leave in a wheelchair. No one told me at this time I wouldn’t walk again, and so I spent three years fighting to get back on my legs. After this time I went to my surgeon to say I was giving up, only to be told I never had any chance but they didn’t tell me that as they didn’t want to depress me. Nice.

Now at this point I feel I should stop. I could go on about being in an abusive relationship for years, or my second broken back just as my career was taking off, just over ten years ago, that nearly killed me and has left me in chronic pain, but I actually want to examine that fact that while this might be read as a list of tragedy it all led me to be the person I am today. And I like who I am, so everything that has happened is must be a good thing. To always go on about how becoming disabled is a tragedy means that nothing good can come of it, and to make anyone disabled who succeeds triumphant means that those who are having a hard time coming to terms with it must be lacking something that those super humans (dig, dig C4) have in spades.

All I know is that my disability has shaped my life hugely, and has allowed me to have experiences that most non-disabled people can only dream of. I have been a TV star, toured with Gary Numan, and lived a rock and roll lifestyle second to none. I then met and later married the girl of my dreams, someone so amazing that she cared for me while I recovered from my second broken back and even made it fun. Yes she made six months on bed rest fun. It may sound weird but I know part of what she loves in me is the person I am because of my disability and so for that, if nothing else, I refuse to see any tragedy in anything illness or disability that has entered my life.

But I could easily make my life a list of one awful event after another. I could have then made a big deal of how brave I’d been to triumph over the crap cards life had dealt me. And the media would have lapped it up, but I just cannot. Instead I will say what I have always said… Disability was the making of me. It set me free and allowed me to live a life that I wouldn’t give up for a second. Not for legs that work, not for being in tip top health, not even if I could fly. My disability is super positive element in my life, and I just wish that the media would focus on how positive being disabled can be. Just once would be nice.

So as you watch the stream of stories over this Paralympic period, try not to be sucked into the feeling that everyone has in some way beaten the worst thing that could ever happen to them. I mean if they weren’t disabled they wouldn’t be at the games, they’d be at home watching them on the TV and missing out on the chance to represent their country in a global sporting event. Disability can be a positive thing and if more people believed this then if it ever came into their lives they might be able to cope better, recover quicker and rebuild their life to become better than it was pre-disability.

Right got that off my chest. I’m currently dying my hair ready for the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies tomorrow. Got to look good, even if I am one of 4000. If you see a red head in a chair who is out of time… it’s probably me!

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Busy, Busy, Busy!!!!

Hi Everyone.

Sorry for going quiet recently. I’m crazy busy at the minute, getting ready for the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies. I can’t say any more, as we all want to keep the secret, but it’s going to be huge. I’m also writing a series of pieces for Time Out about the games, so watch out for those.

On top of that I have an article on the rehearsals in the next issue of Disability Now.

Anyway, the picture above is some of the great people I have met and am working with. So make sure you are glued to Channel 4 on August 29th.

I’m swatting up on Wheelchair Rugby, as I will be presenting the in-game coverage at the arena. So if you’ve got tickets to see this high octane sport, see you there. Can’t wait.

Normal service will be resumed once the games end.

Mik

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The Upload begins….

I am currently at the start of a marathon encoding session, with a pile of old VHS tapes filled with some of the programs I recorded for TV. I thought I’d lost them, but my Mum found them all in the loft of our family home. It’s weird experience watching yourself from over twenty years ago. I never really watched myself when these went out, as it made me cringe with embarrassment, so having to sit and watch hours and hours of TV where a younger version of me smiles out of my TV screen fills me with a myriad of emotions.

The craziest thing, other than how young I look, is the fact the I have so many hours of TV footage with disabled people in it. Think of today’s schedules and we are invisible, unless it’s some kind of stare at the freaks type program (mentioning no names). This series of clips from Beat That really shows how far backwards we have gone. Beat That was a prime time kids series on C4 that got millions of viewers per week, yet it was fronted by a wheelchair user and had a mixture of kids, some disabled, some not. The disabled thing wasn’t really mentioned in the publicity or made a big deal of, and C4 was proud of the fact that their first kids series was fully inclusive without banging on about it. This was the future for TV. Disabled people would just be part of what you saw on your goggle box. They were really ahead of the game… so far ahead that no one has caught up, even today. Not even C4 themselves.

Actually that’s not really true, CBBC regularly has disabled kids on some of their shows and doesn’t make a feature of it. But they are the only ones. The second series of Beat That was transmitted in 1992, so it’s exactly 20 years ago yet there are still very few disabled people disabled people on our TV screens at all. Even if there is a change in the representation of disabled people on our screens in the next few months, with the Paralympic coverage, it will only be catching up to the place we were at two decades ago. Why did the TV industry drop the ball in such a big way? I wish I knew. I do know that for someone who was one of the best known disabled people in the media, I suddenly found it impossible to find work around the year 2000. Now everyone seems obsessed with New Talent, but most of the people that are discovered during the many talent searches that have taken place since Beat That went out ended up being ignored by the industry.

I think it is really important that everyone remembers that not that long ago disabled people were on our screens. I mean between Beat That and the BBC disability show From The Edge I alone was on almost every week. And there were quite few other well known faces too. Whatever does come along in the next few years, we mustn’t forget that we are only playing catch up.

Over the next few days I plan to put up some of my music stuff too, and if you think the TV industry doesn’t like disabled people you wait until I tell you about the horrors I witnessed from music types! Stay Tuned Folks!

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What The F**k? or Has The World Of TV Gone Mad?

I have just seen an advert for a new Channel 5 show featuring Tamara Ecclestone Billion Dollar Girl and find myself mystified as to who the hell watches this crap. At a time of recession, where the government is slashing the services and benefits of those at the bottom of the heap, who really wants to see a “reality” show about a spoilt little rich girl? Why would any TV company think that this is the right time to make such a show?

Last weekend I compared at the Hardest Hit Rally in Brighton, where a large number of disabled people came out to make their voices heard about how the government’s policy of cutting benefits is really effecting them and making their lives incredibly difficult. I heard many people talk about their worries and panic regarding how the cuts and changes will make it impossible continue to live independent and happy lives. Speaking to many of the people there I discovered facts about the proposed changes to those benefits awarded to disabled people and some of them made no sense. One shocking change is that the Mobility part of DLA, or the new PIP, will stop at the age of 64. Now what actually happens to people with mobility issues at the age of 64 that means they no longer need help with getting around is beyond me. I would have thought that many people, even non-disabled people, will end up becoming worse at getting around as they get older and so be entitled to more financial help not less… or none.

But then that is what is really behind these changes and cuts. It’s not making the benefits system fairer or target those who really need it, it’s just a way of saving money. As we now live in a society where the number of older people is growing massively, any payment that goes towards helping people who develop problems with mobility will end up being paid to more and more people who really are entitled to it. Oh dear, that will cost us more… what shall we do? Just get rid of the benefit, not caring if this means more and more people are left in real financial difficulty and loose their independence. (I feel at this point I should mention that many people who receive the mobility payment put it towards getting a Motability hire car. Motability is one of the biggest fleet car companies in the UK and plays a massive role in keeping the UK car industry afloat. With out it countless jobs will go, damaging our economy hugely) And that’s just one of the changes that will have a real effect on people who do not have much money to start with.

Now maybe that would be OK if we lived in a society where everyone was poor or at least feeling the effects of recession, but it is criminal that while some are living in fear about how they will be able to afford to live others are so rich they can throw money away. How can it be OK that billionaires are out buying massive yachts, ridiculous sports cars and house after house costing huge sums that they only live in for a few days a year when others are terrified about being able to heat their home this winter? Ms Ecclestone is currently redecorating a mansion in Kensington that is worth 45 million pounds, so she will never have to worry about making ends meet will she? Yes I know I’m a rabid lefty, and so obviously this huge disparity in wealth offends me but even if you don’t think there is something wrong with the rich being so rich while others freeze, surely you do see that making a TV show about the rich spoilt daughter of one the those billionaires is in bad taste?

As well as the timing and subject, the thing that really grinds my gears is that the star of this show is already super wealthy, yet she will be getting paid for the show and will earn even more money because of the publicity she will receive from it. We already have the awful Made In Chelsea on Channel 4, filled with vacuous rich kids hamming it up for our “entertainment” but Billion Dollar Girl is a step too far. I for one will not be watching this waste of time and have no idea who will.

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Proud to be a Freak!

One of my favourite shows on TV at the minute is C4’s Seven Dwarves. When I saw it advertised I thought I was going to hate it, but it is probably the best example of this kind of TV I have ever seen. Normally “Freak” TV focuses on what is so different about it’s stars, but Seven Dwarves flips that on it’s head. Most of the time you are watching the lives of seven performers, their friends and family and only occasionally are you reminded that they are “different”. I really think that all TV production companies that are commissioned to make a show like this should be forced to watch Seven Dwarves to see how it should be done.

Another reason why I think it is so good, is that it really proves the Social Model of Disability. To anyone who does know what that is, it’s a way of examining disability that states that we are not disabled by our conditions or differences but by the way the society disables us. I’ll explain using little old me as an example. I cannot walk due to a spinal collapse caused by a childhood cancer. So in medical terms I am a paraplegic due to a partial spinal injury, through complications caused by an Post Natal Adrenal Neuroblastoma, that confines me to a wheelchair permanently. But the Social Model states that by using a wheelchair I am able to live life exactly the same I would have if I could walk, barred only by environmental barriers such as steps, uneven pavements, lack of lifts and accessible toilets. If the world I lived in was designed to be fully accessible then I would not really be disabled. The Seven Dwarves live in a normal house, and use aids to be able to access it’s facilities. Thus they are not disabled by their difference within an environment that they have adapted to suit their needs. It’s only when they enter the outside world that barriers can cause difficulties. If the wider society understood this, then maybe we could actually start working together to build a world that was totally inclusive. This would mean that disability would not be such a big thing and we’d all be able to live equally. Sure there are elements of being disabled that are medical. I have chronic pain as I have some nerves trapped in my back, and the Seven Dwarves speak about some medical hassles that arise form time to time, but everyone has illnesses and health issues. It’s just ours are made into a bigger deal by being labelled as disabled.

The thing that shocks me the most as I watch Seven Dwarves is how much the public seems to laugh at them and ridicule them to their faces. Us “freaks” are expected to put up with this kind of thing, even by people who would be furious if they were at the sharp end. My wife has a big scar on her right arm and when we first met she would regularly get shouted at in the street by people offended that she dared to go out in public without it being covered. Many of these people were from ethnic minorities, yet they never seemed to see the irony that they were shouting at a person in the street about a difference that only went skin deep. I mean my wife’s scar impairs her abilities in no way at all. The only time it impacts on her life is when people make comments about it. I also regularly get comments and negative reactions, yet really I look like a bloke sitting down. The way that everyone on the planet does when they sit down to eat. But the wheelchair seems to make it open season. I must admit I tend to react in a more openly upset way than my wife, and it did make me happy that the stars of SD also react in a proactive manner. Tee hee.

What amazes me is that people think that acting like this is acceptable behaviour. More amazing is that the next generation are continuing to be arses. My nephew was diagnosed with Luekeamia when he was 5. He is now 13 and has totally cured. Yet he has been bullied at school by kids telling him he is weak and inferior as he had cancer. When he told me, and fellow cancer survivor, I nearly drove up to his school had showed the little shits just how inferior someone who beat cancer can be… with my fist. But apparently he had already done this, and ended up getting suspended for a week. For standing up for himself! When I was his age, kids bullied me but I used the patented Mik technique for stopping this kind of behaviour. I kicked them in the bollocks. Hard and with my metal sided caliper. They never did it again. In fact a few became good mates, if only to avoid the “leg of doom”. Yet now over 30 years later, instead of the kids bullying someone because he was different from them getting in trouble for doing something that should be unacceptable, the kid being bullied and standing up for himself was punished. If that’s the way schools deal with this sort of thing, then God knows what kind of world we will be living in when they grow up.

Before I go, I shall explain the title of this blog. I told my nephew that he was not weak and inferior. In fact he was strong and superior. He had beaten an illness that kills many of the people it touches. That goes for all of us who have been touched by illness, disability and difference. We have the strength to fight our conditions, whether we win or not, but we also have to exist in a world that causes our disabilities and differences to impact on our lives, and we’re expected to put with it. At the minute we are being told we should all be going out and getting jobs and contributing to a society that still thinks we are less than them, and gets away with telling us so… to our faces. All I know is that I have always been proud of who I am. My disability has shaped the person I am, and I like me. I am disabled and bloody proud of it. So up yours, all you perfect people. All the same, all healthy and “perfect”. I rather be me any day!

I am a Freak and Proud!Link

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Showreel-tastic

I spent the weekend encoding and uploading a pile of old video clips from my TV presenting career, as well as editing a new showreel. I’ve now got that online too, and here it is….

What was really weird was having to sit and watch myself presenting, especially as the clips span a period of nearly ten years. I normally never watch myself, but I’m kind of glad I did. Not only because there is no way I will ever get any work with out a showreel but because it gave me a chance to actually realize I wasn’t half bad. Now I won’t blow my own trumpet too much. Just not me, but I do think that perhaps I was a bit too British in my past reticence at actually watching to work I did. Yes, of course I was a bit embarrassed at seeing yourself the way others see you and as I am always sure I am in need of a diet, I thought it was easier to do the whole “I never watch what do darling” thing that so many media types do. Now I have had to watch myself back as I coping hour of VHS tapes onto my computer, not only did I like what I saw but I also could see what I was doing wrong. If only I had made myself watch in the past I would have got even better at my job.

But this isn’t what I wanted to blog about. Something that struck me while I watched the most recent of my box of VHS tapes was how almost all of it revolved around disability based stories. Yes of the stuff I did with From The Edge had to be, as it was a disability magazine program, but also the news stuff, and some stuff I didn’t upload. But it was really good stuff. Fun items that would have been enjoyable to watch whether or not the viewer was disabled. Some pieces were thought provoking, some just light, some campaigning and some very political. All really good. Well written, filmed, edited and presented… watch it, don’t get too big headed there. But most of all what struck me was the language. It was so great to watch a good few hours of TV about disability and not hear “brave”, “courageous”, “tragic” or any other of the standard disability words… other than in the two items on the use of language of course.

It crazy to think that the oldest of these items was filmed in 1999, yet the media industry has gone backwards in it’s portrayal of disability. With the Paralymics coming up, and all the media gearing up for a frenzy of coverage I just hope they remember how well it used to be done. Whatever each Paralympic sports person achieves, they aren’t brave or courageous. Just bloody good at sport, after years of training and effort. Let’s hope we manage to get to enjoy coverage that avoids the standard clichés in 2012. And if anyone involved in making that coverage needs any help or guidance, take a look at my showreel. And if you need a presenter, give my agent a ring… please!

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Epithany

I am writing this at 5.15am after laying in bed watching the green numbers on my bedside clock inexorably click forward for many hours, my head full of thoughts. I found myself unable to sleep after watching the Channel 4 program Katie: My Beautiful Friends, which I was looking forward to(see my last blog for why). However much I wanted to enjoy the show and hoped it would play a part in changing the attitudes towards people who are scarred, the show fell short thanks yet again to the use of language. The old clichés of bravery, courage and inspiration peppered the script, and as I lay there considering why C4 had gone down this road yet again, what I could do to explain why this kind of language is so damaging and who I could contact in the media to make my voice heard, I had a realisation.

Suddenly I not only grasped the reason why this kind of language had such an effect on disabled people but how the use of language tied our minority group to all the other minorities out there and how charities played a massive part in continuing this use of damaging terminology. I have already stated how language effects that way disabled people are thought of in society. The word brave, for instance, when used to describe some who is disabled leads the non disabled to a series of preconceptions about disabled people, their lives and what it is like to be disabled. It also creates fear that if they faced a disability, they might not find the level of bravery within themselves to be able to cope. Both these thought processes lead to a feeling of otherness around disability, and create barriers. As well as that it forces disabled people to either fit into the brave category, and so if they appear to be so by achieving some amazing feat or battling through with a smile or holding down a job then they could be described as a success, but if they do not do any of the above, not only are they not brave but they are also a failure. Language like brave has no room for explanation or exploration of experience. Disabled people face many barriers to opportunity and equality, and these can prevent people from achieving the acts of bravery and inspiration that the media craves from super cripples. In truth this is real experience of disabled people in our society.

I know that I have on occasion done things and acted in such a way that I could be described as brave and inspirational. In fact as I laid there in bed I found that if a described my life in the right way almost every moment of my life could become an inspirational story of courage in the face of adversity and triumph over tragedy. Actually you could do so for every living being on the face of the planet. Not just disabled people but everyone. We all battle against problems, we all face adversity and we all have our victories, no matter how small. You could use the language that is now used to describe disabled people to describe anyone. Especially other minorities. Surely aren’t all ethnic minorities brave and inspirational to exist and succeed in society made up mainly of white people, many of whom are hostile towards people from other races? Doesn’t every member of the LGBT community battle courageously a society of straights that see them as weird and different, and even as wrong and dangerous? Aren’t religious followers inspiring to exist in a society that is turning it’s back on faith? But then surely aren’t those who do not believe also an inspiration as they reject millennia of doctrine? Even though all of these statements could be considered as true, we very rarely hear them used. The media would find itself in hot water if it did so, especially if it did it time and time again.

So why does the media feel it can get away with it when it comes to disability? I think the reasons are two fold. One reason is that there are not many disabled people working in the media at the minute. The majority of people in the media are able bodied, but more than that they are even more obsessed with perfection than society at large. We are always being told how the media plays a role in creating issues with young people around body image due to portrayal and have been recently reminded of the pressure on presenters to stay young looking, so it is obvious how they see and cover those of us who are obviously different. The media also is driven by the need to create stories. How many meetings have I been in where the air is thick with terms like “narrative” and “jeopardy”? They are so focused on whether the story has media impact they ignore it’s wider impact. But then again, how would they know? In an industry with so few disabled people in it, then how will the majority of able bodied media types know what damage something as seemingly innocent as language can do? We all need to make our voices heard about how unhappy the use of this kind of language makes us. We all know what happens if TV presenters use the wrong kind of language about another minority, so why aren’t we kicking up a stink when it happens to us?

I have found recently that the few disabled people that are actually working in the media find it hard to question the way the media portrays disability. Partly as they are ignored, but also because raising the issue can risk their jobs. I know how unpopular I have made myself in the industry on this issue, and know how that has impacted on my career. Maybe if we all shouted as loudly as I do on occasion then we might nip the current slide backwards in the bud. But I digress.

The second reason why words like brave, courageous and inspirational are used so often around disabled people is that this kind of language actually helps some people and institutions. Let’s face it, however much last night’s show was about the issues faced by people with scars it was also about someone trying to start up a charity. Charity needs donations to exist, and no one is going to give money to someone if they are perceived as being just like everyone else. If disabled people are portrayed as either brave and courageous, and so deserve charity as they are so inspirational, or tragic and pathetic, and so desperately need charity and support, then the cash will roll in. Charity is big, big business and charities that help disabled people are major players in this massive industry. So there is an incentive to continue the use of language that dis-empowers disabled people, all in the name of income. I must also admit that during my years in the media, many of my contemporaries have actually started up their own charities. They all claimed to want to help disabled people, and they also felt that it was time that this support should be provided by us and not for us. I have always felt uneasy about going down this path, partly because I feel that there should be no need for charity and partly because I mistrust the motivations behind such an act. However much I want to be believe the good intentions given I can’t help feeling that this is in some way just a route to a more secure income.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel all charities are wrong and evil. I am a patron of the Neuroblastoma Society, who raise money to research into the cancer I had as a child and support those families touched by it, and of the National Association of Bikers with Disabilities, who help get disabled people into biking. I also work closely with the Alliance For Inclusive Education as I believe that all children should attend mainstream schooling, as I myself did. What I do feel is that charities do need to play a more vocal role in fighting to ensure the correct type of language is used when discussing disability. They have to start using their financial muscle and political clout to explain to society as a whole why the language used to describe disabled people can be a major barrier to us, and in turn to everyone. Let’s face it, able bodied people are just us the day before the accident or illness. Disabled people are the only minority to exist in every other group out there. If you get it right for us, then you get it right for every one.

Right, that’s got that off my chest. Back to bed.

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Perfection in Imperfection.

Tomorrow night Channel 4 airs the first in a new series called Katie, My Beautiful Friends following Katie Piper, the TV presenter who has facially scarred after an acid attack, as she meets young people who also been scarred. I haven’t seen the show so I can comment on it yet, but this is a subject close to my heart. My wife Diane was scarred after she was scalded as a young child. She was burnt all over her right arm and her left side, and after a series of surgeries to ensure she could still use her arm was left with a scar that runs from her shoulder to her hand with other scars on her back and bum.

I met her when she was 18 at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, and fell in love with her straight away. It took me 6 years to get her to go out with me, mainly due to my crap chat up technique, and we have been together for nearly 16 years. She is one of the most amazing people I have ever met, both internally and externally. She is as beautiful on the outside as she is in on the inside. If I am truthful, I saw her scar on that first night at the Ballroom and knew by the way she had it exposed for all to see that she was going to be the girl for me. Not only was it beautiful scar (I must admit I do find scars sexy) but I could tell from the way she held herself that she was a proud strong woman. There was no apology or desire to hide her scar. She defiantly had it on show, and I knew it was to dare someone to comment on it.

I was right, and as I got to know her I witnessed just how weird people can be about scars. I have been disabled since birth, and thought I had seen it all until I met Diane. My first experience of just how hateful people can be was when a woman started screaming at Diane to hide her scar, from the other side of the street! This woman was offended that Diane was walking around with a her scarred skin on show, but what really shocked my was that this woman was black. For some reason I thought she would have understood how awful it is be discriminated against due to something only skin deep. But it seemed that anyone might feel they could react to seeing a scar in ways that changed the way I saw the world. Once a homeless man, who was sleeping rough in Soho, stinking of booze and urine with a dog on a string and who was also blind in one eye shouted out to Diane asking why didn’t she just chop off such an ugly arm. The fact it worked perfectly didn’t matter. Time and time again she would be the target of anger and vitriol purely because she did not hide her scar. Apparently this was nothing compared to the reactions of people to her scar when Diane was a child. What kind of person would try to make a child ashamed of being scarred?

But Diane was not only not ashamed, she was proud. She trained through out her youth to be a ballet dancer, and never let her scar stop her. Not only did she dance but she also acted in plays and films, and after we got together, she started modelling. She appeared in photo shoots for major magazines, fashion companies and publicity campaigns. We started up a band called Erotics, and began playing gigs all over the UK. She was the lead singer and was a superb front person. No one even commented on our female lead singer having a scar (although they did freak about me being a wheelchair user – so I have no idea what that says about the music industry).

What was great however, was that we gradually noticed a change in the way people reacted to her scar. Slowly it went from people reacting badly to truly positive. It became almost trendy. She did a fashion show, and a make up artist actually flew from Holland just so he could do Diane’s make up. I can honestly say it has been years since some even mentioned Diane’s scars, either to her face or privately to me.

I must admit while I am pleased that TV is actually doing something to confront the way people who have been scarred are treated in society, I feel it is really sad that other people are still finding themselves confronting attitudes that we thought had gone the way of other discrimination. I just hope that this show helps other people gain the strength and confidence that oozes out of my wonderful wife.

Personally I feel that only those who could be described as imperfect are perfect. I have mixed with all manner of so called “Beautiful People” in my life, and have found them all to be wanting. But not only is my scarred wife a fantastic, talented, stunning person on the inside, but her scar makes her even more beautiful on the outside. Like a work of art created by accident, medicine and nature. That is how I feel we should see all scars and deformity. True perfection lies in the imperfections.

Katie – My Beautiful Friends
The Katie Piper Foundation
Mik Scarlet Music Projects – Full Back Catalogue

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