Cybernetics – I explore the Could, Should and Would of the World of Tech

Photo of the 70's toy Six Million Dollar Man

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: “We have the technology” – In this part I find out what cybernetic technology can currently offer and what may be around the corner.

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.

Disability Now Podcast: Bionics Special – To round up the up the series I took part in the monthly DN podcast to discuss the issue. It’s a great listen.

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.

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Huffington Round Up

Oh dear, I’ve been rather remiss on my website updates recently but I can blame it on being too busy actually writing stuff for publication. My Huffington Post column has been a hive of activity so if you haven’t seen them be ready for a lot of reading. Trust me though, they cover lots of topics and are all a fun read.

I say fun, but the first is more serious. As part of the Huff’s campaign to get more disabled people in modelling that they have run throughout February together with Models of Diversity, a campaigning group I wholeheartedly support, I wrote something exploring how the lack of representation in the media and fashion worlds mirror a wider issue around inclusion. While a serious story it included a snap of me modelling way back in 1996, when I was the first disabled model to do catwalk at LFW. Enjoy – Have We Really Said Goodbye to the Back of the Bus?

Following in the more political vein, I next explored my worries about the government’s proposed Housing Bill and how some elements of it might negatively impact on disabled people. It followed some rather unpleasant exchanges on Twitter, but then what do you expect from a society that has painted disabled people as scroungers? What was most funny was I was raising an issue around Pay To Stay which only effects those working, yet my concerns led to Twitter Twats going for the old “you disabled people with all your benefits” line. I won’t say much more, as you can get the full skinny from reading the article – Is It Really So Hard To Understand?

After so much serious stuff I needed a bit of light relief. So after a wonderful night at the launch of Graeae Theatre Company’s new artistic collaboration with the Central Illustration Agency (yes they are called the CIA!) I felt the need to tell the world about – Reframing The Myth. Hope the review drives you to see the exhibition as it is wonderful.

Talking of wonderful, another event that I just had to tell the world about was my taking part in the Southbank Centre’s Dahl In A Day reading of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, as part of their Imagine Kid’s Festival. I total joy to be asked and to see so many children transfixed as I told Miss Honey’s Story.

Lastly I had the honour of getting a sneak peak at the new Gary Numan documentary, Android In La La Land. As a life long Numanoid, it was a real joy to see the human side of Mr Numan. It’s going to be a must see for any music fan, but as it explores his recent diagnosis of Asperger’s it also will be o much interest for anyone who has been touched by Neurodiversity. Or if you just like great, up beat, life affirming music docs.

So that was it. I’ve also had loads published in other outlet’s but that’s another post. For now, enjoy reading and I promise to be more conscientious on the website from now on. Is that a resolution for 2016? Yes!

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Wright Stuff – Tastic!

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!

Mik holding up a Wright Stuff mug with panel members behind him

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.

Mik with the Wright Stuff panelIt was  real honour to appear on the show, especially with the panel of the amazing columnist Yasmin Alibhai-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!)

Mik Scarlet wit Matthew WrightYou 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!

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Getting Sexy

It never rains but it pours, and this month is nothing different. But I must never complain about being busy eh?

Today two videos what I wrote and presented went live online, and I must say I am rather proud of them. They are part of a special feature run by the Wellcome Trust’s online science magazine Mosaic on the subject of disability and sexuality, written by journalist Katherine Quarmby. I was interviewed by Katherine and this led me to meet the Mosaic team, which in turn led to recording the videos.

The first explodes the top ten myths around sex and disability. I really feel it is vital that society re-examines the way it thinks about disabled people and sex, if for no other reason than anyone can become disabled… but they don’t suddenly change how they feel about sex. It’s a normal part of life and pretty much everyone can enjoy a sex life, disabled or not. Society needs to move away from this freaky image of disability and sex. And I for one am doing something about that. So this what lies behind the first of the videos…

The second video came out of discussions during the filming of the first. I was explaining about a technique I helped develop that allows disabled people with loss of sensation or function in the sex organs to regain the ability to orgasm. The crew was intrigued and so we shot a quick clip explaining how to allow yourself to create orgasmic zones anywhere on your body…. enjoy!

I hope you agree that as well as being informative they are loads of fun. I would like to thanks Barry J Gibb and Chrissie Giles at Mosaic and Katherine Q for getting the ball rolling.

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Mik’s Tips Hits The Air

Recently I read an article about young disabled people using vlogging to highlight their experiences. I have been thinking about doing the same, despite not being anywhere near young anymore, but could never really nail down what to talk about. However as I now give advice on Enhance The UK‘s Love Lounge it occurred to me that this would be the perfect medium to dole out my pearls of wisdom around love, life and confidence. So Mik’s Tips was born.

After fighting with Adobe Premiere for a day, I finally got a product that fitted my hopes. Not a slick super professional job, but more a homage to late night TV from the 90’s like Get Stuffed. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen… I give you the inaugural episode of Mik’s Tips. In this episode I explore my methods of turning rejection into a good thing… yes it can be done.

And remember, if you think I can help with a problem or issue you are having please drop me a line through the Love Lounge. You never know, your question might even end up on a future Mik’s Tips!

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#2fingersto2pounds Twitter Campaign!

Mik tells Lord Freud exactly what he thinks of his comments!

Mik tells Lord Freud exactly what he thinks of his comments!

Unless you’ve been hiding under a stone, or just don’t own a TV, radio or computer, you must know about the government welfare minister Lord Freud and his recent comments about some disabled people not being worth the National Minimum Wage. In response to this Shape Arts have started a Twitter campaign called #2fingersto2pounds, and I wholeheartedly support it. So here is my contribution, which I created using Photoshop. I only say that as it is another skill that I would charge considerably more for per hour than the NMW, let alone the £2 per hour that Lord Freud stated could be paid to some disabled people.

I also wrote a column in the Huffington Post which has been setting Twitter alight it seems. Always nice when something you write is so well received. Here is a transcript of it…

How It Feels To Be Worth Less

On the day that the Labour party are calling for Lord Freud to either resign or be sacked, and when the campaigning groups DPAC and Occupy are holding a rally asking for the same in central London, a rally that ironically I cannot attend as I am working, I felt I needed to write something about the whole affair. At first I found myself writing just about the events of last week but I expect that if you don’t know them then you won’t really care about the ramblings of one wheelchair using writer, so instead I will try to explain how I have been left feeling and what I see as the truth is behind the headlines.

I should explain that I have experienced the attitude that my work is worth less than non-disabled people in my own professional career. Back in the late 1980s I broke into the television industry as a presenter. Very soon I was being hailed as the first of a new generation of disabled talent that was highlighting how forward thinking the industry was, and by the early 1990s I had been hired to front a TV series for Channel 4. My wages did not turn out to be anywhere near as huge as I expected, and I put this down to the media hyping how much TV personalities got paid. To a working class boy from Luton my wages were great, as I was bringing home three times the pay packet my father earned at his job in a factory. The series was a smash hit, acclaimed all over the world and even won an Emmy, with my input being hailed as one of the reason for this award by the committee who voted for our little show. Everyone involved was over the moon. At a party to celebrate a Channel 4 exec let slip how much the show’s director was being given as a bonus for each of the shows in the series. It worked out that I was being paid 0.1% of this bonus. So the next time I met with the production company I raised the issue of a raise in my fee, and was promptly let go. The very next show I worked on I was paid four times as much per day and I earned per week on the award winning show, and the company involved in that show told me that even this was cheap. So I had basically been screwed and while it could be laid at the feet of my useless agent, I am sure it is also because there has always been at attitude that disabled people are worth less.

My good friend actor and presenter Julie Fernandez, the first disabled actor to play a long term character in a UK soap, also had this experience but her’s was far more blunt. She also discovered she was on a lesser rate when working on a TV drama. When she raised the issue she was told, “well you are lucky to be in work”. So no raise for Julie either then! In fact, I know for a fact that since I was hailed as the next big thing on the disabled star front there have been at least three more such fledgling disabled celebs. All of them also tell stories of their star falling as soon as they began asking for the usual level of pay a non-disabled person might receive.

I had hoped that this attitude had died out in 21st Century Britain, but the last week has proved this not the case. While this really did sadden me, it was the fact that as I added my voice to the #2fingersto2pounds Twitter campaign started by Shape Arts I began receiving tweets from disabled people in support of Lord Freud that broke my heart. I read each of them with a growing sense of sadness. I know that many parents of disabled children might think they understand what is means to be disabled, sadly a large number of them cannot shake the impression that disability equals being worth less. It always cuts me to the core when I see that concept has rubbed off on their children. Society has always made us feel lesser and excluded, but our parents should give us the tools to know this isn’t true. My Mother raised me to not only feel equal to my “able boded” school mates but to know I was superior, as I fought and won many battles that they could never even imagine let alone triumph over. It might sound rough blaming the feelings of inferiority of many disabled people on their parents, but remember this whole affair began after one such parent asked Lord Freud a question about paying learning disabled people less than the National Minimum Wage.

Disabled people must not believe that taking less than the NMW will give them a “step up on the ladder”, as expressed by @BhalaSadaBlog in one twitter discussion. Instead it will turn us all into cheap labour, and if we ever dare to ask for what we are worth, even after we have proved ourselves by working to the highest of standards, we will be let go and replaced with another younger disabled person also keen to grab that first step. This £2/hour approach will also devalue all disabled workers, as why pay full whack for a disabled employee when you can get one of the same for so much less? We must not believe what we are told by nearly everyone around us. We are not lessened due to our impairments, we are as good (if not better) than those who have yet to experience disability. Our labour is worth just the same as anyone else’s. Don’t let society carve into to stone what we know to be wrong by allowing this opinion to go unchallenged. So if you agree with me, join the campaign and stick up #2fingersto2pounds.

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Huffington Frenzy and other stories.

 

Mik Scarlet sitting at his desk

Chained to my desk

I have been a busy boy recently.

As August drew to a close, I found myself reflecting on what it means to be getting old. I had just celebrated my 49th birthday, and as my parents were told I wouldn’t make it past the age of 5 the fact that I am nearly 50 really hit home. So I wrote it all down in a piece called Aren’t You Lucky? or Another Birthday, Another Miracle.

Something that I really enjoyed was reviewing some of the shows put on as part of the Unlimited Festival at London’s Southbank at the start of September. In case you missed them here they are;

The Dinner Party Revisited – Katherine Araniello’s fun filled anarchic video performance show.

Guide Gods – Claire Cunningham’s exploration of religion and disability using dance, music and spoken word.

Let Me Stay – Julie McNamara’s one woman show about her Mother and the impact that Dementia has had on her the wider family.

I’ve also written a round up review for PosAbility magazine, that will be in the next issue.

My monthly column in Disability Now covered a recent trip to sunny Margate, and I had another arts review published on the Huffington about the wonderful Penny Pepper’s show Lost In Spaces.

Just as I thought it was time to focus on a series I am currently writing on the topic of bionics (perfect for someone who dreamed of being the Six Million Dollar Man as a child) I found that I had to put finger to key board in reply to an article in The Guardian called “Don’ts aren’t working: Here’s five things you can say to someone with a disability” as I so disagreed with it. As I run training sessions which revolve around techniques for both discussing disability and how to talk to disabled people I thought the piece was troublesome to say the least and so I gave my views on the issue in Cute… But Wrong!

On top of that I carried out some training for Network Rail up in York, and shall be back in October.

Phew, it’s been a busy few weeks. But there can be no rest for the freelancer, and so I shall leave you and get back to work!

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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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Shrink Wrap this weekend on BBC3CR

The face for radio?

A face for radio?

This Sunday I am appearing on the BBC 3 Counties radio show Shrink Wrap, chatting about my experiences of education. The show is all about Inclusive Education and SEN provision, so I went off to Putteridge High School, my old high, to chat with the students and staff about what it is like to go to a mainstream school if you have an impairment. I was the first disabled kid to attend Putteridge and I know how much it set me up to be the man I am today. The biggest thing I gained from my time at school is the knowledge that just because I have an impairment doesn’t mean I am any less than anyone else, just different. One thing’s for sure… I like being different!

Mikat BBC3CR with Chetna and Toby

In The Studio – Mik at BBC3CR with Chetna and Toby

It is a rather serious subject, and as I sat in the studio listening to Chetna Kang and Toby Friedner, the programs regular hosts, chat with experts about SEN provision and the forthcoming changes on how it works I felt very sorry for parents of disabled kids today. In the program I chat with my Mum to find out what it was like for her way back when I was tiny, but it’s nothing to the hops parents have to jump through now. Typically when it was my turn to join in the atmosphere cheers up to the max, but even though I do like a bit of humour I do hope my key message comes through. I truly believe that we need to work towards an education system that allows everyone to attend the same school, with the chance to study to whatever the child#s ability level is and that allows children to grow up understanding that disability is just part of life. Let’s hope that it happens one day eh?

To hear the show, either tune in to BBC3CR on 95.5FM or 103.8FM or listen via i-Player.

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New Article Round-Up

Here’s a round up of some of my recent articles.

First is a  piece on Wheelchair Dance in Disability Now, as it doesn’t matter whether you live on wheels, legs or both you can cut a rug on the dancefloor.

Then I have an article on sex and disability published on Miss Alice Gray‘s website. It’s the first of a two parter, with the second art being more of a “how-to” guide to sexiness and disability.

I have also joined the writing team at Disability Horizons as an occasional contributor. My first story for them was about dressing up for the party season if you are disabled, called Festive Fashion, but it works for all times of year. You know me, I never need a reason to dress to impress… or shock! The next article for DH is on the recent casting at the BBC for the cream of disabled acting talent which asks Is It Time For Our Close Up? Ages back I wrote my views on Assisted Suicide, so if you missed it maybe check it out.

You can also check out my column in PosAbility magazine at their online portal. It’s not the most recent, but keep checking back as they update it regularly.

So that about it for now. Got loads of new articles coming up, so I’ll keep you all posted.

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