#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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Right to Die? Right to Live is better!

Yet again the press is filled with the story of a campaigner who are going to court to end the terrible suffering of their life as a disabled person. This it is Paul Lamb who is claiming that his life is should be ended at the hands of the medical profession, as he feels he no longer wants to go on but is too disabled to end his life himself.

I am so saddened that another person feels that they have the right to even consider taking this case to court, whatever their disability or condition. I keep hoping that our society will start to see that if we do go down this road, we are starting out on a very slippery slope. Once the law has been changed to allow doctors and medical professions to assist a person to die, where will it end? I know from own experience that some doctors see someone like myself as having a “poor quality of life”, no matter how much I have tried to make them see how wonderful and fulfilling your life can be when you are disabled.  But we never see that anywhere in our media, not even when the Paralympians were going for gold. It’s always how amazing we are in spite of our disabilities, not thanks to them. And you never see anyone who feels like me, that becoming disabled was the making of them. The constant barrage of  negativity creates a stereotype of disability that feeds into the psyche of everyone, especially those people who suddenly find themselves with a new level of ability. Something that is really important about Mr Lamb’s case is that he is not terminally ill. No he has a static disability, and therefore is not being “saved” from a ever growing level of illness or incapacity but rather from his feeling that things just cannot get better for him and people like him.

I know, as while I have been disabled from birth, when I became a wheelchair user at the age of 15 I really thought my life was over. I just couldn’t see how I would live, work or find love. I imagined the kind of life which Mr. Lamb describes when he talks about his own. Yet this is not what happened. Instead, with the support of  family, friends and many others, as well as taking advantage of all of services that the state provides, I began to build a new future for myself.  Within a few years I had started out on the road to becoming the man I am today, with the amazing life I live. I now look back on my newly acquired level of disability as a truly positive thing, the day my life started for real. I truly believe that everyone could learn to feel this way, if they were given all the assistance, guidance and support that is required to help people come through what is a hugely difficult process.

This is what Mr Lamb really needs. Not a change in the law that would open a can of worms for all of us, whether we have a disease, disability or are elderly… or eventually squinty, ugly or just undesirable. No he needs help! From watching his interview on the BBC earlier this evening, it is obvious to me that he is depressed. Not only is this a normal effect of learning to live with a  disability, and I myself went through a serious depression early on in my life on wheels, but it is also caused by chronic pain, another issue that Mr Lamb complains of suffering. Yet again this is something I fully understand as I also have long term chronic pain  as part of my disability. So I really do understand why he feels this way, but I just can’t support his quest for assisted suicide. I would instead want to see a campaign that ensured that people like Mr Lamb were supported to have the kind of life he wishes he could have, which is possible no matter what society might believe.

We must stop always focusing on the negative stories of the very few people who are finding it difficult to cope and instead expose the myriad of positive stories our there of happy, contented disabled people. It will be of benefit for all of us, disabled or not, and will go a long way to changing the lives of so many people who are having such problems with building a new life after coming to a disability. The thing that saddens (and worries) me the most is that this campaign coincides with the big government push to cut costs and services. To me this is not by accident. Why spend all that money on creating a society that ensures that disabled people can live fulfilling, happy, independent lives when you can assist them out of this world and save all that lovely cash for the fit healthy non-disabled? Combine this with the terrible way disabled people have been portrayed as drains on society or fraudsters and it is a perfect storm for this story.

So please, everyone who reads this; stop and think. Next time you see someone begging to be “put out of their misery”, no matter how much you might buy into the stereotype that this must be the only human thing to do, please understand that you are entirely wrong. The only true act of humanity would be to stand beside them, support them and help them through on their journey to a new understanding of what is possible for someone with a disability. If we all fight to create a world were that is the reaction to seeing people in Mr Lamb’s position then not only will they benefit, and thus become less and less common, but so will we all. Because at the end of the day the fear of how people would  cope if it happened to them fuels the public support for this campaign, and of course all non-disabled people are just disabled people the day before the accident or illness hits them. So if we could remove that fear and instead start living in the knowledge that we would all be helped to create a new, and possibly better, life, then the word “disability” would no longer have all the negative connotations that are currently associated with it.

Being disabled should never be considered a reason for a person to be put down. I just hope that one day being disabled will be something that people feel  proud about. I know I am… very.

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Paying the price for being made scapegoats.

Today two teenage boys have pleaded guilty of killing blind 85 year old Paula Castle and this has been widely reported in the press. This is such a sad story but I feel it lifts a lid on an underlying issue with our society at the minute. These two young boys felt nothing as they violently attacked this elderly person, who was obviously very frail and disabled, and even repeated their crime on the day that Mrs. Castle passed away, this time against 75 year old Rose Mohamed. But why is it that there are young people out there who have so little consideration for those who are weak and vulnerable? Many people, especially in the press who are so outraged by this kind of crime, will say it shows that society is falling apart and that we need to crack down on these types of criminals. While I do agree that tough sentencing is required for this kind of crime, I think it is vital to place some of the blame at the feet of some sections of the press who have complied with the current government’s campaign to make scapegoats out those members of our society who need assistance and support.

As a disabled person I have also been a target for young people who saw me as a soft touch. My wife and I were targeted by a group of youths when I lived in West London, which went on for some years, escalating in severity during this time and ending with me having to flee my home in fear of my life after a threat to burn my flat down. The police, while being supportive, insisted they could do nothing until something actually happened, but not wanting to wait until the flames licked around my tyres or the knife stuck out of my or my wife’s ribs, I felt that running away was the best course of action. So I gave up my fully adapted two bed flat that had been my home for years, and the friends I had in the area, and hid in a one bed un-adapted flat in my wife’s home town of Camden. It took us years to rebuild our lives, but at least we both got away alive. We had to live apart for two years after we were married as neither of our flats were suitable for us to live together in, but that is another story I feel.

Throughout this ordeal I was told by my youthful tormentors that it was “all right for me as I got loads of benefits off the state”, that I was “a drain on society” and that “people like me should be put down”. Now where would these young people get these attitudes from? Well obviously their parents, but they got them from the media, as did their charming kids. For too long now the old and disabled have been portrayed as an expense that our country can no longer afford, and that these groups get stuff that everyone else doesn’t get, and for free. If you are a poor unemployed teenager it is easy to start resenting those who society seems to be upset about due to the cost of having them as members. So the old and disabled become valid targets.

Once peer pressure alone would have stopped a teen mugging someone who was 85. I know when I was in my early teens Punk was the big thing, and while we all sauntered around in our bondage trousers with our spikey hair and our safety pins we would never have dreamed of mugging some one elderly or disabled. Not only would it have occurred to us, but even if it did our mates would have kicked the poo out of us if we dared to suggested it. But that was because even though we wanted to shock our elders and betters we still considered them as vaild members of society. We looked at those in power as the ones to blame for our problems, not the old and disabled. However much we were hated by the press and public we still had respect for our elders, even though it might not have shown.

But if you continuously hold those who are least able to defend themselves up as part of the reason why our economy is so bad, as a cost we cannot afford and as people who would be better off dead then you end up in the position we are in now. With hate crime against the disabled and elderly going up horrendously, and an attitude of jealousy and distrust becoming more and more pervasive in our society. While this is a truly tragic case, and the boys who did this crime must be punished, I do hope the press takes a moment to reflect on how their reporting and the language they use may when they discuss groups like the elderly and disabled may have played a part in creating a world where this kind of crime happens.

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Disability and Sex…. it’s not just possible, it can be amazingly amazing!!!!

Anyone who has been reading my blogs recently, as well as watching This Morning, listening to the radio or reading various newspapers who have interviewed me will know that I have strong feelings about the subject of disability and sex. But this isn’t a new thing, I began my media career working as a sex-pert on two Channel 4 Yoof shows, and have been working to champion the right for disabled people to have a sex life ever since. However, I want disabled people to treated just like the rest of society so I am dead against this current push to create special crip friendly brothels and for disabled people to get free visits to sex workers on the state. But I don’t want to only be negative on this subject and so I have written a column in this issue of Disability Now giving my tips on chatting people up, under the title of “Mik’s Rough Guide To Pulling”. It’s a humorous piece, written with my tongue firmly stuck in my check, but all the tips have worked for me. In fact I would go so far as to say that these tips have allowed me to be the sexually confident person I am today.

On top of these tips, I feel this is the time to put online an article I had published in a woman’s magazine called Scarlet (yes I got the job by ringing them up and saying “I must write for you… Scarlet in Scarlet” and they went for it). The piece outlines some of the techniques that I have used during sexual confidence workshops with people with spinal injury, but in the article I have applied the tips to the wider community. Yes I am so arrogant that I decided to give sex advice to everyone, disabled or not. But shock horror, it was really well received and was syndicated worldwide. You see I have always believed that the wider society could learn a thing or two about improving their sex life from disabled people like me, and the reaction to this article proved me right. But more importantly, it is essential for disabled people to know that not only is sex possible for them, no matter what their impairment, but it can be so good that it is better than the sex that the majority of non-disabled people have.

So whoever you are, and whether you are disabled or not take a look and see what you think. It’s very honest and open, but I have always felt that this is a topic that is so important that if I want to ensure a change in the way the world thinks about sexuality and sex and disability then I can’t only tell half the truth.

Right here goes….

WHEELIE SEXY

SEXY TIPS… FROM A SEXY CRIP!?! by Mik Scarlet

Let’s face it we don’t live in a society that thinks of disability as “sexy”. Most able-bodied people think that coming to a disability as an end to sexiness, and in a way it is. When I found myself facing a life in a wheelchair after my spine collapsed when I was 16, I could not see how I was going to form sexual relationships. Due to nerve damage I was not only left with legs that didn’t work any more, but I also had to face my future with sexy bits that while they still had full feeling (which was lucky I admit) had no motor function. Put simply I was left looking forward to a future where Mr. Wobbly stayed wobbly all the time.

I considered trying to forge relationships with men, but found being very heterosexual got in the way of that. (I still have no idea how you girls put up with stubble on a bloke’s face, and I won’t even mention the taste of a cock….urk!) So with a heavy heart I got used to the idea that I was to face a future alone.

You see I had brought into the myth that sex is all about erections and penetration. Luckily for me, this was back in the early 80’s. Thanks to the whole New Romantic fashion (of which I was a HUGE fan) it was a time when young people questioned all of the sexual stereotypes. Most of my friends turned out to be Gay or Lesbian and through their friendships I learned the truth about sex.

The main reason for sex now we have evolved beyond shagging to reproduce is pleasure. Whether it’s in a loving relationship or between ships that pass in the night, great sex should leave you sweaty, knackered, fulfilled and very happy. All of my Lesbian friends made me an Honorary Lesbian once they learned I could have no part in the penetrative act (it was a different time folks – Lesbianism was very political life choice, and all penetration was considered rape). With their help I began to see myself as a sexual being, and even ended going out with one of them for two years.

I also read every sex manual I could lay my hands on. In fact I read all manner of books that I thought might be useful if I was going to be able to please any future partners. I even went as far as to read a S.S. torture manual for the WW2 just in case I ever ended up naked with a masochist. (On retrospect it hasn’t ever helped my sex life but it did completely freak me out at the time).

Well now you know why I think I am in a position to give you, lovely reader advice on sex. I promise you if you try out some of these tips, you will end up having a great time…

*Tip 1 – Open you mind (part1)

The major sex organ that we posses is our minds. Fantasy and imagination can make sex so much more rewarding. So forget any hang-ups you might have, ignore any baggage you might have from up bringing (either from religion, parents or bad experience) and most off all never feel guilty.

*Tip 2 – You’re only making it harder on yourself!

Penetration can be a prison for sexuality. Yes it can be fantastic, but getting too hung up on the “old in-out” can lead to a very unfulfilling sex life. While some women can only reach orgasm through being filled up, most find themselves getting there thanks to the most perfect organ, the Clitoris. But every girl’s “Love Button” is different. Some like gentle stimulation, some enjoy a more aggressive direct approach and others change their tastes like the wind changes direction. There is no right way to give the Clit the attention it needs and deserves, so experimentation is the only way forward.

When “giving” to your partner use your imagination and try everything. Watch the response. If it seems favourable, change what you are doing slightly and see how the response changes. More favourable – carry on, less favourable – try some thing else or go back to what you were doing before.

When “receiving” please, please, please talk to your partner. Tell them what you like, and if you don’t know let them experiment and say “Oh Yes!” when they are getting it right and “Oh No!” when they aren’t (but be gentle with them – nothing ruins your confidence like a partner knocking your technique – you always get more bees with honey than with vinegar). Try making it part of your role playing – being “The Boss” or playing “The Virgin”. If it works don’t knock it!

*Tip 3 – Open your mind (part2)

Role-playing and fantasy brings me to my best tip. I call it “Hands Free Masturbation”. In short this is a tip that once you’ve worked out how to do it will make sex a whole new ball game (if you’ll excuse the pun).

To learn H.F.M. you need to make yourself a gap in your day, preferably just before going to sleep. Lay yourself down, and basically think the sexiest, dirtiest thoughts you can imagine. It doesn’t matter what you think of, as long as it hits your spot. Remember to forget guilt, and just go wild. Now hopefully this will get you turned on nicely. When you feel your body starting to respond to what’s happening in your head,

DON’T TOUCH YOURSELF!

Instead make your fantasies go even wilder. Really let yourself go. At the same time start focusing on the “nice” feelings that will hopefully be getting more and more intense as you fantasise. For the first few times you might need to touch yourself, but only give in if you really have to. If you keep resisting the urge, you will find yourself orgasming just through the power of your imagination.

This fantastic skill can help in many ways. It can be used to ensure you cum together, to make any sex that extra bit special and lets you wank any time, anywhere.

*Tip 4 – The Real Head Fuck

The best part of learning H.F.M. is that you can then use the technique to make other parts of your body as responsive as your genitals. It is something I teach to disabled people who have lost sensation in their sexy bits. It means they can start to really enjoy sex on an equal footing with their partners. What it means to you able-bodied shaggers is the ability to make any part of your body a “Love Button”.

All you have to do is when you are trying a bit of H.F.M. move your focus from your groin (where the “nice” feelings tend to start) to another part of your body. I would advise you to start with your nipples. They are already an erogenous zone, and so it easier to focus the sexy feeling to them. But any part of your body that you enjoy having touched will do. Try to push yourself over the edge without focusing on your groin. If you need to touch the part of your body you are focusing on, just to make the sensation more intense.

Now you can go wild and cover your body in “Love Buttons”. I even know of a guy who was a tetraplegic (broke his neck – think of Christopher Reeve) who turned the end of his nose into his sex organs. Just imagine how much it made having a cold.

*Tip 5 – Never say Never

All of my other tips involve some effort on your part. I have used them all to great effect, and I have taught them to others to equal effect. However the best thing that I have learned on my way to becoming the sexually confident Crip I am today is “Never be afraid to try something”. In fact it’s more than that. In the words of Diane, my fiancé and the love of my life, “If you try something and you don’t like it, try it again just to make sure!”

So, there you go kind reader. Give my tips a go, and see what happens. I mean what’s the worst thing that can happen?

Oh and one more thing before I go. If you ever want to try a bit of bondage, try using a wheelchair. They are covered in fixing points, and it means you can wheel your “captive” all over the house. Not that I’d know of course… Tee hee!!!!!

©Mik Scarlet 2005

Well I think that is enough on sex for now. I hope that my arguments around this attitude that disabled people can only experience sex if they pay for it, and my advice, both in my DN article and the tips above, go some way to changingthe way you, dear reader, think about sex. If nothing else, I hope you give some of my tips a try. Might make for a fun night.

If any groups or disabled people’s organisations reading this would like to me to run a workshop around sexual confidence and disability, please contact me using the e-mail address on my website – www.mikscarlet.co.uk

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Too busy to blog!!!! or why I hate Children In Need so much I found time to blog!

It seems that at the minute I am too busy to blog. In fact I’m too busy to think some days. It’s one of the joys of being a freelancer, that when a work offer comes in you have to say Yes. With no way of knowing when the next job might appear, you have this terror that this offer might be the last for a while. Even if the work is rolling in, you can’t be sure that it will stay that way. So that’s why my blog has been sitting dormant recently.

Annoyingly there have been a load of things I wanted to blog about. Almost every day something came up that got the blood boiling and the fingers hovering over the keyboard. But work got in the way, so the time past. The thing that I really wanted to blog about this week was Children in Need. As someone who appeared on something very similar at the start of my career, with a two day non-stop live appearance as presenter on the Thames Telethon back in 1992, and who had that career severely damaged by the bad reaction of people who felt that charity was wrong, you would have thought I would be in favour of this yearly charity fest. But you would be wrong. You see, on many levels the whole thing is equally wrong.

Let’s think about the portrayal of disability first. Anyone who reads my blogs and articles will know that portrayal is very important to me. I feel that the media should try so much harder to ensure that it changes the way it covers disability, yet with this kind of charity event negative portrayal is essential to keep the money coming in.

Poor little crippled kids… they need your help. Their lives are so awful that without your money they will only be sad and their future is bleak. Give generously. Your money will make their tragic lives a little better. Poor little things, it so sad that they are the way they are. Aren’t you lucky?

Of course charity always has to pull on your heart strings, but the reason why I did the Telethon way back when is that I thought it would subconsciously say that disabled people can give charity as well as receive it. But after I did it, I was accosted in a lft by the wonderful Vicky Waddington who explained why the charity model of disability – which paints us as victims in need of help – has no positive effects for us disabled types. After talking to her I understood that charity is just plain wrong, especially this kind of jumbo media event. Sure it could be vehicle for real change, with money being raised to pay for the changes we really need in society. Better access, better understanding and more equality. But those are not the kind of things that pull of those heart strings and purse strings. The point of a telethon event is raising money, so that is the sole point of the program. The aim is to raise more money than the last event. That’s how you measure the success of it.

Now I could write on this subject for pages, but as I said I’m too damn busy. So I hope that all of you that did watch Children in Need/Stand Up To Cancer/Red Nose Day felt a little uncomfortable during the hours of “fun”. Just imagine if it was people like you who were targeted as being deserving of charity and pity. Not a great feeling.

Let’s take the item on the One Show that Ade Adepitan presented on dancing for disabled kids. It claimed that giving money to a special dance class for disabled children is a good thing. But if you think about it, wouldn’t it be better if the kids that went to this special class could just go to a mainstream dance class with other non-disabled kids and learn to dance? A totally mixed class where everyone was equal. I have just interviewed the fantastic disabled dancer Laura Jones for a Disability Now article, who was the first disabled person to study dance at college. She helped choreograph the Paralympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and is a superb dancer. Surely that is the way to go? Not only is it inclusive but it will mean that more disabled people will become professional dancers. But even if they don’t, and they just do dance for the love of dance, they will have an experience of being equal to the other members of the class. Not special, different… and in some way less.

To me it’s the same for all of the various good causes. To raise money they need to focus on the difference, yet the only way to make the world better is to make everyone see that we are all the same. Whether we’re disabled, poor, old, young, or whatever, we are all human. So we all deserve the same chances and until charity aims to do that, it will divide us all. I mean even the title of Children In Need spells out difference.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. All I ask is that you think about it.

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Ranting Round-Up No.1

Now where to start? As I’ve been crazy busy recently the list of things “Grinding My Gears” is quite long.

The first was C4’s Sainsbury’s Super Saturday. This music and sports show was to celebrate the launch of ticket sales for the Paralympics and was aired over a whole weekend on Channel 4. My issues with the show were many. Why was it only presented by non-disabled talent and why did so many of the pop stars who were interviewed allowed to use such out of date and non PC language to describe Paralymians? Those were the biggies. Surely C4 could have found some disabled presenting talent to work with Rick Edwards and Lisa Snowdon? Yeah they chatted with Paralympic stars but it would have made much more impact if the show had a disabled presenter too. The thing that really drove me mad was the way disabled people were talked about by various pop stars. The Sugarbabes condescendingly describing sport as a method to recover from the trauma of not being able to use your legs, for wheelchair users who were either born disabled or made that way through accident, got me so cross that I felt the steam coming out of my ears. Dappy making incoherent comments about the Paralympics was equally ridiculous. And they were just two of many to use language that seemed out of the 70’s. If C4 is going to be the Paralympic channel for 2012 they must have someone on their staff that ensures all of their output uses language that is currently acceptable and that does not set back the battle for equality for disabled people? I just pray that they clean up their act before the games begin.

Then I attended a meeting of a new charity run by disabled people called Enhance the UK , about a campaign they are planning. ETUK wants to design a campaign that questions the way disabled people are perceived when it comes to attractiveness. I don’t want to give away too much as I think it will be a really important campaign, so watch their website, but while we were all discussing how we could make an impact and what we should we cover, I realised that those of us who have issues of sexual function to deal with on top of the usual ignorance around disability have the journey we have to go on before we feel able to be sexy massively underestimated. Even by other disabled people. I know that I spent years coming to terms with the new me, and how bits of me worked. In a society that equates sex with penetration, to loose the ability to get a stiffy really messes with your head. I was just shocked that as we all sat round a table, discussing confidence, relationships and sexuality, everyone believed that most men who used a wheelchair were lucky as they all seemed to be confident. No one had any understanding that the huge bravado that most male wheelies exude is just a cover for exactly how messed up they are over the loss of what the world tells them makes them a man. I plan to write an article for ETUK’s website on the subject soon, and will point you all there as soon as it’s online.

Then this morning I was watching The Wright Stuff, as I do every morning, and found myself amazed at the discussion on whether Page 3 girls could be feminist role models. The women on the panel seemed to think that Page 3 girls were less damaging to the feminist cause than Size 0 fashion models, and this totally shocked me to the core. Now I can’t say that I haven’t used pornography, or looked at a Page 3 girl, but I can’t imagine that anyone could claim they were role models for young women. Especially compared to fashion models. I shall explain why using my own analogy. I got into the media after I was spotted by a TV producer while performing a gig with a band I fronted. Everyone who booked me to present, act or appear on a TV show always said that one of the reasons they hired me was because I was nothing like the stereotype of a disabled person. With my bleached spiky hair, leather gear and massive motor bike boots I was in fact the antithesis of that stereotype, and so using me made people question their attitudes of what a disabled person was. A lot of disabled people thought I was a bad role model because by being so different from what most disabled people were like I gave a false impression. I understood this view, but as I was just being myself and I spent a large amount of my time using my high profile to raise issues around equality and access, I did not feel I had to change. I also know that if had, the work would have dried up quick time.

So how does this have anything to do with Page 3? Well Page 3 creates a unreachable ideal of a sexualized female that impacts on all women and how men perceive them. They use their sexuality and the way society expects attractive women to be sexually available as a way of making money. Fashion models however, are not playing on sexual availability to further their career. They are playing on how clothes hang on them, and how the fashion industry wants their output to be seen. Sex rarely comes into it. Sexiness maybe, but not sexuality. In the past I have been friends with several fashion models and they are actually very normal women. They aren’t even that thin, just really, really tall. When you meet fashion models the first thing that hits you is how tall, and big they are. They are mostly around six foot tall, and their bodies match their height. They just look thin in photographs.

But I digress. No matter if they are very thin, or just really tall, they have a very different role from Page 3, and they have a very different effect on society. Some people claim that fashion models create an unobtainable ideal for young women and girls, and there is some truth to that. Just as some disabled people claimed that I created an ideal of being disabled that many disabled people could not achieve and that was not representative. But those ideals did not create an atmosphere and perception in society that makes the world less safe. Any ideal that revolves around a false impression of sexual availability damages society, and Page 3 must make the world less safe for women. Fashion models do not. In the same way that I may have had an image that was very far away from what most disabled people were like, but they could have achieved my “look” if they had have wanted to. Just most didn’t! I really feel I never had a damaging effect of the way society thinks of what a disabled person is like. To have the same effect as a Page 3 girl I would have to start claiming that all disabled people were just lazy and were all benefit fraudsters. We all know how damaging that has been to the way society thinks about disabled people as it now seems to be the way the press paints us at every turn. Either that or we’re super humans that are bravely over coming adversity. I can proudly say that I was neither. Just a punky, loud mouthed weirdo that told everyone to be whatever they wanted. I also never got my chest out for money… and I was offered!

So that’s my ranting round up for now. Not sure it all flows the way I’d like, and maybe I should have edited this blog before posting it, but I always feel that blogs are more fun if you use them as a stream of thought affair. I’d love to know what you think on any of the subjects in this blog, dear reader, so comment below.

I will close by saying if anyone at The Wright Stuff is looking for a panellist I am available. It’s been a ritual for me to watch it since the show started and I was even up to appear to the show many years back, but was too ill (with my second broken back!) to do it. It’s always been something I want to do… get paid to get the chance to air my opinions on National TV. Pure bliss.

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Bladerunner Blues

Today I did something that I almost never do. So rare an event that it dragged my wife away from her Physics studies to find out what was going on, and as she has a paper due in three days she hasn’t got time to waste. You see today I watched… SPORT! I sat on my sofa and watched the athletics. The Men’s 400m semi final. I felt I had to, not as I am in anyway interested in it, or even because it was the such a historic event, with Oscar Pistorius being able to compete with non-disabled athletes on an equal level. No the driving force behind my going against my deep dislike of organised sport was the fact that the IAAF, sports commentator and some athletes were against Mr. Pistorius competing as they felt he had an unfair advantage.

Let’s just dwell on that a minute shall we? A man with no legs, in a top level running race has an unfair advantage. A man that to train harder, and who has had to learn an entirely new way of running and balancing has an unfair advantage as he uses specially designed artificial legs. Forget the fact all the other runners were using a fully working body created by millions of years of evolution and honed by training to be at the peak of physical perfection and Mr. Pistorius is a member of a section of the world’s community who no one could describe as having an unfair advantages. He has worked hard to be able to compete to this level, and as well as the training that all the runners had to go through I am sure that Mr. Pistorius has had to spend time learning elements of running that come naturally to the rest. Not being a big runner, I can’t be sure but I imagine that the blades that he runs on must take some getting used to. As well as balance and reading how each step will effect his gate and direction, he has had to learn how to feel that track through his add-on legs. I know how long it took me to be able to use my chair as I see fit, so I can only guess at the skill it takes to thunder round an athletics track, racing at such high speeds in competition. Unfair advantage my arse.

But why would anyone make this kind of claim? Well I think it is simple. No one wants to be bested by a member of society that they see as less than them. It wasn’t that long ago that people all of the world were very upset when they saw whites being bested by black people. Up until more recently boys and girls could not play school football together. Disabled people are the last group to be so excluded in the world of sport that we have our own events and ruling bodies. Why is it the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics? Why not one fantastic event where all competitors are equal and if they can compete against each other, like Oscar Pistorius, then all the better? There might even be a move towards designing new sports that allow disabled and non-disabled people to play together in one team. Mixed basketball, or whatever. (Don’t ask me, haven’t a clue)

Now I could go off on one now, and rave on about how sport is filed with people obsessed with perfection and competition, but that obvious. That’s what sport is about, especially at this level. The mentality behind world class sport means that these people, whether they are taking part or running the events, are precisely the wrong kind of people to make decisions on whether disabled people can take part in a mainstream sporting event. They do not see it as a step forward in equality, or even as opening up their sport to a wider audience (though they even got me today!). They are all about winning (oh and the money from the TV viewing rights). Everyone who is involved with sport at this level has got there by focusing on themselves, and being selfish. So who cares about creating a better world, a fairer world, if it might mean they don’t win. So keep the fast cripple out. He might beat me.

This why I think it is so sad that sport is being put forward to disabled young people as a way of gaining self confidence and even to getting on in the word. A whole generation of young disabled people will be entering the world after the 2012 games with the idea that sport will allow them to make something of themselves, but not see that it is the very past time they enjoy that is playing a part in keeping them down. All sports should be opened up, whether it is mainstream or disability based. Everyone should be able to take part, and we should all be playing together. Then maybe I might even take something up.

Before I go, I’ve just read that the IAAF have ordered Oscar Pistorius that he can only run in the first leg (excuse the pun) of the 4x400m relay race, as his might injure the other runners with his blades. He answered the ruling “I’ve run in many relays in different legs and I’ve never had a problem or an incident.” Personally I start the race and then run off track, find a member of the IAAF and shove the baton somewhere the sun don’t shine.

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We come a short way baby!

After a crazy few weeks rehearsing for and performing in the Graeae Theatre Company’s production of Rhinestone Rollers – Wheels On Broadway I thought I deserved a day off. As I sat flicking through the channels on my Sky+ I stumbled upon an episode of a favourite show from my youth, The Fall Guy. Starring my all time childhood hero, Lee Majors, who played the Six Million Dollar Man (the fantasy of any kid who had a knackered leg in the 70’s – bionics, something I really thought we’d have by the 21st century) before becoming the stunt man come bounty hunter Colt Seavers, this episode was called “Wheels”. The story revolved around an old friend of Colt’s who was now in a wheelchair… and it was played by real wheelchair user… IN 1983!!!!

I watched the episode, and was amazed at just how well the subject of disability was covered. Loads of jokes about public sympathy, a real action cripple in the guise of Colt’s old pal, a super fast electric wheelchair with a side-car and an entire cast of real disabled people. Not one single non-disabled actor playing disabled anywhere. Again, I must point out this is 1983! The disabled main character even gets married at the end, and is planning kids. IN 1983!!!!!

Even today, here in the UK us disabled acting types still have to argue as to why only we should be playing disabled parts, and as for a story line that is as positive as this one… well we can still dream. How many young disabled people would ever believe that so long ago prime time shows like The Fall Guy were being made that did disability so well? Today’s TV producers and writers should take a hard look at their output and at how old shows like this covered disability and hang their heads in shame. How far have we come in nearly 30 years?

Another subject that has been playing on my mind recently is education. On Wednesday I took part in a march to Downing Street over the education bill. With the government stating that they want to “overturn the bias towards inclusive education” and promote special schools, I really felt it was time to sit down and be counted. I was very lucky to attend mainstream schools through out my school career, and I cannot believe that exactly 30 years since I left school we live in a country that is trying to move away from inclusivity. Not only did attending a “normal” school help me, it helped my non-disabled friends. I got a pile of exams and learnt that my AB mates were just like me, and all my physically perfect mates learnt to see disabled people as just like them. I am proud to know that after taking me all of my schools became fully inclusive and still are today. I plan to start working with my old high school, Putteridge High in Luton, in the future around issues of inclusion and awareness and to mentor some of their current students.

But it really is shocking to me that most people still think that allowing disabled kids to be schooled in the same way as non-disabled kids is not an obvious thing to work towards. Even many disabled people in the public eye are unconvinced. I won’t name names, but surely it is a right of all children to be schooled to the best of their ability? How can we disabled people ever expect to be accepted as part of society if we are kept apart from the rest of society from such an early age?

Of course there can be issues to confront for schools, but nothing is insurmountable. Instead of using these issues to bar entrance to a mainstream schooling, they should be seen as mechanisms for expanding the experiences of all the other pupils. What about a school project to explore access solutions for a pupil that is entering the school next term, or a buddy system for pupils that might need extra help? This kind of thing opens up the educational and social experiences of all the pupils of a school and makes the disabled pupil feel an accepted member of school population.

So yet again I find myself asking, just how far have we come? I would never have thought that at the age of nearly 46 I would still be fighting for correct portrayal of disabled people in the media and for inclusive education. I absolutely would never have thought I’d be fighting against plans to take our education system back to a time before I went to school. All I know is that I am glad I am not a disabled child today. To find yourself thinking like that makes me very angry, and ashamed. To think that if we are not careful all the gains disabled people have made in my adult life will be thrown away, all in the name of cutting deficits.

Right I’m going to stop myself there. I could go on to blame the Tories and go all Red Wedge on you all, but I thought I’d give you all a break from my socialist tirades. Whatever your politics, I am sure you will agree that we all must work hard to ensure that no more ground is lost.

Right I’m gong back to the TV. Sounds like Batman is on. Kerpow!

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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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Out of Touch? Part 2

I would like to say sorry for being away for a while (mad busy) and thanks to everyone who commented on my last blog. I’m so glad that there are people who do believe that how we are portrayed in the media is as important as just being portrayed.

Part of why I have been busy recently is that I was attending a conference put on by the 2012 games organisers around diversity. During the day long round of back slapping and self congratulations I discovered something that helped explain why so much of the recent portrayal of disabled people in the media has been so wide of the mark. Both the Olympic and the Paralympic games have core values, that are used the publicise the games, and to help the public understand them. The three Olympic values are “Respect”, Excellence” and “Friendship”, while the Paralympic have four core values. They are “Equality”, “Determination”,(they go down hill from here), “Inspiration” and… “Courage”. No wonder our media is full of brave super cripple stories, if one of the biggest events in the disability calender is promoting it’s members as inspirational and courageous. How the hell can we get this equality they calm to want if the two games have such different values? Who the hell decided that on the Paralympic values?

I found myself lecturing the conference on how offended I was at “courage” and “inspiration” being a core values of the Paralympics. I am sure you all understand why but I shall explain to any readers who don’t get it. Using the word courage when discussing disability creates the perception in the able bodied that anyone living with a disability is some how brave. Much of the discrimination faced by disabled people is due to an unspoken fear of disability and the possibility of becoming disabled. Part of this fear comes from the doubt that those feeling afraid could find the courage to cope if they found themselves disabled. Yet the truth is that us disabled people aren’t some kind of super hero breed. Let’s face it, what choice do we have other than get on with it? I suppose we could pay a visit to Dignitas, but other than that living with a disability is more pragmatism that bravery. Of course we can show courage, but only in the same way a every body else can.

But courage doesn’t even fit with Paralympians. They might have dedication and commitment, and show excellence but not courage. Giving your life over to pushing your body to be the best you can be at a sport has no real elements of courage that I can see. They might be inspirational, if you want to be a sporty type, but for people like me who find all sport truly tedious, they just seem to be bit too tied up with themselves. Personally, I have found that most disabled sports people are so focused on sporting achievement that they have no real interest in things like politics or how what they do effects other disabled people. The fact that have dedicated themselves to an event that uses such offensive and damaging language to describe them proves just how out of touch with disability politics they are. Not one has gone public with their complaint or made a stand in any way. It’s left, yet again, to mouthy non sporty gits like me.

There is proof that is starting to effect other disability events too. On the website of this year’s Naidex it announces that visitors can “Hear inspirational stories from role models beating their disabilities”. Argh!!!!! Let’s not even mention that TV news standard about injured soldiers climbing something or other.

So, please dear reader, don’t just post your comments to me. Make your voice heard. Mail and write to anyone who uses any language that you find offensive. Phone in to radio and TV talk shows, complain to newspapers and magazines and blog away on the subject. Let’s make a stand, or a sit at least. I know that I shall be pursuing any avenue I can think of and bugger my career. I have never been able to keep my mouth shut to get myself on, and nor shall I. I have no desire to look back and see a world that has gone backwards and know I did nothing to try to stop it. No I’ll let the Paralympians do that.

So guess I won’t be invited to the Opening Ceremonies now, eh?

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