Watching Dr Frances Ryan's brilliant piece "It's Time to Stop Calling Disabled People Inspirational", I find myself in complete agreement with her assessment of the media's interpretation of disability today. The narrative and rhetoric around the Paralympics has been, at times, (quite unwittingly), offensive to many disabled people. Channel 4's Superhumans campaign particularly did this. The line "There's no such thing as can't" perpetuates the idea that those with disabilities who can't, aren't working hard enough. I could train for years and I'll never be a runner! It's absurd.
Like a lot of disabled people I find that complete strangers ask about my disability or what I'm capable of before even asking for my name, which is so impersonal. And I'll be honest with you: as a teenager, I worried whether I would ever be able to gain employment. Most of my friends were waitresses and that wasn't a good fit for me as a wheelchair user.
I'm constantly told that I'm "so inspirational". My disability isn't a negative, it's a part of me, it's helped form my view of the world, given me determination (or stubbornness), the ability to laugh at myself, and makes me more grateful for the great people in my life. I love my life and I can honestly say given the chance I wouldn't take my disability away.
But inspiring other people isn't my goal in life: on expeditions in the past to Borneo and Kenya - I've always been told how brave I am. I'm not brave, I'm 23 and I like travelling! It's that simple. All Olympians (able-bodied and Paralympians) are universally considered to be inspirational - but that should be due to their hard work, dedication and skill - not whether they have fully functioning body parts.
During my apprenticeship I have been given the opportunity to prove myself, to work hard and be given the same opportunities as any able bodied young person. I work in a field that judges on ability, not appearances. I work in building that's fully accessible - which makes all the difference.
One of the hardest things for me is making sure that I don't get too tired; but I've learned to manage my workload and my tiredness levels by making sure that I'm in a good routine. I also have flexible working hours which allow me to access medical appointments if necessary. I've made a lot of good friends in my job and I don't feel that my disability affected my application in any way - my advice to others is that if you don't view your disability as an obstacle other people won't either.
One of key issues I think that will make it much easier for differently abled people is easier transportation. This one thing will level the playing field for disabled people as we will be able to gain far better access to jobs. It's getting there - but there's still a long way to go - but it might be more useful to address these practical obstacles first...
The media are slowly improving with greater representation and visibility but really the way disabled people are represented needs to be more carefully considered. Producers and editors need to ensure they are represented as an equal member of society and that their own stories are represented in a way that they are happy with. I don't believe disability always has to be viewed as a negative thing.
I would love to get to a stage where people are just people and disability is seen as a difference in ability rather than a negative or a description of someone.
Holly has just completed her apprenticeship with IBM. She's a part of the Get In Go Far campaign incentive to encourage more young people with disabilities to apply for apprenticeships. For more information about apprenticeships, please visit: www.getingofar.gov.uk
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