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Until More Disabled People Are in Position of Authority, We Will Not Reach Equality

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It's been 20 years since disability charity Scope changed its name from The Spastic Society. The charity is looking at how life has changed for disabled people in the last two decades.

I grew up in a household where my disability was accepted. My mother was very strict on this - I was just seen as another member of the family and I was never allowed to use being disabled as an excuse.

I spent the vast majority of my childhood in and out of hospital, I must have had 100 fractures and 70 operations. But I remember that when I was back home in plaster, my mother would roll a duvet up on the kitchen floor, put me on it and tell me to do the drying up!

But the school that I went to, which was for disabled children, was terrible. They were still teaching us four plus four when we were eleven years old! There was an ethos there that there was no point in supporting us to learn, because we'd only ever end up on benefits anyway.

So my mother fought for a place for me at a really top boarding school, Lord Mayor Treloar School in Hampshire. She worked out how much a life for me on benefits would cost the local authority, versus the amount they'd have to pay for my education, if I then went and got a job. And so I got the funding to go there.

It was an amazing school, strict but fair. They pushed those who were academically bright, and prepared others for the working world.

I wanted to do a degree, originally in German. But all four universities that I applied to turned me down, because I was a wheelchair user and they weren't accessible. I tried to apply for other courses (four in total), but none accepted me, for the same reason!

Then the week before my 18th birthday, the role of Vanessa in El Dorado came along. I moved to Spain and everything changed. I've been acting, producing and campaigning ever since.

When I meet and talk to young disabled people today, and disabled friends who are my age and who have disabled kids, I can see that they have very different attitudes to say, 20 years ago.

Society is very different today to when I was growing up. We live in an instant, information age, where knowledge is power and everyone has access to information. Children are a lot quicker and savvier than I was when I was young.

I think that the disabled community, people like Phil Friend and Jane Campbell, have fought to get youngsters to the point where they can expect things, so disabled young people now expect to have rights.

We have legislation now to support the rights of disabled people both at home and at work. There are more accessible ramps, more disabled changing rooms in shops and lower reception desks in offices.

It is wonderful to see how much more confident young disabled people are today as they expect equality and rightly so.

But in reality, these young people are not out and about in society yet. As a disabled adult, it is very hard to get a job, and very hard to access benefits. In fact, I would say that many disabled people in the UK still feel like second-class citizens.

I am still shocked that for many people I meet, I am the first disabled person that they know. And often they start out with lots of negative stereotypes. I think that although we are definitely in a better position than we were twenty years ago, we are still fighting society's attitudes towards us.

My hope is that young disabled people of today will become the next generation of business leaders, politicians, change makers, writers and television casting directors.

I think that until that happens, and more disabled people are in positions of authority, we will still not be where we should be in terms of equality.

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