Sign Along With Us Reminded Me That It’s Okay To Be Disabled

A group of disabled people laugh together

Not everyone can perform stunning gymnastics or dangerous magic stunts. and that’s okay. Disabled people are still awesome exactly as we are.

Good morning Twisties,

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter Sunday and are still enjoying lots of tasty chocolate. Both of my eggs – the delicious Thorntons nut & praline Easter egg and the Cadbury Buttons egg that my dearly beloved bought to through me off of the scent – are in the fridge. As is standard with me, chocolate absolutely has to be kept in the fridge!

On Saturday evening, I sat down with my husband to watch Britain’s Got Talent. There were several great acts, dance performances, a choir and even some adorable Dachshunds from Russia. It was all good fun, but there was nothing spectacular – nothing that hadn’t been done before.

When a sister and her disabled brother appeared on stage, I wondered what they were going to do for us. Maybe he was going to tell some really funny jokes or perform some magic tricks to show us not to underestimate disabled people? There wasn’t much of a clue. Both of them wore colourful t-shirts emblazoned with “This Is Me” and had glittery rainbow face paint on. Again though, nothing that would tell us what they were about to do.

Sign Along With Us was set up by 18-year-old sister, Jade. When her 4-year-old brother Christian (who has a visual impairment and cerebral palsy according to their Facebook page) struggled to communicate, Jade explained that she was sure Christian could find a way to communicate and refused to give up on him. Desperate to open up his world, she taught him to sign instead. As Jade and Christian were given the go ahead by the judges, teams of other choir members flooded onto the stage.

Sign Along With Us sang This Is Me from The Greatest Showman, a song which, I think, fitted them perfectly and fits well what it is like to live with disabilities on the whole. So moved by the performance, David Walliams rose from his seat to press the gold buzzer, sending the choir straight through to the semi-finals.

Just me, taking it chill 🙂

I myself was born with arrested mild hydrocephalus, mild spina bifida, mild lordosis and mild cerebral ataxia. I also have a mild hearing impairment in my right ear, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy in my right wrist, knee and foot, Generalised Anxiety and depression. I don’t talk about my disabilities that often because I refused to let them define me. They are, to quote the song (and the choir’s intentions), my “broken parts”.

Throughout school, I was bullied for being slow and not being able to do gymnastics. I was picked on for the fact that the slightest push and I’d wobble over (because of my ataxia) or the fact that, because of my anxiety, I avoided confrontation. Taking toys from me was easy, just walk right up and take them – I wouldn’t do anything about it!

Secondary school was no different. I was still the victim of sniggers, but I had a support worker with me a lot of the time so most students avoided anything physical. Nobody picked on me until one fateful art lesson when a classmate drew my hearing aid as a big blob sticking out of my ear and our teacher put it on the wall. Suddenly, everybody noticed it!

I moved to a hospital education unit in 2003 because of my chronic pain, and the bullying only got worse. There, I was tripped up, spat on, called out as being a teacher’s pet and more. A lot of the students there had ADHD and behavioural issues and simply didn’t want to work. When the beatings with wooden rulers started, I’d had enough.

As he swung at me with a metre-long wooden rule, I grabbed it and pulled it, removing it from his hands and sending him crashing to the floor. As he tried to get up, I put the wooden rule on his shoulder. He froze and looked up,

“If this was a sword, I could take your f***ing block off. Now get up before Miss sees” I growled. I could feel my heart thumping in my throat, but that was the beginning of me.

Unbeknown to my classmates, I’d been so fed up with the bullying that I’d been training in aikido and aikibudo, or aikido with weapons, to put it simply. It’s a self-defence discipline, and one of the disciplines that the police and military use. Unfortunately for me, the training centre has now closed down.

When I turned eighteen, I attended the jobcentre to see what wonderful employment opportunities were available for me. Although disability rights were better in 2006, they still aren’t what they are today.

“You’d be better off claiming disability benefits, to be honest,” the advisor said. I was outraged, I didn’t study hard at school for me just to stay at home and sit on my butt. I had to do something, I had to be something. My disabled body was a part of me, but it wasn’t me.

Over the years, I tried every disability employment agency that I could find. One did find me an eight-month career, and at another, the advisor sat opposite from me and pulled silly faces to try and make me smile. One also defined me as an “awkward candidate” because I was disabled but not wheelchair-bound, and of full mental capacity, rather than having any sort of intellectual disability. Some of the job opportunities presented to me I found astonishing and were an insult to the academic prowess of many disabled people. Shoe polishers and shelf stackers? Who do they think we are?

At the time, I stormed out of the office and was resolute in not becoming a shoe polisher or a shelf stacker. I was thoughtful and intelligent, and I knew that I had a brain and I wanted to be able to use it. As a last-ditch effort, I tried an equal opportunities agency in the hopes that they could help, yet when I walked in, I saw three faces that I’d already met – this wasn’t exactly off to a good start.

The agency talked to me about the possibility of going self-employed and my ears pricked up. Even if it wasn’t a hugely successful multinational company, it would still be mine and it was still proof of the fact that I could. I like people who talk business and I like people who acknowledge my brain. Even if I’ve never made it to university, I’m still far from thick, and I’ve done a tiny stint in negotiating business on top. I was appointed the opportunity to represent the aikido training centre once, based purely on how I conduct myself. Yes, I didn’t want to work for a business – I wanted to be it.

Well, one fateful wintery day, I slipped on an icy step and sprained my ankle on the way to an agency meeting. Battered, bruised and needing to go home to pat dry my now tender and soggy bottom, I received a call to tell me that they would be removing me from their books. My only crime? I’d cancelled my appointment with less than an hour’s notice – apparently, personal injury wasn’t an acceptable excuse!

“Screw them all!” I decided, “I’ll just become a housewife”. I was hurt and angry, but what more could I do? That was fine, but a year later and I was bored. Cleaning was fine, but I wasn’t engaging my brain. Housewifery too, it seemed, was not a match meant for me.

So then, I started blogging. I started to use my creativity and my good grades to help other people. I decided to use my love for psychology and my experiences in life to support others, whether or not they had a disability, and that’s where I am today.

Disabled people are a lot more than disabled people, they have gifts and talents beyond what many can see. We are more than the most commonly used adjectives aimed to make us feel good about ourselves. We are more than just “kind” or “good at listening to people”. We have skills, we have knowledge and we have attributes that few people expect us to have. One of my favourite comedians, as an example, is none other than Francesca Martinez. Not only is Francesca able to entertain the masses, but she is a powerful speaker and advocates so passionately for the recognition of disabled people. Just how amazing is that?

I’ve already favourited Sign Along With Us as my favourite act so far to win Britain’s Got Talent 2020. I get it, of course I will have some favouritism for a group of young disabled people, but they were also so much more than that. They were the uplifting spirit, the feel-good factor that this nation needs right now. They made the nation cry, but only in a good way. They reminded us that, regardless of how battered and broken our bodies are, there is a capable person inside each and every one of us.

Haven’t seen the performance yet? Check it out below:

Until next time.

Stay safe & have fun.

Helen xx

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