Rock star, athlete or even Prime Minister – a disability doesn’t have to stop you reaching your goals. That doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth sailing all the way but remember - you’ve got the law on your side.
Disabilities are very common. Research shows that one in four people are either disabled themselves or know someone who is. So what exactly is a disability and how do you live with it?
Disability is a clumsy word for any health condition that has an impact on your day-to-day life. The list of things that get lumped together as ‘disabilities’ is long and varied, including:
- Hearing problems
- Difficulty moving
- Asperger syndrome
Not all of these things necessarily spring to mind when someone says ‘disabled’. That can make it difficult for folk to understand the term and deal with the people affected. And you might be surprised just who is affected.
Did you know the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is disabled? He has limited vision after being injured during a game of rugby as a teenager. Then there’s rock star Blaine Harrison who was born with Spina Bifida and walks with crutches. His band, Mystery Jets, recently toured with the Artic Monkeys.
Blaine doesn’t let his disability define who is, or what he can do. His attitude was inspired by his dad, Henry, who introduced him to music.
“Henry realised he needed to help me focus on something I could do to the best of my ability - and that was music,” says Blaine in a recent interview with Disability Now.
"I received a lot of encouragement when I was young and I’m very grateful for that. I can believe that not everyone would have received that support and I’m very lucky, really."
The music press hasn’t made a big deal of Blaine’s impairment either.
"My disability isn’t something I’ve ever got a problem talking about. Equally, it’s not something that journalists should be afraid of,” he says. “I’ve never made a point of wanting to exploit the way that I look. I don’t think that’s something that has that much to do with the music. At the same time, I’ve never been self-conscious about journalists asking these types of questions."
However, the singer knows he’ll be able to use his fame to ask difficult questions about disabilities .
"At this point in time, I’d rather focus on establishing the band. A D-list guy from an indie band isn’t going to have a lot of whack when it comes to trying to draw attention to something. But maybe when we get to a point where we are in a position where we can help influence people, then it’s certainly something I want to get involved in," he says, modestly.
Only 17 per cent of people with a disability are born with it, like Blaine. That makes it pretty clear that life can change suddenly. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t live your dreams, gain qualifications or form a band – you can still do a massive amount of amazing things.
Sadly others can find it difficult to deal with people disabilities. They might treat them differently and discriminate against them at work, school and even on the street.
When Jennifer, 23, was diagnosed with juvenile chronic arthritis at the age of four, her parents placed her in a mainstream school to avoid the stigma often attached to special schools.
Problems started, however, when her condition worsened and she began using a wheelchair at 14.
“It made me feel alienated from the rest of my class and it was difficult to maintain any kind of ‘normal’ life in school,” she says.
Plagued by bullying, Jennifer changed schools at 16 and found the attitudes among her classmates better but the physical obstacles worse. The new school was in an older building, lacking a wheelchair-accessible toilet. While she waited for one to be built, her mother had to take Jennifer home to use the toilet during breaks. There were also problems with the staff:
“I sometimes got the feeling some members of staff didn’t really know how to react to my disability and behaved awkwardly when they had to speak to me,” she says.
There are laws in place to combat these kind of problems. Read about The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
which makes it illegal for people to discriminate against others because of their disabilities.
Things won’t change if you keep quiet. Be positive, confident and stand up for your rights!