Shush! Don’t tell anyone but I’m almost 40! But I still remember what it’s like to be a young person with Cerebral Palsy. As a teenager, I had lots of hopes and thoughts about what I wanted from my future. Those dreams were also coupled with doubt and worry. I wasn’t sure if my disability would get in the way of the things that I really wanted to do. A big worry was about how others would see me – would I get the same opportunities as everyone else?
I wish I knew then what I know now. Though the road to where I am today hasn’t always been easy, the things I’ve achieved are beyond what I ever hoped for. Despite my parents being advised to send me to a “special school” (as they were known back then), I thrived in mainstream school and eventually went on to Oxford Brookes University where I graduated with a 2:1 Honours degree. Having learnt to live independently and following my graduation, I secured full-time employment working for a small charity to support other disabled people into training and employment.
Disability is my strength
Today, I’m married with two young sons and I run my own business. I’m using my vast experience of disability to help educate and support others. I’ve come to realise that having cerebral palsy has given me experience that I can use to make a difference and my disability is my strength – not my weakness.
I’m not saying it’s always easy – I’ve been bullied, ignored and discriminated against more times than I care to remember. It’s often been difficult watching my peers do things that physically I could never do. I’ve been refused simple things like access to a night club because the bouncers’ made assumptions and assumed that the flashing lights might give me an epileptic seizure. All of that hurts, of course it does.
But as part of my work, I’m regularly asked to visit pupils with Cerebral Palsy who may be facing similar situations and feeling a bit despondent. They’re having the same doubts and concerns about their future as I did. Maybe you are too. This is my message.
My advice to you
Use your voice – Tell the people around you what you want. I see young people who are upset because they feel unheard – decisions are often made about and for them without anybody thinking to consult them. But it’s your life and you have a right to be heard. Tell your parents, teachers, carers, what you think and what you want for your future.
Chase your dreams – Your disability shouldn’t hold you back from doing whatever you want to do. Please don’t compromise because of your disability. With the right attitude and the right support, almost anything is possible.
Have high expectations of yourself – and make sure that others do too. I think often people dampen down their expectations of disabled people and that’s wrong. Even if things are difficult, I’ve always found a way – you can too.
Don’t give up – As I said, things aren’t always easy and when things get tough, it’s easy to stop trying. Don’t! Just keeping going and you’ll find a way to achieve your goals.
Finally, embrace your disability – Disability is often seen as a negative. I don’t buy it! My disability has given me unique knowledge and skills that set me apart from other people. I’m proud of that and you should be too!
If you’d like some support and mentoring, please ask your school to get in touch with me.