On Volunteering and Housing Day

Today is #HousingDay (hashtag housing day) a day designed to promote social housing and highlight all it does for people in the UK, how important it is and just what the need for social housing is.

I know from my own experiences just how much having access to a flat that is fully adapted to my needs, is safe and secure (in terms of both safety and tenancy) and affordable is.  It’s more than a roof over your head it’s the ability to make plans and do things and get on with your life that might otherwise be impossible.

And in both parts of my CAB  role (adviser/gateway assessor and social policy coordinator) over the last few years I’ve seen more and more people becoming homeless, struggling to find somewhere to live that meets their needs either due to availability, costs, access needs or landlords who won’t accept housing benefit.

I rent from a social landlord – Soha Housing – to be specific and a few weeks ago they made me aware of a call from TPAS for residents who were willing to share their own stories of being residents and volunteering to work with their housing provider. I’ve been involved since 2010 and we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. So knowing I like to write they asked if I’d be interested in sharing my story.

I wrote my story and it was pretty tricky. There’s no doubt that the volunteering I do – both for Soha but also for CAB – plays a huge role in my life and in many ways has changed my life.  Even taking the CAB aspects of my volunteering out of the equation there was still loads I could say about the matter and it was difficult to know what to include and what to leave out to make the point about why resident involvement is so important to me in just a couple of hundred words.  But I did my best and sent it off and Soha submitted it to TPAS.  And we didn’t hear anything about it.

Fast forward to this lunchtime and I went on twitter to discover that TPAS had chosen ten of the resident stories they had received to highlight and help promote Housing Day. Mine was one of the ten.  I’m really proud to have the opportunity and a bit surprised!  Two of my fellow Soha residents and friend Carole and Richard also had their stories chosen.  All ten of the stories are well worth a read – find them here.

Looking back at what I wrote today I think it’s also fair to say a lot of what I wrote about how being involved with Soha helps me – especially my last paragraph – can also be applied to my CAB work.  People have in the past said to me they don’t understand why I volunteer and how I could just sit at home and no one would blame me.  But I’d be a lot worse off – and possibly in need of greater medical and other support – if I did that.  Because that’s the difference volunteering makes.

 

In which I ramble and am grouchy when it comes to “awareness”

(I was going to title this “why I’m not blogging about CP awareness day” and then I realised that by writing this I pretty much was blogging about CP awareness day just not in the way most people are and that would be a pointless title)

So. Word on the street the internet is that 25th March is CP awareness day. i.e. that tomorrow is CP awareness day.

Except,  to me, it’s not, really.  It’s national CP awareness day in the US.  I’m not in the US and I sometimes feel like the entirety of the fucking internet resolves around people from the US  and that those of us not in it get forgotten about (do you know how many book competitions etc I can’t enter because they’re US only?! Too many).

I just deleted everything I’d written after this point.  I’d somehow managed to hit 443 words without even beginning to cover the point i wanted to make with this entry. Clearly I suck as a concise writer. Particularly when I can actually sum my point up in one TL;DR sentence. Which is:

I don’t really see that there is any need or point in awareness days in general and particularly for CP.

I don’t know what they do.  I find that a lot of people assume I have MS but when I tell them it’s CP pretty much everyone has heard of it. (I did have one rather amusing conversation last year with someone who had CP and CF (cystic fibrosis) confused but…).  I’m not sure why I might need more people to know about CP.

It’s not like there’s some Sheldon style mad scientist in a lab somewhere who has never heard of CP and is sitting there going “hmm I’ve found a cure to some random neurological disorder affecting people from birth and mostly causing mobility difficulties and spasticity but I just don’t know what disorder it is. If only someone could make me aware of it’s existence I could change the world for the 1 in 200 babies born every day with it. What a dilemma.  If only… if only…”

I don’t need a cure.  I’m pretty much perfect just the way I am.  I’m the person I’m meant to be right now.  Plus, given that I’ve spent 31 years using my body in a way it wasn’t designed to be used I’ve got some unusual wear and tear going on (hip issues for one) that curing my CP could halt or possibly improve but wouldn’t get rid of. Also? CP is brain damage. Ain’t no one touching my brain.

And most importantly I can’t help the part of me that reads or hears things about the desperate need for a cure for CP and thinks “there are plenty of other conditions out there that need curing more.  Ones that kill people.” Focus on those.

I class disability awareness and CP awareness as different things.  I believe disability awareness is important.  It’s through the disability rights movement that the community as a whole can improve access and achieve things.  Focusing on little things for one condition or another can’t do as much much as focusing on the majority.  Which is why days like the International Day of Disabled People are much more relevant and important to me (the fact that the entry I wrote for it last year remains one of my most powerful in my opinion is nothing to do with that, honest)

I truly believe that the best way I can help myself and others with disabilities – be it those with CP in specific or disability in general – is just to live my life and get on with things. If people see me doing and being I think I achieve more than if I do some specific stunt to raise awareness of CP.  Because to me CP isn’t just one day – it’s everyday.  And I’m much too busy to do anything more than live my life.

Inspiration Porn

Tonight is the yearly Children in Need appeal here in the UK. BBC One is taken over by a telethon for about seven hours. The idea is to raise money to help disadvantaged children. So you see video clips of children from other countries walking miles for water, young carers helping their mum or dad and disabled children doing things too. And it’s a given that those children will either look sad or have their story told using emotive language such as “suffers from…” Or “whilst other children are playing little Johnny must…”

Interspersed with those clips are famous people doing silly stuff, frequent updates on how much has been raised and brief mentions of members of the public doing sponsored silences. Locally a lot of schools have had PJ days to raise money. Those can sometimes be funny and a child I was a big fan of Children in Need.

Now? I hate it.

This is what’s known in disability circles as “inspiration porn”

Inspiration porn is something which is designed to highlight the differences disability brings and invoke pity. In some cases this pity is to raise money for charity, in others it’s to encourage people and sometimes it’s designed to make them think. It’s a bit like the ultimate embodiment of the phrase “there’s always someone worse off than you”. I am disabled and therefore, automatically, my life is terrible, I am an object of pity and you have it much better than I do.

The phrase that will be heard a lot on telethons is “can you donate to make a difference to a child like little Johnny” invariably after they’ve just told you how terrible his life is. The inference being that if you can’t you obviously don’t care about him.

It’s the picture doing the rounds on Facebook with the “the only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Attitude is huge. But I can’t put on my Bolshie face, wheel up to the local shop that doesn’t have wheelchair access and stare the step down until it magically turns into a ramp and lets me in. And as much as I do my damnedest not to let my CP stop me that doesn’t make me amazing and I’m sure as hell not inspirational. The idea behind that I believe is that it makes nondisabled people think “if she can do that with all she goes through why am I moaning?” And such like.

Or it’s the advert at the train station which shows a little boy in a wheelchair with the phrase “he wishes he could leave this behind too.” And the details of how to donate to one of the disability charities. Because clearly he’s trapped by his chair. The idea as with all of these is to make you pity him. Only when I saw that poster I was sat in my wheelchair. On the train as it pulled out of the station. Fail.

Disability does make me different to other people. Wearing glasses makes to me different to other disabled people. The fact I like to dye my hair, live alone and am a big NCIS fan makes me different again from other glasses wearing disabled people. It’s a fact of life and a characteristic of me as any other for anyone else in the world.

I knew, growing up, that at least one of the organisations I was involved with had received money from Children in Need (although I don’t think it was ever featured). But I never realised that I was one of those kids. One of the ones who were shown “leaving the confines of their wheelchair behind for an hour once a week whilst they ride a horse.”

I’m glad I didn’t realise. It took me a long time to become the vaguely confident outgoing person I am now. It would have taken longer if I’d grown up with the knowledge that my life meant I was an object of pity who needed charity lives a terrible life and who is held up to others as a reason why they’re lucky. Because obviously the fact I survived being deprived of oxygen at birth at a time when the medical world wasn’t as developed as it is now means I’m terribly unlucky.

More than your charity I want your support. And for me that comes from being treated with respect. From people recognising who I am and my individuality, not making assumptions and letting me be me. That’s going to make more of a difference to more of those “children in need” then all the money donated in it’s entire 30+ year history.

If you want to help people donate direct to organisations and bypass those events that thrive on making people feel bad.

See the girl, see the truth, see the life. Accept me and those like me. I’m here living me life. Like you I’ve only got one shot at it and I don’t have a choice but to do what I do. I’m here to enjoy myself, not to inspire you or be pitied. Open your eyes and say no to inspiration porn.

Rekindled

I’m reading a good book at the moment.  I hope to finish it tonight and I’ll review it for my blog in the next few days most likely.  When I flicked to the back to see how many pages it has I noticed that on the page after the end of the story there is the following quote.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.”
Albert Schweitzer

I’ve had a tough year I think it’s fair to say.  And things are greatly improving and I feel like I’m not in the best place I’ve ever been in but I’m certainly in a much better place, possibly even a good place.

I love quotes as anyone who has read my blog for a while will probably realise.  This resonnated with me a lot.

I’ve spent time this year feeling as though I was worthless.  As though the ridiculous disablism I experienced at the hands of the NHS (something I don’t think I ever shared fully on my blog and I doubt I ever will) destroyed my self esteem and confidence.  It’s coming back but I still feel more fragile and a lot less confident than I used it in some ways.

Putting myself back together isn’t something I can do alone though – I’m only where I am now because of the people who “blew my light into flame” if you will.

My family.  My friends. The ones who get the problem when I explain it and the others who get my text and immediately text back “oh fuck.” because that’s all there is to say and they know I can’t handle being told not to worry. The ones who point out the bigger picture.

The people from the You Know You Have CP When… group for providing me with a sense of solidarity and understanding I’ve not felt in a long time (seriously, 300+ CPers – you know you can post and at least one other is there to say “yup, been there.” HUGE.).

The people who had nothing to do with what happened but tell me the way I was treated was unacceptable and they’re sorry and will see what they can do. The guys at one of my favourite Oxford venues who at a point on Sunday when I was about to lose it inadvertantly made me laugh.  Those who lurk in the background.  The ones who deny they’re doing anything special. And, sadly, the ones who show their true colours making me realise I can’t trust them as much as I thought I could.

Those who do things I would never expect.  On Sunday the Oxfordshire NaNoWriMo kick off meeting was at a venue I’ve been to once before but not since I’ve had this chair.  I’d forgotten that the entrance wasn’t properly ramped which meant I couldn’t get in as trying to go up it triggered the safety cut off thing.

My friend is one of the organisers this year and came over to see what was up. She said she was really sorry (to which I said it wasn’t her fault) and that next week we’ll go to another venue which has great access plus totally rocks. By this time I’ve got the cafe owner trying to make stupid suggestions of what I can do to get over it (it’s a mechanism which kills all my momentum if I try and go up something particularly steep to prevent the chair tipping and it can’t be overridden or pushed past  “Go as far as you can then stop and try again and “go backwards” won’t work). When my mate then asked what about now I said I was leaving because I couldn’t handle any more faffing and knew I’d cry if I had to.

10 mins later I was almost to the station when I had a call saying was I on the train yet because all 14 of them were leaving the cafe for the accessible venue. I went back to meet them and got there before them. Two of that 14 are my friends and three others I’d met briefly before. I was blown away that a group of mostly strangers would do that for me. Hell in the past I’ve had difficulty getting groups where practically everyone knows me to use venues I can access.

I try to always say thank you to those who prop me up and support me but I fear I’m not always clear or successful enough.  My light wouldn’t have come back anywhere near as quickly if not for all the people who surround me.

Thank you.

>I am now A Writer In A Wheelchair AND In Print!

>This is a really, really exciting update!  Brought to you by a really, really, really excited cripple!!

You may remember that a few weeks ago I briefly mentioned that I’d had an magazine article accepted for publication.
Well, that article was accepted by Disability Now (for their Up Close and Personal section) and I got my copy in the post this morning.  It looks amazing.  And I especially loved seeing my article and my name on the contents page.  It’s also available online but I must admit the website version doesn’t look as great to me. Looking at the tiny author photo and seeing myself is GREAT!
Please read it and let me know what you think!