Top 10 Things Not to Say To a Blind Person by comedian Brian Fischler

10. Really? You can work a computer?
Yes, it is not 1950 out there. Assistive technology has gone mainstream. I can even work an iPhone too!

9. When I am with someone people will ask that person questions about me when I am right there.
That’s right blind people can speak for themselves. Believe it or not we can even order food for ourselves when in a restaurant!

8. How do you live?
In an apartment by myself. That’s right, jealous much? I get to do what I want whenever I want, and I don’t ever have to turn any lights on to do it.

7. People who start talking louder when around me.
Really, you do realise I am blind not deaf? Seriously you went to college and could not figure that out?

6. People who grab you and say “Let me help.”
Whoa easy there tough guy. What do you think is going to happen if you walk up on the street and grab a sighted person you do not know? You are probably going to get punched. The same thing will happen if you grab a blind guy without asking first. Believe it or not, blind people do not like to be grabbed by strangers on the street. Always ask first before touching…

5. Guess who it is?
For some reason it is always someone I have met once or twice who says this. Yes, blind people do not have everyone they have ever met voice committed to memory. Sorry to disappoint. Even if we do know you, do not come up as if it is a game to guess who you are, it is not a game to us.

4. For those of us who walk with a white cane and have it folded up “Nice pool cue.”
Leave the comedy to us professionals. Would you say to someone in a wheelchair nice Go-Kart? I do not think so.

3. This conversation:
“Are you training that dog?”
“No I am blind.”
“Really? You don’t look blind.”
Seriously what does a blind person look like? Believe it or not blind people come in all races, religions, height, weight, sex, and nationalities…

2. You’re my hero!
Really, you barely know me. My typical response cannot be published here but put it this way, blind people can be sociopaths too.

1. On Halloween: “What a brilliant costume – a blind guy.”
No, this is my everyday look and why I never leave the apartment on Halloween anymore…

10 things you need to know about Down syndrome

My name is Brittany Schiavone and I’m an entrepreneur, an actress, a sister, a student, and a 27-year-old woman thriving with Down syndrome. Two years ago, I founded my own nonprofit corporation called Brittany’s Baskets of Hope, and my mission is to spread resources, support, and hope to families who have recently welcomed a baby with Down syndrome into their lives. Today, I’m here to tell you about Down syndrome and, most importantly, to remind you how great the world would be if we all treated each other with respect and kindness and cheer because, really, we’re all more alike than different.

In that spirit, here are 10 things you need to know about Down syndrome:

1. Down syndrome is not scary or bad.
It is not a disease or an illness, and it happens when a baby inherits one extra chromosome, the 21st. But, really, people with Down syndrome are friends, sisters, brothers, students, athletes, and artists just like you.

2. Individuals with Down syndrome go to school.
I started when I was six weeks old! They also graduate from high school, and some even attend college. I’m enrolled in college classes right now.

3. Just like you, individuals with Down syndrome are all unique.
We all have our own personalities and interests. I love to dance, act, and sing, while other people with Down syndrome may love to cook or to play football. Sound familiar?

4. When we talk about people with Down syndrome or other different abilities, it’s important to use what we call “person-first language.”
In other words, to remember that we’re people first, and that our disabilities are just one part of us. So instead of saying, “the autistic boy” or the “Down’s baby,” say: “the boy with autism” or “the baby with Down syndrome.” Because we all deserve not to be defined by labels but celebrated for everything that makes us who we are.

5. People with Down syndrome have jobs, earn money, and are active members of their communities.
Not only am I in charge of my nonprofit corporation, but I work at Party City. It’s important to remember that no matter who we are or how we’re born, we all have purpose.

6. And speaking of parties, individuals with Down syndrome hang out with friends and go to parties and concerts and movies.
Now that I’m 27, I even love to spend Friday nights with my girlfriends, gossiping over appetisers and mixed drinks.

7. Adults with Down syndrome are adults, indeed.
Once we’re in our twenties and beyond, we lead self-directed lives and some of us even move out into our own supported apartments. I have staff that support me in doing everything I want to do and I pride myself on being the boss of my own life.

8. Individuals with Down syndrome attend proms, date, gossip about celebrity crushes, and have real life romantic relationships.
If we’re talking about celebrity crushes, aren’t Derek Hough and Chris Colfer the cutest?

9. This one’s important. It’s never ok to use the r-word toward anyone with Down syndrome—or anyone at all.
The r-word is a derogatory, mean word and it hurts me when you say it. It should have no place in our vocabulary. Instead, we should lift each other up with kindness and love.

10. At the end of the day, we’re all more alike than different, and our differences do not make us less or better than anyone else.
Our differences make us beautiful and unique and allow us all to have different talents and gifts to share with the world. Remember that you have worth and purpose and that, no matter who you are, I know you can do anything you dream, as long as you put your heart and your mind and the unique essence that is you into it. Be you, courageously.

http://brittanysbasketsofhope.org

Recently awarded “Emerging Leader” at the Australian Government Positive Body Image Awards, former Paralympian Jessica Smith has emerged as one of Australia’s most avid advocates for positive body image

Jessica Smith is not only one of Australia’s most sought after motivational speakers & presenters, she has also been internationally recognised as one of the most influential role models of this generation and is on a mission to create much needed awareness within society about the importance of positive body image. In 2015 Jessica was a state finalist for Young Australian of the Year and has also won a Pride of Australia Medal. We sat down with her to find out what inspires her activism.

DtL: Hi Jessica, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your story so far?
Jessica: I was born missing my left forearm, then as a toddler, I suffered horrific third degree burns to 15% of my body after accidentally knocking a kettle of boiling water on myself. I didn’t exactly have an easy start to life. In a world where so much emphasis is placed on appearance, growing up I felt as though I simply wasn’t good enough and didn’t fit in. Low self esteem and an inability to accept myself unfortunately led to a decade long struggle with bulimia, anorexia and depression – desperately searching for perfection in a world where I felt so isolated & alone. While all of this was going on behind closed doors, to the rest of the world I was a high achiever, having excelled at school and University and also being a prominent athlete representing Australia in the sport of swimming from the age of 13 to 20. I successfully represented Australia at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, however my elation soon turned to devastation when the reality of my eating disorder took hold – I didn’t swim as expected. I returned to Australia, was admitted to a rehab facility and forced into early retirement. I’ve been in recovery for many years now and I have made it my mission to work tirelessly and proactively to promote positive body image and raise awareness about the seriousness of eating disorders & mental illness.

“Low self esteem and an inability to accept myself unfortunately led to a decade long struggle with bulimia, anorexia and depression”

 

DtL: You are very open about how you struggled with an eating disorder. Could you tell us how this impacted you and why you think it important to raise awareness?
Jessica: My eating disorder was destructive; It destroyed my youth and ruined so many wonderful opportunities, including my international swimming career which ended abruptly when I was just 20. I have many regrets about how I treated my body when I was younger, but today I’m so grateful that I am in recovery, and I have a responsibility to be a voice for others that are struggling and I also have a responsibility to give back to the people who formed part of my support network – my way of showing gratitude is to pay it forward and generate more awareness. The more we talk about body image issues, the easier it is to make an impact within society. We all have a responsibility to be part of the conversation.

“We can’t continue to blame the media industry if we buy the magazines and watch the shows that directly target our insecurities”

 

DtL: Do you think that the media has a negative impact on young people in terms of body image and self-confidence?
Jessica: The media certainly has a powerful way of influencing our thoughts and behaviour and I do believe that with the introduction of social media, young people in particular are constantly bombarded with messages that tell them they aren’t good enough and that they need to change in order to be beautiful or accepted within society. However, I think we need to avoid blaming the media and instead take proactive action by educating ourselves. We can’t continue to blame the media industry if we buy the magazines and watch the shows that directly target our insecurities. We have a responsibility to develop a critical eye and educate ourselves about how and why the media target our body image and self confidence – they do this because they are trying to sell us something. So it’s essentially up to us, to say NO and to take a positive stance by not allowing the negative messaging to impact our lives. We do this through more open and honest communication with those close to us.

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DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Jessica: Becoming a mother.

DtL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?
Jessica: To be completely honest, my disability has never really been a challenge that I’ve had to overcome, rather I see it as an opportunity to learn new ways of doing things. Throughout my life some physical activities have been more difficult than others, for example learning to tie my shoe laces, or doing hand stands at school. But I’ve always found my own way of doing things. Since becoming a mother (I have a one year old daughter) my disability has been more profound in my life due to the fact that I have to do everything while holding a child. Even still, I have always had the mindset that I can do anything, I just have to be patient with myself and allow myself to find a way of doing things that I’m comfortable with.

“My disability has never really been a challenge that I’ve had to overcome, rather I see it as an opportunity to learn new ways of doing things”

 

DtL: Our research found 63% of those with a physical disability are likely to experience extreme bullying and social exclusion. Have you ever experienced bullying and if so how did you combat it? 
Jessica: I have definitely experienced name-calling and people pointing and staring, but what hurt me the most when I was growing up was being excluded. Exclusion isn’t offered considered a type of bullying, however in my experience being ‘left out’ or deliberately excluded hurt more than any verbal or physical attack. Feeling rejected by my peers had a profound negative impact on my social interactions, I was often withdrawn and referred to as shy, but this was due to my fear of being left out – it was a very vicious cycle. It wasn’t always easy, but I forced myself to ignore this behaviour and instead surround myself with people who did value me and people who did want to be in my presence. It was also important for me to talk to people that I could trust, family members and close friends. I found that talking to people about my experiences made the heavy burden seem much lighter. Of course with age and experience I have learnt not to let anyone else’s actions impact my feelings. I’ve learnt that no one else can take away the power of my own feelings.

“In my experience being ‘left out’ or deliberately excluded hurt more than any verbal or physical attack”

 

DtL: You have written a children’s book entitled “Little Miss Jessica” which is about a little girl with one hand, on her first day at school. What inspired you to write the book?
Jessica: When I found out that I was having a daughter I felt an immense about of pressure to ensure that I ‘practiced what I preached’ – I knew that I had to lead by example, which for me meant showing her through my every day actions the benefits of living a positive life by being respectful to yourself as well as being tolerant of others. After years working with youth I recognised that my message about positive body image needed to be conveyed to a much younger audience through education. So I decided to get creative and write a children’s book. When I asked myself what it was that I really wanted to achieve by writing a book, the answer was simple — prevention, and leaving a legacy for my daughter. I looked back to my own childhood and realised that there was a complete lack of diversity in characters from books I had read. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with characters such as Barbie, Cinderella, Batman or Superman; these are the characters that ignite our imagination and encourage us to fantasise.

“Children also need to see and read about characters that represent what they see in real life”

 

However, children also need to see and read about characters that represent what they see in real life. They need to see characters with imperfections and characters with differences. Little Miss Jessica Goes to School; follows the journey of Jessica, a little girl with one hand, on her first day at school. This can be a daunting experience for any child, especially when they look different. But the book isn’t simply about a young girl with a disability; it is so much more than that. It’s about her journey in discovering that we are all different. In the story she meets other characters all who have a different appearance to her, and together they learn to appreciate who they and how they look, in spite of their differences. It’s a beautiful story that tackles issues such as self esteem, disability, body image, friendship, acceptance, tolerance and social connection and ultimately delivers a fundamental message for younger generations about self acceptance – a message that reminds us all that being different is OK.

DtL: What does the future hold for Jessica Smith?
Jessica: I’m in the process of writing two more books that will follow Little Miss Jessica’s journey through exciting new adventures, so watch this space and please follow me on social media so that you can stay updated!

 

 

Comedian Josh Blue on the 10 things you should never say to a disabled person

1. What happened to you?
The response to this should be an obvious one: What if someone asked what happened to your…FACE… See? It doesn’t feel good.

2. Are you drunk?
Nope! And even if I was, I’d still be walkin’ like this.

3. Let me do that for you!
Chances are, they’ve already made it this far without your help, they probably don’t need it. If someone does need your help, they’ll ask for it.

4. Is that contagious?
Only if you want it to be, baby?

5. Can I have some of your medication?
Not for free!

6. How do you get rid of that?
Counter question: How do I get rid of you?

7. You can’t do that
Just watch me!

8. How much government’s assistance do you get?
We’re very capable of having jobs and we enjoy working! (Most days)

9. Have you ever had sex?
That’s DEFINITELY none of your business. We’re just like anyone else – we like to keep our private lives, PRIVATE. If you are curious about sex with disabilities, I’m sure there’s a whole dark place of the Internet available for research.

10. Do you ride the short bus?
No…that’s my Uber over there.

We talked table tennis and multiple epiphyseal dysplasia with Paralympian Ross Wilson

Ross Wilson started playing table tennis when he was just eight years old. He had success in abled-bodied table tennis, and as a junior was ranked in the top ten in the country, winning two national doubles titles. However, as he got older it became clear that some physical problem was affecting his physical development, although exhaustive medical tests over a ten year period failed to discover the cause. Finally, after years and years of hospital visits, he got his diagnosis; Ross has a genetic condition called multiple epiphyseal dysplasia, which affects his bones and their growth. After getting his diagnosis, he started training with the GB Paralympic Table Tennis squad. Ross’s progress was rapid, and his first international season culminated in a silver medal in the European Championships in 2011. At the age of 17 he was the youngest member of the GB table tennis team in London 2012. We asked Ross some questions and he kindly obliged.

DTL: What are your most prominent challenges and how do you overcome them?

Ross: Since getting my diagnosis, I have been competing in the Paralympic scene. I love my sport and train very hard – although my disability means I am prone to injury if I train too much. This can be challenging, as I am always eager to push myself, but I can never push too hard otherwise there is a strong chance I will suffer an injury, and that could potentially prevent me playing in major competitions, which is obviously, my main goal as a sportsman.

DTL: What keeps you motivated?

Ross: I always feel privileged to represent my country; I want to make the nation proud, and this gives me the drive and determination to be the best that I can be. The best thing about my work, is that young people look to me as a role model. I hope to inspire the next generation and influence them in a positive way; I want them to know that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. I hope to support as many charities as I can, such as Ditch the Label.

ross
Ross Wilson

DTL: Our research found 63% of those with a physical disability are far more likely to experience extreme bullying and social exclusion. What advice would you give to any of our readers who may be experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in/ doubt themselves because of attitudes towards a disability?

Ross: Of course, everyone carries some sort of insecurity with them, but at the end of the day, the only opinion that really matters is your own. If you are confident within yourself, and that is the image you are outwardly projecting, other people are more likely to treat you accordingly. Follow your dreams and try to stay as positive as you can, no matter what.

DTL: We have consistently found that young people are restricted by gender stereotypes and face considerable social consequences for not conforming to them. What is your perception of masculinity in 2016 and what needs to change?

Ross: Even today, in 2016, stereotypes still exist and there is definitely a stigma attached to those who do not conform to what is considered, the ‘norm’. However, I do believe that these stereotypes are being addressed –  it is becoming more acceptable for a man to have, and show, a feminine side and vice versa. It has helped that several notable celebrities have spoken out about these issues over the last couple of years, but we still need to work together to rid society completely of gender inequalities.

DTL: What three words best describe you?

Ross: Kind, fighter and determined.

 

Follow Ross on Twitter

 

 

 

Comedian Shannon DeVido on how she usually answers these 10 common questions about being a wheelchair user

1. How do you go to the bathroom?

I didn’t do well in science, but from what I can tell, after I drink a lot of water or eat, after a few hours, my body lets me know it needs to come out…unless I eat Chipotle, then it’s only about 30 mins. Worth it though.

2. How fast does that thing go?

Sadly, not as fast as I want. If I had my way, I’d “pimp my chair” so it’d be able to go on a highway, but my family don’t think it’s very “safe”. Also, I often hear “you’re going to get a speeding ticket!” Nope. Not true. Not even in a school zone.

3. Can you have sex?

I think you need to buy me a nice dinner and be interested in my extensive Harry Potter knowledge before I answer this question for you.

4. Do you sleep in your chair?

This often comes from kids, so I will usually say, “No, because the stuffed animals on my bed would be lonely.” To adults I just eye roll.

5. Does she need something? (Asked to the person I’m with)

Hi! Down here! You can talk to me! I graduated college, Cum Laude. I’m pretty good at ordering chicken fingers.

6. Do you know [insert name here]? He’s also in a wheelchair.

Steve McSteverson? Yeah! He’s usually at the underground wheelchair meetings where we talk about stupid questions.

7. What’s wrong with you?

Plenty! Just ask my therapist! Honestly, I don’t mind when people ask me about my specific disability, but when it’s said in this curt manner it makes me feel like I should think there’s something wrong with me just for being a wheelchair user.

8. Is your boyfriend in a wheelchair too?

No, James McAvoy is not a wheelchair user… unless he’s playing Professor X. Then yes.

9. Can I get a ride?

How much are you paying me? Rates go up during peak hours and big events. #WheelchairUber

10. Do you need help?

Nope. I’m good. Thank you for asking. I promise I’ll ask if I need it.

**Disclaimer: I’m not actually dating James McAvoy. Sorry, rumour factory and apologies to his incredibly attractive wife.**

Written by Shannon DeVido

www.shannondevido.com

Meet Ben Stoten – the shark-diving, weight-lifting double amputee

DtL: Hi Ben, Could you tell us a bit about your story so far?

Ben: On February 3rd 2012, as I was going to the aid of another soldier who had been wounded in Afghanistan, I was caught by an improvised explosive device. I awoke three weeks later in Birmingham, having been put in an induced coma, to find that both my legs had been amputated. In addition to this I sustained a broken upper left arm, swollen lungs (from the shockwave of the blast) and as a result, I was unable to breathe without a life-support machine. Sadly the comrade I had tried to help, passed away six weeks later from his injuries.

It took three months before I was able to leave the hospital and enter rehabilitation, where an amazing team spent a year teaching me how to walk using prosthetic legs. I was introduced back into the world of fitness and found the gym extremely therapeutic and calming – the competitive side of me also loved making improvements each week.

Since then, I have gone on to open my own business, settle down and also start my journey to becoming a personal trainer! My mission is to inspire other people like me to move forward in a positive way, and use the gym as a form of therapy.

DtL: Do you think that the media has a negative impact on young people in terms of body image and self-confidence?

Ben: I think the media can’t help but play a major part in the formation of peoples’ views – especially those of the young and impressionable. We are exposed on a daily basis to advertisements and programmes which contain seemingly ‘perfect’ people and this leads to feelings of inadequacy. We need more diverse role models in mainstream media to represent the population at large.

DtL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

Ben: I guess just navigating the world as an amputee – things that you wouldn’t have ever thought about as an able-bodied person. For example, if I am going somewhere new, I have to plan the whole visit – even if it is only to a new restaurant! Although I am very good at walking in prosthetics, I have to check if there are stairs, and if there are, I have to check if there is a rail available that I can prop myself up with as I cannot simply descend a staircase like everyone else does. I also need to know how steep they are too as I have been caught out before and it can be embarrassing – for example there have been occasions where I have needed to swap tables with people or sometimes abandon the visit altogether.

Come winter I dread snow being forecasted as I cannot walk on it without slipping and falling over – and when it rains I have to be careful too! I mean, sometimes it’s hard as an able-bodied person to stay upright in those weather conditions!

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DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying? If so how did you deal with the experience?

Ben: Like most people, I first experienced bullying at school. I changed secondary schools due to my parents separating, and joined halfway through a term when everyone else had already established their friendship groups. It was tough. It started with kids throwing things at me in class and then gradually escalated to name-calling, boys shoving me in the playground and then eventually, full on fights. It was never just one person either – I always had to face a group of three boys or more at a time – I think because I was quite tall. There was a ring-leader, who puppeteered the others, as in often the case.

Even though I was only young, I took comfort in the fact these boys felt the need to ‘gang up’ on me, as they were obviously too scared to face me alone. I decided to take up boxing and learn to defend myself – it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. If nothing else, I learnt how to block and duck the punches coming my way. However, they soon started to try and use this new hobby of mine against me – they’d say things like ‘Come on, hit us Ben’, ‘Use your boxing skills Ben’. I had been taught by my trainer to only resort to fighting if it was absolutely necessary, but it did get to the stage where they attacked me in such a way I felt the need to retaliate physically. I would never advocate violence as a way of solving issues, but what that experience taught me, was to face your problems head on – deal with them – because they won’t simply ‘go away’.

DtL: Our research found 63% of those with a physical disability are far more likely to experience extreme bullying and social exclusion. What advice would you give to any of our readers who may be experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in/ doubt themselves because of attitudes towards a disability?

Ben: Firstly, accept yourself as you are – disability and all. Be happy and confident in your own body, as it is only then that you can start to overcome the boundaries and fears that hold us back in life. If you are experiencing bullying – talk to someone and try and deal with the problem at hand – or, bypass them altogether! By that I mean work on you, find a hobby that you love and the friends will follow. Remember that what you are going through won’t last forever – things will get better.

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DtL: What is the most exciting thing you’re working on at the moment?

Ben: Training to become a qualified personal trainer! The industry is saturated but I am lucky (so to speak) in that I have a unique angle; having a military background and being an amputee, I am hoping to turn my passion into a career. Alternatively, I would like to work in a rehab centre with people such as myself, and pass my experiences onto others!

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?

Ben: I would tell myself to turn left instead of right in Afghanistan for obvious reasons ? BUT that aside, I would tell myself not to sleep in too much and enjoy life for what it is! I am no longer able to get up in the early hours of the morning and go for a run, or play football, and I realise now how many days I wasted sleeping in bed as a teenager!

DtL: What is it like to be an amputee in 2016? Have you faced any challenges/ prejudice that you didn’t receive before? If so how have you dealt with them?

Ben: It’s not too bad – most places now cater for disability within reason. The army provided me with an exceptional level of care despite some media outlets saying otherwise. Conversely, it is thanks to the media that the profiles of injured servicemen have been raised. Events like the Paralympics have also helped spread awareness; I know a lot of friends who have tuned in and been in awe of what the competing athletes have achieved. Slowly, I think the stigma and stereotypes are ceasing to exist.

DtL: We want to challenge existing perceptions of masculinity to inspire young boys to seek support and talk about their feelings. Can you name one thing that is not traditionally masculine about you?

Ben: Unlike traditional gender stereotypes – I am incapable of anything DIY related. My partner does those kinds of jobs around the house and tells me how bad I am at them. I’m also very partial to a bath bomb – I like to chill out and relax – but when shop assistants’ see me browsing, they assume I am buying for my wife. They are very wrong.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add? 

Ben: If you are having a tough time, and you are experiencing bullying, please don’t keep it to yourself – it makes such a difference to air your problems – contact Ditch the Label! I also suggest, to those who have a disability, to seek out others with a similar disability. Remember you are not alone! The world is a big place full of unique people, making a connection with those that are in a similar situation to you will be comforting and help you find your motivation!

Follow Ben on Instagram @amputeeswholift

We talked catwalks, Rio 2016 and artificial limbs with Paralympian Stefanie Reid

Stefanie Reid is a Paralympic long jumper who competes for Great Britain; she is a five-time world record holder, double Paralympic medallist in the long jump (2012) and 200m sprint (2008), and reigning European long jump champion. She has an honours degree in biochemistry, and away from the track works as a professional speaker and fashion model.

Her talent and passion for sport were spotted early, and at 12 she was already dreaming of playing rugby on the world stage. But at 15, Stef was involved in a boating accident, suffering severe propeller lacerations. Her life was saved but her right foot was amputated. Stef’s focus shifted from her sports to her studies, and she graduated as valedictorian earning a full academic scholarship to Queen’s University in Canada to study biochemistry.

While at Queen’s, Stef joined the university athletics team just to see how fast she could still run. Upon graduation, Stefanie decided to put her plans of medical school aside and focus on her childhood dream of being a professional athlete. Stefanie trains at Loughborough University alongside her wheelchair racing husband, Brent Lakatos. Brent is also world record holder, three-time Paralympic medallist, and three-time world champion. Together the dynamic duo are working hard towards Rio 2016.

DTL: We see that you have a very impressive schedule filled with athletics, modelling and professional speaking… What is your favourite thing to do when you have some time off?

Stefanie: My favourite things to do tend to be sport related – I am just not allowed to do them in season because I cannot risk injuring myself. But I have 6 weeks a year when I can do things like rock climb, yoga, hike, surf, play basketball. On the list this year is stand up paddling! In season, I love to read, and I am currently addicted to Moth Radio Hour!

DTL: The photos of your 2015 London Fashion Week debut are fantastic, how did it feel to switch from the sandpit to the runway?

Stefanie: It was a little bit nerve wracking, but I had been injured for a while, and I missed the adrenaline rush of competing, so it was great to have an exciting new challenge.  The show was really fun, but no one sees the intense work before hand…or the hours before the show sitting around in dresses that you are half sewn into.

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DTL: What is the most exciting thing you’re working on at the moment?

Stefanie: My bid for Paralympic gold in Rio!

DTL:  Your childhood dream was to become a professional athlete – what inspired you to continue with that goal following your accident?

Stefanie: Losing a limb doesn’t change who you are; I still loved a challenge, I still loved sport, I still loved pushing my body to see what it could do. When I first started, no one really knew what the Paralympics were, or took Para-sport seriously. I was on a very set path when I started athletics: I finished my degree in biochemistry, I was applying to go to medical school. Chasing a dream of being a professional athlete with one foot seemed a little crazy, but to be honest, that was the attraction!

DTL: Do you think that the media has a negative impact on young people in terms of body image and self-confidence?

Stefanie: The problem with media is that it portrays a very limited reality, a very sanitised way to live.  It is not real, it lacks depth, and it too often encourages young people to set their goals too low. A recent study showed that when young people were asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, their number one answer was to be famous. When asked, “Famous for what”, they responded with “Just famous”. What happened to wanting to change the world?

But while I think the media has had a negative impact, we are ultimately responsible for our thoughts and our actions. It is up to us to use our brains to assess and evaluate what the media is portraying.

DTL: What do you think has been your recipe for success?

Stefanie: It is important to have an open mind, and to be receptive to new ideas. It is important to have a great education – sometimes this happens best outside the context of a classroom! I have an incredible mentor. It is important to be prepared to work hard, for a very long time and it is important to accept failure as part of the learning process.

DTL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

Stefanie: Self doubt. In my sport, 4 years of hard work comes down to one performance, on one day. Everyone I am competing against is a great athlete. What sets the winner apart is belief and a deep inner confidence. Life and training never work out perfectly – there are no guarantees in life or in sport, and you have to believe that deep down, no matter what happens, you can deal with it and rise to the challenge.

SWANSEA, WALES - AUGUST 22: Stef Reid of Great Britain competes in the Women's Long Jump T44 event during day four of the IPC Athletics European Championships at Swansea University Sports Village on August 22, 2014 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Stephen Pond - British Athletics/British Athletics via Getty Images)

DTL: Our research found 63% of those with a physical disability are likely to experience extreme bullying and social exclusion. What advice would you give to any of our readers who may be experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in or doubt themselves because of attitudes towards a disability?

Stefanie: I was 15 when I first became an amputee, and one of my first thoughts was “who would ever want to date a girl missing a limb”.  I knew that I no longer fitted into the ideal of what ‘cute’ or ‘pretty’ was. It was hard at first, but actually, it was really liberating. I was free from trying to pretend to fit into some false standard. I accepted who I was, I accepted I didn’t fit the mould, and just carried on. The weird thing was, people found it attractive – I actually got asked out a lot.  The truth is, everyone is insecure. It is the reason bullying exists. The best thing to do is find something that makes you feel good about yourself – painting, writing, sports, music. Focus your mind and your energy on your goals – you can’t always stop bullying, but you can try and stop it taking over your headspace.

DTL: Have you ever experienced bullying? If so how did you deal with the experience?

Stefanie: Fortunately, I have not. I have always had an incredibly supportive network. It is however, impossible for me to walk anywhere and not have people stare, but I really like my artificial leg – it looks awesome. I would stare too!

Follow Stefanie on Twitter:
@RunJumpStefReid

Paralympic Footballer Matt Crossen on suffering a stroke at 23 years of age, qualifying for Rio 2016 and masculinity in sports

I was just a typical 23 year old man.

I played football semi-professionally for Marske United in the northern league division, I went to the gym, enjoyed going out with my mates and was regarded as very fit and healthy. On the morning of my incident I left the house as usual for work, and expected the day ahead to be just like any other.

I was at a college nearby, talking about my work to students, when at 1.23pm I felt a tingle on the side of my head, above my ear. My eyesight started to blur, until I could only see out of the corners of them, and then my left side went completely numb. It was at this point I turned to my friend and said “I think I’m having a stroke”. That was the last sentence I was able to get out, because the weakness on my left side had taken over.

You’d think, considering the circumstances, that I would have felt panicked and worried but, as much as I was in shock that this was happening, I remained totally relaxed. I don’t know why this was the case, it could be down to the area of my brain that was being affected by the stroke.

I was rushed to James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough where they performed a thrombectomy. I awoke to my family around me, and the doctors confirmed I had suffered a stroke. To this day I owe my life to Dr. Bergen and Dr. Padmanaban, and all of the nurses on the ward that helped get me back on the go again.

The stroke has left me with limited mobility and sensation on the left side of my body, but I absolutely refused to let that stop me from playing football. It’s my passion, it’s who I am – I couldn’t give that up. After rehabilitation, I managed to get back to training, and it was there that I was spotted by talent scouts from the England Cerebral Palsy squad.

Success is more important to me now, than ever before. I wholeheartedly believe positivity breeds success; if you put 100% effort and commitment into what you want to achieve, and never give up, you have a great chance of achieving your dreams. Everyone faces challenges along the way; as well as the stroke, I have also suffered other injuries whilst playing for England, but I believe you learn from these hardships. You just have to use what you have been given to the best of your ability. That is all I have done.

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The best thing about playing CP football is that I get to encourage people with disabilities to keep going. I get to reassure them that a disability does not mark the end of a dream – I wouldn’t be playing for England now, if I hadn’t of suffered a stroke! It is so rewarding when people tell you they have been inspired by you, or the sport, and have tried something new because of it.

I know Ditch the Label’s Annual Bullying Survey revealed that people with disability were at high risk of bullying, and sadly, I have seen examples of this first-hand. However, I have also seen people with a disability turn these negative experiences into a positive – I have seen them grow stronger in the face of adversity. If you have a disability and doubt yourself, or feel like you don’t fit in, my advice would be to try and not overthink it; everyone, at some point or another, disabled or not, feels this way.

There are a lot of stereotypes associated with sport, and men in sport, but masculinity to me, is just a phrase. I’m not the biggest or the strongest, and I don’t mind showing my emotions – there is nothing wrong with being honest about how you are feeling, whoever you are! Maleness and ideas of masculinity have always plagued the sports industry – football in particular, but I feel this is improving.

I honestly can’t put into words how amazing it is to know I will be playing at the Paralympics in Rio this year. From having my stroke, to being told I was definitely going to Brazil – I am really proud of what I have achieved. I am getting goosebumps thinking about it now!

Never give up and never regret! You can turn almost anything into a positive if you want to!

Thanks to Ditch the Label for allowing me to share my story.

 

 

After an accident left her disabled, Fuchsia Carter turned to life modelling (posing nude for artists) to help her learn to love her body again

I’ve always loved to perform. When I was between the ages of 16 -18, I belonged to a drama school. At the time, I was very overweight, and as a result of this, I was incredibly shy. I started life modelling (posing nude for artists while they draw you) to try and overcome my insecurities and build my confidence levels.

To begin with I modelled fully clothed, and although I wasn’t yet ‘baring all’, I found it really helped me to accept my body. When I became disabled at 26 years of age, I lost myself completely and became trapped – not only in the chair, but also inside my own head. I began to hate my body, and all that it represented. I would change in the dark and never in front of people, I would close my eyes when my carers washed or showered me. I couldn’t bare to acknowledge my physical state.

In 2015, after loosing a significant amount of weight, I had a bad fall which kept me in hospital over Christmas. During this period I thought long and hard about my life, and the role I had to play in this world. I felt like a drain on society, I felt like it wasn’t fair for people to have to look after me, just because of this one incident that had changed my life forever!

But then it dawned on me; I had to get out of the negative headspace I was in, and start to view and use my body positively. A friend of mine told me I looked beautiful and that I should go back to life modelling. I laughed at her when she said it, but after thinking about it long and hard, I decided she was right.

Fuchsia, photographed by Chris Dee
Fuchsia, photographed by Chris Dee

When I got out of hospital I started to exercise my legs in bed, naked. I watched all my muscles working, and felt really proud that I had not given up. I started to appreciate my naked body; I began to like my curves and ‘wobbly’ bits. I’m not perfect but damn, I’ve been through hell and survived! My body is definitely stronger because of it.

Six months on, I am slowly reentering the world of life-modelling. It isn’t easy, but I’m giving it a good go – I won’t let it defeat me! The first time I took my clothes off in front of all of those strangers I wasn’t nervous at all! I felt euphoric and liberated. I was beaming inside. The fact that a wheelchair user was naked, and being drawn by so many people felt empowering. I felt free for the first time in my life.

However, I have lost out on many modelling jobs because of my disability. Once employers find out the chair is a permanent thing and not a prop, it changes their perception of me. It is like I am not ‘allowed’ to be naked, because I do not fit the normative mold. I blame the media for perpetuating and promoting this one-dimensional representation of the body. In reality, we are all different and that is what makes us beautiful. 

Written by Fuchsia Carter