We talked disability and challenging stereotypes with Adam Pearson

DtL: Hi Adam, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your story so far?
Adam: Salutations. My name is Adam Pearson and I’m a TV presenter, actor, speaker and campaigner hailing from sunny, sunny Croydon.

DtL: As a campaigner against disability hate crimes you have done great work in raising awareness and educating people. Why do you think disability hate crimes are still largely overlooked and under-reported?
Adam: I think it’s a mixture of things, rather than a single key failing that you can look at in isolation. As a disabled person it is imperative that I am aware of my rights – in that regard the buck stops with me. There are also systemic issues that also exist in how hate crimes are reported, recorded and sentenced that need to be called into account and changed. The general public and the police need to be more aware and confident when reporting and recording these hate incidents. There also needs to be a higher degree of accuracy when it comes to sentencing, legislation of any kind is only worthwhile if it is implemented properly and effectively.

“We, as a people, need to break through this assumption that disability hate crime is a disabled problem, for disabled people”


DtL: What needed changes would you like to see happen in 2017 with regards to disability hate crimes and bullying?
Adam: We, as a people, need to break through this assumption that disability hate crime is a disabled problem, for disabled people. It’s a much wider problem than that. As a disabled person, if I am the victim of an assault, the effects of that reach much further than simply me getting my head kicked in. It affects my family, our police and legal system, and if handled incorrectly sends a message to society that this kind of criminal behaviour “isn’t a big deal”.

As things currently stand, legally disability hate crimes are sentenced more leniently than crimes that have been aggravated by race and religion (a 6 month uplift as a posed to 2 years) so there already exists a dangerous hierarchy that values certain minority groups over others. If, legally, you have identified groups who are deemed to need protection under the law, they should be protected equally.

DtL: Looking back, what advice would you give to your 14 year old self?
Adam: Retrospect is a wonderful thing. In the moment, being bullied was a rather traumatic experience, probably one of the worst of my life. When you are that age you’re starting to discover who you are, find your own way in the world whilst at the same time fighting a losing battle with your own hormones AND getting your GCSEs.

When you add being bullied and having a disfigurement to the aforementioned it turned me into a bitter, moody, angry teenager. I did things I’m not proud of and prioritised being “popular” and “cool” over working hard. I dealt with being bullied incredibly badly.

I can never undo those things, and to be honest I don’t think I would. I firmly believe the experiences we go through shape us as people and make us stronger and better at the end of it all.

If I met my 14 year old self, knowing what I know now, I’d tell myself it gets better. There is certainly life after secondary school and that one day your boundaries will extend far beyond the four walls of the school playground. The people that matter don’t mind and the people that mind don’t matter. There is a beautiful quote by a poet called Shane Koycan – “If you can’t see something beautiful about yourself get a better mirror”.

“If you can’t see something beautiful about yourself get a better mirror”


DtL: Why do you think people exhibit bullying behaviour?
Adam: It is very easy to make excuses for people when answering this question, and I want to preface this by saying that there is no excuse for disability hate crimes. With that being said there are misconceptions that surround disability, which if left unaddressed and allowed to fester can create an “otherness”. This “otherness” can lead to a number of complex emotions such as superiority, fear, anxiety and even revoltion. It is these deep-seated emotional responses that can contribute to these hostile actions and responses.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/under-the-skin-adam-pearson.jpg”]


DtL: What advice would you give to someone who is in the middle of dealing with bullying/trolling/disability hate crimes?
Adam: First and foremost tell someone, there is no shame or weakness in asking for help. Make sure you are as internet-savvy as possible. I’d advise any parent to be as knowledgeable as they possibly can be with regards to social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). This isn’t so that they can tweet themselves into oblivion, but more so that if your child experiences trolling / online abuse, you know the steps to take to ensure that they are as safe as possible online.

“There is no excuse for disability hate crimes”


Also as I stated earlier, be aware of the laws and your rights surrounding both social media and its terms and conditions etc as well as the actual law surrounding hate crime. When it comes to reporting these incidents, knowledge truly is power. If you call the police and say “I’ve been the victim of a crime – here are the laws that have been broken” it carries exponentially more weight than saying “Someone hurt my feelings or was mean to me, I think it might be illegal”.

Finally and most importantly, know that it isn’t your fault. All too often people who experience these crimes take on a merit of responsibility when more often that not they are the innocent party. No matter what happens, don’t blame yourself and do not stoop to other people’s levels. Self-respect is more important than any tweet or comment ever could be.

DtL: What are your most prominent challenges living with type 1 neurofibromatosis (NF1)?
Adam: People make assumptions, these are now even more prevalent in our image-obsessed selfie culture. In that, we have somehow done the word “beauty” as massive disservice by a) trying to quantify it and more recently b) treating it as a skill or merit when in reality it all comes down to genetics.

As someone with a facial disfigurement I find myself doing 90% of the legwork in social interactions. When people meet me for the first time I have an absolute plethora of misconceptions I have to disprove, from people assuming I’m perhaps a bit simple (I have a degree) through to the assumption that I am desperately lonely and that my life consists of nothing more than Friends reruns and feeding my many cats (I have no cats).

“When people meet me for the first time I have an absolute plethora of misconceptions I have to disprove”


My disability in and of itself doesn’t cause any difficulties that I can’t deal with – whilst it’s by no means easy (I’ve had 33 operations) it’s other people’s reactions that cause the vast majority of them. It’s often referred to as the ‘social model of disability’.

DtL: What three words best describe you?
Adam: Funny, geeky, charming, intelligent (let’s see who gets this joke).

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Adam: I was recently nominated for Presenter of the Year at the Grierson Awards. Whilst I didn’t win, to be nominated alongside names such as Louis Theroux in front of my peers was an absolute honour. I think it is crucial that as a disabled person I should be expected to compete on the same level as the rest of my industry. Disabled people in any industry want to be challenged, pushed and developed, not simply indulged.

DtL: What does the future hold for Adam Pearson?
Adam: Well…I can confirm you’ll be seeing me on TV again and perhaps on the silver screen. I’m also slowly building up a public speaking career and am available for wedding, birthdays and funerals.


Appearance, bullying, changing faces

10 things not to say to someone who has an unusual appearance

1. What’s wrong with your nose (or whatever)?
If a person wants to speak to you about their face, hair, skin, hands or any other aspect of their body, they will. If they haven’t mentioned it, the chances are that they don’t want to talk about it. This could be because it makes them feel embarrassed, anxious, sad, depressed…or maybe they just have other things to talk about. You may well be curious but be sensitive and wait for them to mention it first, if at all.

2. Is it a contagious disease?
Not only is the answer to this almost always “no”, this is a question which will only make a person feel more self-conscious and alienated. For example, a congenital condition such as Treacher Collins Syndrome is hereditary but is in no way contagious.

3. Do you look like that because you live an unhealthy lifestyle?
No. Never “blame” a person for the way that they look. Aside from the (most important) fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking different, having a visible difference such as a cleft palate or eczema is something that is out of a person’s control.

4. Have you tried changing your diet? Or taking steroids? Or having an operation?
However well-intentioned your advice is, the person just does not need it. They probably have a doctor for that. Your job is to react to them in the same way as you would to anyone else; with kindness and respect.

5. I’m sure it will get better soon.
You’re not sure. So don’t say it. An empty platitude for someone with a chronic health condition which causes them to have an unusual appearance, such as cerebral palsy, is distinctly frustrating, irritating and unhelpful. Also, for some people, there is actually nothing to “get better”. An unusually shaped ear or a birthmark on the cheek is a visible difference but does not necessarily impact on a person’s health.

6. I know how you feel-I have an awful spot on my chin.
Trying to comfort someone by telling them that you know how they feel can actually isolate them further. The comparison shows that you don’t actually understand and are underestimating what they are going through. Also, calling your spot “awful” will make the other person wonder what on earth you are thinking about their own unusual physical feature.

7. You’re so brave and inspirational.
Having a unique appearance does not make a person brave and inspirational. They may well be a brave and inspirational person but they would be whether they looked different or not. A visible difference does not put a person in a different category to everyone else.

8. Oh you look different? I didn’t notice.
You mean well but the other person will know you are being dishonest. If someone has an unusual appearance, they are aware that other people can see it. If you say you didn’t notice that they look different, it can make a person feel patronised and unsupported.

9. At least it’s just the way you look, it could be much worse.
Please don’t try and measure another person’s feelings. Looking different can be difficult at times. It is not “just” appearance. Unfortunately, in today’s society, people are judged and treated differently on the basis of how they look. A survey by Changing Faces found that 9 out of 10 people unwittingly judge people who have disfigurements to be less attractive, less likely to succeed and less easy to work with. In many cases, living with an unusual appearance can have a significant psychological impact on a person and their family too. And anyway, being told “it could be much worse” is not exactly the most uplifting thing to hear.

10. I’m sorry. Yes, living with a visible difference can be a challenge but it is not a life sentence.
The person does not need your condolence or pity. Instead, just as you would do with any other friend, make sure they know that you are there for them if they ever want to talk.
So, what are you going to do when you next meet someone who looks different to you and probably to most of your friends too? Hopefully you’ll treat them like you would anyone else.