Sunday, 19 January 2020

Let's Talk About Internalised Ableism

By this point I think a lot of us are aware of what ableism is, the discrimination against disabled people, but what about internalised ableism? It's a topic I've been wanting to tackle on my blog for a couple of years now, it's a complex subject however and not always the easiest to explain but I'm going to have a go at doing so today and talk a little about my experience with it. I don't claim to be an expert, these are just a few thoughts that have been circling about in my head!

I think I probably come across as someone who is 100% empowered by their disability but I'd be lying if I said internalised ableism isn't something I struggle with still. I think I will never stop having that voice in the back of my head questioning my disability, and really that's what internalised ableism is. Internalised ableism is in short disabled people believing the assumptions that society makes about disability, it's me thinking I don't need a wheelchair because I can still walk, albeit painfully and not further than the front path outside my home. It's me thinking I would struggle to find a partner and would find myself single forever. I know deep down that none of these things are true, I do need a wheelchair and of course I did find my partner but as long as ableism exists in society, that voice in my head will too.

Internalised ableism can be just as dangerous as ableism though, it can stop us asking for the things we need and can really damage a person's self belief and esteem. I wish I'd accepted I needed a powerchair far sooner, but I believed so strongly for so long that powerchairs weren't for people like me. Even now I occasionally wonder whether I truly need it, and maybe I should test how far I can walk, when it reality just walking around my home is a struggle. I could have claimed back years of my life if I'd been able to accept my need for a powerchair sooner, but thanks to internalised ableism it took me far longer to reach that level of acceptance. In the end it was thanks to other disabled people on social media that I realised that wheelchairs weren't just for those with paralysis, without that encouragement and acceptance from others I don't think I would have taken the necessary steps to get my life back.

Ignoring the voice in my head can be really difficult some days but surrounding myself with empowering people, both in my everyday life and on social media has made a big impact. I make sure that my Twitter and Instagram feeds are full of empowered disabled people who love their bodies. Doing this really showed me what was possible and fought the message society had fed me about disabled people being less than. It helped me to see that my life is not a tragic story or something to be pitied by others, that I didn't need people's sympathy. Fighting those societal messages is a never ending battle though and one I think I'll be fighting for the rest of my life. But, as time goes by I get better at listening to the truth and prioritising what I need and believe over what society wants or thinks. I trust that I know better than the ignorant lies society spreads about disability and disabled people.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

My 2019 Theatre Highlights

When I look back on my 2019 there are so many highlights I could pick out, everything from meeting my wonderful girlfriend to becoming a published author, but there is one theme that intertwines it all and this will come as no surprise to anyone. Theatre dominated 2018 for me as I found myself able to finally immerse myself in one of my biggest passions and this only continued and grew in 2019. I saw a total of 8 shows, 37 times in 2018, which I thought was simply incredible but 2019 came crashing in and I was so lucky to see a total of 41 shows, 92 times last year. It's nice to know I diversified a little and saw a bigger variety of musicals and plays! Now, that is definitely too many shows to cover in one post so I thought I'd look back on my 2019 through my theatre highlights and talk a little about what I'm looking forward to in 2020 as well.

It's plain to see from my Instagram feed that I frequently found myself at Six the Musical throughout the year, but it's my trip to see the UK Tour that has made it to my highlights. Whilst I have loved seeing the show in the West End, the wheelchair space is at the back of the circle and in the past I've felt like I was missing out on this amazing level of interaction that those on the front row or the slips seats were experiencing. The UK Tour offered me the opportunity to experience this for myself though, with The Oxford Playhouse having a wheelchair space in Row E of the stalls. I was beyond excited to finally see the show up close and I was not disappointed, it was a totally different experience! It also meant I had the opportunity to photograph the Megasix (the final song in which photos and filming are permitted) from a lot closer up. I was on cloud 9 taking those photos, it's something I won't be forgetting in a hurry.

Another theatre that I spent a lot of time at in 2019 was The Old Vic, so much so that I actually ended up seeing every production they put on last year which feels like a lovely achievement! I was very lucky to receive gifted tickets for a lot of the shows I saw there, but it was actually the one show I bought tickets for myself (twice!) that has made it to this list. Present Laughter is by far one of the best shows I saw last year, everything about it was perfect but it was Andrew Scott's casting that first drew me to the production. The opportunity to see him perform live, after having been a fan of his through Sherlock and Pride, was one I thought I'd never get. Meeting him at stage door afterwards was a moment I shall never forget, it feels so surreal looking back. Beyond that though, I fell in love with a show that made me laugh and feel so deeply and I am so glad I made the choice to see it twice!

One show that was high on my list to see in 2019 was Hamilton, I avoided the hype for so long but I finally got sucked in and I am so glad for it! I found myself making 3 trips to the show in the end, each time I was blown away all over again. I can confirm, it truly is as good as everyone says! The music, the choreography, the execution, it's all so dreamy and makes for an exciting watch. I do have a full review planned at some point, mostly to go through the accessibility, but for now I'll simply say; it should be at the top of your list for 2020 if you've not seen it yet!

Another show that didn't make it on to my blog for a full review was Fiddler On The Roof, which I think is the show that surprised me the most last year. My Mum had been desperate to see it and for her birthday present she picked a show for us to see, with Fiddler being quite clearly top of her list. I really had no idea what to expect, I knew some of the most iconic songs but I was worried it would be too old fashioned for me. However, the wheelchair space being in Row C of the stalls ignited my excitement and by the time we were in our seats and the cast started pouring on to the stage, I was hooked. I adored the music, I was left speechless by the dancing and the casts performances were simply exceptional. I only wish we'd managed to squeeze in seeing it for a second time!

If you ever ask me what my favourite show is I will give you two answers, usually a show I'm loving right now and then my all time favourite, Les Miserables. I inherited my love for musical theatre from my Mum and growing up this was one of her favourites and naturally, it became mine. So, when the concert version featuring some well known Les Mis favourites was announced, we didn't need to give each other more than a look to know we'd be booking it. We managed to see it once at the Gielgud and then again in the cinema recently, each time we cried our way through it. For me the highlight has to be getting to see Les Mis legend John Owen-Jones as Jean Valjean, for as long as I shall live that will be one of the most impressive musical theatre performances I have ever seen. I also felt incredibly lucky because I was able to see so many of my original cast from the first time I saw the show in 2015. Basically, all mine and my Mum's Les Mis dreams came true.

It seems only right to finish on & Juliet, which would be my other answer to the question 'what's your favourite show?'. I have fallen head over heels in love with this production, it's filled the Bat Out Of Hell shaped hole in my life finally. Bat showed me how much I adore dance heavy shows and nothing since then has ticked that box, until recently. It really is the most perfect example of how to do a jukebox musical well and it makes me smile until my face hurts. Of course, being able to take photos at the end is a huge bonus and those few minutes that I get to snap away makes me so ridiculously happy. I predict this will be the show I see the most this year!

Now, this isn't a show but one of my biggest theatre highlights from 2019 is the fact that theatre made me fall in love with photography again. I've had my DSLR for years now and previous to my theatre obsession I was taking photos but it really was getting to photograph shows and theatre events that has made me realise how much I adore photography. And that in fact, I might want to pursue it. This will likely come as no surprise considering my Instagram feed has slowly been taken over by my theatre photos! I'm really excited to be going into 2020 with a new lens and my dream camera bag by my side, as well as a lot of passion and determination. Trying to be a photographer in the theatre industry when you're a wheelchair user is difficult to say the least, it's not exactly the most accessible environment, but I'm so ready to put myself out there and be brave.

As for what I'm looking forward to this year, I don't actually have much booked right now but there's a lot of shows on my radar! As for what I do have booked though, I am of course really looking forward to seeing Bat Out Of Hell on tour as I honestly thought I'd never see the show again. Something that is happening a little sooner though is seeing Sara Bareilles in Waitress! Whilst I didn't fall head over heels in love with the show (and have many issues with the language used around disability) I am really looking forward to seeing Sara in the role of Jenna, mostly though I'm excited to watch my girlfriend see her perform as this is something she has been dreaming of seeing!

As for shows that I need to book, Be More Chill is high on my list and I definitely need to get booking as soon as possible as the recent cast announcements have definitely put more of a spotlight on it! I also really want to return to Matilda this year, it was the second show I ever saw and I adored it but just haven't made it back yet for some reason. Mum and I of course want to see the new version of Les Mis at the Sondheim too, despite the fact I am still grieving elements of the show that were cut, I am excited to see it in a different light.

So, that's my 2019 in theatre! As of right now I don't actually have that many shows booked for this year, so feel free to send some recommendations my way. I'd love to hear about the shows you saw in 2019 too!

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Finding An Accessible Home | AD

AD - This post is sponsored by Branch Properties, all opinions are my own.

Ever since I hit my twenties there's been a few things on my mind that I think are common for someone of my age; learning to drive, moving out and gaining independence. However, when you're disabled there is an added dimension to these things that can make something already difficult, incredibly daunting and challenging. Learning to drive is next on my list of tasks to tackle and after that comes moving out, a big mountain to climb. Finding an accessible home and working out what adaptations I need all within a budget is going to be no easy feat. So, it's reassuring to know that there are services and people out there whose aim it is to make these processes easier. One of those services is Branch Properties and when they got in touch, I just knew I had to talk about them as up until their email, I had no idea such a service existed!

Moving home can be stressful enough on its own but when you suddenly find that disability comes into the equation, things can become even more challenging. Or, if you're like me and you're looking to move out of your family home but with little idea of what kind of property or adaptations you'd need. It's something I'd given little thought to until recently, whilst I know my body better than anyone I don't have as much knowledge as I'd like on what adaptations are available to make life a little easier and more independent, especially with technology changing and improving everyday. This is where Branch Properties come in! Branch was set up by Sallie Stone-Bearne after she struggled to help her father, who has MS (Multiple Sclerosis), find somewhere to live. She found that they would turn up to supposedly accessible properties to find that they couldn't even get through the front door.

So, in 2014 she set up Branch to help solve this problem! They take all the hassle out of finding your perfect home that fits your needs. You can work with them to set out your budget and requirements, like what size home you'd need and the area you'd like to live in. They can then hand select and visit potential properties, relaying back their suitability before you've even set foot inside, meaning that they'll be no wasted journeys to a house that is unsuitable. They work with landlords with ground floor properties to make them accessible, starting with the front door and then the bathroom. So, not only are they helping disabled people to find a home, but they are also increasing the amount of accessible properties out there, something that is so needed as in England only 7% of homes have minimal accessibility features.

Once you've found your perfect home they can help out with project management to adapt the building to your needs. Some things I would consider as a wheelchair user, for example, are adaptations like step free access, widened doors and an accessible bathroom/wet room. Disabled Facilities Grants can help out with the cost of such adaptations too. Simply thinking about moving out right now is stressful so I can only imagine how those stress levels could rise once things are in motion, so it's so reassuring to know that there are people out there who can make the process easier. A quick read of the testimonials on the website shows just how much easier Branch makes things!

'Eventually someone that understands the needs of a wheelchair user when looking for a rented property in London! Too many times, commission hungry estate agents fail to understand the simplest of briefs and show unsuitable properties. Branch Properties fully 'get' what you're looking for. Highly recommended! Thank you - Andrew Sutherland' 

You can learn more about Branch Properties and how they can help on their website, as well as keeping up to date with them on Twitter and Facebook. You can also contact them via phone: 020 3475 4022.

I would love to hear about any advice you might have for a disabled person who is moving home or adapting their property!
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