The stories of the disabled

How far have attitudes to disability changed? Ten people with different conditions talk about the problems they face making friends, working and going about their daily lives


Michael Stringer, 50

From Newcastle-under-Lyme, in Staffordshire, had a stroke four years ago that left him with heart defects and problems using his left leg. He is unable to work

"I suppose I look younger than a lot of people who use a blue badge to park in a disabled space, but people look at me oddly when I do. I guess they see my stick and wonder if I really have a problem; it would be quite easy just to get a stick. There's a lot of ignorance, and it worries me that disabled people are being picked on because of benefits. There are all these messages going out about benefit scroungers, but I just hope the Government doesn't make it any harder for disabled people because it's already hard to make ends meet on existing benefits."

James O'Driscoll, 38

From Bromley, lost his sight 12 years ago to a hereditary retinal degenerative condition and is Britain's first blind personal trainer

"When I tried to become a personal trainer eight years ago I was told it wasn't possible. I tried again last year. I wear sunglasses to let other people know I'm blind – I don't have milky eyes. I've been beaten up twice because of that, once in a takeaway because I was thought to be taking the mick out of blind people, and once in a bar when a guy thought I was staring at his girlfriend's chest."

Frank More, 60

From Manchester, became deaf after contracting meningitis as a child. He is a retired postal worker

"At 25 I put aside the hearing world and learnt sign language. I have some hearing friends, but most of them are deaf; I find it easier to make friends with other deaf people. A lot of hearing people just won't make the effort and I don't think that's changed in my lifetime. I get stopped and asked for directions and when people realise I'm deaf they back away, even when I produce a pen and paper and offer to write them down. I think people still have some fear of communicating with deaf people."

Shannon Murray, 33

Is a model from London. She uses a wheelchair after a diving accident at 14 left her paralysed

"I've been modelling for 15 years but I've never had a fashion campaign until now. The clients were generally lifestyle, such as hotels or organisations wanting to promote equal opportunities. There has been this stereotype that if you're disabled you're at home shopping from catalogues. There are still lots of massively negative attitudes to disabled people. It upsets me that people still use the word 'spaz' when they wouldn't use words like that about homosexuals or other minorities."

Shelley Stark, 30

From Chester, has chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic muscle and connective pain. After 13 years working for charities, she is now unable to work

"Because I have an invisible illness I get looks when I park in a disabled space. I need to be close because I can't walk far, but people think there's nothing wrong with me, to look at me. People will say, 'You look well,' and I think they often wonder, 'Has she really got that? Because she looks fine.' I really want to go back to work but at the moment my body won't let me."

David Burroughs, 26

From Sydenham, London, has cerebral palsy and works full-time as a fundraiser for Scope

"My flat is on a hill and I have to go up and down it to go anywhere, but if the weather's bad and I'm struggling, people often just ignore me. It's as if I'm invisible. People are ignorant. I tried to go to a nightclub recently that had three or four steps going into it. I was with three or four blokes who said they could easily have carried me down, but the bouncers refused. They said I was a health hazard if there was a fire. At another club, bouncers took my chair from behind when I was on a dancefloor and wheeled me off. Sometimes I'm just not invited to parties because people are worried I wouldn't fit in."

Russ Ramsey, 29

An actor, from Sawston, Cambridgeshire, suffers from Down's syndrome

"I have speech problems, so people find it hard to understand me sometimes. My agent has to work hard to find me jobs. It's harder to get call-backs because there are so many people for each part. There are loads of disabled people trying to act. I think more disabled people should be given acting jobs and there should be more disabled people on television because it helps a lot."

Trisha Mitchell, 33

From Inverness, has a four-year-old daughter, Kamryn, who was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy

"Sometimes when my friends' kids are running around creating mayhem they'll say something like 'Oh, I'd love it if they were like Kamryn.' That's an insult: I'd love it if she could cause havoc. Some of my friends have dropped off over the years as Kamryn got more difficult to deal with. My sister will come and not acknowledge Kamryn at all; she says she finds it hard, but she hasn't got to know this fantastic little girl. I'm a single mother and I think Kamryn's dad might have been more involved if she was a regular child. He hasn't seen her since he came to visit after she was born. On the whole she's a very happy, giggly little girl: her body may be broken but her mind is switched on. If you give her a couple of minutes of time, the smile she'll give you would be worth it."

Gavin Griffiths, 37

From Nottingham, lost his sight after getting retinal cancer as a baby. He works as an administrator

"It took me months to find work. The attitude at the job centre was appalling. I had to wait two weeks before anyone could even help me fill in the forms, and when I did find work they were astonished. People's attitudes really haven't improved. This year I had three white canes broken by other people. One woman didn't even stop to apologise and another came back with the broken end and put it in my hand. When I called her back she said: 'Don't you get it on social services?' Canes haven't been on social services for years, and mine cost £30 to bring in from America. Nobody ever offers to help you get where you're going once they've broken it."

Ciara Evans, 30

A campaigner for Mencap, from Leatherhead, in Surrey, has a learning disability

"I was bullied at school because I was different. Until I was 11 I was at a mainstream school and other pupils saw me as an easy target. They'd say I was stupid and I'd make myself ill because I couldn't face coming in. Young people are harsh, but I still get people making comments and treating me differently. They say, 'Oh, does a learning disability mean you're thick or stupid then?'"

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Recruitment Genius: Office Furniture Installer / Driver

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Furniture Installer /...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor