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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?'"