Simon Stevens explains why it’s important to take advantage of the many opportunities and experiences that popular perceptions of disability seem to ignore…
Within the mainstream political arena, being sick or disabled is often perceived as being a negative state of affairs, involving endless forms and assessments, talk of hate crime, concerns about the bedroom tax, encountering discrimination at every turn and having limited prospects in life. This is how the media likes to portray us – but living as a disabled person doesn’t have to be as boring as they suggest.
I can look back over my 41 years of life with a smug sense of satisfaction that I’ve made the most of it. I’ve travelled extensively; enjoyed a wide range of sports and adventurous activities; had opportunities to work with many organisations and dabble in a range of professions from training to comedy; and made friends from all walks of life throughout the world. And the best part of all is that even now, I’ve yet to stop adding new experiences to my growing pool of fond memories.
Challenges to overcome
I recently spent four days at Calvert Trust Exmoor doing various adventurous activities, many for the first time. Calvert Trust operates three centres throughout England, in the Lake District and Kielder as well as Exmoor, which I had previously assumed were slightly too tame for my liking. I welcomed Calvert Trust’s invitation to try one of them out, however, and was happily glad to be proved wrong.
Over the course of the weekend I took part in a Challenge Course and a Forest Skills session, and was also able to try out the Centre’s Climbing Crates, ‘King Swing’, canoeing and zipwire activities. Being an adrenaline junkie, the King Swing and zipwire were my favourites.
At the time I was there the centre had many other guests staying – of various ages, and with a wide range of conditions – who all seemed to be enjoying themselves just as much as I was, without a hint of any negativity. Which is as it should be; seeing one’s difficulties as challenges to overcome, as opposed to excuses not to try.
What inspired me while I was there was the knowledge that so many others had been there before me in the years since Calvert Trust Exmoor first opened its doors in 1996. I thought of the numerous young disabled people who would have been able to discover and realise their inner abilities through the various opportunities the Centre could provide – not just formally, but also informally through the intensive social interactions that outward bound experiences tend to encourage. It may have been my first time at the centre, but being there brought back fond memories of similar experiences I’d had elsewhere when I was younger.
I believe that Calvert Trust and other such organisations can play an important role in supporting people on their emotional journeys. If more sick and disabled people had opportunities to experience the outward-bound culture, even if that means overcoming an initial reluctance, I’m sure it could be a game-changer in terms of how they regard themselves and their ability to contribute to society.
I left the weekend feeling slightly stronger, emotionally – and that’s speaking as someone who considered themselves very strong already. Being disabled doesn’t have to be a social death sentence; disabled people can achieve as much as anyone else in their own way, or as much as their imagination will allow. Sure, not every day can be chock-full of excitement, but it’s important to keep the fire of our spirits burning with passion, through periodic bursts of challenging ourselves to do something different.
Simon Stevens has cerebral palsy and is a disability consultant, activist, writer and performer, most recently contributing to I’m Spazticus. Further details of Simon’s work can be found at www.simonstevens.com