North Yorkshire is celebrating the International Day of People with Disabilities by highlighting the range of experiences lived by disabled people across the county.
The day (3 December) represents an important chance to showcase the voices of disabled people.
This year, the theme of the day is “Not all Disabilities are Visible”. It seeks to raise awareness that not all disabilities are immediately apparent or physical.
This may include mental illnesses, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing loss, brain injuries, neurological disorders and learning disabilities.
North Yorkshire County Council supports a number of groups to ensure that disabled people’s voices are heard, including groups for people with physical and sensory disabilities, people with a learning disability and autism, and people with mental health needs.
The members of these groups provide a collective voice for disabled people across the county and also help the council to look at services provided. Their input is always crucial but even more so during 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic.
To mark the day, people have been sharing their experiences of living with a disability in a number of ways.
Three North Yorkshire self-advocates have made a podcast for the North Yorkshire Learning Disability Partnership Board, speaking up about things that are important to them and other people with a learning disability and autism. In the podcast they talk about their lives and two different schemes to help people with hidden disabilities.
Members of local disability forums have also shared their messages, stories, videos and photos to mark the day.
Another video, ‘Unbroken’, is a film made by an Aspergic woman which addresses preconceived ideas of the condition.
Richard Webb, Corporate Director for Health and Social Care, said: “International Day of People with Disabilities represents an important chance to celebrate disabled people and to listen to their experiences.
“At North Yorkshire County Council we are pleased to support and work with a number of forums and groups across the county including North Yorkshire Disability Forum, North Yorkshire Learning Disability Partnership Board, groups which provide a voice for people with mental health difficulties, and those involving older people.
“Their members work hard all year round to provide a collective voice for disabled people and help shape the services that we and others deliver.
“During the pandemic they have shown enormous leadership. I am hugely grateful for the insights and experiences they have shared with me. They have helped make practical changes for many people.”
Richard Webb added that local disability forum members played a vital role in the care home visiting task group.
This has helped the council to understand how people living in care homes can keep in touch with family and friends during the pandemic. You can read the task group’s recommendation here.
Phil Dodson, chair of the North Yorkshire Disability Forum, said: "For many, disability is only about what they can see and they can have a ‘fear of the unknown’.
“This international day is important because it is an opportunity to raise awareness of a whole spectrum of disabilities, especially the hidden disabilities.
“I would like to thank North Yorkshire County Council for their commitment to people with disabilities through their work and support of physical and sensory forums and learning disability groups both at local and county level".
Melissa Wuidart Phillips has made a film, ‘Unbroken’, to address preconceived ideas of Asperger’s in a woman, looking at the inner dialogue and sensory overload which is often hidden from the outside world.
Melissa said: “Asperger’s is greatly misunderstood. The everyday challenges individuals face are vast: one of the greatest challenges is discrimination due to ignorance.
“Asperger’s is often grouped together with mental health, even though it is not, but rather a natural variation of the human condition.
“I feel neurodiversity should be celebrated and embraced for all that it has to offer; there is so much going on in the heads of people with ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition), but rarely are they able to communicate it in a way that neurotypical people can understand.
“As a writer, I have a rare privilege to convey some of our experiences and hoped by writing Unbroken to help further understanding in the wider world. Also to give other Aspies a feeling that, although we are each unique, we have shared experiences of the world and that we are not alone.
“During this past year many people have experienced what it is like to have constant anxiety and to feel uncertain about their future, to not be able to go out anywhere and meet with other people.
“If they did go out then some felt on edge, wary of others, constantly alert to how close other people were getting, every point of contact, every touch.
“These are shared experiences for many people with ASC, long pre-dating this pandemic, often felt since childhood. I hope many people will take this opportunity for empathic growth and as a chance to see the courage and strength often overlooked when ASC people step out into the world.”
Sam, Stewart and Mark are self-advocates, and Mark is the self-advocate
Co-chair of North Yorkshire Learning Disability Partnership Board. Working with the Keyring self-advocacy support team, they have created a podcast. Listen to the podcast here.
Sam has been a self-advocate for 16 years. He is registered blind and lives on his own in Harrogate. He likes listening to audio books, going out for meals and going to the gym.
He thinks it’s important to recognise and mark the day.
He said: “This is important because society needs to recognise what we are able to do and that we are not just a label but recognise that we all have something to give to our communities.
“Being a self-advocate means you can give your opinions and views on lots of different topics and make sure the people that matter hear them and do something about them.
“As a self-advocate, I get to go around the county and meet people and tell them all about the work we do and why it’s so important.”
Sam added the Covid-19 pandemic has been hard because he hasn’t been able to go out and about as much.
He wanted to make the podcast to get his voice heard.
He said: “It is a great way to get our voices heard across North Yorkshire and so that more people learn about the work we do.”
Stewart has been a self-advocate for eight years, living in Scarborough. He has a learning disability and likes bingo, swimming, boccia and going to discos.
Lockdown has been hard for Stewart – he hasn’t been able to see his girlfriend or friends but has been trying to keep in touch via video call.
On being a self-advocate, Stewart said: “It means speaking up for people with learning disabilities and autism. I go to lots of meetings and talk about lots of different issues.”
Stewart thinks it’s important to recognise and mark the day.
He said: “I think it’s important because it can help people to understand disabilities more.
Mark took part in the podcast because it isn’t something he’s ever done before and he wanted to try something new. Already, he knows he would like to do something similar in the future.
Mark lives in Scarborough with his wife Amanda, who is also a self-advocate.
He said: “I like going to the gym, cooking healthy food and watching football on the TV.
“Both lockdowns have been very hard for me, I had a panic attack during the first lockdown; luckily, my carer was there to help.
“During the second lockdown, I’ve really missed seeing my friends, going to church and going out to eat. I have been a bit down but I have tried to keep busy by going for walks and watching TV.
“I think it’s important to celebrate what disabled people can do, because they can do a lot more than some people think that they can.”