Skip to main content


The secret sign cover

Behind the Scenes with Claire Holland – The Secret Sign

By Business, Disability No Comments

This week at Enhance the UK I have been promoting our Indigogo campaign – The Secret Sign. This is a campaign to raise £3,000 to be able to publish the book that we have written.

Anyone who knows us understands that we are all incredibly busy and are likely to be asking, ‘what were you thinking writing a children’s book?’ I thought I would take the opportunity to fill you in with the details.

When running disability awareness sessions in primary schools, I often had teachers asking if I could recommend good books with disabled characters in them.  This made me think about why it is important for disabled characters to be in children’s books. We at Enhance the UK are running the disability awareness sessions in schools because we believe that attitudes to disability are shaped during childhood and therefore we wish to encourage children to develop positive views relating to disability. It has, for a long time, been established that books allow children to see characters who look like themselves, have similar thoughts and feelings. Books also allow children to see characters with different backgrounds and learn about the world. It therefore stands to reason the importance of having positive disabled characters in children’s books in order for disabled children to be able to identify with characters similar to themselves and for non disabled children to learn about disability in a positive way. I then decided that I had better conduct a bit of research and, to be honest, the findings were shocking. Now don’t get me wrong, there are books out there. But in my opinion, they frequently fall into one of three categories.

Firstly, the books which address disability and being different in an abstract way. I am sure that we are all familiar with them. The characters tend to be animals who struggle to fit in. I am in no way discrediting these books. I think they are lovely stories and have a time and a place but I do not believe that the majority of the readers relate these characters to real people with disabilities.

Next, there is the picture book story in which one of the characters is wearing a hearing aid or in a wheelchair. The disability itself is not mentioned during the plot. An argument for this type of book is that it normalises disability. There is a drive to ensure diversity is displayed within children’s books. Picking up books written when I was younger (25 plus years ago. .. cough, cough) nearly all the characters in books were white and it was rare to see a character from a different ethnic background. Now there are far more books out there in which the characters are clearly not from a white European background but there is very little in the written content of the story about the cultural background of the characters. This, to me, can only be a positive thing and I hope that more books will feature children with disabilities in the same way.

Lastly, there is the book which features disabled characters who are central to the story, but tends to address the disabilities in stereotypical ways. In my view it is fair to say that books including disability which do not fall into one of the mentioned categories are few and far between. We at Enhance didn’t want to write a good book about disability. We wanted to write a good book, full stop. We have created a story about twin brothers Seth and Sammy – Seth is deaf, while Sammy is hearing. The book is about their relationship and how British Sign Language affects their lives. It’s the first in a series of books which will include characters who have various disabilities. We are also very lucky to have a fantastic illustrator on board too.

I hope you can all see why this book is incredibly important to us now. If you can support us in any way we really would appreciate it.

Emaciated mannequin

Behind the Scenes with Claire Holland – Body Image and our Workshops

By Business, Disability No Comments

This week I was shocked to see a photograph of a shop mannequin which appeared to be completely emaciated, posted on my friend’s Facebook. The tirade of comments underneath were predictably negative towards the practise of shops promoting unhealthily thin body shapes. On further investigation, the photograph had come from an article in the Daily Mail on the 21st February. The mannequin was displayed in a Whistles store in London. Eating disorder support charities had condemned the store and called for shops to be more responsible for setting standards.

Whilst I personally accept that it is not correct to pin the blame for eating disorders on shops who use unrealistically sized mannequins, I certainly feel that the image of body size and shape that these mannequins promote is dangerous. Having previously spent a considerable amount of time researching body image (a person’s inner conception of his or her own physical appearance) when creating Enhance the UK’s Body Image Workshops, I was shocked by my findings. There is extensive evidence that a woman’s self worth in western cultures depends on their resemblance to the thin youthful image portrayed by the media.

Furthermore boys and men evaluate the worth of their partners, mothers, sisters and friends against this unrealistic image. If this is correct then I myself must be seen as lacking! It would be wrong to assume that the media does not also impact on men’s body image. Research findings have shown that the media also provides external pressure for the ideal of the masculine perfection for boys.

You might be reading this and tempted to say ‘who cares?’ But when looking at the impact of poor body image on adolescents the results were worrying. Body dissatisfaction plays a huge part in the development of a low self esteem. Which in turn can impact on mental health and wellbeing. The consequence of this can be seen in nearly all aspects of everyday life. I apologise if it appears that I have got on my high horse, it’s a personality quirk of mine!

So how is my rant linked to behind the scenes at Enhance the UK, I hear you ask. Well, as I previously mentioned Enhance the UK provides Body Image Workshops. These are delivered by positive disabled role models. The day comprises of 3/4 mini workshops focusing on a variety of topics including self esteem, the media, communication as well as fitness and nutrition. The topics are all bought together in a final assembly. It’s important to stress that the focus of the day is not disability. I was privileged to be involved in the delivery of these workshops at a girls school in Kent.

At times during the day emotions run high but the feedback from all the girls involved was highly positive. One attendee wrote that the day had made her think about how she sees herself and she had realised that the expectations she placed on herself in terms of her appearance were not realistic. She went on to say that she would continue to use the techniques she had learnt about raising her own self esteem and that she felt the day was a profound experience for her. With feedback like that we were simply buzzing! I really believe that the day we have created is such a positive experience for young people and urge everyone to recommend it to schools and youth groups etc!

Last week Enhance the UK had an exciting meeting with Platform Productions about creating a short, thought provoking film about Body Image. This is something that the Enhance the UK team is incredibly excited about so keep an eye out for updates.

The author Holly Williams

Holly Williams on Scope’s End the Awkward Campaign

By Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

I’ve just found out that SCOPE is running a brand new campaign called End The Awkward. According to them, 67% of Brits feel uncomfortable talking to people with a disability. Part of their campaign is a whole lot of really useful tips and clear answers to questions that might run through the mind of someone who is meeting a disabled person for the first time. While I think SCOPE is really onto something here, I can’t help thinking they’ve maybe missed a bit of a trick.

It’s great they’re trying to help people to feel more at ease around disability but not everyone is going to visit their site. There are always going to be people who make wrong assumptions, feel uncomfortable and get the urge to ask awkward questions. What SCOPE has missed, and what I personally am in very much need of, is advice on how disabled people should react to able­ bodied people, especially when they get it wrong.

I’ve said before in this blog that I, personally, am not much of a social animal, especially with people I don’t know well, so when I meet someone who is clearly not use to dealing with disabled people I don’t know how to deal with them. A lot my issues come from the fact that I have quite a bad speech defect and just getting across what I need to say is sometimes a Hell of a task.

For instance, could someone, either from SCOPE or just with a greater grasp of social etiquette than me, tell me the proper, polite way to react when someone very kindly, but very patronisingly talks down to you? This has happened to me all my life and I still don’t know how to react. The first option is to just ignore it but that’s no good because a) the person will assume they’ve got it right and never know any better and b) it makes me quietly resent someone who is trying their best and that resentment builds up until I tend to react in the second way. The second way is this, sarcasm. I am constantly told that I am very sarcastic. So much so I genuinely cannot pay my Mum a compliment without her thinking I’m taking the Mick. Sarcasm is a great stress reliever for me as it allows me to vent my frustrations right in the person’s face and half the time they don’t realise how bitchy I’m being. But sarcasm is a bit like picking a scab, it feels great at the time but is often counterproductive as people either are completely oblivious to it or come away thinking that I’m, and therefore all disabled people, are nasty.

You could always cut all pretence, look the person straight in the eye and say, ‘Look, I don’t have a learning disability and even if I did you shouldn’t talk to me like I’m a child, thank you.’ But like the phrase ‘I’m not a racist,’ having to explain to someone what you’re not, I think, makes them more likely to believe you are. I mean, what kind of idiot goes round saying ‘I’m not an idiot’? I use to think I had the perfect solution. I thought that if I just used my large vocabulary in conversation people would think, ‘wow she sounds really clever, I’d better not patronise her.’ But then I got to know people who were articulate but not that bright and realised showing people you sounded clever didn’t mean you were, case in point Russell Brand.

Then there are the occasions when people talk to the person with you instead of you. This happens to me a lot, mainly because, like I say, I have really unclear speech. It happens to me so much that I actually have come to consider it normal and I get more awkward when people talk to me and not my Mum. That’s not normal, is it? For a woman my age to freak out a bit when she has to talk to a stranger? I’m so not use to it that I actually struggle to put a sentence together because I’m worrying whether the person is understanding what I’m saying. I know it’s lazy but there’s part of me that’s glad when people talk to the person I’m with instead of me, it let’s me duck out of all the trickiness of being understood. But how can I then moan about the fact I’m not involved in the conversation?

But the thing that bothers me most of all is staring, especially from kids. I think it’s because I feel adults should know better but children are naturally curious and not aware they’re being impolite. Part of me feels that as a disabled person it’s my responsibility to show the younger generations that we’re just like other people, so whenever I see a child looking at me I try to smile and say hello. That is, however, when I’m feeling in a particular cheery, altruistic mood. But there are days when you just want to have a coffee or a meal out without feeling like the two ­headed woman escaped from the freak show. It’s quite endearing when a little kid smiles and waves back at you, you feel like you’ve reached out and made them see you’re not a scary monster after all. But there are some little bug……. bundles of sweetness who aren’t happy with a shy glance from behind mum’s legs, who just stare and keep staring, swizzle round in their seat to get a better look.

I remember one time I was on holiday with a group of disabled friends. We were in a hotel’s lobby-cum ­lounge bit, watching a cabaret, sitting at a long table. On the other side of the room there was a family with a six ­year ­old girl. This kid repeatedly walked away from her parents, all the way across the dance floor until she was about three feet away from us and just stared, like Eddie the dog out of Frasier. Then she moved along to the next person and did the same to them. She did this every night of our stay. Every night. It got so bad that a young lad who was helping us had to be restrained by his aunt (another carer) from dragging her back to her parents and giving them a piece of his mind. On the one hand, I can’t blame him but then it’s never a good idea to go round disciplining other people’s children. On another holiday, I was riding down in a lift with a little girl and her grandma. She was looking at me and I, being relaxed and having a good time decided to humour her, saying what a pretty dress she was wearing. Then she turned to her grandma and with pure innocence in her eyes said, ‘Nanny, why does that lady talk funny?’ Obviously, ‘Nanny’ looked like she wished the ground would swallow her and I was left feeling like someone had just used my heart as a punch bag. But you can’t blame the child for not understanding and what answer can you give?

So, going back to SCOPE and End The Awkward. I’m putting out a challenge to anyone reading this blog. Communication is a two way street and if anyone, disabled or able ­bodied, can tell me how to deal with situations like the ones I’ve described please post them in the comment section below, because I’m running out of ideas.

Claire Holland Head of Training

Behind the Scenes with Claire Holland – Training with the National Gallery

By Business, Disability No Comments

It’s been an exciting time at Enhance the UK recently as we are involved in some really interesting projects. A short time ago two of our fantastic trainers delivered Disability and Communication training for education staff at the National Gallery. They were so pleased with the training that we delivered that we were invited to attend a meeting regarding how we might work with them in the future.

I recently attended the meeting with Jennie (our CEO) and was pleased to learn how seriously they are taking access. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the education team at the gallery already have a project in place to encourage and support schools in bringing children with special educational needs to the gallery. This includes outreach work and visiting the school prior to the trip to provide INSET training to school staff.

The gallery itself also provides tours in British Sign Language and has information available in Braille and large print. They have been rated highly on the access guide Disabled Go. It was refreshing to find that they are still striving to improve accessibility. Orlagh Muldoon the schools programme manager explained that she is working in conjunction with the Museum of London to strive to make it easier for children with Special Education Needs to access what is rightfully their heritage. They are setting up a specialist network and inviting museums and galleries around London to join. This will be an opportunity for those involved to share experiences regarding making their venues and experiences accessible to children with SEN, support each other and receive advice. Enhance the UK has been invited to talk at one of the meetings about what we do and the importance of Disability awareness training.

I personally am incredibly excited by this. Orlagh’s comment regarding rightful heritage resonated with me. People with disabilities regardless of age should be able to fully access museums and galleries. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. I have lost count of the number of times I have attended museums in London to leave frustrated. Anything which we at Enhance the UK can do to help improve matters on this is incredibly worthwhile from my perspective. It’s early days on this project, so watch this space!

Claire Holland Head of Training

Behind the Scenes at Enhance: Claire Holland, Head of Training

By Business, Disability, My story, News One Comment


When Jennie (the CEO for Enhance the UK) asked me if I would like to write a blog, I was a tad hesitant to say the least. What I currently know about the blogosphere (Google is my friend) can be written on a postage stamp. What can I write about, I thought and then it dawned on me. I could blog about my experiences working with Enhance the UK.

I am in a lucky position to work on a freelance basis as the Head of Training for Enhance the UK, a charity I am passionate about. Not many people are able to say that they look forward to going to work and that no two days are the same. Furthermore, without wishing to sound gushy, I genuinely believe that as a collective everyone who is involved with Enhance makes a difference. That’s not to say that it’s all sweetness and light; some days can be frustrating and you feel like you are taking one step forward and two steps back.

So what do I do for Enhance? Good question … a bit of all sorts really. I am one of the Disability and Communication Awareness trainers. I mostly provide the communication element as I am profoundly deaf and wear a cochlear implant. I love delivering the training as it’s always good fun. PowerPoint is a swear word at Enhance and is banished. The training is always really interactive and tailored to meet the needs of the delegates so no two days are ever the same. This keeps me on my toes. It is really rewarding to see the change throughout the day to the group of people who enter the training room at the beginning. They often start looking anxious and unsure of exactly what to say as they trudge through the minefield of what disability related language to use so that they don’t offend. By the end of the day they always look more relaxed and that fearful look on their faces has disappeared. That to me is a job well done. I wholeheartedly believe that removing the fear factor around disability is essential.

I also attend schools and deliver disability workshops to children in primary and secondary schools. Although it’s hard work dealing with children aged 4 and upwards all day this is one of my favourite elements of working with Enhance. Children are naturally inquisitive about disability and their curiosity is crushed at a young age by adults who tell them not to ask questions or stare. I have lost count of the number of times that a child has poked my implant asking what it is or asked why I am waving my hands around funnily in the air. The response of the parent is always along the lines of turning red with embarrassment, looking like they want the ground to swallow them up and shushing their child whilst apologising to me. I think this is a crying shame. Children should be able to learn about disability in an open and safe environment and this is what we achieve with Enhance. Talking about disability, playing games related to disability and answering questions allows children to learn positive messages about disability which we hope they will take with them into adulthood.

It’s not all fun training days though. I do a lot of putting pen to paper. I can often be found writing letters to companies, writing policies and strategies and filling in grant application forms to name a few. Anyway that’s a little about me and the work that I do. Look out for my next update as to what’s been happening behind the scenes at Enhance the UK.

Jennie Williams

Disability and dating faux pas

By Disability, Lifestyle, The Love Lounge No Comments

My name is Jennie Williams, I am the Director and Founder of user led disability charity Enhance the UK, and ​​I have degenerative hearing loss​. My hearing loss is believed to be linked to a heart condition I have called long QT, which is otherwise​ known as sudden death syndrome.

For communicating, I wear two hearing aids which I rely on a lot. I am also an extremely good lip reader and sign up to​ British ​Sign​ Language (BSL)​ Level Three​. But, really, ​how many people do you know that sign? Within the hearing world, BSL is not much use to me at all.

​People tend to get very confused about what hard of hearing actually means. They tend to associate it with old people, so I often get people saying to me, “oh, yeah, my nan wears a hearing aid, we shout at her. I think she has selected hearing…chuckle chuckle.” I would be a very rich woman if I had a pound for every time I heard that, and yep, I mean ‘heard that’ because I can still hear things.

Sometimes, I can be in a room full of wheelchair users at a conference, for example, and I am the most able bodied person there. I am moving tables and chairs, assisting people to the loo if needed and then speakers will start up on the stage and, all of a sudden, I am the most disabled person in the room.
I normally can’t hear speakers clearly and often in these circumstances, the hearing loop (if they have one) doesn’t work or I can’t understand the BSL interpreter (again if they have one) as they are too fast and BSL is not my first language. So I sit, try really hard to lip read, take a painkiller as I know the dreaded ‘hearing headache’ will come on and try my best to keep up. It is hard work trying to lip read and, believe me, I don’t know any hard of hearing people who have ‘selected hearing.’ It depends on someone’s tone, how tired you are, your tinnitus (ringing in your ears) and how you feel that day.

So​ how do I approach telling people about my​ disability?
​When I am at work, I am very assertive most of the time. I have to be. I am a campaigner and a disability awareness trainer – that’s what I do. I tell people from the off that I am hard of hearing and for them to please look at me when they are speaking to me or to keep their hands away from their mouths. I even tell them when I need an eye break. ​When I am in a social situation, however, things can be very difficult and different for for me.
I tend to just struggle on a lot of the time, laugh when everyone else is laughing, strain to keep up and, even worse still, I apologise. Why is that? I guess I don’t want to embarrass people and make them feel like they are not including me. I often feel like I am being annoying when I keep asking what is being said and, frankly, it becomes boring for me as well. So the answer to the question is not an easy one, it depends on which Jennie you are in the room with.

​A lot of the time when you say to someone, ‘sorry,’ (I always start with a sorry, how very British of me, “Sorry but I am deafened could you turn and face me please,”) that person will more often than not appear to be somewhat embarrassed, say sorry as well and then shuffle around slightly and try to work it all out in their heads. A classic example of Scope’s ‘End the Awkward’ campaign. You see, I don’t seem as though I am hard of hearing, I have a hearing voice as I was born hearing, I am a good lip reader and you can’t see my aids as my hair is in a bob.

Now it is not all bad being hard of hearing. I fear I have painted a very negative picture so far. Would I change my hearing loss and and my disability? The answer is no, not because that is the PC thing to say and I am ‘owning my disability,’ I am saying it because that is how I feel. I believe I have an empathy, understanding and frankly unstoppable passion to support people who have communication impairments.
This is why I started up the charity Enhance the UK and do the work I do. I know so many cool​, talented​, fun people who are ​disabled, and of course some who are not. I truly believe that I would not have Enhance the UK in my life, and all that goes along with it, if I did not have my hearing loss.

So let’s talk about my favourite subject before it gets too deep. Dating!​
​There can be some real​ perks of dating someone​ with ​a​ hearing impairment, we can get you into the theatre for free or cheap, same with the train, and a lot of us can lip read conversations that you were never meant to know about from quite a way off and get all the gossip. Winning!

​Dating someone with hearing loss can be hard and somewhat awkward at times, for all the social reasons I talked about before. Not to mention when you are getting down to things and having a good old snog, the last thing you want is your bloody hearing aids whistling every time the hot man (in my mind he is always hot) puts his fingers through your hair. And then your aids end up flying out of your ears, then the floor and the dog runs in and eats one of them. That is a true story, killed the moment I can tell you.

​Let me tell you about one of my​ favourite, and also most awkward, dates.
​I was single, living in London and looking for a boyfriend, so I did what all single Londoners do – I joined a dating site. I started chatting to this guy who looked cute and we had a bit of banter via email. ​We soon arranged to meet up as I was not one for chatting online for too long. We met on the South Bank and as I walked out the tube, I was greeted by the cute detective that I had been speaking to. He even looked like his photos, result!

We went onto one of the boats on the river and had a drink. We chatted about work as you do. I may or may not have been twisting my hair and trying to make my lips look all pouty and thinking to myself, ‘I really fancy this guy.’ So, I went to take out my lip gloss and out fell both of my hearing aid batteries at the same time. They are really small and so this guy, who I named Gov as he was a detective and I thought it was funny, said to me, “what on earth do they power?” I then explained my hearing loss and he replied by saying, “why do deaf people do this?” Cut to him waving his hands in the air and scrunching his face up with the tongue in his bottom lip making weird groaning sounds. Oh dear.
I was thinking about throwing my drink in his face but that would have been childish, and a waste of a drink, so I explained about British Sign Language and the culture behind it. I don’t think he got it at all but he was embarrassed and didn’t know what to say, so he offered to take me for a ride on his massive motor bike (not a euphemism) around London and then buy me dinner. I am very shallow.

Next favourite subject…sex.
​Sex is great, we all love having sex but it can be a little awkward sometimes if you are hard of hearing and someone is trying to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. You can mishear totally which results in jumping up, turning on the lights and saying, “you want to do what to me?!” Again, true story and I won’t tell you what I thought he was saying to me.

Having sex with someone who is also deaf or hard of hearing can be hilarious. When I was younger I was having a fling with someone who was deaf and we always had to have sex by the door just in case his old’s came in, or we would put towels down​ against the door to try and block it from being opened, but always having one eye open just in case. Real romance.

So, back to the slightly more serious stuff. I started the campaign Undressing Disability three years ago.
I believe that ​having a disability can be a very isolating experience. As well as physical barriers, there is still a huge amount of prejudice towards disability amongst the general public
Undressing Disability is about challenging the misconceptions that create this unbalance and ensuring that better access to sexual health, sexual awareness and sex education is granted to disabled people. We provide a safe place in The Love Lounge for people to write in and discuss their problems and, in short, know they are not alone.

If people want to be sexually active they should be. I think there is this massive misconception that sex workers and disability go hand in hand. In some cases they might, but this should be a choice not the only option that people, men mainly, have. Most people I know and talk to want a loving relationship and want to feel loved and to love. Everyone has the right to have human touch, even if it is not sex as we know it. Any sense of intimacy between two people who care about one another is so important. Even if it’s a one night stand, but it is your choice, that’s also important. Lets face it, most of us have not only slept with people we ‘love.’ We all want to be found attractive and sexual relationships are the most natural thing in the world.

Sadly, Scope’s new research shows that that only 5% of people who aren’t disabled have ever asked out, or been on a date with, a disabled person. Am i surprised by this? No, of course I am not. Am I motivated to keep pushing the campaign until these statistics change? You bet I am.​

The author Holly Williams

Holly Williams on The Celebrity Big Brother Disability Benefits Row

By Disability, Lifestyle, My story One Comment

Taking sides in an argument between ‘professional’ Celeb and glamour model Katie Price and semi-professional troublemaker and glamour nothing Katie Hopkins is a bit like saying whether you prefer eating you own earwax or someone else’s. No-one should be that interested in your answer and which ever camp you place yourself in does nothing to flatter how people see you.

Normally I wouldn’t be in the slightest bit interested in such a spat but when it erupted in the Celebrity Big Brother house recently the subject matter this debate between these two intellectual behemoths compelled me to chip in. I don’t watch said programme (I used to but tapped out around the time of the infamous George Galloway cat episode) so all my information on what happened is received second hand via various web sites and newspaper articles but from what I gather the issue is this. Hopkins laid into Price for not paying the £1,000-a-day travel costs for the transport and care to take her severely disabled son Harvey to and from his special school. Price defended herself saying that it was the Local Authority’s responsibility to pick up the costs.

Now, I’m far from being ‘The Pricey’s’ number one fan and there are a lot of issues about how she lives her life and makes her money that I would happily criticise her for, including the fact that she is the ‘author’ of a range of books that were written by a ghost-writer. So I’m as shocked as anyone to find myself being whole heartedly on her side. Katie Price has done nothing illegal by claiming this help. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where every child, regardless of social standing, gender, or disability has a right to access a suitable education provided by the government, it is one of the things we should be proud of. Katie is totally within her rights to expect the tax-payer to foot the bill to cater for her child having access to an appropriate school.

Hopkin’s argument is that unlike a lot of families with disabled children Price has more than adequate income to fund her son’s transport needs out of her multi-million pound empire. While it is hard to argue with this, I do wonder who would truly benefit if Price agreed to take on the bill out of her own pocket. Would the yearly saving really go towards more deserving families or, as I suspect, would it be just another handy saving made by whatever council who formally paid it to add towards the growing nationwide endeavour by the coalition government to cut spending on disability provision?

The problem Katie Hopkins seems to have (among many others) is an inability to tell the difference between necessity and luxury. Yes, the fortune Price has built on the back of her image has no doubt given her choices and opportunities that the rest of us can only dream of and the chance to give her kids all the privileges any parent would want for their children. But her son’s attendance at a school that deals with his complex needs isn’t an unnecessary indulgence; it is a vital method of dealing with his impairment in the most suitable environment. It would be ridiculous to suggest he could attend a main-stream school. This is an issue that needles me every time I hear parents complain about catchment areas and getting their little darlings into the school with the best OFSTED report. If your child is able-bodied you have no idea what it means to have a limited choice in your son or daughter’s education. When you have a disabled child, you are more or less told school X is the nearest/cheapest one to deal with your child’s disability so that’s where they’re going. When I was 13, my special school told my parents to look for somewhere else because I was a lot more academic than the other children they catered for and I wouldn’t reach my full ability if I stayed there. None of my local secondary schools would take me and I ended up having to take a 3 hour daily round trip to a special school that allowed me to sit my GCSEs. Maybe if suitable education for disabled children wasn’t such a rarity and special schools weren’t being shut down left, right and centre then local authorities wouldn’t have such massive travel costs for children such as Harvey.

But what really annoys me is not what Hopkins said but what her comments imply. Someone once told me that the major challenge faced by disabled people in modern Britain was that we as a community see disability as a problem to be dealt with by the sufferer themselves and their family, and not society at large. Your average person is happy enough to feel sympathy for someone with a disability, more than willing to drop what they can afford into a charity bucket now and again, as long as helping disabled people isn’t costing them in money or convenience more than they’re willing to afford. What Katie Hopkins is really saying is, ‘I’m not happy that the taxes I pay are being used towards aiding a disabled child when their parent is capable of doing it themselves. He’s your son, his disability is your problem.’

But Katie Price, for all the mud that is slung at her, never decided to have a disabled child. No parent ever enters into parenthood consciously making that choice. It is one of the very unfortunate things that happens and when it does, no matter if you’re a billionaire or a beggar, you do what you can to best meet the trials it brings. But it shouldn’t be wholly your responsibility. Every child grows up to become a member of society and it is the responsibility of any civilised community to take care of their most vulnerable members.

It is so easy to pour scorn on Katie Price, the media does it all the time and some of it she does bring on herself. But when you add not paying for her child’s transport costs to the list of accusations you’ve got to ask what messages it sends out about other families of disabled children and how we view our responsibility towards them. The only thing that gives me hope in this situation is that Hopkins is well known for making inflammatory comments such as this about just about any subject and most people possess the intelligence to know that she does it to inflate her own twisted ego. Hopefully, like the majority of bullies, if we ignore her she will eventually get bored and go away.

The Love Lounge

Thank You, Lovehoney

By Disability, Lifestyle, The Love Lounge One Comment

Enhance the UK would like to say a massive THANK YOU to Lovehoney, the sexual happiness people, for their very generous donation of £10,000 to The Love Lounge.

The Love Lounge is a safe online environment where disabled users and their families can confidentially ask any questions concerning sex, relationships and disability to our panel of disabled ‘non-expert experts.’ They are Emily Yates, an accessible travel writer for ‘Rough Guide’ and Mik Scarlet, a prominent disability activist and TV personality.

We initially approached Lovehoney for sponsorship, as they seemed to be just the kind of organisation we wanted to align ourselves with, especially for this specific project. They are a sophisticated lingerie and sex toy online retailer and community who champion a varied, enjoyable and safe sex life.

Lovehoney are a conscientious company, recognising and valuing issues close to Enhance the UK’s heart. They are committed to regularly donating to national and local charities, as well as running the world’s only sex toy recycling scheme!

Now by providing us with this donation, which far exceeded our wishes, Lovehoney are emphasising the importance of intimate relationships for all. We will now be able to continue maintenance on our website and spread the work of The Love Lounge to potential new users around the country and beyond.

Thank You again, Lovehoney. Your money will go on to support physically disabled and sensory impaired people and their families seek help for the sensitive and important issues affecting them concerning sex, relationships and disability.

The author Holly Williams

How much should your disability be a part of your identity? Holly Williams

By Disability, Lifestyle No Comments

I have a confession to make. After several months of writing this blog I think the time has come to come clean. You see I have a problem, an issue if you like, that makes me a total hypocrite and I feel when I own up to it a lot of disabled people reading this will be up in arms and they will be totally right to do so. I’m not proud and I know I shouldn’t feel like I do according to conventional reason but there is a view that I hold that I can’t shift and quite frankly I don’t want to.

You see, I don’t ‘own’ my disability. I don’t class myself as a Disabled Person. I have a disability and I hate it. I’m embarrassed and ashamed by my condition and find it very, very hard to speak about the way it limits my life. Hip, PC people will say ‘it isn’t your fault that you view yourself so negatively. Society makes disabled people feel like this.’ But this really isn’t the case. I am not ashamed of myself, e.g. Holly the person. I just look at other disabled people and struggle to understand how they can accept and embrace their disabilities to a level in which it becomes a large aspect, if not the largest of their identity.

Let me explain what got me thinking about this. The social firm I work for is revamping its website and my boss asked all the staff to write a bio of themselves to be included. The outline he gave us was something along the lines of ‘write a bit about who you are, what you do here and why you work here.’ So I spent about a page talking about how I’m quite a driven person who didn’t want to sit round doing nothing just because I had a disability, how I really enjoyed doing graphic design and how important it was that firms like the one I work for gave disabled people an opportunity to have a job. Not once did I mention I had Cerebral Palsy. Conversely, a colleague of mine spent the first paragraph of his bio describing what his disability was and why it meant he couldn’t hold down a full time job. Now I have no right to tell my colleague what to write or how to feel about himself and like my boss says, it’s good we express ourselves in different ways on the site. I just, personally, found it very odd that someone would announce to the world over the internet their personal difficulties. To me, my impairment wasn’t particularly relevant. I have a disability ergo I have to work somewhere where I receive help. Why and what kind of help is, quite frankly, no­-one’s God damn business if they don’t need to assist me!

The problem is I’m a very private person. I know I sound about eighty but I do believe there are certain things you don’t share in common conversation. When Jennie first asked me to do this blog she suggested that I start by doing a piece about my romantic history and any problems I faced dating. I politely declined. I have had issues regarding my personal life relating to my disability that has led me to certain views but I believe that sex and intimate relationships aren’t something you go round discussing with all and sundry and to an extent I feel like this about my impairment as well.

I feel like I’m in a minority among disabled people. I mentioned in a previous blog that I have friends with disabilities who are quite happy to speak at length about the various afflictions caused by their impairments and sometimes I ask myself why they do this. Is it because they’re looking for support from fellow sufferers? Their difficulties are vastly different to mine and even if they weren’t whose to say we would have similar methods of coping? My theory, and it is only a theory, is that their lives have been so entrenched by professional opinion and medical diagnosis that they’ve taken what they’ve heard over and over again and used it to form their personal identity. ‘This is who I am because I suffer from X disability which means I have trouble doing Y.’

I don’t want to dictate to anyone where and how they get their self­worth, if being a ‘Disabled Person’ is who you ‘are’ and you’re happy with that then I can’t change that. But I do wonder if it’s entirely healthy to base your personality on your limitations rather than your talents and interests.

I notice some parents of disabled children do this too and that I find really disturbing. I understand that being a parent of a disabled person is very challenging and tiring at times and you must be grateful of an outlet to vent your worries and woes but I am baffled by the willingness of some people to unload their children’s problems and diagnosis to a virtual stranger while the child is in earshot. How can you expect them to have any self­ respect or a broad character if that’s the introduction their parents give them? I always have to fight the urge to start asking really probing questions about their sex lives or medical history to see how they like that level of exposure.

I raised this issue with my Dad. He was convinced people did it because it’s a shared bond, a way of breaking the ice when two disabled people meet. He said, ‘Look, if I’m out on my motorbike and I go in a cafe and see a bloke sitting there with a motorbike helmet on the table, I’m going to start a conversation with him about bikes because it’s something we have in common. It’s the same as that.’ I disagree. Motorbikes are my Dad’s hobby, he enjoys them, chooses to be interested in them. Being disabled is not my hobby, it’s a pain so why would I want to pick over that sore point? Amy, my P.A, was driving me back from a friend’s house once when she said, ‘I didn’t realise how little you talked about your disability until I met your friends.’ My response was, ‘what’s there to say? You know enough to help me. Talking just reminds me of what I can’t do. There are more interesting topics to talk about.’

I do understand why some people feel the need to tell people about their impairment, especially when their disability isn’t obvious at first glance. They feel the need to explain what is wrong with them to avoid misunderstandings. But I can’t help feeling that every time this happens and it’s not needed that the person is somehow apologising for something that isn’t their fault, exposing a piece of themselves that is broken somehow. My main disability cannot be hidden but I have other impairments that you can’t see, some of them more disabling than C.P. I won’t say what they are because why should I invite more stigma into my life? People judge me enough as it is.

Despite all this, I know at the end of the day I’m wrong. We do need to talk about all aspects of disability if we are going to educate and make society more accepting. I admire people who see no shame in telling others what it’s like to them and I do try to be as open as I can. It’s just that I want to share the best of me with the world, not just be focused on my disability.

The author Holly Williams

Holly Williams on Obesity and Disability

By Disability, Lifestyle, My story No Comments

First of all, health, happiness and best wishes for 2015 to everyone reading my blog. I hope you all had as good festive season as I did, eating, drinking and being merry. I’ve been thinking a lot about diet and weight issues over my Christmas break, partly because like so many people I have overindulged and intend to slim down now January’s here, but mainly because of a news story brought to my attention on the Twitter account of Chailey Heritage Enterprise Centre, the social firm I work for.

According to BBC News, a man in Denmark has successfully sued for wrongful dismissal under the EU’s disability discrimination legislation because he was sacked from his job as a child minder for being too obese. The judge said that although obesity wasn’t itself a disability ‘if a person has a long ­term impairment because of their obesity, they would be protected by disability legislation.’

This got me thinking about a very basis question that I hadn’t thought to ask myself because I assumed the answer was obvious. What do we class as a disability? To me, the definition of disability is wide, but whatever kind of impairment you have all disabled people have one thing in common. Whether through birth, accident or sheer genetic fluke something has happened that has stopped your body and/or brain working to its full capacity. For reasons beyond your control, your physical, mental or emotional state falls below what is seen as ‘normal.’ Like race, sexuality, gender or ethnicity it isn’t a choice you make and you shouldn’t be punished for it in any way. But in the case of obesity, that state has been achieved for the majority of people by direct and continued action, e.g eating too much and exercising too little.

Let me put it another way. Obesity can be caused by having a disability, disability can cause people to be obese but, as the judge in this case said, obesity is not a disability. There are certain instances where individuals cannot control their weight gain. Disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome can make sufferers more prone to storing excess fat while others such as Prader Willi Syndrome find it very hard to control their appetites. Even having physical disability such as mine (Cerebral Palsy) can make it very difficult to exercise and stay fit and healthy. But whatever condition you do or do not have there is nearly always something you or those helping you can do to help maintain a healthy weight. There has always got to be some level of responsibility for your own diet. It’s a simple mathematical equation, eating less plus exercising more equals weight loss.

Look, I don’t want to give the wrong idea about me. I’m not Katie Hopkins (thank God) I’m really not anti-­fat or anti-­obese. I think it’s awful that the government tell people what they should eat and I’m not going to lecture anyone because they’re not a size 10. Large women (and men) can be as beautiful, sexy, clever, successful and motivated as anyone else. If you’re happy to say ‘I like food and hate the gym,’ I say good for you. If you want to lose weight by diet or surgery, I’m behind that too. It’s your body, your life, do with it what you want. All I ask is that people are responsible for their life­ choices and don’t blame them on something that is beyond their control.

I speak from experience. I have battled with my weight for my entire life. As a child, I was painfully underweight and was constantly being rushed into A&E for mysterious bouts of sickness during which I couldn’t even keep down water. Due to this my parents were encouraged to ‘build me up’ by feeding me anything I wanted. This meant by the time I was 18 I had long got over my childhood ill­ health but was still eating like a horse.

My relationship with food now is simple. I love it. I can’t express in words my passion for eating. Anything that’s fat or sugar laden and bad for me. I never leave my plate empty. That is the reason I have spent the past 15 years or so bouncing between a size 10 and a size 18. At my largest all that I could wear were grey jogging bottoms that my Mum told me made me look like a baby elephant from behind. My point is that I know what it’s like to be overweight. It’s true that having a disability that limits my movements makes it harder for me to exercise but I do try to stay as active as I can via cycling and weight training. I also try (and mostly fail) to eat a healthy diet. It would be wrong of me to sit back and blame Cerebral Palsy for me being fat. I eat too much, nothing more to it.

The human being I think is, by nature, a lazy creature. We like the easy route. It is very easy to think up excuses as to why we pile on the pounds. It isn’t our fault. It’s in our genes, we can’t afford to buy fresh, healthy food, we’re too busy, we’re too tired, we overeat to fulfil some psychological hole. I used some of these excuses a hundred times myself. But at the end of the day they are all smoke screens we use to deny the truth. Weight is something we have power over if we want to. If you’re overweight and don’t do anything about it, that’s your choice, I won’t have a go at you. Just have the honesty to admit it.

My problem is that once we link disability with obesity it will just add a very convenient argument to the list of excuses for why people can’t lose weight. It won’t matter that we will be told that obesity is a cause or a symptom and not an impairment in itself, the link will have already been made. If you’re suffering from joint pain, limited mobility, diabetes or depression who can blame you for reaching for another doughnut to make yourself feel a bit better about the problems in your life? Rulings like this aren’t making life easier for people who truly want to lose weight. At the end of the day, the one thing that stops people getting slim and being healthy isn’t too much food, it’s not taking responsibility for yourself. Weight shouldn’t be a disability issue, it should be an issue for everyone to address for themselves, not something that is monitored by the government or EU.