As we entered a new decade I sat down to read “I’m Only In It for the Parking“, a fascinating insight into life with a disability by Comedian Lee Ridley. Lee is known to millions of people as the 2018 winner of Britain’s Got Talent.

Lee’s book is brilliantly funny but, it is also an honest account of what it is like to live with a disability.

As I sat reading his book, so many of the examples he gave and the stories he told resonated with me. I had been in so many of the scenarios Lee spoke about. Having read his book, it made sense to write this article, partly because so many people often ask me “What is it like to live with a disability” So, I am going to give you a bit of an insight.

What is it like having a disability?

This is impossible for me to answer. I was born prematurely and at birth, weighed a little over 2lbs. I have a disability called Cerebral Palsy and need mobility aids to get around. As such I have no experience of living without a disability, so when someone asks what is like?, I have no idea of what life is like without a disability. Think about it, if someone asked you “What is it like to live without a disability?” what would you realistically be able to say? 

Life with a disability is my normality.

I knew from an early age that I was different from most of the children around me. When I looked around they didn’t have a walking stick, they could get dressed in a matter of minutes as opposed to almost an hour and, they certainly didn’t spend as much time falling over. Having to drag yourself across a room or along the pavement, finding something to help you get up whilst trying to make sure your trousers don’t fall down is quite challenging at times!

I recall when I was at primary school realising that for me, there was no magic cure. I wasn’t going to wake up one morning and suddenly be able to run, I was stuck with this disability no matter what! So, I decided that I had to make friends with my disability, if we were going to be stuck together we had to first learn to get along but secondly, we had to make the best of it. Life with a disability was never going to disappear, I had to learn to accept it.

At times it can be frustrating, struggling to do simple tasks that other people seem to manage with such ease can at times get you down, but my mindset became one of not focusing on things that I found difficult or simply could not do but one where I looked at I wanted to do and then found a way of doing them. Like anyone else sometimes when I have tried to do something I have fallen (literally) flat on my face. On reflection perhaps trying to skateboard was not my best idea. This lead to spending several hours in an Accident and Emergency Department and a somewhat tricky telephone call to explain why I was not at school!

Luckily for me, my attempt to skateboard was in the days before social media, at least my humiliation wasn’t broadcast to millions of people. Sometimes I have managed what at the outset seemed impossible. I have travelled to some of the most inhospitable and remote places in the world, camped in the Atacama desert I have taken part in endurance challenges to raise money for charity, I went to university and got a degree, I have a family and a young child, now I hope that the work I do helps people to see why inclusion is so important.

A man holding a young baby. Richard Shakespeare shares his thoughts on life with a disability.
Holding my first child before we left the hospital, May 2018.

What if your disability disappeared?

On several occasions, people have asked me if I would prefer not to have a disability or if I would like my disability to disappear?

Here’s the thing, I am all about having a positive mindset, using the power of your mind to help you achieve your goals and making the most of things. However, no matter how much mental resilience or, how positively I think, I will never be without my disability.

Of course, I wonder what it would be like to be able-bodied, yes I have dreamt of just being able to experience it -even if it was just for half a day and, yes I suspect I might even like it but, it will never happen. Also, my disability and the things I have been through are part of who I am and so, in a funny kind of way I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences that my disability has given me rather than resenting it for the limitations it sometimes places upon me. Life with a disability has been quite rewarding in many ways.

What gets on your nerves about life with a disability?

This could end up as a pretty big list so here are just a few:

1- An Awkward Glance-I haven’t just landed from another planet so, although I might walk like I am on the way home from a good night out- if you could keep your staring and puzzled looks to just a glance that would be appreciated.

I know we all do it -we see something “out of the ordinary” or something we aren’t expecting and we end up looking but, sometimes it makes me feel quite uncomfortable so, although I understand why people sometimes stare, if we could all do our best to limit this that would be great.

2-Making Assumptions – Assumptions can be not only a source of amusement but also frustration. I have lost count of the number of times that people have assumed that because I have a physical disability this means that I also have a learning disability.

Sometimes people adopt a patronising tone of voice, pat me on the head or congratulate me just for leaving the house. People have also assumed that if I am out with someone else then that person must be a carer or support worker. People often make assumptions with the best of intentions, they are setting out to be offensive, they are well-meaning and simply want to be supportive.

3-Accessibility –Lee mentioned in his book the challenges of accessibility, he gave the example of a hotel. This is something I have experienced too many times to count. Lee said:

“A hotel might boast that it can give you an “accessible room” but, in most cases, it’s pot luck as to whether it is accessible or not”. When I turn up to an accessible room and it just has a slightly lower bath, my heart sinks. It means that the hotel in question hasn’t thought about accessibility, Just paid lip service to it. The accessible room is essentially a token gesture on their part, a box-ticking exercise”.

Different people have different needs. Some people may find a lowered bath more accessible than a walk-in shower, so why not have a combination of rooms and give people a choice? One of the most frustrating things for me, is when a building is accessible and everything seems to be going well until someone inside the building refers to me as handicapped, a retard, or focuses so much on my disability that they seem to forget that at the end of the day I am just a person.

If as a company you are going to give some serious consideration to accessibility, that also means you need to equip your staff with the tools to engage with people in an inclusive way that uses the appropriate language and terminology. You can download a free series of guides to get you started by clicking here.

Life with a disability -Conclusion

Hopefully, you have stuck with me to the end of this article. I hope you have not been offended but above all else, I hope you found it useful.

Having a disability is certainly part of who I am but, it does not define me as an individual. My hope as we enter a new decade is that we can move away from simply paying lip service to disabilities and ticking boxes and make real progress towards a more inclusive society.

If you are thinking about undertaking some disability awareness training then please get in touch.

I have shared some further insights into life with a disability in our Podcast, A Diverse Life. You can listen to a series of episodes from other people too by clicking this link.

A Diverse Life Podcast explores the diversity of life. Including life with a disability.

Read some of our articles about the importance of having a diversity and inclusion strategy here