My all-time favourite song and my personal theme tune is Proud by Heather Small, because it sums up how I feel about my life and who I am as someone with cerebral palsy. I believe the media along with the disability charities and many activists has polarised the lives of disabled people, where we are either heroic paralympians or more likely, and as they wish us to be portrayed, miserable benefit claimants living a life comparable to being in a Victorian work house. But disabled people are three dimensional characters who have plenty to offer society, plenty of wonderful experiences to enjoy, and can lead amazing lives in a way that is just normal.
A perfect example of something positive I have every reason to feel proud about is I’m Spazticus, which broadcasted the first episode of its second series last night, and starred myself as well as a whole diversity of disabled actors. This cutting edge and controversial prank show is one of the few positive but not patronising representations of disabled people on TV to date as its shows we can be funny on many levels.
The show is a combination of hard work and irrelevant cheek that shows we do not always need to be the victims of the story, puppets for others but we can also be the puppet masters, pulling the strings of the poor unsuspecting public. I’m Spazticus does not show the exception but the norm people have forgotten in this era of welfare reforms.
But disabled people do not always need to be this extreme to be positive. One of my greatest personal achievements has been Wheelies, the world’s first virtual disability themed nightclub I founded seven years ago that is still running using the 3d virtual environment called Secondlife. The club has never been for disabled people but simply disability themed becoming a virtual place for people to come and relax, listen and dance via their avatars to music, live DJs and artists.
What so many people found revolutionary was that my avatar used a wheelchair, the very first to do so, despite the fact I could be anyone I wanted to be. I wanted to be me as someone with cerebral palsy and this has continued to capture the excitement of the media and academia ever since I started. The idea someone would choose to appear disabled when they did not need to has helped people understand the positive side of disability especially as the number of virtual wheelchair users around the world have grown.
But these are two examples on being positive at work, where it is ‘easy’ to put on a brave smile, but surely I have no time for fun? Well, I am not when of these many ‘disabled people’ who sit on their beanbags all day on their laptops writing blogs or tweeting how life is terrible! My life is in fact great and I have a great social life. My passion is water sports and I love doing anything that involves wearing a wetsuit and getting wet!
I am no paralympian and I do these activities simply because I enjoy them and they are fun. At the end of August I am going on a week long disabled windsurfing camp in Belgium, as the only Englishman there and it will be my second time at the camp. I windsurf sitting down using a specially adapted board and it is great fun. It will also be great to be around a group of disabled people who are clearly doing something positive, for a week at least, and who probably never heard of welfare reforms or ATOS, let alone hate them! This is certainly a real and deserved break for me.
I believe and demonstrate wherever and whenever I can disabled people can be positive. We can achieve great things, which others may or may not call work. We can make contributions to our communities as citizens, to our families as parents or siblings, and to society as whole people with diverse skills and abilities many already demonstrate every day as just normal events.
In this context, I have started a campaign called ‘Yes we can’ (www.simonstevens.com/yes)
that aims to show disabled people can work in one way or another, although may not always been ready to work, and deserve the chance to have a positive life. Being positive is not about pretending everything is perfect and smiling all day, it is about the right attitude to approach whatever barriers you face in a way so that you can overcome them, not just give up and play the victim!