Within the mainstream, and indeed disability, political arena, it could be imagined that being sick or disabled is a boring negative affair of endless forms and assessments, hate crime, bedroom tax, discrimination at every turn, and general disappointing prospects. This is how the media and the welfare activists like us to be portrayed, but living as a disabled person certainly does not have to be as boring as they paint. I can look back at my 41 years of life with a smug satisfaction that I have made the most of it. I have travelled extensively, enjoyed a wide range of sports and adventurous activities, had the opportunity to work with many organisations and dabble in a wide range of professional arenas from training to comedy, and made friends from around the world, and from all walks of life. And the best part of it all is I do not stop adding new experiences to my vast pool of fond memories. Just this weekend, I spent four days at the Calvert Trust in Exmoor, doing adventurous activities, many I have not previously tried. The Calvert Trust has three centres around England, in the Lake District, Exmoor and Kielder. The centres provide disabled people with a wide range of difficulties, including those with very high needs, the opportunity to try a huge range of adventurous activities. I have previously assumed the centres were slightly too tame for my liking, but welcomed their invite to try them out, and I was happily glad to be proven wrong in this respect. During the weekend, I took part in the Challenge Course, Forest Skills, Climbing crates, the ‘King Swing’, Canoeing and the Zip wire. I am an adrenalin junkie and so the King Swing and Zip wire were my favourite activities, as you can see from the video below, taken by my volunteer PA, who enjoyed the weekend as much as I did.
For me, the weekend was a nice break from the stress of work, and the whinging of activists who seem to use their impairments as weapons of mass misery. The centre had many guests staying at the same time I was there, from all ages and with a range of difficulties, all enjoying themselves as much as I was, without a whisper of negativity. And this is how it should be, seeing difficulties as challenges to overcome as oppose to excuses not to try. What really inspired me was being able to feel and visualise the many happy memories that clearly existed throughout the centre, since it was open in 1996. I can imagine so many young disabled people, with a range of needs, discovering themselves and their real inner ability through the opportunities the centres can provide, not just formally but informally through the intense social interaction any outward bound experience provides. While it was my first time at the centre, it brought back fond memories of many similar experiences I have had when I was younger and emotionally growing. I believe the Calvert Trust, and places like it, can play an important role in supporting people with their emotional journeys. If more sick and disabled people had the opportunity to experience the outward bound culture, even if they were not initially keen, I am sure it could be life changing and a game changer in how they regard themselves and their ability to contribute to society. I left the weekend slightly stronger emotionally than I was, as someone already very strong, and I know these experiences make us all stronger. Being disabled does not have to be a social death sentence, and disabled people can achieve as much as anyone else in their own way, or as much as their imagination will let them. While not every day can be full of excitement, it is important to keep the fire of our spirits burning with passion with periodic bursts of doing something different. And for me, my excitement is not over as next weekend, I am staying at the Bond Hotel in Blackpool, a seaside town I have never visited in the summer.