Well, it’s funny, when I was younger there was one thing my dad always used to tell me about defining myself as a disabled person, because he had callipers when he was younger. It’s totally politically incorrect but he said, “There’s a difference between a cripple and a retard”, he always saw a cripple as being someone who was mentally bright but has physical limitations and problems. Of course, I wouldn’t ever talk like that publicly and say, “Well I’m a cripple”, but that helped reduce the stigma of being disabled in my own head.
There are so many ways to say you’re disabled and often people are lumping it all into one, which I find rather difficult. Some people think just because you’re physically disabled you definitely have something wrong with you mentally as well. It’s hard to draw those parallels and I don’t know where they come from, but I guess it’s just a part of society. I think that the mentality going forward for me was that I wasn’t going to let physical barriers block me from doing what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker from when I was young. I love film and I love being able to tell stories, but there have been times where my physical disability has blocked me from doing that. A good example that I used to bash myself with was; I thought I couldn’t use my wheelchair on a film set because it made too much noise. I always used to tell myself that I couldn’t do that, but I never told myself that there’s stuff beyond the set and I’ve been really invested in writing scripts. I love being able to tell my stories, and from my perspective as well, which is something this industry lacks. There are some great attempts to tell stories from a disabled person perspective. Andy Serkis is a great example with his film Breathe which stars Andrew Garfield. It’s about polio, which is what I have. He’s fantastic at directing that, but there’s still a long way to go, and that’s what motivates me because there is a huge stigma for disabled people to not be able to do what they want to do.
I gave my CV to five people in my gap year for a Saturday job and none of them came back to me. I don’t want to think it was to do with my disability, but my CV was tailored for these places and I was pretty well qualified to work in a place like a phone shop. But talking to other disabled people in a similar situation it seemed there were difficulties getting into the workplace because of accessibility.
I’m from North Devon, in a very small town called Barnstaple. Getting to university came with a load of challenges, all of which came down to funding. It costs to be disabled. You have to get funding for things the NHS can’t supply – a decent wheelchair and other equipment that they can’t give me. Coming from a small town, I was the first disabled person from the town to go to university, so the social services team didn’t know what they were doing. I had to battle them to find funding for care which I need at night. I need funding for carers, so they have somewhere to go instead of the same room as me, which made getting here incredibly stressful. But now that I’m here, it’s opened so many doors for me.
I don’t think I could have a better course; the Film School are so incredibly supportive, willing to go out of their way to make sure everything is accessible. The feeling of success after getting through those challenges is a good feeling, it just feels like that obstacle shouldn’t be there in the first place. I think being disabled has given me the chance to look at everyone else’s health in perspective. You do learn a lot navigating through these things and it’s good to get these voices out, which is why something like this is so great. I feel like it’s important that you can speak up about being disabled, it does a world of good. We are making progress but there is still plenty more to do.