Jono Lancaster is back on our screens in So What If My Baby Is Born Like Me?

Following on from the documentary Love Me, Love My Face featuring Jono LancasterSo What If My Baby Is Born Like Me? is the latest offering from the BBC, and looks at the dilemma parents with hereditary disabilities face when deciding whether to have children.

So What If My Child Looks Like Me- Jono Lancaster - image -

Jono Lancaster, 26, was born with Treacher Collins syndrome, a disability that has a 50% chance of being passed on to his children. Having faced hardship as a child, Jono and long-term girlfriend Laura, are unsure of whether to risk passing this disability, and its inherent problems, on to their child.

Trying to decide the right path, the programme sees the couple visit other families having faced this decision, as well as children with Treacher Collins syndrome and adults who have coped through adolescence living with the disability, and are happily out the other side!

Watch on BBC 3 tonight (19th April) at 9pm to learn a little more about this tough decision that so many face.

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April 19, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Entertainment. 13 comments.

Wheelchair user joins Hollyoaks cast

Last night saw the arrival of the latest Hollyoaks cast member, Peter Mitchell, a wheelchair user who will play the new headteacher, Pete.

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Peter became paralysed after a car accident in 2002, and has only since gone into acting. He has previously appeared in the mockumentary Cast Offs playing Dan.

Although from last night’s episode it’s apparent that there is some sinister back story haunting this new character – supposedly he has a grievance with Brendan – it’s not clear  whether this will centre around his wheelchair. According to Peter “he has a very strong character from the get go” – so let’s hope they don’t focus on his disability.

Pete is not the Hollyoaks first character in a wheelchair, Hayley Ramsey, played by Kelly-Marie Stewart, was a formidable and feisty character back in 2009, who left after the actress became pregnant.

Oh, and I’ve found two interesting interviews with Peter, one on the Channel 4 website and the other on BBC Ouch!. Enjoy.

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February 22, 2011. Tags: , , , , , . Entertainment. Leave a comment.

The Secret Millionaire helps an inspiring disability support centre

In the first of a new series of The Secret Millionaire, travel website entrepreneur Chris Brown is moved to help Talbot House, a centre offering support to parents of children with disabilities. In case you haven’t seen The Secret Millionaire before, the show involves a millionaire, funnily enough, going undercover in deprived areas looking for people and organisations that would benefit from their financial help. After shadowing Bernadette Wood, General Manager of Talbot House, her enthusiasm and good work encourages Chris to give a helping hand in the form of £25,000.

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Having come to Talbot House herself when her son was born with Down’s syndrome, Bernadette knows how vital support is when learning to accept a disability. Talking about her son Jeffrey she enthuses; “He is my life, he’s my every waking moment, and my every sleep, I absolutely adore him, I learn from him, I love him. He’s bought joy, laughter, kindness, he’s bought all the good qualities of a person into our home… do I get down, yeh, do the down days come, yeh, do I blame God, yeh, do I swear, and I don’t normally swear, but I swear on those days. But it’s through him that I’m this person who I am today… and now I like to show people that there is a way through, there’s life after disability, it is not the end of the world.” There are a lot of people out there that I hope read this and take heed of the heartfelt sentiment.

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October 20, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . Entertainment. Leave a comment.

Woman with disabilities on Location Location Location

Fans of Location Location Location will have last night seen partners in crime Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer focusing the latest property search on London to find a home for wheelchair user Claire who has cerebral palsy.

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Not only is it great that they featuring an independent woman with disabilities, but Claire is also their youngest buyer with the biggest budget. Only 18-years-old and having just finished her first year of university, Claire has a whopping £1,700,00 to invest in a property, just a small part of the payout she was awarded after complications at birth resulted in her disability. Her dream is for somewhere on the Southbank, and ultimately a home with easy access to her university campus, London’s hot spots, and most importantly somewhere that will enable her independence.

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Claire's chosen Borough Penthouse

I was really impressed with how the show portrayed Claire’s story; they didn’t focus unnecessarily on her disability, instead looking at her personality and success, as well as the practicalities of buying somewhere when in a wheelchair. However it would be good to see another show in the future where Kirstie and Phil assist someone with a disability but a more realistic budget.

Oh and being a girl, I have to comment on Claire’s fabulous style. I wish I had as much sophistication when I was 18, and such good shoes!

Watch Location Location Location on 4OD.

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September 17, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Entertainment. 8 comments.

Inside Incredible Athletes – how they’ve achieved despite disabilities

Have you ever wondered what enables people with severe disabilities to perform to such astonishing athletic levels ready for the 2012 paralympics? Then watch Channel 4’s Inside Incredible Athletes with fascinating insights into not only a range of paralympic sports, but also how these sporting giants are able to achieve.

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Examining five different paralympic sports; swimming, wheelchair rugby, blind football, horseriding and blade running, it questions how these athletes manage to perform despite impairments. How is it possible for someone to play football blind? How, if the muscles around their lungs don’t work to inflate them properly, can someone exert themselves in a wheelchair? When a swimmer’s cerebral palsy means one side of her body is weaker than the other, why is her best stroke a symmetrical one?

Looking at the biology behind how these athletes’ bodies work, the programme concludes that disabilities can sometimes be beneficial in the pursuit of sporting excellence as they are seen to “break through the predicted limits.” Let me explain.. as an example, with the wheelchair rugby, tests show that using a wheelchair  is faster than running on foot and requires less energy and is thus more efficient – when used by someone who is highly trained of course. Or running on a blade can be faster as it is able to pick up more momentum than a foot which can slow a person down.

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Horserider Lee Pearson, who was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita meaning he has reduced joint mobility, often competes against able-bodied riders and wins. His astounding ability comes from years of training and strengthening the part of his body that he can control, his hips.

Examples like these show how we are able to adapt and sometimes improve on what we have. It’s all a case of technique, development and most importantly adaptation; “you look at reality you can’t change things it’s just how you deal with them… You have two options, you can do f**k all, or you can do everything you want… why would you want to miss such opportunities” (Mandip Sehmi).

So whether you are an avid paralympic sports fan, or curious of how it all works, you’ll be amazed by the achievements of these athletes. They make seemingly impossible tasks look easy, I mean who can say they have competed at Olympic level! As one wheelchair rugby player so poignantly states, “it shouldn’t have taken me the loss of two 3rds of my body to make the most of the last 3rd, but it did” (Steve Brown).

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September 2, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Sport. 4 comments.

How to Look Good Naked is back and featuring more disabilities!

Once again my Wednesday nights mean I’m glued to the TV for another season of How to Look Good Naked. My favorite series was of course How to Look Good Naked… With a Difference where three women with different disabilities were given Gok’s usual confidence-building treatment.

I was concerned that the portrayal of people with disabilities would diminish with the end of that series. But not only has Gok continued to include model Kelly Knox who was born without a forearm, but some of the main ‘characters’ have a form of disability.

Kelly Knox - disabled=

Last night saw Charlotte, who uses a stick to aid walking after recovering from spinal surgery, contending with her own negative image of the scars she has been left with. And in a similar scenario the first episode featured Simon whose low confidence developed after the curve in his spine was corrected.

Some felt the With a Difference series worked only to segregate disabilities. But although these new disabilities featured may not be as obvious, I’m pleased to see Gok is still working to represent disability in the mainstream show. Keep at it Gok!

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July 29, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Entertainment. Leave a comment.

Glee – where have I been?!

Quick question – am I the only person on the planet who has managed to miss the new American phenomenon Glee?! Of course I’d heard of it, but hadn’t paid much attention until a friend alerted me to one of the characters, Artie Abrams, who is in a wheelchair.

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For those of you, like me, who must have been living under a rock the past few months, Glee is set in an American High School and centres around the Glee club. Created for a mixed-bag of characters who don’t ‘fit in’ anywhere else – the gay guy, the ‘plump’ black girl, the pregnant cheerleader, the guy in a wheelchair – the Glee club is a musical group who have taken their aspirations to competition level.

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With an episode focusing on each character, Wheels honed in on Artie’s story. Problems with funding the transport needed for Artie’s wheelchair leave the group out-casting Artie and asking him to make his own way to competitions.

But teacher Will Schuester shows the students the errors of their ways demanding that they conduct a bake sale (so American!) to pay for the transport, and orders them spend the day in a wheelchair – a genius idea and something a lot more people should try.

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The show also features a young girl with Down’s syndrome (Becky Jackson, played by Lauren Potter) who secures a place in the cheerleading club. This is no mean feat due to the elitist nature of the group run by straight-talking coach Sue Sylvester. An unexpected gesture of kindness by Sue, but we later learn that she has a sister with Down’s syndrome.

But back to Artie. I am aware that not everyone has a positive opinion about this character. Maybe this is in part to do with the actor, Kevin McHale, not having a disability.  As I’m not in a wheelchair myself, I can’t comment on how truthfully or negatively the experiences of using a wheelchair are being portrayed. I doubt the directors and writers have this first-hand knowledge either.

But despite the American cheesy messages, is it a bad thing that finally someone with a disability is on a mainstream show? Not only that, but episodes like Wheels highlight the difficulties faced by someone in the wheelchair and how they are treated and included or should I say excluded by others. Surely this will open some people’s eyes to what it is like to be different?

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So as the last episode airs this week I suggest that reaching a true depiction of those with disabilities on TV and breaking down stereotypes is going to be a long and windy road. Just like the debate around using models with curves instead of stick thin women. But at least it’s a start?!

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June 9, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . Entertainment. Leave a comment.

Actress with disabilities on Coronation Street

Last night saw Cherylee Houston who uses a wheelchair, make her debut on the 50-year-old soap Coronation Street. As the soaps first full-time character with disabilities, Cherylee plays Izzy Armstrong, Kirk Sutherland‘s feisty new girlfriend.

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The 35-year-old actress has been in a wheelchair since the age of 23 after being diagnosed with the rare tissue disorder, Ehlers Danlos Type III hypermobility type. But this hasn’t stopped her pursuing an acting career; “attitudes are only just changing and TV is one of the last domains. There are nearly 10% of us in society, but hardly any of us on TV. I’m really proud to be joining Coronation Street and really excited too. But for me, more than anything, it is about being good at my job.”

Having previously started in Doctors back in 2003, Cherlyee has since been in The Bill, Holby City, Emmerdale and Little Britain. But after a brief appearance in Coronation Steret last month, character Izzy will now be a regular in the soap.

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Coronation street has also seen previous characters with disabilities; deaf actress Ali Briggs played Freda the neice of Emily Bishop, and Ryan Connor’s friend Phil was played by wheelchair user Richard Sargent.

But Cherylee says getting people with disabilities included hasn’t always been easy for her; “there’s a fear of the unknown and a fear of saying the wrong thing. There are so many preconceived ideas about disabled people, but it’s a case of realising that we are just people.”

Well said!

Thankfully disabilities are increasingly being shown on TV- see the entertainment section to find out more.

May 24, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Entertainment. 5 comments.

Child with Down’s syndrome as face of Kinder Chocolate

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4-year-old Isla who has Down’s syndrome is one of the six winners of the ‘Face of Kinder’ chocolate UK competition.

Having been chosen from over 5,000 entrants and 30 finalists, she will now appear on limited edition 16-bar packs of Kinder Chocolate Mini Treats. Isla is the only child with a disability to have won the competition, her parents stating “having Down’s syndrome doesn’t hold Isla back.”

Finally a child with Down’s syndrome in a mainstream campaign! The chocolate is aimed at children so although it may rot their teeth, it’s an important step in making sure they are exposed to and educated about differences and disabilities.

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May 13, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Inspiration. Leave a comment.

Young, Autistic and Stagestruck, the final

Last night saw the final of Young, Autistic and Stagestruck.

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As the series followed the blossoming friendships, the arguments and aggression, the fears and reservations of nine youngsters with autism, we were left wondering if a final stage play would be possible.

But it’s of little importance whether the group put on a theatrical masterpiece worthy of the West End, but instead what the participants and audience took away from the experience.

As even one of the mothers admitted, before she had a child with autism her perception and knowledge of the disability consisted solely of the film Rain Man (where one of the lead characters has a severe form of autism). My hope therefore is that this series will open people’s eyes to how wide the spectrum of autism is and how it can manifests itself. It’s shown not only the challenges faced by those with autism and their parents, but also the ways in which people can still develop and learn to live with this disability.

I digress by mentioning an inspirational talk given by Temple Grandin who has high-functioning autism. She has truly embraced her autism, and is passionate about changing people’s misconceptions of the disability; “[to some] it is incomprehensible that the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled. However, I feel strongly that I am living proof that they can”.

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Recently an awareness project was launched in Wales providing training on the autistic spectrum for schools and businesses. Its aim is to give people an understanding of how to help those with autism to live productive lives and thus provide them with greater opportunities.

I’m not suggesting for one minute that autism can be cured, and I know that some forms are far more disabling than other. But the key is to embrace it and make sure those with autism get the education, confidence and independence that they deserve.

Don’t fret if you have missed it, you can catch up on Channel 4oD.

May 11, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . Entertainment. 3 comments.

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