Let's focus on what we can do!

By Disabled People for Disabled People

Saturday, 29 July, 2023

Disability Expo 2023 Article — By Yolanda Barker

Being surrounded by hundreds of disabled people, MY people, I am thrilled to dive right in at the Disability Expo at Excel London.

Chatting with stall holders, I absentmindedly flashed my ID card using my new Sunflower Hidden Disabilities lanyard (www.hdsunflower.com) only to realise it had the wrong name.  Spookily another Yolanda was registered also connected to Multiple Sclerosis.  She turned out to be the Mum of Terri-Louise Brown, the CEO/Founder of Talks with MS (talkswithms.com), a charity set up to enhance awareness, particularly within the underrepresented black community.  I could see the impact this charity has from the heartfelt appreciation they were getting from visitors.

The wide selection of stands displaying helpful equipment, chairs, and beds were easy to navigate eagerly through.  I loved that they weren’t pushing you to buy, buy, buy but to try things out and talk through how your needs can be met. 

Talking with Patchwork Hub, they passionately told me how they work to connect employers with the talents of disabled workers. (patchworkhub.org)

Bespoke days at Chailey Heritage’s activity centre on the Kent/Sussex border made me want to plan a truly accessible day out. (chf.org.uk)

Later, I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Christou from Mybility. (mybility.co.uk)  Like myself, our mobility has been affected but he exuded such a positive aura.  His team create meaningful all-terrain wheelchairs so the user can choose their own opportunities and achieve them.  Truthfully, I should have interviewed him rather than chatted but I know I will nab him for a proper interview as I need to hear more about his adventures.

Within the hustle and bustle of the Expo were panel discussions, shows and activities to try out.  From accessible gaming, dancing, cookery, employment and even a game show from The Grumpy Gits Show (grumpygitsshow.com) offering us an entertaining look on life –I could tell they enjoy taking part as much as the audience. 

I met Jordon, Lauren and Thom, fellow students from The Academy of Disabled Journalists. (abilitytoday.com/academy-for-disabled-journalists) Though our discussion time was limited, we took some photographs together.  I’m excited about how our diverse interests will lead to unique stories in the future and achieve our NCTJ (nctj.com) qualifications.

The media’s representation of disability was discussed by a panel headed by Samantha Renke, Jordon Jarret-Brown, Laura Mathius, Roxy Murray, Richard Amm, Shaun Flores and Kris Foster.  They shared their worrying experiences of unjustified hate in television and media in general.  Jordon highlighted the need for more people with disabilities in Senor Decision Making positions.  He believes that while progress has been made in front of the camera, there’s still much work to be done in ensuring those who truly understand disability are inputting into shows in various media formats.

Later I spoke to Kahaam Film Club (kahaanifilmclub.co.uk) who agreed but also informed me that Bollywood seems to be representing disabilities as lived experience avoiding tokenism often seen in Hollywood.

I managed to speak with Samantha Renke (Actress, Presenter, Campaigner).  I asked her about her time at the expo.  She said” The beauty is the solidarity of the community; we have each other’s back”.  I agree – I felt it too.

Glamsticks (glamsticks.co.uk) creator Lady Sharon showed me the super lightweight sticks she uses.  Some were draped in crystals.  They were exceptionally placed offering stylish, quality sticks/crutches for people who want to feel a bit special. 

Jacqueline Winstanley the dynamic visionary behind Universal Inclusion/The Inclusive Entrepreneur (universalinclusion.co.uk).  As well as an accomplished accessibility and inclusion consultant, she supports starts ups and strives for positive change amongst business.  So, anyone with an ingenious idea for a business, she is worth connecting with.

Discovering that no subject was considered taboo at the Expo truly brightened my day as I strongly advocate for open discussions on awkward subjects.

I attended the Sex and Relationships Panel with Kelly Gordon, Roxy Murray, Shaun Flores, Lorraine Stanley, Helen Dunman and Ciara Lawrence.

This was a frank and open conversation including:  At what age should we start educating young disabled people about sex?  How to support people into having fulfilling sex life whether alone or with a partner?  Why is there often the misconception that disabled people should not be having an active sex life.  

One company are helping demystify this myth: Rocks Off (rocks-off.com) are launching a range of aesthetically pleasing sex toys which have undergone rigorous testing within the disabled community.  I thought the product’s attention to detail and emphasis on the perfect moment was truly considered. I believe they will be enthusiastically embraced in many homes. 

My day out amongst my peers was fantastic.  Speaking to everyone made me want to bounce home (Reality was I slept).  Learning about products for our community and hearing talks from inspiring individuals fighting injustice felt like when watching a Marvel Film – awesome, quirky characters, successfully facing personal challenges head on but becoming fiercely powerful when united.

For more information on who was at Disability Expo 2023 visit thedisabilityexpo.com

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