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Kirsteen Allison

Kirsteen Allison is a hearing and visually impaired blogger from Scotland with a passion for improving disabled people’s access to employment, education and training. She is a qualified careers adviser, HR adviser and Equality adviser.

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She has volunteered in the disability field for nearly 25 years and has been nominated for several equality and diversity awards.

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Stephanie Carfrae

Steph Carfrae was born in February 1992, in Chobham, Surrey. She is a quarter Dutch. At the age of 7 years old Steph was diagnosed with a disability. By the time she was 11 years old she was confined to be in a wheelchair full time.

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Steph then attended Charters school where she learned not to let her condition overcome her. She made many friends who were able to overlook her condition and Steph was able to grow up happy and surrounded by friends.

Steph has an older Sister and two older Brothers, the youngest of whom shares the same condition with Steph.
Steph attended St Mary’s University in Twickenham where she got a 2:1 in Professional and Creative Writing. She made many more friends there and for the first time in her life had a taste of real independence. After Steph graduated, she and her brother found out that their original diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy was false and that they did in fact have a very rare form of HSP (Hereditary Spastic Parapesis) called SPG35. Steph has always considered this a physical challenge rather than a disability. Steph now resides in Bagshot, Surrey with her boyfriend. She enjoys reading, writing, theatre and makes her own motivational videos under the name of The Helpful Pebble. These are posted regularly on YouTube. Steph hopes you enjoy them! Steph volunteers at Ability Today, she loves working at the office and creates blogs as a Roving Reporter.

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Khaleel Chima

My name is Khaleel al-Soubur Chima, born in Glasgow on 11th October 1990. I am Pakistani decent and part Iranian. I am the eldest out of three brothers. At nine months old, I was diagnosed with Glutaric aciduria type 1, an inherited disorder

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affecting my limbs and vocal cords. However, I put this behind me and strive to succeed in life.

I started nursery which was only for children with disabilities. I did some tests to help people discuss my future education and soon I attended both a mainstream nursery and the special nursery. I went to one in the morning and to the other during afternoons.

When I moved to Slough in Berkshire, I was put into a school for children with disabilities, in Reading called The Avenue School. There I learnt how to drive a powerchair before turning six. I then transferred to Priory School, which had both children with special needs and those who did not. I moved into the mainstream class full time. This is where my intellect level and social life started to boom.

For secondary school, I first attended Charters School in Ascot. Due to my spinal operation, I had to attend a more local school called The Westgate School. I went back to Charters for sixth form.

I gained an Upper Second Class degree in BSc (Hons) Mathematics at Kingston University, in the year 2016.

I consider myself to be very lucky and am thankful for becoming a confident, energetic, enthusiastic and motivated wheelchair user with a hardworking and positive attitude. As proven in my academic and personal life, I have the courage, determination and desire to succeed.

My other achievements include ‘Child of Achievement’ award 1998, nominated for bravery.

Interests are writing poetry, most been published. Powerchair football, played in the national league for Reading Powerchair FC. I produce and upload math tutorials onto YouTube.

For Khaleel Chima’s Blog Click Here

Hannah Deakin

Hannah was well and able bodied until a sporting injury at the age of 14. She developed complex regional pain syndrome and many secondary complications, including dystonia, osteoporosis and spasms/functional neurological disorder.

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She has suffered a spiral fracture of the hip and femur, which has since lead to further complications. Hannah also has hypermobility syndrome. Hannah spend 4 years in hospital of which 3.5 years she was totally bedbound, followed by 1.5 years in a neurological unit/care home.
So she missed out on most of her teenage years. Hannah has been home since she was 21. Hannah is a wheelchair user.

Hannah managed to gain her Maths and English GCSE bedbound in hospital, being turned halfway through and with the help of a scribe in 2007 and then 2008. Having missed out on most of her secondary education, once home Hannah went on to gain her Science GCSE, then AAT(Association of Accounting Technicians) level 2, 3 and 4. Hannah graduated from AAT level 4 Professional Diploma in Accounting with a Distinction in September 2019.

Hannah writes a blog- ‘Hannah’s Hope’ which she began in 2018. It is a disability and lifestyle blog, with the aim of sharing experiences, supporting and reaching out to others and making a positive impact in the world. Hannah is an cheerful and determined person who aims to make the most of life.

Hannah is an ambassador for White Lodge and does speeches and workshops at schools, Guides and Scouts, raising awareness of disability and White Lodge. It is through White Lodge that Hannah met Grant and then became involved with Ability Today. Hannah says: ‘They are a fabulous team and I love being involved with them. I am grateful for the opportunity to study with the Academy of Disabled journalism!’

In her spare time Hannah also raises money for Starlight Children’s Foundation, by making handmade cards. She has done a TEDX talk-Values in Life, is involved with the charity Scope and is passionate about making a difference, changing perceptions and promoting equality.

For Hannah Deakin’s Blog Click Here

Heather Farley

Heather smiling in her wheelchair at Ability Todays office

Hi, my name is Heather. I have four children with my husband of 35 years, Malcolm, three of our adult boys have varying autistic spectrum difficulties. Since having a stroke in 2007 I am also a wheelchair user myself.

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I started volunteering as a way to improve my mental health and take my mind out of my situation. I needed desperately to try to improve my confidence and self-esteem which was at rock bottom. It was very difficult to motivate myself to keep going but I did. As a result of the personal boost that volunteering with Ability Today gave me I started applying for paid work and I now have a full time job with the NHS at a local health centre.

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Natasha Hall

Headshot of Natasha smiling

I was born in May 1977 in Perivale London and I have a younger brother. At the age of 9 I had some tests done as I was falling behind in class, and was diagnosed with a Learning Disability,

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we also found out that my brother also had the same diagnosis as me.
I went to a couple of different schools and in both I needed to have special help in the classroom and with exams. In 1989 we moved to Camberley and eventually I attended Carwarden House Special Needs School (CHS). It was at this school that I seemed to thrive as lessons where at a pace I could understand. When I left CHS I attended Guildford College for 2 years on courses suitable for me to understand and achieve my goals.

I lived in Minehead for three years attending a college to help with independence and office skills and then started working at Surrey Independent Living Council (SILC), I was there for six years working as a part time admin assistant and thoroughly enjoyed working there, on the days I was not working I volunteered for Surrey & Borders Recovery College helping them in the back office with admin tasks.

Unfortunately, I was made redundant in September 2017, so I increased my working days and my duties at the Recovery College and whilst there I have gained my Mental Health Awareness Level 2 certificate and my First Aid in Mental Health Level 1. They have also given me the opportunity to run my own course which is called Creative Recovery.

I was advised by the Job Centre that I should try and get some more admin experience to show employers the skills I have learnt. I came across Ability Today and have been volunteering for them for over a year and thoroughly enjoy working there. My main roles at Ability Today are checking the links on the website work, updating information on the website. I have also started to write a blog on myself and at a recent event became a Roving Reporter writing about the Northern Lights visit. I am also attending a course which is called the Academy for Disabled Journalists with the NCT which I am looking forward to.

For Natasha Hall’s Blog Click Here

Lisa Kavaney

Lisa in a black floral dress in a wheelchair on the lawn in front of a hedgeI blog about personal finance in a disability-friendly and accessible way.

I started to get sick in my early teenage years, I was diagnosed with ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) By my early 20’s became completely reliant on care,

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I couldn’t tolerate any light or sound and needed help with feeding. I spent years in bed whilst life passed me by.

By my early 30’s I had improved enough to be able to do 1 day of very limited activity a week, but I was far from recovered.

One day I dislocated my knee simply by changing direction when walking. After that, I noticed myself dislocating more and more joints doing relatively little. Unfortunately, my health started to further deteriorate. I noticed that I was getting a lot of other health problems such as difficulty with swallowing, difficulty urinating, very rapid heart rate, and so on.

After seeing many specialists at various different hospitals, I was diagnosed with a genetic condition called Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I have also since been diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension.

Over the years I have struggled with anxiety and depression relating to feeling a failure because of my conditions. I have been unable to do all the things that I considered I needed to do to be a successful person. I didn’t get to go to university. I’ve not worked since I was medically retired from the part-time supermarket job straight out of school and I have had to live on disability benefits for many years. Meaning I am about as far from well-off and I could get. I started my blog to help others in a similar situation.

In my blog, I share all the tips and tricks I have learned that allow me to have a semi-decent lifestyle despite a lack of money. I also want to show people that you can be successful whatever your situation. We can design our own standards of which to live up to.

It has taken me a long time to realise that there isn’t just one measure of success.

Disability is very expensive. On average disabled people face costs of £583 more per month and when you are often on limited means to start with it takes a lot of juggling just to survive. I joined the Academy of Disabled Journalists because I want to further my communication skills and improve the reach of my voice so I can hopefully make a difference to our community.

For Lisa Kavaney’s Blog Click Here

Edward Maxfield

My names Eddie, I’m 18 and currently living in Edinburgh. I have a neurological disorder which means I use a wheelchair to get around. I am the Scottish regional representative on the board for Whizz-kidz, a major disability charity

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and I am heavily involved with disability campaigning.

Besides studying journalism I also study law and I would like to become a paralegal or a legal correspondent in the future. In my spare time I enjoy volunteering with scouts and travelling.

For Edward Maxfield’s Blog Click Here

Victoria Scholes

Victoria-Jayne graduated in 2018 in Law with a 2:1 from the Open University. After a change of direction, she is now enrolled to study her Level 3 certificate in foundation journalism with the National Council for the Training of Journalists

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In her year since graduating she has helped as a volunteer for Surrey Disabled People’s Partnership, linking people who have found themselves on hard times with local foodbanks, as well as becoming a news editor for the OULS. Victoria-Jayne’s background is a vast one from a Walt Disney World expert for Virgin Holidays to owning her own business to performing at the Theatre Royal Windsor and Richmond Theatre.

After Victoria-Jayne’s health declined she found herself having to rely on a wheelchair to get about. This has made her passion soar and now wants to push the boundaries in to making not only the legal pathway more accessible but also the criminal Justice System. Getting in and out of court buildings, solicitors and even holding cells is not an easy feat and nothing can be changed if it is not challenged.

Victoria-Jayne’s passion comes from the saying ‘Carpe Diem’ and that is exactly what she is hoping to do. She hopes that with the help of the NCTJ and the Ability Today academy, she can show to others just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for the stars.

For Victoria Scholes’s Blog Click Here

Terri Shanahan

Hey Guys. Essentially, I am just a crazy, hyperactive person with an insane passion for travelling ha-ha!
Growing up I never had any diagnosis. I was just labelled as all kinds of horrid things;

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lazy, stupid, deaf, dumb, naughty, slow, hyper, needy; you get the picture.

All throughout my life I majorly struggled with every aspect. I hated life itself, as I was constantly living in fear and confusion. Yet, somehow, this inner strength just held me together, a bit like the magic illustrated in Disney films. The daily battles of my life that I faced were relentless. Till this day I honestly have no idea how I got through some of them. It wasn’t until I reached my second college they had my tested for ADHD and I started to get some learning support. This is when my life began to change for the better.

Summer of 2007 there was a significant change in my life; It was day two of our field trip in Amsterdam. We had just been given free time to go and explore the city. Suddenly everyone was turning to one another, displaying signs of (what I know now as) anxiety, confusion, and to some extent, fear. My peers around me were linking arms with one another (as girls, often do) and saying to each other, ‘oh don’t leave me! What if we get lost? How do we get back to the hotel? How do we know where to go? I can’t read their language? I don’t understand the bus routes!”

As they were left to fend for themselves in the land of the unknown, their questions and concerns grew endlessly!
(For me, this just felt like any other ordinary day. I struggle doing ‘familiar’ journeys as I am not able retain or process the information. Thus, every day for me is like setting out on a new adventure.)

It was like watching a live theatre of my inner emotions, thoughts and feelings; Everyone around me was verbally expressing all of my daily demons in such animation and clarity right in front of me! I actually couldn’t believe it! They were expressing things I could never express.

For a tiny moment in time, all my peers had stepped into my world; They were getting a snapshot of my daily life.
For the first time in my life I actually felt what it was like to finally fit in, and not through my conventional methods of masking or ‘fake it until you make it’ … I mean I was actually, really, truly blending in…. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!

A massive change happened for me in that moment; I found peace; clarity. I had found harmony and synchronisation. I had finally found a safe space to exist in, in all my true colours.

Soon I became infatuated with travelling and all that it could offer me. Travelling as a whole, ticked every box; it was stimulating enough to challenge me, entertain me and offered me a safe space where I could remove my many masks and actually display the real me, difficulties and all, and not be judged. I made it my mission to visit all 197 Countries. I catered my entire life plans around travelling just to capture as many slices of that heavenly feeling of belonging as possible.

I did a business degree in Tourism Management, where I accomplished many amazing adventures abroad.
I spent two amazing years living in the Florida Keys working at a resort on a small tropical island. (The all-time high of my life!)

Despite being extremely happy and successful I still was burdened with daily difficulties and challenges, but I just did what I always did, and do best, and buried my issues and masked. After the most two amazing years of my life, I made the decision to leave to move onto my next adventure, Australia and New Zealand. I returned to England only to find, the constraints of being in a fast-paced westernized part of the world far too overwhelming. It wasn’t long until I found myself drowning again. I was no longer on a tiny tranquil island in the middle of the ocean; I had to negotiate people, noises, traffic lights, public transport, fast cars, smells etc.

Once again, I couldn’t cope or process anything. On the 5th October 2013 I had a suspected TIA (a mini stroke). On the 6th October 2013, I had my first ever seizure. Later I was diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND). I had lost the ability to walk and I had to learn how to talk and write all over again.
That weekend my worst fear/nightmare came true; I became stuck in England. I never made it to Australia or New Zealand. Till present day the Medical Science does not know or understand the exact cause of FND. FND can be an extremely debilitating condition and the impacts and extremity of each relapse can vary.
To help with my FND I am a part time wheelchair user, and I use a TENS machine to send electrical impulses to help keep the gateways between my nervous system and brain open. Not long after the 5th October 2013 I knew it was finally time to seek help and to face the underlying difficulties I had been battling with all my life. If I was going to survive this, I needed to understand myself. I needed clarity. 5th July 2016 I received my diagnosis of Autism. Being brave enough, not only to get tested for autism, but also to welcome the diagnosis has been the best medical decision I have ever made. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been an easy pill to swallow, and can sometimes be a love-hate relationship, but overall, I feel so empowered to know what my strengths are as opposed to only being aware of my weaknesses. Knowledge is power. Since my diagnosis of ADHD when I was 19yrs old, I have always told myself, ‘it’s not a disability, it’s a different ability’. Which is why I am supper elated to have joined Grant Logan and his team at Ability Today; Who share a core philosophy of focussing on the positives and the can-do attitudes of life. I am extremely passionate about getting out there and helping others like myself. I don’t want another person to have to suffer so much so that their body shuts down in such a physical manor like mine did. There is so much to be enjoyed in life, you just have to find the right key to unlock your door. We can’t all use the same set of keys, to the same doors. How boring would that be?!

For Terri Shanahan’s Blog Click Here

Robert Winstanley

I am Robert Winstanley from a sunny little town called Wigan in the north of England. Coming into the world with 7 fractured ribs and a fractured femur was just the beginning of my journey.

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Now at the age of 29 I am a wheelchair user and have Brittle bones which has resulted in two hundred fractures.

To complete my uniqueness, I have a visual impairment and a heart defect which has resulted in cardiac arrest, but this hasn’t defined who I am. I wish to use the knowledge that the journalism course will provide me to help other people to create a record of their time. Giving people the freedom of speech that will connect them to others who are on a similar journey. Which will enable everyone to embrace their own individualism and gather knowledge to help them live a more joyful full life. My life’s journey has allowed me to become the best version of myself and I want to share as many stories as possible so that others can become a true participator on life’s journey instead of a by stander. Let the true magic of the journey begin.

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Sassy Wyatt

Sassy Wyatt is a disability blogger, speaker and podcaster she uses these platforms to illuminate and educate the non-disabled on her personal experiences with blindness, arthritis and depression.

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Her goal is to Challenge perceptions to empower others to be more disability confident and to change the landscape of accessible travel.

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