The Disabilities and Chronic Illness Online panel took place on Sunday at Summer in the City 2019. It was chaired by Jessica Kellgren-Fozard and featured Hannah Witton, Isabelle Weall and Oliver Lam-Watson as panellists.
After introductions, Jessica asked the panellists what their favourite part is about creating content related to disability and chronic illness. Isabelle replied that it’s “seeing how I could help other people”. Meanwhile, Oliver said: “I think for me, it’s creating a dialogue between you and your audience” and sharing niche problems that you have.
Hannah added that for her, it’s introducing an able-bodied audience to something they may not have heard of before and “raising awareness without realising that was what I was doing”.
Jessica’s next question discussed so-called ‘hustle culture’ in the context of having a disability or chronic illness and finding the balance between creating and taking care of yourself. Oliver said he finds it difficult to get out and “put that content out”, adding that people need to keep a sense of their “own ability” outside of the ‘hustle culture’ mentality.
Jessica agreed and added that “we all have a limit that is personal to us”. Hannah talked about having a diary and resting, with Oliver saying that “sometimes it can be hard to see resting as something that’s productive”, but that “sometimes, taking a rest is being productive” and taking a step forward.
Jessica then went on to ask the panellists about any “blatant ableism” they had experienced, particularly online. Isabelle mentioned comments by people, who have said to her: “‘the doctors have ruined your life by amputating your arms and legs'” when they actually saved her life. Oliver talked about ableism with blue badges and “whether or not you’re too disabled or not disabled enough”.
Hannah discussed using accessible toilets and an experience she had where a lady left one and said “‘ooh, thank goodness you’re not in a wheelchair'” to her, “what she thinks is an able-bodied person”. Hannah added that she also needs to access them.
The discussion then moved on to diagnoses, with Jessica saying that she went through 17 years of her life without being diagnosed and that “every single day, I was in pain”. This was then followed up with a question about advice for someone who is struggling to get a diagnosis.
Hannah listed several tips in her response, including suggesting that people “ask for a second opinion, ask for a different doctor [and] ask a friend”. Jessica answered that “if your GP is stopping you from getting access to the service that you need, you [can] get another one”.
When asked about what able-bodied friends can do to support people in their lives with disabilities, Isabelle replied: “It’s so different for every person, but I like when people don’t try and help me every two seconds”, adding that if she wants someone’s help, she’ll ask for help.
Oliver said: “It’s about not just forcing help on someone. It’s thinking, ‘if that person was able-bodied, would I do the same thing?'”
Isabelle then added: “Just because you’re seeing me do it for the first time, doesn’t mean it’s my first time doing it.”
When questions were later passed to the audience, one person asked the panellists about how they deal with not apologising for not being disabled or having a chronic illness.
Oliver replied that one thing he finds really helpful is “instead of saying sorry, just saying ‘thank you for spending time with me, thank you for helping me.’
“Change that ‘I’m sorry’ – cause you’ve really done nothing wrong – to a ‘thank you’ and I think that really changes your mindset,” he said.
Jessica added that it’s “so so important” to “be aware of your own self-worth”.
Check out our Summer in the City tag, where you’ll find all of our coverage.
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