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24 October 2014 Last updated at 01:27

Disabled graduates: Life after university

Ciaran up the Empire State Building with a friend

This week BBC Ouch is revisiting disabled students who we followed in the last decade. Several years later, how are they doing?

Moving away from home and starting out as a disabled student can take a lot of organisation and confidence, raising questions like: Will I be able to get around campus? Will other students include me? How will I employ and manage assistants or carers?

In 2003, Ciaran Gilligan and Sara Butler (now Sara Krishan) kept diaries of their first few weeks at university. They had great fun but since graduating they have had very different experiences. With almost 50% of disabled people unemployed, how have they fared in the job market?

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Ciaran Gilligan

30-year-old Ciaran lives on his own in a flat in Leeds. He has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user. In 2003 we followed him as he started at Manchester Metropolitan University studying English and creative writing. He says he really enjoyed his time at university and graduated with a 2:2. "I didn't particularly work very hard but that wasn't really the main point of going," he says. "It was a means to an end for me and I made lasting friendships there."

Ciaran sitting beside a swimming pool

He has since done voluntary work for Samaritans and written concert reviews for a local website but has not found paid employment since leaving university.

He wants to become a copywriter and he aims to be self-employed by this time next year. "It seems the best route to go down in my circumstances," he says.

Juggling agency care workers to help him up in the mornings and to get food is "a job in itself", says Gilligan, who thinks it would be difficult to always turn up for a 09:00 start if carers let him down. "I'd quickly get fired," he says.

This year he has discovered a love of travelling which he's achieved entirely independently. It started off by spending new year in New York. "I went on my own, completely on my own, and couch-surfed with friends I'd met through a Facebook group for people with cerebral palsy.

"It was a big leap for me," he says, particularly as he wasn't sure whether the airline would allow him on the plane by himself. But it went well, partly because he was open with his online friends about the help he would need. "I said I'd need somewhere to stay and someone to help me out with care stuff," he says. A neighbour was able to assist and the apartment was accessible, so it worked out. He's been to New York three times this year now, and once to Tenerife.

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Sara Krishan

Sara Krishan is 29 and lives in Birmingham. She has albinism which causes low vision. In 2003 she started at Birmingham University. We followed her as she was beginning a BSc in physiotherapy. She is now married and has a two-year-old son.

Sara with her baby

It's been eight years since she graduated and she has been in employment ever since. She puts this down to her course choice and is pleased she took physiotherapy. Her first job was in a hospital where she was a junior and rotated through different departments - outpatients, elderly care, stroke patients and respiratory, giving her good all-round experience at the start of her career.

She says she looks back on university as a carefree time where she built some really strong friendships. "I went out last Friday night with a load of university friends for a 30th birthday celebration. Everyone still knew I couldn't read the menu in the pub and helped. One of them thought to walk with me back to the train station, but when they think of my visual impairment they think 'whatever'."

She says that, even though a physiotherapist is seen as a stereotypical "blindie" job that everyone appreciates is very "doable", she was discriminated against in interviews initially. "One interviewer told me they definitely wouldn't be able to employ me as they wanted someone quickly and that Access to Work funding wouldn't arrive in time to fund the taxi fares and computer equipment I'd need," she says. But her current employer is "fantastic" she says, with "no whiff of prejudice".

After graduating she got into triathlon racing but found she had to drop that when she started a family. She jokes she is "not interesting" and has "no life" now - "I watch Netflix a lot," she says.

"Being a working mum means I don't have much time for hobbies and spend many hours looking after my little boy."

Catch up with three more graduates who Ouch has followed: Arunima, Darren and Charlotte

Are you a current or former disabled student? We'd like to hear about your experiences of life at university. Email us at Ouch@bbc.co.uk, tweet @BBCOuch using the hashtag #disabledstudents, or get in touch via Facebook

Follow @BBCOuch on Twitter and on Facebook, and listen to our monthly talk show


Disabled students: Fran goes to university

Fran at university

BBC Ouch has been following disabled student Fran Smith as she prepares for university, despite having spinal surgery this summer.

"Getting into Oxford wasn't in the life plan," says 18-year-old Fran Smith. But twenty minutes before she was wheeled down for spinal surgery this summer, she was told she had been accepted to study history at the prestigious university.

Since finding out, Fran has been struggling to get herself fit enough to leave her home in Weston-super-Mare and make the big move. Her disability, Elhers-Danlos Syndrome, causes chronic joint pain throughout the body and makes recovery from surgery much harder.

Fran says she knew having an operation could mean risking her place at Oxford this autumn but the scoliosis - curvature of the spine - had got to a point where she couldn't put it off any longer.

Fran Smith talks about being away from home for the first time

"We knew there was a chance Fran wouldn't make it," says her dad Rob who admits that he and the family didn't believe she'd be able to start at the beginning of term.

At home over the summer, Fran had to focus on getting well.

She says she "grew up a lot" during this time, adding: "Even though I was determined to go and do it, I realised that I had to actually listen to my body and pay attention to what it was telling me.

"Going to university before I was ready could have meant setting back my recovery by months."

Watch the video to see if Fran made it to university.

Are you a current or former disabled student? We'd like to hear about your experiences of life at university with a disability. Email us at Ouch@bbc.co.uk, tweet @BBCOuch using the hashtag #disabledstudents, or get in touch via Facebook

Follow @BBCOuch on Twitter and on Facebook, and listen to our monthly talk show


Disabled students: 'I wish I'd known that'

A sign saying "Academic Campus" with an accessible wheelchair sign.

As part of BBC Ouch's series on disabled students, graduates give their tips to those just starting out.

Going to university is an upheaval for everyone, but being disabled can mean there is even more to consider. Here, experienced disabled students pass on their wisdoms and tips, from employing personal assistants to getting funding to make their studies more accessible.

Choose your assistant wisely

"The biggest thing for me was finding a personal assistant (PA) who not only met my needs, but matched my personality," says Michaela Hollywood, a postgraduate student in Northern Ireland who has muscular atrophy and uses a wheelchair.

The 24-year-old employs a PA for university but has care from her parents when she's at home. She hires her PAs via an agency who advertise online. Michaela used to post the agency adverts where graduates of occupational therapy and physiotherapy could see them, feeling that "they wouldn't be afraid to do personal care". Her PAs help her with daily tasks such as sitting straight in her chair and assisting with going to the toilet.

She had difficulties with the first PA she hired. "She wouldn't speak unless spoken to, which put me under a lot of pressure," she says. "My grades were much lower in that semester than any other."

Start Quote

Just enjoy it for what it is, and remember that if it's not totally epic, you haven't failed as a person”

End Quote Martha Buckley

Her latest assistant is a politics graduate with no care experience, but Michaela says the partnership is going well and has unforeseen benefits: "She can attend my lectures when I am too sick to go."

Different people want different things from their PA and a common debate is about whether he or she should melt into the background allowing the disabled person to shine, or join in with conversations and activities. Hollywood says her PA is involved in many areas of university life and helps immensely by pushing her forward, making her feel more included.

But for Jamie Green, a languages student with cerebral palsy at Durham University, this involvement would make him feel "very awkward".

Know your DSA

For disabled students attending university in England there is a grant available to meet the costs of extra equipment and support - the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA). Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar schemes.

Ticking 'disabled' on a UCAS form or the relevant box on a student loan form should start a multi-step application process. Most students we spoke to got their DSA on time and without any fuss.

But visually impaired student Lucy Hayward didn't know to apply for DSA until late September and so received no support until the following March.

Michaela at her graduation Michaela says it's important to find a suitable PA

As part of an application for DSA, every person must have an assessment to determine what equipment they require. "Other students told me of a place I could go to test out assistive technology and other equipment," Lucy says. As a result she knew what she wanted, asked for it, and got most of it. If she hadn't known about this she would have only received the basic equipment every disabled student automatically gets, she says.

Oxford graduate Martha Buckley says it is important to note that disabled students at university may need different help to what they received at school. "I resisted having library assistance for ages because I'd never had a support worker before, and was too proud to admit I might need more help," she says. "But actually having someone to do runs with piles of books made studying so much easier."

Manage your expectations

Martha says there is a general feeling that university is "where you have to make lasting friendships, have nights of awesome parties and find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with."

She meets lots of disabled students in her work running the Oxford Access Guide and says it's important to remember that university doesn't have to be the best years of your life.

"Just enjoy it for what it is, and remember that if it's not totally epic, you haven't failed as a person," she says.

Jamie Green Jamie Green says it can be harder for disabled people to make friends at university

Jamie Green agrees. He says that it can be harder for disabled people to get to know others quickly, as is often expected of students in fresher's week. He says he made most of his best friends in the second term and even second year, by getting involved in as many things as possible. "I was surprised and pleased at how open minded people were about my disability," he says.

Do your research

The consensus is that disabled students should go and see as many of the universities they apply for as possible, particularly if physical access is a consideration.

"Have a look at what's accessible, what's not, what might be tricky and what's possible," advises Jamie. He says there is enough to contend with with making friends and starting a new course without needing the added pressure of a new environment to navigate.

He says the most important consideration should be the course, and practicalities should come second.

Don't let anyone tell you what course you should do

Michaela Hollywood says she felt as if she was being pushed towards computing or law as areas of study, and maintains she was discouraged from doing a journalism course. "They didn't want me in front of a TV camera or a radio microphone," she says. She did take journalism, and later achieved student of the year.

When she wanted to pursue a course in genetics she was told that the laboratories and practical sessions weren't accessible. She was confident that it would work but her health deteriorated at that time and she opted to study public relations instead. She is now taking a postgraduate in lobbying government and urges any disabled student to study what makes them happy.

Are you a current or former disabled student? We'd like to hear about your experiences of life at university. Email us at Ouch@bbc.co.uk, tweet @BBCOuch using the hashtag #disabledstudents, or get in touch via Facebook

Follow @BBCOuch on Twitter and on Facebook, and listen to our monthly talk show


Disabled students: Molly goes to university

Molly with her guide dog and a friend walking outside her university

BBC Ouch has been following disabled students during their first month at university to see how their studies are going and how they get on away from home.

Molly Watt has Usher syndrome, a genetic condition that has caused her to be deaf and visually impaired.

She has been at the University of Roehampton since September studying primary education.

Before starting, Molly had a number of concerns: Will new friends understand her disability? Will she be able to hear in lectures? And what would she do with her guide dog Unis when she goes out for a drink because you're not permitted to use a dog while intoxicated.

Molly discusses her worries and hopes about university

One month later, it's mid October and Molly has settled in, but she says the first few weeks were difficult.

"I sat in a lecture and couldn't hear the lecturer because the microphone hadn't come, so I sat there and felt useless," she says. "My equipment turned up late as well so it was just one thing after another."

But Molly says her new flatmates have made the overall experience enjoyable. Before university she was nervous about how other students might take the news of her disability but says they have turned out to be supportive.

Molly describes how her first month has gone

"They showed genuine interest and then after that first evening of it we didn't talk about it again," she says.

When she was planning her move away from home, Molly was concerned about how her guide dog Unis would adjust to the new way of living. But both she and the dog have adapted well.

"She has coped really well," Molly says. "When we're in the flat everyone leaves their doors open and she wanders in and out of the rooms looking for attention and food."

Despite the difficult start Molly says she is happy now and has fitted in to life at university.

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Find out more about BBC Ouch's disabled students series

Fran at university

Coming later this week, another student, Fran Smith, tells her experiences of starting university this year. She has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and a recent operation on her spine meant that the chances of her starting on time were slim. Find out whether she makes it for her first day on the BBC Ouch blog.

Are you a current or former disabled student? We'd like to hear about your experiences of life at university with a disability. Email us at Ouch@bbc.co.uk, tweet @BBCOuch using the hashtag #disabledstudents, or get in touch via Facebook


Life after university for disabled graduates

A student wheelchair user with his friend

BBC Ouch catches up with three disabled graduates to find out what they have been doing since leaving university.

Over the last decade, BBC Ouch has followed the progress of three disabled university students. They kept diaries on campus and we watched as they began a new stage in their education, and as they got to grips with living independently surrounded by new people.

So much sudden change can demand a lot of organisation and confidence, raising questions like: Will I be able to get around campus? Will other students include me? How will I employ and manage assistants or carers?

Below you can catch up with three of our students who have since graduated from university. How did it go? And, with almost 50% of disabled people unemployed, how are they doing in the jobs market several years later?

Do you have a story about life as a current or former disabled student you want to share? You can do it using #disabledstudents on social media, or get in contact using the details below.

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Darren Paskell

Start Quote

I don't know if at the end of it all I'll end up getting a job because I think there might be too many barriers in the way, but I have self belief”

End Quote Charlotte Faragher

Darren Paskell is 29 and lives near Egham, Surrey. In 2004 he began at Keele University, where he was studying Computer Science and History. A bad virus in 2006 forced him to retake his second year and eventually he decided to move to a university in London to concentrate on computing. He went on to complete a further three years there and finished in 2010.

He says: "At the end I only came out with a diploma which still riles me." He believes the course could have been made more accessible: "If you look at my marks they range from 7% to 79% and it's clear which classes I had the best support in." He praises one imaginative lecturer who created tactile maths graphs using metal chains that he could feel.

The proliferation of eBooks must now make studying easier for blind people, says Paskell, but back then he often found himself on the phone to publishers asking if they could send electronic versions from their office files. He can read them on his computer which has screen-reading software on it, but - often unable to get hold of any - he had no option but to make his own accessible versions. This meant he ended up spending 12 hours a week scanning books.

"It took two or three minutes per page on average," he says and added that it proved unsustainable.

A headshot of Darren

Paskell has spent a lot of time unemployed since his university days. Last year he became a part-time waiter at a London restaurant where diners eat in the dark and are served by blind staff.

"You're more than a waiter there," he says, "you're their link with the outside world almost, people want to be reassured."

However Paskell says he never would have chosen to become a waiter and still hopes for a job in IT. "I spent six years studying Information Technology and have been an expert user of PC systems for a decade and a half. But frankly I'd take anything.

"I probably wouldn't make the best postman but I'd take absolutely anything."

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Arunima Misra

Arunima Misra is 28 and lives in Islington, London. She's a wheelchair user who also uses crutches due to paraparesis which makes her leg muscles weak. In 2004 she began a law degree at Cambridge University.

On her time there, she says: "I think my best years are yet to come but it was so much fun."

She was at Peterhouse, the oldest college at the university, and was the first wheelchair-user in its 800-year history.

The university made adaptations on campus and and in Misra's accommodation before she arrived.

Arunima

She says her first year was hard as it took time to get used to living alone, and she didn't venture out much. But she says she had no difficulties making friends who understood her disability.

"Once I made my needs known to those around me no one batted an eyelid," she says. "Friends carried bags and did things like always holding parties in accessible venues."

She now works for an investment bank after deciding that being a solicitor was not for her.

"I had Ally McBeal in mind when I entered the profession - endless banter and solving cases with the flick of my pen," she laughs, admitting she didn't appreciate the very long hours that those in commercial law have to work. Those hours were not easily compatible with managing her condition but she says the firms she worked for did well at trying to support her. Arunima says she would never want to put others off law.

"They can only do what they can do, and still meet the expectations of the customer," she says.

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Charlotte Faragher

Charlotte Faragher is 23 and lives with her parents in Oldham, Greater Manchester. She has tetraplegia, meaning she is paralysed in her arms and legs. When BBC Ouch met her in 2009 she was beginning a Film Studies course at Lancaster.

Looking back, she says it was good being at a university of more than 12,000 people as the "odds were good" that she'd come across someone who didn't see her "difference" as a problem.

But she says she still had to "size up" potential friends with care. Her limited mobility and "little" voice gets in the way of starting casual conversations, which means she has to make a real effort to approach and engage people.

"I would listen to what fellow students said in lectures, and work out if I'd be in tune with them before attempting to chat," she says.

Charlotte at the beach

When she finished university she felt that there would be fewer job opportunities for her because of her disability. Not wanting to sit at home doing nothing she decided to do a masters, also at Lancaster.

Seeing friends move onto jobs at that time was difficult for her and she advises people should take a masters degree "only if you are completely out of other options."

Since then she has completed a local course in mental health, become a youth rep on a local education committee, and is about to start befriending at an old people's home nearby.

She says: "I want to be as effective a member of society as I can be in whatever form I can be. I don't want to be looked at as a scrounger. I want to contribute and make something of myself, but how much I'll be able to do remains to be seen, as it's a new situation for everyone.

"I don't know if at the end of it all I'll end up getting a job because I think there might be too many barriers in the way, but I have self belief, I know I've got a lot to offer, and know I'd be a valuable employee."

Are you a current or former disabled student? We'd like to hear about your experiences of life at university with a disability. Email us at Ouch@bbc.co.uk, tweet @BBCOuch using the hashtag #disabledstudents, or get in touch via Facebook

Follow @BBCOuch on Twitter and on Facebook, and listen to our monthly talk show


Why has there never been a disabled candidate in The Apprentice?

The 2014 candidates

The Apprentice is back on television screens for its 10th series but there has never been a visibly disabled person in the programme. Why?

Over the years The Apprentice has ensured an incredibly diverse group of candidates. There's always been a 50/50 gender split between men and women and a broad range of religions, sexualities, races and social backgrounds.

But disabilities do not get the same level of representation in the programme, there has never been a wheelchair user, deaf person or any visibly disabled person in the ten series.

With news that Conservative minister Lord Freud was recorded saying some disabled people were "not worth" the minimum wage, and at a time when many disabled people are being encouraged into work, it is arguably more important than ever that disabled people are given an opportunity to show they can be good workers who can compete in the jobs market.

"The truth is that there are loads of successful disabled businesspeople out there, and The Apprentice should be reflecting that," says Kath Sutherland, who runs START Ability Services, a business that gives advice to disabled entrepreneurs.

The Apprentice's aim is to pick out the best entrepreneurs from around the UK but employment figures show that disabled people are more likely to be self-employed than non-disabled people - 17% compared with 14% respectively, so the numbers are there.

Susan Scott-Parker, chief executive of the Disability Business Forum, says this should be reflected in a programme such as The Apprentice.

"Having a visibly disabled person represented on The Apprentice could only have a positive impact on wider perceptions of disabled people in the workplace," she says. "With disabled people constituting more than 19% of Britain's working-age population, it would send a message that disability should never be a barrier to a successful career."

Tom Pellereau Tom Pellereau won series seven of The Apprentice

Freemantle Media, the production company behind the show, says that initial web-based applications are open to anyone and that they don't ask for any detailed medical information at the application stage. So, they say, disability would play no part in who they invite for interview - they are merely looking for business credentials. They add that they don't keep personal information so it is impossible to find out how many disabled applicants there have been.

When Tom Pellereau won the seventh series of The Apprentice, he said his dyslexia had helped him become a good businessperson.

"I discovered I could do things better than other people. If I had an idea, I could visualise it in my brain and spin it around," he said at the time.

Echoing Pellereau's thoughts, Amar Latif, blind businessman and winner of the first Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs, thinks that The Apprentice lacks the kind of creative thinking that he believes disabled people excel at.

"As a disabled entrepreneur you are used to planning and overcoming physical barriers on a daily basis, and this makes for very logical, organised businesspeople," he says.

So with half a million self-employed disabled people, why has there never been a candidate with a visible physical disability?

Latif believes it's possible that disabled people may not be applying to go on The Apprentice because of a fear of how they would be portrayed.

"I can't see many disabled people wanting to be paraded around on the show as it has turned into a melting pot of a certain kind of big personality," he says, adding: "There is a huge issue of confidence here. When you bear in mind that around 50% of disabled people are unemployed is it really surprising that people feel that they wouldn't do very well in the show?"

But Dom Smith, co-founder of Disabled Entrepreneurs, says that a lot of the disabled entrepreneurs he works with have "more personality and drive in their little fingers than a number of the contestants on the show", and that it is down to the producers to look outside of their comfort area.

And Latif thinks that the show would benefit from showing how people can work differently.

"If I was on it I would need to ask people to help me with elements of the tasks and this would really change the teamwork element of the show. It would be very interesting. At the moment they quickly start badmouthing each other but actually the business world isn't like that, it's about maintaining contacts and working well with others."

Lord Sugar Lord Sugar has returned to television screens to find his next business partner

He points out that the tasks that are the most inaccessible - those where candidates frantically dash through crowded city streets selling their wares - are not representative of the business world. He says his world involves more boardrooms and conference calls than taxi rides and sales pitches in busy shops.

But Sutherland says that it's partly due to physical challenges like the ones seen on The Apprentice that so many disabled people may choose to be self-employed.

"No-one can tell if I am working from my bed and it doesn't matter if I am ill that day as long as I can operate my email and computer," she says. "It means I don't have the physical exertion of travelling and can manage my environment to better suit me."

Blind and with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, meaning she uses both feeding and breathing tubes, she believes the pressure of the tasks on The Apprentice would make it impossible, and navigating the often inaccessible streets at speed would be extremely hard work.

So, given the format, how could the programme's tasks work for people with disabilities?

Dom Smith says a number of provisions would need to be put in place. These could include filming tasks in more accessible locations, making sure that disabled workers could have support workers with them, and ensuring there are hoists in the bedroom at the house.

But for Mike Ward, TV critic for the Daily Star, it's a fast-moving reality show first and foremost, and adding in extra details about working differences could alter the pace.

"There is no doubt that people like the format at present and it has proved a very popular model for many years, so why would they change it?" he says. But he says the show could actually benefit. "Reality TV shows like The Apprentice and the X Factor are decades old now and the formats are becoming tired. It would be wise if the production team had the task of making a more honest and reflective show that included more disabled people."

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Empty nest syndrome when a child has a learning disability

Pat and Rob on their first holiday for ten years

Parents are often left with empty nest syndrome when their children leave home. But is the feeling worse if your child has a learning disability?

The impact of young adults leaving the home can leave parents feeling anxious, alone and at a loss for what to do.

But for the adults of children with learning disabilities who have often cared for the basic needs of their child their whole life, the move can bring a more acute set of anxieties.

"When we left him that first day, he looked at me as if to say 'give me a kiss goodbye' and I was overwhelmed by a physical pain in my heart and chest," says Pat Jennings, whose 24-year-old severely autistic son Peter has been living in sheltered accommodation for almost two years.

While this feeling is common in parents parting ways with their children for the first time, Peter's parents say for them it was made all the more difficult by the fact that their son is unable to communicate or understand new information.

"I didn't want him to think he was being punished and that I didn't love him, because I do," Pat says. "But it wouldn't have meant anything to him if I had told him that. It was hard not being able to communicate with him through this huge upheaval."

Pat was left with anxiety for a number of months after Peter's move, and says she felt guilty for putting him in to care in the first place.

Guilt is something that many parents of children with learning disabilities feel, says Anna Galliford, chief executive of FitzRoy, a charity that helps people with learning disabilities live independently.

"These parents have often looked after their child 24/7 since they were born," she says. "To then accept that they need help makes many ask: 'Was it my fault? Did I do enough?'" She says that the situation is not helped by the fact that there is a stigma attached to care homes as indicating of some kind of failure by the parents.

Rosa and her daughter Domenica at the pub where Domenica works Rosa Monckton's daughter Domenica now has a job in a local pub in Brighton

So how do parents move past this feeling of guilt? Galliford says it begins to fade when parents realise that their child is responding positively to being away from home and achieving success.

Rosa Monckton, whose 19-year-old daughter Domenica Lawson has Down's syndrome, agrees.

"It wasn't until Domenica started at City College Brighton and Hove on a catering course and began living away from home for three days a week that I even realised what she was capable of," she says. Domenica has now secured a part-time job in a pub and is enjoying her life in Brighton, but Rosa is realistic about her level of independence and how much of it comes from decisions that she makes for her.

"Domenica as a 19-year-old is assumed by the state to be capable of making decisions about her own life," she says. "But the reality of it is that we should continue to make these decisions for her as we're the ones who know her needs."

She explains that as a parent of a child with a learning disability she feels there is no such thing as empty nest syndrome, that the responsibility simply does not go away. She met an 80-year-old father recently who felt as though he "could not die" because of a fear that his 50-year-old daughter would not be cared for correctly.

Domenica in her catering outfit. Domenica Monckton is studying catering at a college in Brighton

Families with children who have learning disabilities often spend a lot of time and effort on their care due to extra needs - much more than the average parent might do. Everyday activities such as getting washed and dressed and helping with feeding may be performed by parents right through to adult life. So, Galliford says, it is natural that they would feel concern when this care suddenly falls to somebody else who is not familiar with the important subtleties of their child's needs.

"Whereas parents of non-disabled children may worry, they know ultimately that the child will be able to look after themselves," she says. "But for these parents handing over the reins to somebody to look after their child can be difficult."

Pat and Rob struggled with this for a long time, until they came up with a solution that meant they were ultimately in control of the care Peter receives.

Peter lying down on the coach Peter Jennings has been living in sheltered accommodation for almost two years

"We decided that the only way he was going to get the correct care was if we wrote a training manual for the carers," Pat explains. "We wrote down absolutely every factor in Peter's care, from how I dress him to what he eats, it was vitally important that they knew exactly what his routine is otherwise he becomes violent and unhappy."

This process took over their lives for six months but eventually their notes were converted into training manuals that they insist Peter's carers follow rigorously. It is knowing that Peter has the same routine he had at home that gives them solace. But, as Pat explains, it still took more than a year for her to really trust the nurses.

"I must have been a nightmare, I was there every day checking everything was OK because I was constantly worried that something was going to go wrong. As a mother I felt as though I needed to be there with him all the time."

When a child with disabilities moves out of the family home, parents can find themselves with a lot more free time, which can come as a shock.

For Pat and Rob, this new-found independence has allowed them to reconnect with each other.

"I feel like I'm getting to know my husband again," Pat says. Whereas one of them would always need to be at home looking after Peter, now they are able to go out and enjoy each other's company. Pat has completed a hairdressing qualification and Rob has taken up singing again, and they have enjoyed their first holiday in 10 years.

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Fashion for people with Down's Syndrome

Ashley with another woman who is holding up one of her tops

Two US companies are designing clothes to better fit the body shapes of people with Down's syndrome. But are different clothes really needed?

"Ashley has a typical Down's syndrome body," says Connie DeRamus. Talking about her 32-year-old daughter, she says: "At 5ft tall, Ashley is shorter than most women. She has a stocky, wide build, is short in the torso and is small in the top half."

Indicators of Down's syndrome includes smaller femurs and humerus bones, meaning arms and legs aren't quite as long as average. Typically people with the syndrome are shorter and it's reported that some can have stomachs which are a little larger, thought by many to be a medical consequence of the condition.

Ashley DeRamus began designing dresses for women of a similar shape to herself when she couldn't find anything in High Street shops that fitted well. The company she founded with her mother, Ashley by Design, based in Alabama, sells dresses based on Ashley's own measurements. Providing clothes for women, the outfits include features like ruffles and overlays "to cover up big stomachs" as Connie puts it.

In Ohio, Karen Bowersox runs Down's Designs, a company which makes jeans and fashionable trousers for kids and adults with the syndrome. When she struggled to find clothes on line with arms and legs short enough to fit her granddaughter Maggie, she suspected that others might be having similar problems and investigated further.

Maggie and Karen sitting together, smiling Karen Bowersox and her granddaughter Maggie

Agreeing with DeRamus, she says that in most cases, her customers are larger round the middle - something she attributes to low muscle tone: "Holding in the tummy is challenging." She says 60% of them have told her they don't like trousers that sit on their stomach. Her solution is what she calls "dip-downs" which are of regular fit at the back but sit below the "tummy" at the front.

The knees of people with Down's are much higher up, she says, so her company uses lots of stretchy fabrics to create "a more appropriate bend".

But as well as look and feel, Bowersox says there are many practical matters when putting on clothes. Many with Down's syndrome have fine motor skill problems which make buttons and zips hard to use. Some, she says, are "relegated to wearing sweat pants".

Karen and Maggie on a photoshoot for the Down's syndrome designed clothes Karen designs clothes for her granddaughter Maggie

Bowersox strongly believes that dressing independently instils confidence. She says: "Imagine school having to help you pull your pants down."

Though the idea for accessible fashions which flatter the body might be new to people with Down's syndrome, wheelchair-users are already able to purchase clothing designed for them to look good and feel comfortable while sitting - including trousers which are higher at the back so that they don't slip down, with long legs that don't ride up.

Tops for wheelchair-users are available with bigger-than-usual arm holes for more freedom when self-propelling, and for women, there's a lot of detail high up on the garments to draw attention away from the legs and towards the bust line. Dresses and coats are cut to fit over the chair and drape elegantly.

So are specially adapted clothes welcomed by the Down's syndrome community?

Writing on the Future of Down's forum on Facebook, mum Linsey Tree Sim says: "[My daughter] has short, chubby arms and legs. It's a struggle finding clothes to fit unless it's t-shirt and leggings. She also has small feet so onesies that fit her torso flap around her legs and feet.

"I would definitely shop from a place that had specific designs as long as it wasn't extortionately expensive."

Another mum, Jane Gordy, whose daughter is Sarah Gordy, an actress with Down's syndrome who has appeared in BBC TV's Call the Midwife, dismisses the idea that people with Down's have shapes which aren't catered for. She says there's no need to use special shops and, addressing the stomach size in particular, says: "I bet there's no reason for the majority of people not to have good muscle tone." She believes this could be more about parents' expectations of their children and a "lack of ambition" for them. She says: "Sarah works out every day using three exercise tapes and she is a dancer so is pretty fit."

Ashley modelling a selection of her designs Ashley modelling a selection of her designs

Not everyone has the energy to put in lots of time towards staying in good shape and it is recognised by many that it is more of a challenge for people with learning difficulties.

The two specialist companies Ashley by Design and Down's Designs are growing, however, and believe they've hit on something that people really want.

DeRamus says her clothes are sold before they even get listed online, and not just to people with Down's. They are bought by non-disabled women of a similar shape, and by siblings of people with Down's so that they can have matching outfits - helpful for occasions when people need to coordinate, such as bridesmaids at a wedding.

More than 72,000 people follow Bowersox's Facebook page and she has shipped her jeans to eight countries. She raised more than $20,000 in a crowdfunding campaign this summer and won a $50,000 marketing bursary.

But neither of the companies is a money-making venture and Bowersox says that's why more people aren't designing for people with Down's: "There are only 400,000 people with the syndrome in the US." She deals with each order personally, which is time-consuming.

Ashley DeRamus says: "I feel good in my clothes and I feel great seeing other people wearing my clothes." She and her mum feel so strongly that looking great means feeling great, they regularly give their dresses away to women with Down's syndrome who can't afford their designs.

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Does wellbeing promote good mental health?

A man and woman looking up to the sky with a calm look on their faces

The importance of mental wellbeing has gained significant support in recent times. But does it protect against mental illness?

"If I do things that will make me happier," the logic goes, "I am less likely to experience mental health difficulties."

This has been the thought behind projects like Action for Happiness and Mindapples which were started to promote mental wellbeing as well as to protect people more generally against developing mental health difficulties.

Originated by social entrepreneur Andy Gibson, the Mindapples project was inspired by the message that everybody should strive for five portions of fruit or vegetables a day. In sessions, Andy and his team ask people to take a card in the shape of an apple and write on it their "five a day" for the mind, the things they do to feel happier - and then share their apple by sticking it onto a 6 ft high tree.

Recent examples from Mindapples' clients posted on their website have ranged from the whimsical to the spiritual with: "name a raindrop"; "outdoor sex" and prayer or meditation. More practical examples might be about getting plenty of sleep and eating well.

Gibson believes getting people to come up with their own solutions for mental resilience is important. In the Guardian in 2012 he writes that public health campaigns have a "bad reputation for telling people how to live". He says mental health is "too personal" and adds that there is evidence showing that taking prescribed actions to boost wellbeing doesn't work.

Prevention

When Mindapples launched in 2008 it was riding a wellbeing wave. In the first decade of the 21st Century, before global austerity arrived, European governments were turning increasingly towards the idea that the prosperity of nations depended on more than Gross Domestic Product. No new mental health drugs were in the pipeline, so prevention seemed to be better than a cure. Wellbeing for mental health was "in", but this time they wanted evidence that it really worked.

In October 2008, the Government Office for Science published the results of a Foresight review and proposed that if everyone looked after their mental wellbeing, and if policy focused on increasing it, fewer would develop mental health difficulties.

Fruit and veg Mindapples are described as "five a day" for the brain

As part of the review, The New Economics Foundation, a think tank, was commissioned to develop an easy, catchy but science-based set of things that individuals could do to safeguard their mental health and which public sector agencies could promote.

These Five Steps to Wellbeing are: connect with people around you, be physically active, take notice of the world and people around you, find time for reflection, keep learning, and give your time and support to something that helps someone else.

Evidence

Fast forward through five years of austerity and one change of government.

An early feature of David Cameron's time in office was a discussion of the wellbeing and happiness of the nation. Public Health England, created during the reorganisation of the NHS in 2013, now has a Mental Health and Wellbeing Directorate.

On September 9 this year the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, upset the applecart with her annual report. Her topic this year was public mental health, specifically looking at how the available scientific evidence could be best used to improve the mental health of people in England.

The legs of a man and woman running Exercise is often cited as having a positive effect on wellbeing

The report is supportive of programmes which act on matters such as bullying, violence and employment difficulties, but says there is no evidence that the promotion of wellbeing through things such as the Five Steps has any effect on the number of people currently experiencing mental illness.

Davies says she refuses to take a "leap of faith" and recommend wellbeing programmes without the evidence to support them. She advises that work to promote wellbeing should not be paid for out of funds for the treatment of mental illness or the promotion of mental health.

The report caused consternation for those in public mental health. Some believed it signalled a return to medical models of mental health focusing on illness rather than taking positive preventative action. Some said it was too early to say evidence wasn't there for wellbeing measures. Others questioned whether political and policy perspectives might be shifting because of austerity era money-saving policies.

For some, including people with long-standing mental health difficulties who are fed up with the new wisdom telling them to "go for a run" or to "take up a hobby" it might be a relief. However, walking away from wellbeing may mean a re-medicalisation of mental health at a policy level.

Focusing efforts on hospital beds, medication and therapies, it is argued, could be at the expense of a more holistic approach - that of having positive experiences and a fulfilling life.

Mark Brown was editor of One in Four magazine, a magazine about mental health difficulties by people with mental health difficulties between 2007 and 2014. His mental health work was recognised in the Independent on Sunday Happy List 2014.

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Using a wheelchair, by those in the know

A man using a crutch and getting up out of his wheelchair

While every wheelchair user is unique, whether self-propelled, powered or pushed by someone else, there are aspects of life on wheels that they can all identify with. Below are five things that wheelchair users know but others perhaps don't.

It's a miracle!

If you've ever seen someone stand up from a wheelchair and walk, don't assume you've just witnessed a miracle or a Blue Badge fraudster.

It's not uncommon for people who can move their legs to use wheels to get around some or all of the time. There are a multitude of reasons for this, pain, fatigue or muscle weakness to name just three.

Twenty-one-year-old part-time wheelchair user Bethan Griffith-Salter has been called a fraud on numerous occasions for folding away her wheelchair and walking. She says she feels angry that she is expected to give details of her medical condition to strangers who challenge her about having a chair when she is able to walk.

"The biggest thing to remember is this: if you do not know the person," she says, "then why they use a wheelchair is none of your business."

Bums in faces

Unless they own a whizzy model that can elevate them, the face of a wheelchair user is at a different level to those of people who are upright. For ex wheelchair athlete Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, this is most noticeable when travelling "at crotch level on the tube" and "having someone's bottom in my face that wobbles about when the train moves".

Griffith-Salter says being lower-down makes her feel claustrophobic when she can't get through a crowd or see in front of her. She says "sitting" in busy places can be dangerous. "I have been hit on the head many times by shopping bags ... and people have come straight at me with cigarettes."

Shot of the legs of a person pushing a wheelchair user Advice: Never push without asking permission first
Wheelchair etiquette

"I was in canary wharf," says Baroness Grey-Thompson, "when someone came up behind me and asked me if I needed a push. I said no, and then they pushed me anyway. I was really shocked that they didn't listen to my answer."

The general consensus is that one should never push a wheelchair without express permission from the owner, even if they aren't currently sitting in it.

Other points of etiquette include not walking behind the wheelchair user, and never leaning on the back of someone's chair or using it as a trolley. Griffiths-Salter says you should think of a wheelchair "as part of the user's body".

"Decent wheelchairs are expensive"

Wheelchairs sold in big retail stores for under £100 tend to be one size fits all. They might work fine for occasional days out with Grandma but for those who use theirs regularly, only a bespoke wheelchair will do. These are a lot more expensive, often running into the thousands. For example, at the top end, Paralympic-grade sports wheelchairs can cost as much as £50,000.

Dave Hawkins runs Cyclone Mobility, has a spinal injury and uses a wheelchair himself. He says that the key considerations when choosing a chair are "weight, then functionality, and then aesthetics". The lightest wheelchairs available nowadays are made from carbon fibre.

Hawkins says there are critical health considerations when customising a wheelchair for a client. The position of the footplates, seating angle and backrest position, determine posture and whether you get pressure sores, a common and dangerous problem. "Shoulders rounded and neck going forward can result in massive costs for the NHS," he says.

Aesthetically, he says that women and men want slightly different things from their wheelchairs.

"This is a generalisation but I find that ladies want something more colourful and en vogue, like anodised purple sections on it to match their nail polish." He says men tend to treat customising a chair a bit more like they would a car, choosing the most up to date materials and engineering for an improved performance.

The joke's on you

"If you think you've just come up with the world's funniest gag about wheelchairs, keep it to yourself. I can assure you we've heard them all and we only smile pitifully to make you feel less awkward," says Shannon Murray.

The wheelchair-using model and presenter says the gags are so poor and so regular that she can't remember them word for word, but that they always run along similar lines.

"If I'm in a bar and I'm holding a drink there is usually someone who makes a joke about drink driving. I used to use a chair made by 'Quickie' so that would lead to hilarious comments about jumping on board for a quickie or taking me for a spin around the block." Speeding jokes, she says, are also common.

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The slow train to an accessible London

Sign at top of Westminster tube station reads "Lift to Trains"

Mayor Boris Johnson has announced a £75m fund to install lifts at "around a dozen" London Underground stations over the next 10 years. But how do you update a Victorian underground railway system?

It was in 1863 that London began its ambitious new phase of underground development. Built by the Metropolitan Railway, the original track stretched just three miles between Paddington (then Bishop's Road) and Farringdon - part of what is now the Metropolitan line. Since then, the London Underground has become one of the main modes of transport in the city - but one which remains inaccessible in large part to those with limited mobility.

Despite initial concerns from objectors that the tunnels would collapse under the weight of the traffic overhead, a piecemeal development process over the next 150 years saw the Tube develop into a vast network that today sees almost four million passengers a day travelling across 270 stations.

At certain points the railway is 58.5 metres below the surface and so a challenge for many to reach and a challenge to make accessible.

"Fire regulations prohibited wheelchair users on the Underground before 1993 so it's a matter of playing catch-up," says Christian Wolmar, author of Down the Tube: The Battle for London's Underground.

Start Quote

Access to transport is a civil right [...] the Tube is the easiest and quickest way to get around London and it's unfair that disabled people can't use most of it”

End Quote Faryal Velmi Director, Transport for All

Engineers now have the problem of "retrofitting" lifts around old infrastructure below very congested city streets.

"There is no easy way to modify stations," says Allan Thomson, Sponsor for Station and Interchange Development at Transport for London (TfL). "Take Green Park for example. We decided to make that station step-free due to its location and how it could be used during the Paralympic Games 2012 but firstly we had the logistical problem of finding a work site close to the station to put all the equipment involved."

There were already lifts at low level for connection to the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines. Thompson explains they needed to create two new lifts connecting the Victoria line to both the street and the ticket hall.

"We had to lower a single shaft through the infrastructure already in place," he says. "It was like finding a needle in a haystack going down in between the existing structures and wiring. We had to ensure that the lifts all properly connected as well as the power, lighting, CCTV, and all the while ensuring that the station remain in service. Closing the Victoria line would have made the job a lot easier but it's just not feasible."

Faryal Velmi, director of Transport for All, an organisation that campaigns for better access on the underground, says she understands it is difficult for TfL to close stations but that she is often left frustrated by their decisions.

Chancellor of the Exchequer William Ewart Gladstone with directors and engineers of the Metropolitan Railway Company on an inspection tour of the world's first underground line, 24th May 1862. Built between Paddington and the City of London, it opened in January of the following year. Gladstone is seen in the front row, near right. Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone (centre right) on an inspection tour, May 1862

"We think access to transport is a civil right," she says. "Of course it's difficult for TfL to close stations to do the work they need to do, but the Tube is the easiest and quickest way to get around London and it's unfair that disabled people can't use most of it."

At present TfL provides trained staff to help people in need of assistance with their journey but Velmi is concerned that with the announcement of staff cuts this might be harder to maintain as a service and so would be a step backwards. She is also concerned that accessibility for all disabled people, not just wheelchair users, is factored into plans.

The Green Park project took two years to complete and cost £50m. Funding for this particular project came from TfL as part of an investment programme to make transport in London more accessible ahead of the Paralympic Games in 2012.

Thomson says the projects will always be expensive but they try to reduce costs by piggybacking on other work being carried out. "At Finsbury Park, for example, Network Rail are going to install lifts to their platforms so we are going to put a lift in while they are completing their works." He says they expect this to also cost £50m.

For campaigners like Velmi, the cost argument is tired. She says: "We feel that there should be a pot of money ring-fenced by the government to ensure that this work is done."

There are often very important reasons to make tube trips, she says: "There is a narrative from the government that disabled people should be encouraged to find work but what if a disabled person is unable to access an underground station close to where they live or work?"

Featured in a video highlighting access issues on the service, wheelchair-user Anthony Ince says he feels momentum has slowed since 2012. He says it can be exhausting trying to establish which stations are step-free: "It's too difficult to know where I can and can't get to when I take the tube. It feels like us wheelchair users are being ignored despite how positively London came across during the Paralympics."

Men digging out the lift shaft for Green Park station
Graphic of the works at Green Park Engineers installing a lift at Green Park had to work around pre-existing lines

But will there come a time when every station on the London Underground is accessible? And do they even need to be?

For Thomson it is about prioritising investment where it will get the most benefit: "Investing in making absolutely all underground stations accessible would need to be weighed up against the benefits of investing in other transport and access improvements." For example, he says that new, fully accessible lines such as those proposed for Crossrail 2 or the Bakerloo line extension could benefit more people over a wider area.

And with Boris Johnson's announcement on Wednesday that funding has been secured for five more Crossrail stations, campaigners say they feel progress is being made.

"We were livid when we heard initially that there would be stations on the Crossrail that wouldn't be accessible in the 21st Century," Velmi says. "We have been lobbying hard and are so delighted that disabled people will be able to participate in London life more easily."

TfL have scheduled a lot of work to increase accessibility across the London Underground in the next 10 years, and they are also investing in the bus network as well as ensuring that overground networks remain fully accessible. But with funding still not secured for three Crossrail stations and an opening date of 2019 it seems that accessibility is still not guaranteed.

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How blind Victorians campaigned for inclusive education

A coloured engraving of a "school for the indigent blind" from 1813. The School for the Indigent Blind at St George's Fields, London in 1813

Disabled people's voices are often missing from mainstream history, but texts reveal that a group of forgotten blind activists fought for inclusive education during the Victorian times.

Historically, education for children with disabilities, in so far as it has existed at all, has tended to be based on segregation.

Over the past 30 years there has been a greater effort, backed up by law, to integrate disabled children into mainstream education. But in the Victorian era they often attended educational institutions supported through philanthropic fundraising.

To encourage donations, schools emphasised the "miseries" of sensory deprivation. Unhappy about these negative representations of disabled people, an un-named "intellectual blind man" of the era said: "I assure you it is not blindness, but its consequences, which we feel most painfully, and those consequences are often laid on us most heavily by the people who are loudest in their expressions of pity."

His words cut through the Victorian representations of blindness as something to be pitied and were quoted by a group of blind campaigners who emerged to challenge the paucity of available education. They sought to reform the institutionalised approach to disability that was prominent at the time.

The names of these early activists are all but forgotten today. However, their views on the importance of including, rather than segregating, blind and deaf children, and their powerful advocacy that they should be heard and given appropriate rights, make their views seem strikingly modern.

'Shut away'

"Special education" emerged in Britain and Europe during the second half of the 18th Century. Thomas Braidwood established a school for deaf pupils in Edinburgh in 1764, which moved to Hackney in London in 1783 due to increased demand for places.

The first school for blind pupils opened in Liverpool in 1791 and London's School for the Indigent Blind, founded at St George's Fields Southwark in 1799, was by the 1860s educating 160 boys and girls in reading, writing and "useful" trades, intended to provide for their future employment.

After the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the state subsidised school fees for some pupils so that attendance did not push families into poverty - education was neither free nor compulsory until later in the century.

A sketch of blind basket makers from 1871 Blind basket makers, 1871

Charitable schools were founded primarily as residential institutions intended to provide protection, board, lodging and education to their pupils. Yet the practice of shutting away "blind, deaf and dumb" children in so-called "exile schools" was opposed by an increasingly vocal group of activists in the mid 19th Century.

Prominent authors included James Gray, who wrote the self-published What is Doing for the Blind? in 1862 from the Edinburgh Blind Asylum where he lived, and John Bird, a surgeon who had become blind in adult life.

For these writers, institutions "immured" their pupils, treating them like prisoners. They were degrading and they perpetuated "pauperism". Bird said segregation encouraged a "selfish indifference towards the suffering four-sensed, whether Blind or Deaf and Dumb" on the part of the "five-sensed members of society" leading them to consider themselves "exempt from the responsibility of giving either time or thought to the subject".

The campaigners noted that inclusion promised to benefit all society, not just the deaf and blind themselves.

'Blind trades'

One area of debate concerned the so-called "blind trades" of basket weaving or brush making that were taught in these institutions. James Gray argued that the paltry sums paid for these products only added to the poverty of blind workers. Organisations such as the Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind, founded by Elizabeth Gilbert in 1854, established workshops for blind handicraftsmen so that workers received better prices for their products than for those produced in institutions.

Whilst the association encouraged basket making, some campaigners claimed that these traditional trades were symbolic of a system that failed to recognise people's potential or range of talents.

A blind man holding a child walks guided by his stick. A blind man using a dog and stick

In an early attempt to use historical evidence as a tool of activism, several writers gave examples of notable scientists, mathematicians, writers and musicians to illustrate the achievements of blind people in the past. Their inspiration was the Biography of the Blind, written in 1820 by James Wilson, a self-taught blind man who wrote the book "with a view of rescuing my fellow sufferers from the neglect and obscurity in which many of them are involved."

Charities were not always appreciated. Activists claimed that too much of the money donated to the dedicated charities went on buildings and non-disabled staff, rather than on the welfare of the blind pupils themselves. Many of them imposed social and moral restrictions on who could apply for assistance. Some campaigners argued that it would be better if the donated money was paid directly to blind people themselves, to enable them to live in their own homes and support their families.

John Bird and others passionately advocated a "home and social" system which encouraged education in the community. In France and Belgium, blind and deaf children had begun to be educated in "common primary schools" alongside "five-sensed" children. They said it fostered better understanding and was good for the health of people with sensory impairments. Isolation in institutions, argued Bird, led to problems in both mental and physical health caused by lack of stimulation and enforced indolence.

The education of blind and deaf children in specialist institutions remained the norm until recent years.

Far greater effort now goes into integrating disabled children into mainstream schools, and has been backed up by new laws. But integration is not the same as inclusion, and even in 2014 campaigners are still arguing that there is further to go before disabled children are fully included in schools. They say there needs to be greater recognition that they have a right to an education and should be given support in ordinary classes, not in special units.

Dr David Turner is a historian at Swansea University. He was advisor on BBC Radio 4's Disability: A New History.

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Blogging her way back to health

Shake and pancakes, as instagrammed by Natasha Lipman

Why one chronically ill young woman swapped medication for a strict plant-based diet.

Like millions of others across the world, Natasha Lipman posts pictures of the food she eats on Instagram. But instead of cakes and fancy restaurant meals, she photographs her breakfast green juice concoctions and healthy superfood snacks.

Sixteen thousand followers watch the 25-year-old Londoner's daily progress, as she tries to maintain a diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains.

She initially joined Instagram to help her diet stay on track by keeping a visual food diary but says that her success on the site is down to more than intriguing food photos of smoothies and pancakes with raw chocolate. "I'm specifically sharing my day-to-day story of how I'm using food to heal, and the ups and downs of life with chronic illness."

Born with the connective tissue disorder Elhers-Danlos syndrome, Lipman's joints are prone to regularly and painfully dislocating. Last year, however, she developed two additional chronic conditions, an autonomic system issue called PoTS which stops the body from regulating itself properly and a histamine intolerance that's left her with severe allergies to foods including tomatoes.

Natasha Lipman Natasha Lipman

"I started getting dizzy, lightheaded, tight-chested, constantly nauseous," she wrote in the Huffington Post of her new symptoms. "I couldn't stand without needing to pass out, I couldn't eat half a banana without thinking I was going to die and needing days to recover, rolling around in bed in agony." She stopped being able to work or leave the house.

The medication she was prescribed didn't work, she says, and gave her "uncomfortable and idiosyncratic side effects that the doctors had never heard of." One drug made her feel like her skin was being sliced off, others caused hallucinations.

On 1 January 2014, after a bout of serious illness, Lipman had had enough of symptoms and side effects and began to look at the role that food might play in her recovery.

"Natural foods have to be very good for me," she decided after months of internet research. "Let's just cut out all of the rubbish and see what happens." She stopped eating meat, dairy, gluten, refined sugar and all processed food in favour of plant-based foods, particularly those such as ginger, which are said to have healing or pain-relieving properties.

Within months Lipman says she had improved to such an extent that she could hold down a full-time job from home, and eat complete meals without repercussions. But while a few Instagram followers try to foist eating habits like the raw food diet on to her as a definite cure, Lipman says that evangelising about specific diets is dangerous.

"I don't try anything without research and self-experimentation," says Lipman, "and would never tell anyone that there is one right way. Just because someone has read a few of my posts, doesn't mean they understand my conditions and the complicated chemical reactions that are unique to each of us."

As she became less ill, Lipman very slowly began reducing her medication and despite a few health relapses, nowadays doesn't take any drugs at all. But the blogger is keen to stress that this is a personal journey and doesn't advocate that others stop taking their meds. "Drugs help a lot of people," Lipman tells the Ouch talk show. "At a point last year, I wouldn't have been able to stand up if it weren't for certain medication. At that time, it was what I needed."

Lipman says that many people in her "real" life find her diet "quite weird-sounding", so making friends on Instagram has been one of the best things to happen to her. "Connecting with like-minded people is amazing. And it stops me boring my family with my food talk all day."

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Natasha's recipes: Fennel juice bar and super food balls

The ingredients for her fennel green juice are: one large cucumber, two fennel, four stalks of celery, half a head of broccoli, a bunch of fresh coriander, an apple, and quarter of a lemon, all juiced up together with a teaspoon of wheatgrass.

For her super food balls you'll need: 1 cup pitted dates, 1/5 cup chia seeds, 1/4 cup flax seeds, 1/4 cup raw cacao nibs, 1/4 cup pink Himalayan salted pistachios, 1/4 cup mixed seeds, a pinch of raw vanilla powder, a generous pinch of pink Himalayan salt and 1-2 teaspoons of a root called maca. Whizz it all up in a food processer until the dates are broken down and you can pinch the mixture together with your fingers. Then roll the mixture into about 14 balls and store in the freezer.

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Hear Natasha Lipman's story on the latest Ouch talk show. She is on Instagram as nutritiouslynatasha.

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Ouch show 112: Green juice v bacon rolls

Kate and rob

On this month's show - the nutritiously popular blogger who swapped medication for a plant-based diet and how social media can help people with mental health difficulties.

Also, after the recent Disability Pride parade in Belfast, we ask can you be "proud" of being disabled? And a look at what's in Ouch's diary for the coming month.

ouch

Kate Monaghan and Rob Crossan present.

Your monthly way in to disability news with chat, humour and the little things of life.

How to listen

PDF download Read a transcript[235kb]

Show notes

More about this month's guests and discussions:

Natasha's date balls and a picture of Natasha
  • Natasha Lipman (pictured above) is a blogger. She has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she developed two additional medical conditions last year and medication wasn't working, she decided to slowly come off all prescription drugs and begin treating herself with food. She blogs about her experiences.
  • Gabriel McBird is also interested in food. He reviews food, drink and eating establishments and has recorded over 700 audioBoom reviews. As a blind person he is particularly interested in how accessible he finds the service at restaurants. Listen to his reviews.
  • Also joining Rob and Kate in the studio is Mark Brown, the former editor of mental health magazine One in Four. He tweets at @MarkOneinFour.
  • Our Ouch News section comes from BBC Ouch's Kathleen Hawkins who reports on what is coming up in the disability diary for October including the sentencing of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius and a new exhibition for Dadafest.

For other audio clips from Ouch, go to our audioBoom channel.

Producer: Damon Rose

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Deaf dancers feel rhythm in the floor

Deaf Men Dancing rehearsal

The autobiographical dance show which tells audiences of experiences unique to deaf people.

"I ran over to the piano and put my hand on it to feel the vibrations of the music," remembers Mark Smith. Diagnosed as deaf at four years old, his first encounter with rhythm and dance was at his sister's ballet class.

Smith couldn't hear the music but was able to establish a rhythm from what he could feel. He says: "I began to copy the movements and the teacher encouraged me to join."He went on to study dance at degree level and has worked as a choreographer for the past 20 years. Now Smith uses those early experiences to teach other deaf people how to dance.

In the absence of a piano, Smith encourages his students to place their hand on a speaker to experience the pulses from the audio. "The vibrations move through their arms and into their bodies," he says. And when the students move away from direct contact with the sound, they maintain contact with the rhythm via the vibrations in the wooden floor. "That's why we always dance barefoot," he adds.

In 2010, Smith formed an all-male ensemble which he calls Deaf Men Dancing. It is made up of four professional dancers with varying levels of hearing loss.

He says deaf people are constantly alert to visual cues throughout the day and so his dancers are naturally tuned to what the others are doing, rather than taking cues directly from the music. He believes that this ability makes deaf dancers better at communicating with each other on stage than hearing dancers.

Deaf Men Dancing rehearsal with Mark Smith at the front directing the rehearsal Choreographer Mark Smith integrates sign language in his shows

Deaf Men Dancing's latest show Hear! Hear! looks at hidden or little-known aspects of deafness in a way that Smith hopes a hearing audience will be able to relate to.

He integrates British Sign Language, an artistic device he often uses in his shows. But instead of dancers making the shapes with their hands, the whole body plays a part. He says that deaf and hearing dancers interpret the movements differently.

Having more connections with the language, he observes that deaf dancers tend to perform his routines with lots of emotion whereas hearing dancers are strong at the more technical side.

The show also plunders Smith's childhood memories. His first hearing aid was a big box which attaches to the chest with a harness. Dancers wear these during the performance, which he says is a very visible badge of deafness and "gives them a bit of a superhero look".

The music in Hear! Hear! is encoded with sounds and patterns which aren't usually known to people with typical hearing. The first act includes noises that people with tinitus commonly hear from Deafboy One, a singer and guitar player who is hard of hearing. The score for the second act, by Michael England, is a piece of electronic classical music based on Smith'sown hearing test charts - he struggles to hear high frequency sounds like birdsong, dripping taps and rustling leaves. The second time the melody is played the higher frequencies are taken away, giving the audience a sense of how he hears music.

Deaf Men Dancing perform Hear! Hear! at Sadler's Wells on Sunday 28 September as part of the =dance series.

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