Disability

Full transcript: Ouch takeover: Inspirational speakers - 23 March 2018

This is a full transcript of the Ouch takeover: Inspirational speakers - 23 March 2018.

MUSICThis is another BBC Ouch Takeover where we hand over the microphone to guest presenters to see what they do with it.

MARTYN - It's an Ouch takeover and this time it's about inspiration. I'm Martyn Sibley.

AMAR - And I'm Amar Latif. And when we say inspiration I guess what we mean is inspirational speaking and general motivation. Martyn, do you want to share with us what you do?

MARTYN - Sure. Well, I started out a few years ago as a blogger, and that grew into running a magazine called Disability Horizons, and really doing lots of media work and public speaking. So, I suppose the inspiration and the motivation kind of comes part and parcel of the day job. And how about yourself, Amar?

AMAR - I get up to all sorts of mischief, things like skydiving, skiing down black runs, driving friends' cars at over 100 miles per hour - or I shouldn't actually be saying this here, should I? But the more sensible things I guess, I was an accountant for people like British Telecom and BT Cellnet and O2.

And then I'm also the founder and director of Traveleyes which is an international travel operator that enables blind people to travel the world on their own terms. I'm also a TV presenter. I've just got my series that's just come out actually on 27th February on Tuesday at 8pm called How to Get Fit Fast.

Like yourself I'm a motivational speaker, so spoken to large corporations, the United Nations and charities. So, life's fun. It's exciting, isn't it, when you do lots of different things?

MARTYN - Definitely. There's going to be lots we can unpack I think in the questions to come. As with all the Ouch takeover shows normally there's a tea caddy in front of the takeover guests, but as we're in different places I've got a paper coffee cup with lots of questions, and we have no knowledge of what the questions are. And the deal is that I'm going to pick them out with the assistance of my PA, so that's going to be thanks to Eileen to get those rolling, and yeah we'll just have some good fun while we go through these can be very cheeky questions as well, Amar. So, brace yourself.

AMAR - Well, just give it a go right, Martyn.

MARTYN - Right, so picking out the first one: what is your go-to story that never fails to inspire?

AMAR - Sure, my go-to story that never fails to inspire. There's never one story because you're with different people, so whether it be a speech about entrepreneurship or generally being bold and blind. I guess letting people know the truth of what you experience and where you've come from and where you are now. And it kind of helps people to work out actually these guys they weren't born with all this stuff that they've achieved, but they've had to overcome adversity, and despite that you've gone on to achieve things. So, I guess it's along those lines.

MARTYN - From my side it's the way that there is a basic message that you tend to want to get across in a talk and, as you say, whether it's corporate or a charity, different audiences, but the messages are similar: the things that we've been through individually is what makes that talk unique. I suppose I try and draw in a lot of what spinal muscular atrophy is and how that has affected my day to day life with needing a wheelchair and care support. And I think that starts to get people in the mindset of things aren't always easy and everyone has their own struggles, but then obviously to then bring in some of the things that we were talking about earlier like the travels and the crazy adventure stuff. And then it opens people's eyes up to what is possible.

And I think you're always trying to tread that line carefully not to be overly sort of the inspiration pawn in the negative way, but equally to shake people up and make them realise how much can be possible when you really try and get out there and make it happen and not give up as well.

AMAR - Just to give people a bit of a background: when I was four the doctors broke the news to my parents that by my mid to late teens I would become incurably blind - and they were right. So, I talk about that, and I think you have to give some of your own story to people if you are motivating.

And I remember waking up when I was 18 and I couldn't see the picture hanging opposite the end of my bed and I thought, oh I'm blind. And I would say that's where my life started from.

We both have different disabilities, Martyn, but I think we've both got the same way of delivering that motivational message.

MARTYN - Yeah, and I think when you share that story as you just did there it really does take people to an emotive place, and I think that's where you can change attitudes as well when you get people to really empathise with something that must have been very hard and difficult at a point they can come on that journey with you, as you talk through the message later on as well.

AMAR - Absolutely. Okay, the next question.

MARTYN - What do people say to you after they've seen you give an inspirational speech?

AMAR - Do you want to tackle this one first then Martyn?

MARTYN - I think a lot of people are quite shy, and the few times it has happened I think it's just been that it really moved them; that something I'd said was a real of the moment that they needed to hear it in that particular situation in their own life. And they're just sort of thankful for us having collided courses during that hour talk.

AMAR - Absolutely. It can be anything, can't it: they might have enjoyed the talk; or they know someone that's going blind; or they've been inspired by the travel organisation works and they want to know more about that; or they've seen me on telly and they just want to have a little laugh at my expense.

But like you said people can be a little bit shy, but when they see other people queuing up to talk to you then it gives them courage. And I would say it's so important to listen to people because they have actually drummed up the courage to actually come and talk to you.

MARTYN - Yeah, it was interesting something you said, Amar, about people that they know someone with the same impairment, and I think they're almost surprised themselves that they actually were as moved by the talk. And I think they come up to you and they're just not even quite sure what's propelled them towards you to come and talk, but they just have to share that they've got this aunty or uncle or grandma or granddad that's got this particular impairment that they hadn't even thought of as being disabled, and actually how similar the kind of message was.

I suppose it opens up the world that people don't always realise that they have disabled people in their networks until they're forced into listening to our babbling on in our inspirational speaking.

AMAR - Yeah, absolutely. I think by us talking about ourselves and to some extent of our disabilities they do look at their relatives and their friends, and sometimes I think it gives them hope and it creates like a dialogue between them and those relatives or friends because they see a path, they see a clear path. I've had so many people come up and say, my son's four years old and the doctors have told him that he's going to go blind and I thought that life would be over and we don't know what to do as parents, but listening to your story we're so comforted that it's not the end of the world.

I don't know about you Martyn, but I genuinely believe that my life wouldn't have been half as exciting had I been sighted. I would probably have just been an accountant because that was my wish when I was a little child that I wanted to grow up - I think one of the girls in my class, she was pretty hot and she'd said she wanted to be an accountant - so I thought it was a sexy thing to do! And that's what I would have ended up doing.

But because I was blind and because I wanted to travel and nobody would let me go on the trips then I gave up my well-paid job and set up my organisation. So, I wouldn't have done those things.

I don't know about yourself Martyn?

MARTYN - Yeah, I think it's just the way that it opens up people's eyes to opportunities and that difference can be a good thing as well. I think often people, particularly in the media, there's a lot of rhetoric around oh, disability is all very sad and negative, and people get really caught up on that message. And then when other people are out there, like us, saying look, there's some pretty difficult stuff we're dealing with compared to average Joe Blog, inverted comma, type person, but in the end the world's there for the taking and when you really get out there there are so many opportunities from doing all the skiing and the scuba diving and all the other amazing adventures we have I think it really opens people's eyes up.

AMAR - Yeah, it totally does. And by having our disabilities I think we're so fortunate that we can stand on the world's stage and we can change people's perceptions. To be honest I didn't know much about people in wheelchairs, Martyn like yourself; I never really knew how to interact with people in a wheelchair. And then when I did the Beyond Boundaries for BBC Two we had two people in wheelchairs and there we were in the jungle and I said, look sorry, I don't know how to deal with you, how do we do it? And they said, we don't know how to deal with somebody like you that's blind.

MARTYN - What did you find to be a bit challenging and tricky about us lot?

AMAR - Well, I just didn't know what to do. I didn't know whether to kneel down or whether to bend over - that sounds bad! But I didn't know what to say and do, or whether I should push the wheelchair. It was just like a different world for me.

There was this other girl actually on the Beyond Boundaries thing that had two prosthetic legs, and when I saw her as a blind person first, she was like five foot ten, and then when we were by the pool she was lower down. She goes, Amar do you want me to guide you? I said, oh wait till you stand up. She goes, Amar I've taken my legs off; I am stood up. And she was like four foot.

So interesting. Like you said Martyn, people think we're the experts, we've got one disability so suddenly we're going to be an expert, and we're not. We're just like everyone else. And I think it's nice when people with disabilities can be open and not let that be a barrier for able-bodied people like you've said the wrong thing and put them off.

MARTYN - And actually if you can just have a bit of a giggle about everyone's differences and all the funny scenarios I think the world's a better place for it.

AMAR - Absolutely.

MARTYN - Right, so my PA has presented me with another question. If you had a message for a disabled person listening to this who's finding it hard to move forward what would you say to them right now? First thing that jumps to mind is make sure the electric chair's turned on and that the equipment's working. But I'm sure this is probably a bit more metaphorical than technological actually.

AMAR - I guess what I would say is it seems hard. I remember when I knew that I was going to go blind and I said to my dad, what's the point in studying, I won't be able to get a job in the office? And he said, let's just take it step by step. So, I always think even you as the person with the disability don't have this preconception of what you might be able to do and what you can't. Take it step by step. You'll surprise yourself at how things just start to fall into place.

People say to me, would you like to be sighted? And it's a hard question, like would you like your blindness cured? And of course you might do, but it's very difficult because whilst there's times as a blind person that you get frustrated, like I'm walking in my house and I suddenly crash into a door and I've got blood streaming down my face and I think oh, I hate being blind, but those moments are such few times. But all the other things that we can do, they're just amazing. Your disability focuses you to do things that you actually can do, so you don't waste time.

So, as a blind person I can't see many of the computer games so I don't waste time, haven't wasted time growing up playing computer games. Instead I've been doing real life things that have made a difference.

So, I would say don't have any preconceptions. If you've newly become disabled just deal with it step by step, and it'll be an amazing journey. It won't be the same journey as an able-bodied person, but it definitely won't be any less than the journey that a disabled person takes; it'll be far, far greater as per my experience.

MARTYN - Very well said. I think, as you mentioned, there's definitely a need to come to terms if a disability has been acquired. I've had mine since I was born so I've not really known any different, so I guess that's in a weird way a positive in terms of not having something and then having it taken away. And I think that those that have an acquired impairment definitely need to have that adjustment, shall we say, as you were just talking about before.

But in the end it's all about attitude. And I think if you just focus on what you're good at and what you enjoy then the world is going to be more open and welcoming and opportunities start to come along.

When we look at the whole inspiration and motivation I think for me this question is really a big part of why I do what I do, that when particularly that sort of maybe teenage, adolescent age group are feeling very lost in the world and how are they going to be able to cope in a not so inclusive and accessible world, and to be able to pull them to one side and get them to see all the things that are ahead of them in a cool way, that's actually what powers me to keep doing all the bits of work I do at the moment as well.

AMAR - Yeah. And Martyn did you say you've been in a wheelchair right from the start?

MARTYN - Yeah. Obviously not literally from birth, that would be a bit crazy, but yeah, after about a year and a half I think I was diagnosed and I had my first electric wheelchair when I was about two and a half. That was a pretty fast and bulky wheelchair that god knows how I didn't kill any of my fellow nursery classmates as well.

AMAR - I'm just a bit ignorant to electric wheelchairs. Do you have gears or is it just one accelerator?

MARTYN - There's like five different levels, and I've always had it on the fastest which means that it goes about five, six miles per hour, even when I was three years old. And I think I used to have to put stickers on the back of the wheelchair because I was always smashing into walls and doors and scratching it. It was a definite adjustment in a different way to how to get around mobility wise.

But yeah, psychologically it's all I've ever known. I think there's definitely a difference between the acquired and non-acquired impairments in that sense.

AMAR - So, Martyn that means that you must be so good at driving electric chairs, cars, because you've always done it. Have you ever considered a career in motor racing?

MARTYN - I'm generally good until I've drunk alcohol and then it all goes wrong. I would definitely say don't drink and drive a wheelchair, just as much as you shouldn't drink and drive a vehicle. But yeah, I probably have got quite good spatial awareness.

AMAR - Absolutely. Wow. And if you've got a little platform I think I'll trust you; I'll jump on the back and we can go along on our journeys!

MARTYN - Sounds like a plan. So, moving on we'll have a look at another question out of the tea caddy or the plastic cup. What have you done in your life that you're most proud of, Amar?

AMAR - Oh god! What have I done that I'm the most proud of? I guess it is setting up my organisation Traveleyes because when I qualified as an accountant, and whilst I was proud of myself there because a lot of big accountancy firms were rejecting me saying that a blind person couldn't become an accountant, I proved them wrong and I was proud of that. But I had all this money and I wanted to go on holiday and I was passionate about travelling, and lots of travel companies would say to me, look you're blind, you can't go sailing, you can't go walking, you can't go climbing. And I just thought this is restricting my world. And suddenly it dawned on me that if you want something that doesn't exist then you've got two choices: either you do without or you've got to build it yourself.

And I set up the organisation and now yeah, I can go on holiday, which I love. I don't have as much time to go on them, but we've got thousands of blind people, not just in this country but from all over the world that go on the trips. And I'm really proud when I'm there and I'm hearing the sighted folk describing to strangers what they're seeing. I just feel warm inside because it's like you've got humanity working together, collaborating, and I guess that's what I'm most proud of.

What about you Martyn, what would you say your proudest moment has been?

MARTYN - Listening to what you were saying I think that's very paralleled again. There were earlier days were more the personal achievements, maybe trying to prove the world a bit wrong that despite what everyone thought I could do x, y and z.

So, I suppose some examples of those early achievements were going to university, learning to drive a car, getting my first job, just sort of being independent and going out nightclubbing. So, I think that sort of coming of age was a very proud moment because in the earlier years it sort of felt like maybe that wouldn't be as possible as it turned out to be.

And then I think as things started to tick along and consolidate on a personal level the more recent things have been helping others. I think that's a big part of personal growth that you go from your own achievements to then trying to help others achieve their goals. So, I'm very interested now in doing life coaching, and when I'm blogging and speaking it is just very proud whenever anyone gets in touch and says that that really resonated with me and thank you for showing me a positive version of how things can be.

So, yeah I think that overall positivity that I carry is probably what I'm most proud of now.

AMAR - That's amazing. It's so interesting what you said, when you're growing up for an able-bodied kid they wouldn't feel proud of going out there to nightclubs, but when you do have a disability and you do think like it's going to be difficult, whether you're in a wheelchair or you're blind, we've got to reach out to these able-bodied folk, befriend them and then go to nightclubs where, everybody's looking out for themselves, but you want some strong friendly relationships with your mates - you don't want them to care for you but you need the environment to be accessible so you do rely on them.

And those little steps are really cool because they just make you feel good and they boost your confidence.

MARTYN - So, we've spent a bit of time chatting about that one so maybe we'll rattle through the next few a bit quicker, Amar, okay? The next one is: how important are disabled role models and why?

AMAR - I think that they are very, very important because able-bodied people always have people that they can look up to, and I think they're absolutely important.

MARTYN - I totally second that. I think when you're young and you're able to see someone just like you, not maybe the massively far ahead and untouchable, but that sort of just a couple of steps ahead of where you are, it just kind of gives you that energy and motivation to not give up when life's tough. So, I think yeah it's about keeping you going and heading towards your own goals.

The next one we've got is: who is your role model and why?

AMAR - Do you want to go first Martyn?

MARTYN - Not really. Do you? I mean, I can say in terms of that person being one or two steps ahead that when I was about 16 there was a guy who's now a good friend of mine called Toby Milden, I think he was at uni and I was thinking about going to uni, and that was a massive help to see him talk about how he coped with all of the things that I was going to need to cope with later. So, for me that is a true role model, is someone that is almost like a mentor and can become a friend.

And then of course there are the sort of bigger business entrepreneurs and inspirational speakers that I look to. It would be someone like Tony Robbins really because they can command a stage and getting people in the audience to be very moved by their words, and so they're the kind of people that I look up to as role models that maybe don't have a disability but do help me in my professional career as well.

AMAR - I guess for me when I was at uni, and I had just suddenly become blind I always wanted to drive, I remember there was this guy in his 60s and he was doing his third degree and he was blind. And I found him hugely inspiring. He was like, Amar, you don't need to drive; let me take you sailing lad. And off we went on this sailing boat. On the second time I said I'd like to be in control myself, and he said yeah, sure. So, he got me these walkie-talkies and he got a sighted person in a tower, and I was going up and down this lake in a sailing boat all by myself. So, I found him hugely inspiring at the time.

I think who you look up to can sometimes change depending on what you do. And in my entrepreneurship roles I found Sir Stelios of easyJet highly inspiring. Back in 2007 he set up an award that helps disabled entrepreneurs and he recognises that people with disabilities like us really struggle to get into the job market, and so he recognises that sometimes it's easier for people with disabilities to be entrepreneurs. He has got this amazing award system where he gives £50,000 every year to a disabled person, if you've got a new business that you're setting up.

MARTYN - That's really interesting what you just said there, Amar, about how it could be potentially easier for disabled people to find employment through self-employment and entrepreneurship.

I was employed for about five years in London at a charity and it was a good role and I had some good times, but I did find that the actual working hours didn't always suit some of my health needs, but also the kind of more positive side of lifestyle, wanting to not just be at a desk and to travel around the world also meant that then starting my own business opened up a really positive lifestyle. So, I've found that my health has been a lot, lot better since I've been self-employed. And I can have really strong sprints where I'm working all hours, maybe more in the summer, but then in the winter when I struggle more I can take the foot off the pedal a little bit and kind of work to my own timescales and my own energy levels. So, I really found that interesting what you just mentioned there.

AMAR - Absolutely. It's just a no-brainer, so for health reasons or if you're blind and when you're in employment you're having to do everything, like all the admin stuff. But when you run your own business you have people doing those bits that you might not want to do or that you find challenging that someone else might not, and then you can focus on your strengths.

So, when you run your own business you focus on your strengths and you bring in people that can do the bits that you might not want to do or that other people can do better than you.

MARTYN - Yeah, and I suppose the world of employment has caught up a bit more with home working and flexible hours. I think for those that aren't as entrepreneurial minded there are still a lot of options in the employed world. But yeah, I think to have both options is really important for people to then choose what's more applicable to them.

AMAR - Yes absolutely.

MARTYN - Let's have a look at the next question: if you had a theme tune what would it be? I quite like that question.

AMAR - Oh, I used to love the A-Team in the '80s, I used to love that theme tune. It's a great tune that brings the team together. I loved it [hums tune] and then B.A. Baracas would pop out of the black van. Oh, I loved that theme tune! What about you?

MARTYN - I was thinking, I've always had this dream that my wheelchair would be a bit like how Inspector Gadget was, so you could sort of say go, go gadget, helicopter, and then the wheelchair would be able to fly up over all the traffic or wherever you want to go to. So, yeah I think my theme tune would be the Inspector Gadget one. I've got no memory of the exact words but I know that the tune was [singing] da, da, Inspector Gadget, da, da.

Okay, so onto the next one: why do we hear disabled people being called an inspiration so often? Yeah, that can be a wind-up in the wrong context as well.

AMAR - I think you're right, yeah. because you suddenly think are they saying that I'm inspiring because I've got a disability; would they still call me inspiring if I didn't do what I did? Yeah, so it can lead down that path.

But I always think just use what you've got to your advantage. So, I'm blind and when I'm walking round the centre of Leeds, Glasgow or London people often say that people are looking at me, and instead of thinking oh, they're looking at me, I just think well right, if I was a celebrity, like a pop star or whatever, people would look at me anyway so it doesn't matter, it's cool.

So, if they want to call us inspirational then rather than beating ourselves up about it if we have done inspiring things, if we have achieved and we're changing people's mindsets - going back to the fortunate position that we're in, because people can be ignorant to disability - if we're kind of moving them to some extent and they feel like we're inspiring them then I feel it can be an all right thing.

MARTYN - It's definitely around the context of it. I think, as you say about with the celebrity, you've been on TV lots of times so someone may well spot you and be staring purely just because they know you as a celebrity, and that's actually quite a nice thing to happen and most people would be pretty chuffed at that.

Whereas I suppose if it is just someone is inspirational because they managed to get out of bed and get out of the house despite their disability I think that maybe is a little bit more of a commentary around how tough the world can be at times for disabled people with accessing the rights and independent living. And that's the area that we probably need to consolidate independent living more and kind of educate society on it shouldn't be inspirational just because you've got out of the house.

So, I guess that's the balance of the two sides of the argument.

AMAR - Yeah. You need to respect people in whatever they do, and that shouldn't be just inspirational. I mean, that's in a way almost patronising, isn't it?

MARTYN - I've got another question in front which leads on quite nicely actually from what we've been talking about. And it says: why do you reckon you can inspire people?

AMAR - Well, I don't take it as a given that we can inspire people. But when we're talking about why do we think that we can inspire people, well if people find our journey fascinating, if they've seen where we've come from losing our sight or being in a wheelchair right from the start, and then despite all that we've done things that they in their minds think would be impossible then yes, I guess we do inspire people.

MARTYN - Yeah, I agree with that. I think there's also something, a bit like we touched on before, about the two sides of inspiration. But I think in the end it's about being an action person inspires people. So, forget disability completely; there are people that just very much want to live life to the full and they get out there and they make things happen. And I think that is just an inspirational thing to human nature.

And I suppose yeah, there is a bit of a truth that when you throw in that someone might be blind or in a wheelchair they've had to overcome more obstacles, so it's a bit more inspirational. But I think overall the things that you and I do are more about action and adventure, and that just sort of grabs the human spirit and people get quite excited about hearing about those things.

Let's have another look. We've got a couple more left by the look inside the cup. What do motivational speakers do? I think that's probably one that we've covered quite a lot in our previous questions.

So, that really moves on to the last question: how on earth do you avoid sounding like a cliché in this inspirational motivational game? And is there a cliché you try to avoid?

That is a fine line I think actually on that. I don't know what you think, Amar?

AMAR - I don't think I fully understand the question.

MARTYN - I suppose it's about the general inspiration and motivational game it can end up getting into sound bites and cheesy comments and everything.

AMAR - Things like: step out of your comfort zone. I mean, they are cheesy but they do make a lot of sense, don't they? And I think if you put them in the right context then it puts it all in a nutshell for people and hopefully doesn't sound as much like a cliché.

But yeah, I think a lot of us do probably use clichés.

MARTYN - I think maybe the way of looking at it is around your own personal story, that when you've been through something very personal whether it was difficult or whether it was just really kind of enjoyable and happy, but when you bring the emotion of your personal story I think people find it quite interesting and they engage. But I think if you literally just get up on a stage or on a podcast or whatever it might be and you are just trotting out these one-liners I think that's when you're in a bit of a danger zone.

AMAR - If you do use them in isolation then people are not going to be engaged with what you're saying. And like you said, just having that personal story, opening yourself up and telling people the truth about the struggles that you face and the achievements that you've had then in that context it works. But otherwise, you're absolutely right, it just kind of disengages people and you don't feel motivated. It's a bit like somebody barking instructions at you: it's not going to engage you into moving.

MARTYN - Yeah. And also I think when you use a cliché knowingly and you kind of almost do it in a cheeky way then it's part of the joke that the audience know that you're kind of taking the mickey out of yourself or out of the situation but it's kind of okay because it's all done with a bit of humour.

AMAR - Thank you for listening. If you want to get in touch please email ouch@bbc.co.uk or tweet @bbcouch or find us on Facebook.

MARTYN - And please do like, share and review this podcast so that people who like this kind of thing will get to hear it.

AMAR - I don't know about you, Martyn, but I really enjoyed talking and answering those questions. And it's been so lovely hearing your stories as well. I hope everybody's learnt something from our chat.

MARTYN - Likewise. And hopefully we're both now more up on each other's impairments and the problems and solutions; but most of all that the audience enjoyed hearing our stories and our motivational message.

AMAR - Thank you and goodbye.

MARTYN - Bye bye.