You, Me, and Disability: Changing the Nations Perception on Disabilities

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Image of myself on one of my better days using my walking stick at Monsal Head, enjoying an ice cream. Image by Chris Varty in Summer 2020 after lock-down restrictions had eased ©
Lisa Varty

Right now, I have a lot on my mind, growing up I wasn’t what you’d call a healthy child but I was able bodied and could do normal activities, I never suffered any kind of discrimination, I did face bullying when went to school but I just thought that was a normal part of growing up and despite visits to hospitals and doctors I had a relatively normal, happy childhood. when I was 6 my brother was born and at first he seemed like a normal health baby but as time went on it was clear he had developmental issues, I was young and didn’t quite understand what that meant but the health visitor and social worker gave us a bleak outlook that upset my parents, we were told that Adam would need to go to a specialist school and that he’d never have a normal life or a job, again at six years old these words meant nothing to me and to me Adam was just my little brother but growing up and meeting his friends and making my own friends I realised something was wrong with the world by the time I was a teenager.

By the time my brother got to the age where he should be starting his GCSE’s I was shocked to learn the only education he was receiving was about personal hygiene and how to budget, he had no clue as to how the real world worked and when it came to career advice it was voluntary work in charity shops that were on offer, as if that’s all he was good for. But my brother although he has additional needs wanted better, and he deserved better. By the time Adam left school he went on to college but again the courses were meaningless and he didn’t gain any qualifications that could help him into meaningful employment and he became a little anxious and depressed about it, but luckily he found an education centre that was better than the SEN Unit in the college he was sent to and they helped him gain qualifications in IT, this centre then set up some work experience with Derby City Council and when Adam expressed that he wanted to work there has a paid employee this centre helped and Adam now works at Derby City Council as an office assistant in paid employment, and I must say the council do a great job with supporting him and make reasonable adjustments to help him maintain his job, so this at least is a success story.

But not everyone with additional needs or a disability is so lucky, in fact there are currently 14 million disabled people in the UK, and I am one of them. At the age of 18 I became unwell and had to rely on a wheelchair for a while, but I got better so never really thought of myself as disabled then, only unwell. I got better and led an active life, I loved dancing and hiking and doing all the things an able bodied person can do, but eight years ago something unexpected happened and it changed my life in a major way. I now have to use a wheelchair on a regular basis to get around, many friends who haven’t seen me for a while would be shocked to see me now, many friends stopped talking to me and or ghosted when they learned I’m now disabled and a few friends have stood by me and treated me as they always have, these are the friends that are important to me and are real friends but they are few and I hope they know just how much I value their friendship. It’s funny I never thought I’d lose any friends for simply becoming reliant on a wheelchair, I’ve lost a few friends for other silly reasons in the past but never thought I’d be abandoned by so many for this one reason alone, I could waste my time and energy thinking about this and why those friends felt the need to disappear without even a goodbye but I want to spend my time on energy on something meaningful.

Image of Adam Varty
Adam Varty

I have friends from all kinds of backgrounds and I grew up with people with additional needs, learning difficulties and physical disabilities, but I never saw these people as anything other than people and treated them how I myself expect to be treated. I didn’t see them as having any kind of disadvantage what I did see was other people had a different perception to me, as I mentioned earlier on, even before my brother reached school age our family were given a bleak outlook by health visitors, social workers and those in authority positions, I’ve seen disabled friends suffer bullying from a young age simply because they are disabled, for the first time as I write this article I asked Adam if he’d ever felt he was treated differently by other people outside of the family and his circle of friends because of his additional needs, his answer made me feel quite sad as the fact he has additional needs doesn’t factor into how I think and feel about him and hell, he has a better social life than I do, his answer was “I feel like people without disabilities don’t understand me and I feel like they fear me because I have a disability, some people are nice but most are horrible to me when they realise I have learning difficulties, I look just like everybody else and you can’t tell I’m not normal until you get to know me, I’ve seen friends with disabilities you can see get bullied and laughed at and they have had horrible things said to them and I don’t understand why this happens.” Adam went to an SEN School in Derby and I knew when he reached secondary school he wasn’t happy, when I asked him about his time at school he said “I wish I could have gone to a mainstream school, I don’t feel like I was taught anything good, I was a teenage boy, I like anime and rock music but at school it was babyish tv show silly kids music, I was made to feel like I’d never have a normal life and was told I couldn’t get a job, they tried to make me believe this, but my family and friends know I’m smart and can do a lot of stuff and they helped me to get where I am now”

I’m genuinely saddened by his answer because regardless of what we were told by his teachers, social workers and those in authority we know what Adam is capable of and to me his additional needs didn’t even factor in to how I think or feel about him. I used a local Facebook community page and asked the public about their perceptions of disability and here is what they have said:

Kiana a small business owner: “Disability itself is a negative word. I feel we need to reword... to a world fit for purpose, we'd not be disabled. And absolutely agree the equality act is worthless. I've lost many jobs under the façade of something else. I'm now a small business owner, having opened during Covid, determined to work for myself and provide fair employment opportunities for others with disabilities. Mine and my son’s disabilities are hidden, There appears to be a clear divide on perception between wheelchair user, and non. To the degree where some places have two different policies and pricing structures for either. Hidden disabilities are hard, with some people still expecting you to explain yourself. The inequality in employment is huge. I was once told that despite completing the job to a high standard, "we can pay someone to do the same job with less breaks". Because I was on a temporary contract, there was nothing I could do”

Tasha Dawson, from Derby said: “The perception of the public needs to change. If you have a hidden disability and have to sit at the front seat on a bus or need to bypass a queue for example. You get dirty looks and comments by others. Even though you know you have a disability if it’s not easily seen others won’t believe you unless you put a diagnosis letter in their face. To be honest I can’t see much changing anytime soon. There will always be a stigma when it comes to disabled people. For it to change there needs to be more awareness especially when it comes to hidden disabilities. Mine isn’t all hidden, I need to use stick/crutches/mobility scooter especially when the pain is bad. I used to work full time nights until I could hardly walk anymore. I run a group on here now for people with chronic pain and illness. My son has hidden disabilities too. Things need to change for his future, I’m not worried about me I’m used to it but he’s not. He’s 15 in December and he’s going to be faced with the real world sooner or later and that’s what I’m worried about”

Darren Singh said on education and schools: “The disabled children were segregated from others and did not receive the education to sit O Levels. I had totally disregarded this till I read your post/comments. Looking back, it was totally unfair on the children and I don't recall making friends with any as we had different break times. What shocking times we lived in and yet this was only 40 plus years ago. I hope this doesn't happen today; I really do”.

Jacqueline Tina Saffari said: “I can relate to this. I have a disability and rarely use public transport as I’m treated differently...I’ve complained to bus company as I went home crying from the driver’s comments. Luckily for me my local shop treats me well and help me. I use a rollator on bad days and walking sticks on days I feel I’m able to walk a bit better. I have a spinal cord disease it affects my gait coordination speech and my bodily functions...I got no assistance trying to get on a was the general public who came to aid to help me get on the bus. I’ve had a few less understanding people criticizing me, but I’ve learnt to ignore them now. So, my answer to your questions would be yes to questions asked. Whether a person has a disability or not able bodied or immobile they are still human. It’s just society how they view and perceive a person...even how they dress. Its ignorance and lack of understanding and empathy”

Image of ig Oliver and myself taken by ig when I met him for an article interview in August 2020, here I'm sat in my wheelchair
Ig Oliver and myself

I want to say thank you to those who came forward to share their thoughts and I feel that a change is definitely needed and you can help, what is needed is an open mind and difficult conversations, don’t be afraid to ask a person about their disability or how it effects them, but don’t treat them as a novelty. Before I became physically disabled I had health issues that couldn’t be seen that made my life difficult sometimes and I as l battle with my mental health on a daily basis since my early teens, I have a condition called bipolar disorder but because people can’t see what it does to me it's hard for them to understand it unless they themselves have it or have a family member who has it. But since becoming physically disabled I’ve noticed a shift in how people treat me and it feels as if I’m unapproachable at times because I use a wheelchair and that not how this world should be. Conversation is good it helps us understand each other. Currently I’m trying to get in touch with our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to talk about this and maybe start a change right from how schools, social workers and those in authority perceive disability and treat people. In this day and age it shouldn’t be an uncomfortable subject to speak about, So far I’ve contacted my local MP but his response was a little robotic and very un-empathetic, so I decided to write this article and I hope many will read and want to get involved in bringing about a positive change in the publics perception of disability. So please if you have something you’d like to say and help to bring about a positive change email me at with the subject line of: You, Me and Disability.

Now the facts! This information was provided by Scope and is taken from their website at

• There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK.

• 8% of children are disabled.

• 9% of working age adults are disabled.

• 44% of pension age adults are disabled.

• 1 in 3 disabled people feel there’s a lot of disability prejudice.

• 1 in 3 people see disabled people as being less productive than non-disabled people.

• In 2000, 37% of disabled people and 34% of non-disabled people felt that there was a lot of prejudice around disability. The gap trebled by 2017, with 32% of disabled people and 22% of non-disabled people feeling there is a lot of prejudice against disabled people.

• More than 4.1 million disabled people are in work.

• Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.

• Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.

• 34.1 per cent of disabled people work part-time compared with 23.1 per cent of non-disabled people (from the Annual Population Survey). Roughly that’s 1.4 million disabled people who work part-time. 65.9 per cent of disabled people (or 2.7 million) work full time.

Article written by Lisa Varty for The D-Paper ©

Note from Lisa Varty, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this article regarding the publics perception of disability. Some people are born disabled others become disabled later in life due to illness or an accident, so I feel that this article should be read by all and really thought about. We all need to start talking about disability, it's not a bad thing. Yes I'm disabled but I'm able to do most tasks, sometimes I just have to do them a little differently, it may take me longer and sometimes I might need a little help, but I am able to get most tasks done. I invite you to comment and engage in conversation with me and others about disability. I don't think any views or opinions are wrong but allow me a chance to change your mind at least. Let’s get the difficult conversation started:

Hi, my name is Lisa Varty, I'm 36, born and bred in Derby and I'm a journalist. My hobbies include but are not limited to writing (obviously), photography, crochet, drawing, reading, meeting new people. I'm a chocoholic, I love a good single malt and music. If I had to pick a theme tune it would be AC/DC Thunderstruck, my two favourite authors are Anne Rice and Derbyshire's very own ig Oliver. This year has been kind of crap for us all and I hope 2021 is better I've booked tickets to see my favourite band Nightwish at Birmingham in May 2021 and really hope I get to see them. I have an amazing partner whose put up with me for nearly nine years, oh yeah I use a wheelchair to get out and about, now tell me about YOU!"