Hi Chloe! Thank you so much for agreeing to chatting with us at CP Teens UK! Firstly, would you mind introducing yourself?
Hi! My name is Chloe, I'm 25 and have Spastic Diaplegic Cerebral Palsy, which affects the use of my legs.
You have just set up a blog about your life with Cerebral Palsy - how did this come about? And, why do you think it’s important for people like yourself to blog and share your life?
A blog is something I have thought about starting for a while after reading so many interesting and inspiring blogs from other disabled bloggers on social media. I wanted to start my own, but as life always seemed so busy it was always just an idea. However, when lockdown arrived back in March 2020 and with much more free time on my hands this year, I decided that now would be a better time than ever to start it up.
I remember the day I decided to set it up. I was scrolling through social media in the morning as I often do and read a blog by one of my favourite YouTubers, Shane Burcaw, who also has a disability and I just thought that instead of putting it off again, today was the day I needed to start! It was a really nice summer's day, so I sat out in the garden and wrote my first few posts and it has grown from there. I post weekly blogs about things that have made me smile in the week (inspired by Shane) as well as other more topical blogs like gaining employment and going to university when you have a disability.
I think it's so important for disabled people like myself to share our lives through blogging to show other people who perhaps haven't got any experience of disability that life with a disability can be incredibly happy and successful and full of opportunity as I still think there are misconceptions in society today that reinforce the idea that this isn't the case. I think popular communication methods like blogs or vlogs are a perfect way to challenge these assumptions.
You recently blogged about it being 4 years since your graduation - could you tell us about your University experience as a whole?
My university experience was incredible and I can honestly say I had the best 3 years of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous as I was on my very first day when my parents dropped me off at my halls of residence for the first time! I was certain for ages that I wanted to study close to home and remain living at home with my family but I’m so glad I decided to go and live away. Whilst living away from home isn’t for everyone, for me it gave me the most amazing sense of independence and I honestly believed it shaped me into the person I am today. My confidence grew massively and not only did I graduate with a first class degree, I also made some friends for life. If I could go back and do it all again, I would in a heart beat!
Lots of our youngsters who are involved with CP Teens UK really aspire to go to University one day, but when you have a physical disability it can be a very daunting and complex process. If you had one key bit of advice for these youngsters, what would it be?
Going to uni when you have a physical disability can be really daunting but if I could go back to my 18 year old self when I was preparing to start uni, I would say just be yourself and don’t worry about what anyone might think of your disability. I was so scared that I would struggle to make friends because of my disability but I had absolutely no need to worry. I made loads of lovely friends who I still speak to regularly and they have accepted me for who I am, which is incredibly special to me.
You also recently blogged celebrating 4-years of employment! We know to gain employment was full of trials and tribulations for you - could you explain what your road to employment was like and what the role is that you’re in now?
Finding employment after university wasn’t as straight forward as I hoped. At the time I wasn’t 100% what I wanted to do, I just wanted a job so went into a local job agency. I explained to one of the members of staff that I had just graduated from uni and was looking for a job. She then told me to take a seat and I assumed this is what happens to everyone for them to take down your details. However, she came back a few minutes later with a scrap piece of paper with the telephone number to claim benefits. I questioned this and said I wanted a job, not to claim benefits but the member of staff was insistent that this is what I needed to do.
I can only assume that this assumption was made because it is very visible that I have a disability as I use a walking frame and therefore, this means I’m 'unable to work', which is so not true! This definitely knocked my confidence a bit as I began to worry that employers might not want to take me on because of my disability, but I didn’t let it stop me and I started applying for jobs on my own without the help of agencies. It was then that I came across Enham Trust, an amazing disability charity that I am incredibly proud to work for.
I knew about Enham Trust as I had previously volunteered for them, so when I saw a position available in the fundraising team I applied straight away. I was over the moon when I was offered the job and I am still so happy to be a member of the team 4 and a half years later. After a few changes to my role and a promotion, I am now the Fundraising Assistant, which is a job I absolutely love, but to me is also far more than just a job. I continue to be given some amazing opportunities and support by the whole organisation which has been another huge boost to my confidence.
In your free time, what do you enjoy doing?
In my free time I love spending time with my family & friends and going out for meals and to the pub! I also really enjoy going to the theatre and can’t wait to go and see a show as soon as it is possible again! Through the lockdowns this year I’ve also really enjoyed watching videos that Shane Burcaw, who I mentioned earlier, created with his wife Hannah on their channel, Squirmy & Grubs. They are a lovely interabled couple from Minnesota who create brilliant videos focusing on all kinds of disability issues, but they are really funny too. If you haven’t come across them already I would 100% recommend giving their videos a watch!
Ten years ago if you could look ahead to now, are you where you thought you would be?
No, definitely not, but in a good way. 10 years ago I was 15 and all I had really known was school. I knew I wanted to go to uni but I had no idea about what I wanted to study or do after that. The confidence and opportunities that going onto university, living independently, getting my driving license and being in full time employment have given me have been incredible and if I could go back to my 15 year old self and tell her everything I have achieved I probably wouldn’t believe it. Of course there have been bumps along the way but my experiences over the last 10 years have taught me that anything is possible.
Do you think having Cerebral Palsy has took you down paths that you might not have took if you were able-bodied?
100%, having Cerebral Palsy has led me to meet some amazing people and experience some brilliant things that I definitely wouldn’t have if I didn’t have a disability. My choice of school and decision to study at the University of Portsmouth was heavily influenced by both organisations being so accessible. Without both of these places I wouldn’t have all the amazing friends I have today.
Also, without my disability I may have not become involved with Enham Trust, where I now work, for a cause I am so passionate about because of my own experiences. I wouldn’t change the path having cerebral palsy has led me down for the world. It is a huge part of the person I am and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We hear you did a skydive for charity! Talk us through this!
I did! After saying for ages that I would do a skydive I finally took the plunge in September 2018 to raise money for Enham Trust. It was an incredible experience from start to finish and I have never experienced an adrenaline rush quite like it, I was buzzing for days! I loved it so much I am going to do another one (or maybe more!) in the future but next time from even higher! I can’t recommend it enough to people!
In your life, who would you say are the key people who have helped you get to where you have?
Without a doubt my family have been and always will be the most important people to help me get where I am for today. Right from when I was a baby my parents fought for what was right for me and now I am an adult myself I am so grateful for everything they did and continue to do for me. Without all their love, encouragement and support I would never be the person I am today. My friends also play a huge part as well. They are all so accepting and understanding, and my disability never gets in the way of all the fun and crazy things we do together.
Do you live by any life mottos?
For me there is two mottos that I like to live by. The first is "if you put your mind to anything that you dream, with hard work and determination you can achieve it." Also, another one I really like is," if you want to, you can find a million reasons to hate life and be angry at the world. Or, if you want to, you can find a million reasons to love life and be happy. "
Quite often the general public can make wrong assumptions and come to incorrect conclusions about physically disabled people. If you could educate or get a single message out to the general public, what would it be?
Making incorrect assumptions about disabled people and challenging these is something I’m passionate about! What I would say to the general public is even though physical disabilities are often quite visible, disabled people will have far more in common with non disabled people than you think as we are all humans too! A walking frame or wheelchair, and disability in general, is not a bad thing and doesn’t mean disabled people live unhappy lives. Disabled people are able to live very happy, independent and successful lives just like anyone else!