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3 March 2015 Last updated at 05:08 ET

What people see instead of darkness

A close up of an eye

Ouch's recent article on what a blind BBC journalist "sees" prompted lots of readers to email their own experiences.

Damon Rose completely lost his sight as a child, but his world is far from pitch black - rather, it is an ever-changing array of luminous colours and light. Consultant ophthalmologist and ophthalmic plastic surgeon Raj Das-Bhaumik, from the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, shares his thoughts on some of our readers' responses.

David Musselwhite: "I have had perfect vision all my life until two years ago when I started to experience strange swirls of flickering vibrant diamond-shaped lines in my vision that did not go away when my eyes were closed. They were quite frightening at first. The opticians diagnosed them as 'visual migraines'. They go after about 20 minutes but they are similar to what was described in the article. I have no control over what I see and can not stop them, so I can understand what Damon is saying about his 'vision'. They are very vibrant and distracting."

Das-Bhaumik: This sounds like a classic migraine. A migraine is thought to be a temporary reduction of oxygen going to the visual cortex at the back of the brain. The blood vessels then dilate to compensate and this can cause a headache. The flickering and the shapes are very common. The other thing to remember is that migraines can have many symptoms - they can cause tummy upsets, a fear of loud noise - the visual effects are just the most obvious.

Alexander Dowding: "I'm completely blind in my left eye (since I was three). I don't see lights as Damon does - I literally don't see, from that eye. That is to say, it is like trying to see out of one's foot."

Das-Bhaumik: Blindness as we know it is a fairly subjective term, it doesn't always mean that people are totally blind and see nothing. But for some people that is the case. There are many different levels.

Geometric shapes in green, yellow and red

Anon, Australia: "I am not blind but I did have cataracts removed a couple of years ago. To remove the cataracts the lenses are shattered by a laser and then removed by suction. For a short time (about 10 minutes) you are without vision - blind, I guess. When the laser shatters the lens, you experience the most fantastic coloured light display. In my case it was a circular spinning set of triangular shapes that kept changing colour and spinning around, overlapping one another and moving out of vision. I mentioned this to the eye specialist and he said no-one had ever described it to him before. So the brain obviously does create from within when external sensory stimuli is removed."

Das-Bhaumik: I've certainly had this described to me before. If you imagine a lens to be like a Smartie, in cataract surgery we divide it into four quadrants - so essentially they become triangles - before they are taken out. We use water in the eye during the operation which constantly swirls around the eye so these triangles can float around and overlap. It sounds exactly like what he was seeing.


Mike George: "When I was a kid I used to close my eyes tight and cup my hands over them to block out all the light. After a few minutes, I started to experience moving patterns, like a paisley design in motion. The more I practised, I was eventually able to change the pattern on demand. I couldn't predict what the next pattern would be but I could shift it to something else. At first I made the mistake of trying to focus on the moving image, which did not work as I was not really 'seeing' but rather experiencing it. The less I tried to see it, the more it became illuminated."

Das-Bhaumik: We've all done this - haven't we? It's similar to when you come in from the light into a dark room and you can get some squiggly lines and fuzzy shapes. It occurs when the visual system has to readjust itself to a darker environment, effectively becoming more sensitive.

A man shutting his eyes tightly

Stephanie Holdsworth: "Although I have no visual impairment (except glasses against short-sightedness) I have always been fascinated by what happens when the eyes don't see anything. I have often tried to express or explain what I see when my eyes were totally covered or when in a totally dark place (like an unlit underground cave). And Damon's description of brown background with turquoise, blue and/or green flashes with flecks of orange-yellow as well as geometrical patterns pulsating is exactly what I experience. I'm wondering if that's what the brain does to everyone when the outside stimulus is missing."

Raj Das-Bhaumik Raj Das-Bhaumik

Das-Bhaumik: I think she is right. It is the brain trying to make sense of what's going on around with limited information.

Andy Bennett: "My mum has been as you would call a 'total' [in terms of blindness] all her life. When I was young, I did try to explain certain colours. For example, for red, I would ask my mum to close her eyes and look at the sun because I knew that when I did this, the colour red would be visible - for me anyway. We were never quite sure if it had worked. As far as I know she has never had this light tinnitus [described by Damon Rose] but I wonder if this is because she has never experienced light or colour stimuli."

Das-Bhaumik: If she was completely blind she would have no perception of light, so staring at the sun shouldn't have made a difference. But, of course, in some cases you just don't know.

Eve Adkins: "I had an enucleation (removal of the entire eye, which means the optic nerve is cut as close to the brain as a surgeon dares) and I found afterwards I would get flashes of colour that corresponded to my surroundings. For example, watching the Simpsons, yellow flashes would occur. I hear water and blue flashes would appear. This can simply be explained by neurons that are still trying to go through a severed optic nerve and the brain trying to interpret accordingly."

Das-Bhaumik: This is something called synaesthesia, where you stimulate one sense and it automatically and involuntarily stimulates another. The senses are somehow coupled. You hear the Simpsons and your brain remembers the yellow, so that's what you see.

Blurry lights

Grace Mishler, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: "I am not completely blind. I have three degree residual vision. If I had a 'bright day' or have been on the computer too long, my vision at night is like being in a fog... but the fog is completely white. I dislike this 'fog' because it is hard to fall asleep because there is a haze. I find, though, if I lean my head [on the] pillow, relax myself, all of a sudden green, then black squares, like a spider web, appear. I become happy because it means my vision is trying to produce darkness. It is in this darkness I can finally fall asleep."

Das-Bhaumik: When you stimulate the retina with light, the visual pathways take time to reset when in the dark. This sounds like it is taking time to reset or adapt. Some people just take longer than others.

Terry Neal: "I was involved in an industrial accident which caused me to lose vision in my left eye. It is not dark or black - it is a blinding orange with, like the article said, fireworks sometimes so bright it scares me and I almost think I hear a bang. The bright light in the blind eye interferes with my working eye. It never goes away even with my eye closed under a patch."

Das-Bhaumik: It may be that there is still some stimulation to the eye or the optic nerve has some sensitivity to light. There may be a loss of regulation as to what is transmitted to the brain or what is perceived.

Damon Rose's experience was broadcast on BBC Radio 4's In Touch programme which airs every Tuesday night at 20:40 GMT. Listen back on the iPlayer

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Can music help to de-stigmatise disability in Gaza?

Children sit in a semi-circle watching the music

A centre in Gaza City is offering music therapy to children with learning disabilities. Could this help de-stigmatise disability in the region?

The songs blasting from the windows at the National Centre for Community Rehabilitation in Gaza City don't sound like an average musical concert. Children clap along to the music, and adults can be heard encouraging them to keep time.

These songs form the backbone of therapy sessions for children with physical disabilities and severe learning difficulties in this impoverished part of the Palestinian Territories.

Music therapy is scarce in Gaza City but the specialists at this treatment centre are using the unconventional, modern technique to treat the children who attend. Their aim is to help integrate them into a society where disabilities are still very much taboo.

The experts there say they have seen positive results.

"In my experience music is one of the most successful forms of therapy for people with special needs," explains Eileen Audallah, a psychologist at the centre. "It increases self-confidence and helps people to develop ways to express their emotions and feelings."

The pleasure on the children's faces is clear to see; playing music allows them to express themselves and interact with other children - things they don't often get to do.

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I avoid socialising with family and friends, and some of my neighbours don't even know I have disabled children”

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"I love the centre and the music," one of the children tells me. "I get really happy when I sing. I always say to my Dad that I want to go to the centre and he says, go."

Another of the children agrees: "I had stopped studying but thanks to the sessions I've been able to go back to school. I feel really comfortable with the staff here and I really enjoy the classes. I never miss a session!"

Tough life

Some 1.8 million people live in the crowded Gaza strip, which is just 40km (25 miles) long and 10 km (6 miles) wide.

The tiny territory has been blighted by successive conflicts between Palestinian militants and Israel, which have had serious physical and psychological impacts on the population.

It's estimated that between 126,000 and 270,000 members of the population in Gaza are disabled, according to a 2012 report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and the 50-day conflict last summer has left many more with a long-term or permanent impairment.

Yet despite the high prevalence of people with disabilities in the territory, disabled children are still shrouded in social stigma, and many parents choose to hide their offspring from the prying public eye.

Children in wheelchairs clap along to the music

Lubna Nasser, a mother of two, is one of them. "Seventeen years ago I gave birth to twins, both with severe learning difficulties," she says. "Since then my life has been hell. I avoid socialising with family and friends, and some of my neighbours don't even know I have disabled children."

In such an environment, it is easy to see why projects such as the music therapy classes are so important.

The therapy sessions are not limited to music; the children are also given the opportunity to get stuck in to drama, poetry readings and art. In some sessions, even the parents are participating, acting out plays with the children.

Children clapping along

"Getting involved with the activities alongside the kids, we see how their self-confidence increases," one of the children's fathers tells me. "It's clear they really enjoy the sessions and start mixing with other children."

The centre's staff hope that such activities will help not only to teach the children something new, but also to teach their parents and society at large how to interact with people with special needs.

But the centre can only cater for a fraction of the demand, and medical facilities in the territory are scarce.

The founders say that demand for this type of treatment is growing, but a lack of investment and opportunities for expansion has prevented the centre from rolling out similar projects elsewhere in Gaza.

"In the last few years, the lack of support for institutions aimed at helping disabled children and those with special needs has really impacted on the kinds of activities that are available for such children," says Wael Abu Razek, director of the centre. "This has of course affected the children we aim these services at as well."

Life in Gaza may be tough, but in this centre at least, the children can still look forward to a little bit of joy.

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'I change my disabled son's nappy on urine-soaked floors'

Alfie being changed on the floor of a toilet

When faced with no suitable public toilets for her severely disabled son, Samantha Buck decided to take action.

"Some parents of disabled children don't like me saying this because it's not PC, but physically changing Alfie's nappy is like changing a giant baby," says Samantha Buck.

Alfie Buck is eight and is almost as tall as she is. He has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is doubly incontinent.

"We changed him on a baby changer until he was five," Buck continues. "Then it started to get a bit heavy, a bit hard." She says that Alfie is now almost as tall as she is.

When they received a key from the council which allowed them to use accessible toilets in their area, the family were excited. Buck says she assumed there'd be "something that looks like a giant baby changer" inside, but was upset to find just a slightly wider room that's only suitable for people who are able to use it them by themselves - not for those who are less able and need assistance.

Buck says Alfie has to be changed rapidly - otherwise he quickly smells, and his faeces will begin leaking out of the side of his incontinence pad, into clothes and on to his wheelchair, which then takes a day and a night to dry out.

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People just don't want to know, it's disgusting to them because you are talking about people pooing themselves. But it's an everyday reality for us.”

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In order to change Alfie in a standard accessible toilet, Buck has to "heave him out of his wheelchair and drag him onto the floor", ensuring that she remembers to put a mat down first because toilet floors are often muddy and urine-soaked. Then she has to put Alfie's wheelchair outside the door to make enough room. She worries every time that his wheelchair will be stolen and she won't be able to get him home.

"If there is somebody with me to help, they can pass wipes and nappy sacks through the open door," she says. "Otherwise I have to get up off the floor and leave Alfie lying there with his arms and legs flying all over the place. It's just awful."

With more space and a changing bench, she says, the process would not be so degrading.

Though he can't talk, Alfie doesn't have a learning disability and Buck says she can tell what he wants to communicate by the sounds he makes, or through his eye movements - one way for "yes" the other way for "no". She can tell he feels uncomfortable and is embarrassed when he has to be changed in unsuitable situations.

The Changing Places toilet The Changing Places toilet

At home Alfie is learning to communicate with words using a computer which he can control with his eyes and his mum says he loves family trips out in their accessible van.

The van is important to their family, Buck explains. With only 700 suitable public facilities in the UK, they often have to change Alfie in the back of it - and because the van is too tall to get through barriers at multi-story car parks, changing pads mostly happens whilst parked on a street.

When she asked other people in her situation how they get around the toilet problem, they told her they just don't go out. But with two other children, Buck says this isn't an option for her family. "It's shopping, meeting people, days out and hospital appointments. It's about living," she says.

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Accessible loos sometimes hold unpleasant surprises. Listen to our new topical weekly download from the Ouch team.

The Changing Places campaign, led by learning disability charity Mencap, works to get more suitable toilet facilities installed for people like Alfie, whose needs aren't met by regular accessible loos. The campaign estimates that nearly a quarter of a million people in the UK with "severe disabilities" could benefit.

At 12 square metres, official Changing Places toilets are much bigger than the average accessible loo. They contain a hoist to lift a person from their wheelchair, and a full-sized adjustable changing bench for those who are incontinent, or to help those with limited movement undress before being hoisted to the toilet.

Seven UK airports, including Stansted and Heathrow have one, and some football stadiums such as the Emirates and Wembley. With 700 installed so far, the UK leads the way. Buck says thousands more are needed if they are to get out and about without meticulous planning.

"People just don't want to know," she says. "It's disgusting to them because you are talking about people pooing themselves. But it's an everyday reality for us."

Alfie getting into his wheelchair accessible vehicle The Bucks often have to change Alfie's nappy in the back of their van

After a long, hard struggle to get a Changing Places toilet installed in her local town of Horsham, Samantha took drastic action. "I ended up copying in the top councillors and our local MP, with photographs of Alfie lying on one of their toilet floors. I also copied in the West Sussex County Times, who picked up the story", she says.

"The council were embarrassed, so they had to do something." They said that an official Changing Places toilet would be too big and expensive to put in as equipment costs from £10-£15k, and then there are the varying installation costs depending on the setting.

Samantha did her homework to find the cheapest equipment and compromised on size. Now, she says there's an "as good as" toilet facility at her local swimming baths. The council says they were "delighted" to be able to identify a suitable, affordable location for the new toilet and are "committed to improving facilities for disabled people and their carers".

Their online map of official accessible facilities gets over 4,000 hits per month. The site also has listings of toilets which are good but don't meet their published criteria.

When out in Horsham at least, Buck is pleased that Alfie no longer has to suffer the indignity of being changed on a cramped and dirty toilet floor with the door ajar.

More from Ouch
Accessible toilet

How do you get in to an accessible toilet? It takes a large, conspicuous, silver-coloured key that opens more than 9,000 accessible toilets in the UK.

What is a Radar key? (May 2013)


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Can deaf comedy be funny for everyone?

Rinkoo Rinkoo Barpaga thinks deaf comedy can break into the mainstream

Deaf humour is gaining pace with a new breed of stand-up comedians. But is it possible to get the jokes across to a hearing audience if they are performed in sign language?

Rinkoo Barpaga and John Smith are deaf comedians who both perform using sign language, but they have very different approaches to comedy.

Barpaga hasn't been doing stand-up for long, but has been making friends laugh for as long as he can remember. He jokes mostly about his experience of growing up deaf, or "just funny stuff that happens that I'd tell my mates about at the pub."

He chooses to sign his performances and so Barpaga relies on an interpreter to voice his act for hearing crowds. This means it's the interpreter who needs to have the right pacing, intonation and translation skills to convey the humour. As he can't hear what the interpreter is saying, Barpaga only has a certain amount of creative control - it's risky but when it works, it really pays off. The evidence can be seen at a gig filmed at the famous Gotham Comedy Club in New York, where he had a hearing audience in stitches at how his deaf school unexpectedly lost a game of football against a team from a blind school.

John Smith is from Mansfield and is probably the best-known signing deaf comedian in the UK. He started out in 2005, and has honed his act to the point where he now performs to deaf audiences all over the world. His humour is mostly visual and slapstick, using exaggerated storytelling and signing to describe the similarities and differences between deaf and hearing people. In one routine he acts out the delicate and quiet mannerisms of a hearing person using a public toilet, then re-enacts the same sequence as a deaf person, with slamming toilet seats, loud grunting, straining, and repeated flushing.

Smith occasionally gets his wife to provide a live voiceover - so hearing audiences can also enjoy the comedy - but he mostly likes to perform for deaf people. After all, he argues, hearing people can go and watch hundreds of different comedians at any time.

So is there any chance of deaf comedy breaking out into the mainstream? Barpaga thinks so. He argues that in the same way that black comedians such as Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy drew on their own life experiences as young black people four decades ago, deaf comedians are doing the same now. They too have the possibility, he says, to build their acts and gain a wider appeal.

In their work, Smith and Barpaga want to reflect what it's like to be deaf rather than make jokes about poor hearing.

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See Hear titles

See Hear is broadcast on BBC Two at 10:30 BST on Wednesdays - or catch up on BBC iPlayer

If we look at mainstream gags about deafness, they tend to use lack of hearing ability to gain laughs. That old joke about the hard of hearing genie accidentally giving a man a 12-inch pianist instead of the body enhancement requested, can just perpetuate negative stereotypes. Deaf people often say that kind of joke doesn't come from an authentic place. They say a white comedian can't make lazy jokes about black people anymore and argue the same rules should apply for jokes about deafness.

Deaf comedy sometimes touches on the use of cochlear implants and hearing aids - a sensitive issue because some feel that they don't need fixing. In the early days of John Smith's stand-up, performances sometimes ended with him dramatically smashing a hearing aid donated by an audience member. He also teased wearers of cochlear implants, asking one couple if the internal magnets made their heads stick together. He decided to tone down the act after a young boy with implants asked why he was being singled out. Smith now likes to be more inclusive.

Deaf comedy may not be breaking out into mainstream venues just yet - but maybe it doesn't need to. Deaf people need to laugh, just as much as anyone else, and perhaps the best way to do that is to get it raw and uncompromised, and not attempt to make it universally accessible.

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Do blind people really experience complete darkness?

Damon Rose headshot

BBC journalist Damon Rose completely lost his sight as a child, but he says his world isn't pitch black. So what exactly does he see?

It's often assumed that blind people experience complete darkness, but in my experience this is far from the truth.

I appreciate this is going to sound odd coming from a blind person but when people ask me what I miss most about not being able to see, my answer is always "darkness".

Let me explain. I am one of a very small number of people who have no sight whatsoever. I'm properly blind. A "total" as we used to say at school.

I lost my sight 31 years ago thanks to ill-advised surgery, and on my blind person's registration certificate it has three, now very faded letters - NLP, no light perception.

The logical assumption is that when sight is snuffed out, a person must be left in darkness. If you dive under the bed covers you can't see anything at all. If you close your eyes then everything turns to black. So, blind equals black? It makes sense, right? Apparently not.

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In Touch titles

In Touch is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 20:40 BST on Tuesdays - or catch up on BBC iPlayer

Though I've had the cord cut between my eyes and my brain, it seems that the world has not turned black. All metaphors, similes, analogies, and literary flourishes about blindness and darkness should henceforth cease to be used because I'm saying it's far from dark. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.

So what replaces 3D technicolour vision once it's gone? The answer - at least in my case - is light. Lots of it. Bright, colourful, ever-changing, often terribly distracting, light.

How do I even begin to describe it? Let me have a go. Right now I've got a dark brown background, with a turquoise luminescence front and centre. Actually it's just changed to green… now it's bright blue with flecks of yellow, and there's some orange threatening to break through and cover the whole lot.

The rest of my field of vision is taken up by squashed geometric shapes, squiggles and clouds I couldn't hope to describe - and not before they all change again anyway. Give it an hour, and it'll all be different.

If I try to block out all this distraction by closing my eyes it doesn't work. It never goes away.

I miss those peaceful moments of near darkness: walking at night-time while focusing on the streetlights ahead, the atmospheric shadows in a room with a real fire burning, or travelling home late in the back of my dad's car glimpsing cat's eyes lighting up in the middle of the road.

Blurry lights Blindness for Damon is "a kind of visual tinnitus"

For me, dark has come to signify quiet, and because my built-in fireworks never go away I describe what I've got as a kind of visual tinnitus.

When I first went blind I thought the brightly coloured lights were a sign my eyes were trying to work again. It gave me some hope and I was quite fascinated by it. I used to sit and stare at it. Now I know that it's my brain making up for the fact that it no longer receives any pictures.

Some people of faith have occasionally tried to tell me that I'm seeing the after-life, and I never know how to respond to that. But what I have never been able to find out is whether other people who have no light perception also see what I see.

And, assuming that full vision and driving a car are not on offer, do they also long for a bit of darkness?

Do you relate to Damon's experience or do you see something completely different? Email us

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Why a ‘poetic’ sign language interpreter went viral in Australia

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks to the media along side the Queensland Police Service Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski and Interpreter Mark Cave, aka #SignGuy

An Australian sign language interpreter who translated the Queensland Premier's live Cyclone Marcia press conference has made waves on social media. But what did his energetic performance add to the important storm information being broadcast?

A number of sign language interpreters have hit the headlines in the past few years for their show-stealing performances at public events. In 2013, viewers of the Nelson Mandela memorial called out an interpreter for not using correct South African sign language.

In 2012, Lydia Callis, who interpreted at live press conference updates for New York's Mayor Bloomberg during Superstorm Sandy, shot to fame for her energetic translations. It's thought that people take particular note of the interpreter because it's a novelty that they don't see on their screens too often.

The latest one to go viral comes from Australia.

Mark Cave has been widely praised by deaf and hearing tweeters alike for his interpretation of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's live updates on the status of Tropical Cyclone Marcia. He is "doing so much for AUSLAN and understanding", one Tweeter said of the 30-year-old. AUSLAN is Australian sign language, the UK equivalent is BSL. Another tweeter pointed out that sign language is "a must for all emergency events". Some users aren't fluent in English so can't benefit from subtitles.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks to the media along side the Queensland Police Service Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski and Interpreter Mark Cave, aka #SignGuy Cave interprets for Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Queensland Police Service Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski

"Interpreters are seen on TV screens during emergencies like Cyclone Marcia or Superstorm Sandy because that's the best way for authorities to ensure that deaf people who use sign language get the message that everyone else is getting," says Charlie Swinbourne, editor of deaf community blog The Limping Chicken.

Sign language, he says, incorporates not only hand movements, but body language and facial expressions too. Just as hearing people might modify the tone of their voice, Swinbourne says that interpreters have to be more animated than usual when translating information in emergency situations, to convey their seriousness. "To a non-signing audience, those relatively dramatic signs, for words like 'storm', really stand out," he says.

People with no connection to the deaf community have described Cave's animated performance as "hilarious", "entertaining", "poetic" and "mesmerising", like an "interpretive dancer". @Lou_OMara loves the interpreter's facial expressions, saying that he should be on children's television show Play School.

Comments on Twitter

Sign language interpreter Rob Troy says that sometimes translations might come across as slightly over the top because "we are not always aware of how we look when the complexities of the situation take over. It is this dissonance between what we portray and what we believe we are portraying that makes sign language interpreting so interesting, and at times comedic, for the audience."

Some tweeters made it clear that their attention had been drawn to Cave, rather than the Queensland Premier. @VisionInvesting wrote that #signguy was "making an update on cyclone and being translated by some lady". "We muted and made up our own commentary", @JanHan29 said.

Troy says that while "it is always important to respect the speaker when interpreting a one-way event", it is not something that is always at the forefront of his mind. "In that very moment, I am concentrating on delivering the message", he says.

Twitter came alive with jokes about the Australian interpreter's impact, with viewers using the hashtag #signguy over 1,000 times in 24 hours. @aus_pm, a fake account for the country's prime minister Tony Abbott, tweeted: "Maybe #signguy wants to be Chief Whip? I'll ask."

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In pictures: 'What multiple sclerosis means to me'

A woman naked holding cranberries down her back

Three young artists convey their experiences of multiple sclerosis in the hope of helping others with their diagnoses.

To find something good out of something bad was the brief given to three young people. They all have multiple sclerosis (MS) and have been creating artistic works that examine how it has affected them in positive ways.

The final pieces - a combination of portraits, photographs and jewellery - are part of a project being run by multiple sclerosis charity Shift MS.

They show, they say, that "no two people have the same experience of MS".

Perceiving identity

Photographer Hannah Laycock is 32 and works in London. She was diagnosed with MS in 2013 after showing symptoms since February of the same year. Her initial fear was that she had motor neurone disease, which her father has had since 2009. Instead it was confirmed that she had MS.

A woman in the forest, her face is completely covered by mist
A woman lying in a bath submerged up to her face

"I see my experience of the diagnosis as serendipitist in some ways," she says. "I'm fortunate enough not to have MND, and fortunate enough to have learnt a lot from my dad and his diagnosis, which has given me strength of mind, body and soul."

Laycock initially experienced a creative lull after her diagnosis, but says this particular project has inspired her to do some self-reflection and return to artistic work.

Her pieces are a photographic journey exploring her feelings of uncertainty, fear, loss and liberation.

"Neurology's favourite word is 'deficit'," she says. "Loss of speech, loss of language, loss of memory, loss of vision, loss of dexterity, loss of identity."

In her collection she aims to question the notion of this neurological "loss".

Three people standing on the beach wearing huge bird heads
Filling in the Gaps

Bryony Birkbeck was diagnosed with MS when she was 20. She is a multidisciplinary designer and university lecturer in graphic design from Norfolk.

Since her diagnosis, the 31-year-old has been losing her sight due to the related condition optic neuritis.

"At the time I developed optic neuritis I was working on projects which relied heavily on my sight and was about to embark upon a two-year trip abroad," she says. "I was terrified. The thought of entering the unknown without being able to rely on visual information was unimaginable."

But as her sight deteriorated she began to use her imagination to fill in the gaps and often makes up lost information based on sounds, smells and the textures around her. "It's a sort of alternative reality that still has the foundations of my past experience and knowledge but is peppered with images from inside my head," she says.

"The physical photographs I have look dull in comparison to my own 'memory photographs'."

Lesion jewellery

Kirsty Stevens was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007, while studying for a jewellery and metal design degree in Dundee.

Once she had come to terms with the fact that she has MS, she quickly realised that fearing the worst wasn't making anything easier, and decided to use her diagnosis in a positive way.

A picture of the lesion jewellery Kirsty designs

She is a visual artist who is inspired by her MS. Using her own MRI scans, taken during the lead-up to her diagnosis in 2007, the 29-year-old focuses on the damaging lesion shapes that are visible on the scans to create delicate jewellery patterns. She says this turns the "ugly and negative into something unrecognisably positive".

By making jewellery for this project, Stevens has realised how empowering her diagnosis has been and how proud she is to be part of the "MS army".

The #GOOB project is being organised by Shift MS. More information can be found here.

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Viewpoint: 'Children see a person not a disability'

Seb and his brother in the bath

Caroline White's son Seb has Down's syndrome. Here she explains why she wishes more adults would treat him the way children do.

If you were asked who or what it was that taught you the greatest lessons in your life your first answer would most likely be a particularly inspiring teacher, your time at university, a year spent travelling, a best friend, an influential adult, a beloved parent or grandparent.

All of these people and experiences have undoubtedly influenced my outlook on life and, without question, have all shaped who I am today.

My steepest learning curve of all has been in the last seven years. The birth of my first baby, with an added diagnosis of Down's syndrome, proved to be truly life-changing.

Within that experience I have learned so much - about me, about others, about priorities, and equality. But it is Seb himself, and the children around him, that have taught me the most.

My memories of being told my son had Down's syndrome, at just a day old, are very bleak. I was devastated. My mind raced with fear of what the future held for us and I imagined a lifetime of exclusion and disability, of being on the outskirts, being stared at and feeling "different".

For a time I thought the hurt would never lift. At that moment my baby didn't just have Down's syndrome, he was Down's syndrome. I pigeonholed him into a box of outdated stereotypes and failed to see that actually he was still a baby, and my baby. Seb.

Caroline with Seb when he was a small baby

Bit by bit the pain began to ease as I fell hopelessly in love with this little boy. With each day that passed he showed me something new about him. He grew from a beautiful baby to an adorable, but sometimes challenging, toddler and from there to an equally adorable (and equally challenging) little boy.

He now loves football and scooting, ice cream and chips but hates having his hair washed and going to bed. He is a little boy who has learned to read and write, who loves going to the cinema and playing with his mates. Our lives together could not be further from the bleak outlook I had imagined.

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I feel so sad that I wasted those precious early days wrapped up in my own unnecessary fear and awkwardness”

End Quote

But still I find myself faced with pre-conceived assumptions made by well-meaning adults on a regular basis. People will tell me that "children like Seb" are loving and giving or they will say that Seb seems to have "it" mildly. And if I am telling someone for the first time that I have a son with Down's syndrome the most common response is "Oh!" and a palpable feeling of awkwardness, and on more than one occasion, followed with an "I'm sorry".

But with children it is different. There is a beautiful innocence through the eyes of a child. They see a person, not a syndrome.

Seb attends a mainstream school. The children at the school don't know that Seb has a "label". They have no pre-conceived ideas of what he should or shouldn't be, or what he can or cant do. He is just Seb. If asked to describe him, the other children would say how good he is on his scooter, that he loves football, that he is a fast runner or that he needs a little bit of extra help at school. If you asked the parents of those children the same question then I still think "Down's syndrome" would be in the first sentence.

Seb holding hands with his younger brother

Seb now has two younger siblings and I have never told them that he has Down's syndrome. I want them to grow up seeing Seb as Seb. I don't want him labelled or excused.

So it took me aback when Seb's four-year-old brother, out of nowhere, suddenly said to me: "Mummy, Seb talks funny doesn't he?"

I was unprepared for the question and had to think fast.

"Well, you know, some of us are good at some things, and some of us are good at others," I said, trying to buy myself some thinking time.

"You know how Seb is good at football, and you are good at talking? Well, we are all just different and good at different things"

"Oh yes!" he excitedly replied, "maybe he was talking in Spanish, Seb's good at Spanish!"

And that was it. Nothing else, nothing more. He accepted the explanation and moved on.

Seb hugging his younger brother

I wish so much when I had been given Seb's diagnosis that I could have seen the world through a child's eyes. The news would have made little impact, if any. I feel so sad that I wasted those precious early days wrapped up in my own unnecessary fear. The panic I encountered was, without a doubt, based on ignorance.

I grew up in an era when children (and adults) with a learning disability were rarely seen. I don't remember ever having the opportunity to talk to or get to know anyone disabled as a child. Children with learning difficulties, and disabilities in general, were not seen at school or at dancing or Brownies or on the football pitch or in the cinema.

In fact, "disabled" people were segregated into their own community and often the only time you saw anyone disabled was en masse at an outing to the seaside. This meant that I never got the chance to see beyond the label they were given and ultimately, when my son was given a diagnosis of Down's syndrome, I was uncomfortable with it and felt devastated. I feel really ashamed of that now.

Caroline White blogs about having a child with Down's syndrome here.

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The awkwardness of dating when disabled

Andy Trollope

Disabled people are speaking up ahead of Valentine's Day about the awkwardness they go through when dating.

To coincide with the most romantic day of the year, 14 February, the disability charity Scope has launched a new campaign called Kiss Awkward Goodbye.

The charity has found that eight out of 10 people in Britain have never invited a disabled person to a social occasion and half have never started a conversation with someone disabled.

It is encouraging people with disabilities to tell the story of their most awkward dates in order to help any confusions that might exist.

Here, two disabled people talk about their awkward dating moments.

Andy Trollope

I'm not in a relationship at the moment. I was paralysed from the chest down in 2009 after a motorcycle racing accident and, after four months in hospital, I returned home and asked my long-term girlfriend to marry me. She agreed but six weeks later called me at work to say she was leaving. She found it too hard to deal with.

I spent quite a few nights looking at the bottom of a whisky bottle but picked myself up and started to go out. I was 36 at the time, and when I started to go out, I found I had no problem getting female attention. I went to crowded nightclubs and bars in my wheelchair and women often asked to sit on my lap because there were no chairs. My mates were saying that they had to get a wheelchair because it was like a "babe magnet" and has probably been one of the best pulling tools I've had.

Andy Trollope

Girls weren't worried about my disability. You'd get home and there were awkward moments about sex - I'd use Viagra but it didn't really work on top of alcohol so my specialist gave me an injection which gives me an erection for two or three hours. One time I missed my penis and stuck it in my little finger which I couldn't move for a while.

I've got a catheter coming out of my stomach, a couple of inches below my belly button. It has certainly been a talking point. When I've taken someone home it has sometimes caused a problem, but most women tell me the wheelchair didn't bother them so a tube certainly isn't going to.

I have used a dating site. To me my main profile image looks like I'm in a wheelchair but I always put at least one picture up that makes it really obvious. The responses weren't too satisfactory and in the end I put up a message which clearly says: "Yes I'm in a wheelchair, yes I've dealt with it, message me if you're interested." Although I can see that loads of people have viewed my profile, I've had a few online chats but nothing that has led to going out with someone.

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If you have an awkward disability dating story to share, email us on

I couldn't tell you when my last date was - maybe a year ago? In that time I've spent four months in bed with a terrible pressure sore. I was able to use my computer in bed, and on another website invited women round to my house explaining I'm on bed rest. I've had first dates by my bedside - I've said: "I'll leave the front door open just give us a knock, I'm upstairs." There's a certain element of trust involved on both sides, because you don't know who you're meeting. We've ended up having a take-away, a chat and I've asked them to go down and get a bottle of wine out of my fridge.

When meeting a total stranger, you get the usual questions: "Can you have sex? Does it work? How does it work?" That kind of stuff. I get that in the pub from women. If you're paralysed from chest down how do you have sex? But there's a lot more to having sex than penetration. It's more about making love than the actual sex part of it.

I've got lots of girls who are interested in me. It sounds big-headed but none of it feels right. I'm 42 and at the moment - I'm more interested in finding a relationship than going out and having one-night stands.

Jennie Williams
Jennie with her boyfriend Jennie is now happy with her boyfriend Jonno, but has had awkward dates in the past

I have degenerative hearing loss and for communicating I wear two hearing aids, which I rely on a lot.

The public tend to get confused about what hard-of-hearing actually means. It is mostly associated with older people, so I get comments like: "Oh yeah, my nan wears a hearing aid, we shout at her." And the always amusing: "I think she has selective hearing. Chuckle, chuckle."

There can be some real perks to dating someone with a hearing impairment - such as cheap or free tickets, and a lot of us can lip read conversations from quite a way off, meaning I can share gossip about things other people were never meant to know about.

But dating someone with hearing loss can cause awkwardness at times. When you are getting down to things and having a good old snog, the last thing you want is your hearing aids giving a loud feedback whistle - as they do - every time the man puts his fingers through your hair. And then your aids could end up flying out of your ears onto the floor, and the dog could run in and eat one of them. That's actually a true story - and it rather killed the moment.

Let me tell you about one of my most awkward dates. I was single, living in London and looking for a boyfriend, so I did what all single Londoners do - I joined a dating site. I started chatting to a guy and we had a bit of banter via email.

We arranged to meet up on the South Bank and, as I left the Tube station on the day, I was greeted by the man I'd been speaking to - a cute detective who even looked like his photos.

We got on one of the boats moored on the river, had a drink and chatted about work. I went to take out my lip gloss to top up and out fell both of my hearing aid batteries at the same time. They are really small and my date - who I'd named Gov because of his job - asked what they power. I explained my hearing loss and I got the rather surprising response: "Why do deaf people do 'this'?" He then put on the offensive act of waving hands in the air, scrunching his face, putting tongue in lower lip and making groaning sounds. Oh dear.

I thought about throwing my drink in his face but it would have been a waste, so I explained about British Sign Language and the importance of the culture behind it. I don't think he got it all but he was embarrassed and didn't know what to say.

Instead he offered to take me for a ride on his motorbike around London and then buy me dinner. I am very shallow.

Jennie Williams runs the Love Lounge which offers relationship and sex advice to disabled people.

Getting people thinking

Nearly half of the British public (43%) do not personally know anyone who is disabled according to research carried out by Scope. And 78% say they would not be comfortable speaking about disability in front of a disabled person - with many worrying they might mistakenly say something inappropriate.

This Valentine's project leads on from Scope's End The Awkward campaign of last year. With e-cards and other materials, the charity hopes it will get people thinking about what they can do to include disabled people more in their lives.


If you have an awkward disability dating story to share, email us on

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Safer banking tips for disabled people

Person typing in their pin on a cash machine

Using chip-and-pin in shops or at a cash machine can be a problem for some disabled people and many have to ask for the help of strangers. But a new guide explains how to keep banking secure.

You've gone to the post office to send a parcel and realise that there's no money in your wallet. Your hands don't work, so punching in the Pin code for your bank card isn't an option, unless you ask someone else for help.

Almost three-quarters of people for whom using a bank card is difficult say they have given their Pin code to someone else in the past two years. That's according to research by the Payments Council which oversees payment services in the UK. They warn that sharing this information breaks with the terms and conditions of many accounts. This means that if you've been a victim of fraud and the bank finds out you gave your Pin code to someone else, you may not get your money back.

Owen Lowery is paralysed from the shoulders down due to a judo accident 30 years ago. When he goes out he mostly does so with paid personal assistants, who he'd rather not give his personal bank details to. "It takes quite a while to establish trust," he says. "When I'm with my wife it isn't an issue, but even then not being able to use my own card does create a feeling of impotency."

Handing over the Pin code for a current account is not the only way you can draw money out or pay in a shop but the Payments Council found that 50 per cent of disabled people said they were not aware safer alternatives exist.

In response, the Payments Council has produced a consumer guide called Pay Your Way. It contains tips on banking safely when someone else does much of it on your behalf.

Owen Lowery with his wife Owen Lowery doesn't mind his wife helping but likes to be in control of his own banking

The new guide gives advice such as how to best use internet and phone banking, how to set up a joint account with a trusted person, and how to create a "one time only" Pin code to withdraw a specified sum without handing over a bank card.

Helen Doyle, head of policy and research at the organisation, told Radio 4's In Touch programme about yet another option which many may not be aware of. Prepaid cards can be bought at the post office and some supermarkets, and you don't need a bank account to do so. Money can be put on to them via SMS, online and at the Post Office and because they are from a major credit card company they can be used anywhere. "Many of these work in the same way as credit and debit cards," says Doyle.

She also recommends third party mandates. These give a trusted person access to an individual's main bank account meaning they can then withdraw money or pay bills for somebody else. "You can normally specify quite specific terms about who has access and what they're able to do," she says.

Find out more

In Touch titles

In Touch is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 20:40 BST on Tuesdays - or catch up on BBC iPlayer

But for Owen Lowery, it's not just electronic access which causes difficulties. "I haven't handled money since before my accident," he says. "I don't even know what the various notes and coins look like any more."

The guide gives particular thought to those with reduced mobility. It's recommended that the setting up of many of the above safe money methods are best done in conjunction with internet banking, but online services vary in accessibility and require further research to find the one best for you.

Lowery uses a head-mounted mouse pointer to bank online, but says he had to switch banks when the one he was with added a chip-and-pin system to boost security. It caused him difficulties because: "It involved having to punch numbers into a keypad whenever I wanted to access my accounts".

The added security created an access barrier for Lowery as he wasn't able to use his pointer to press buttons on the card reader. "I told the bank about this," he says "but the only compromise they were willing to make was to send me a bigger keypad."

Doyle says that the Pay Your Way campaign has also worked with banks and building societies on new best practice guidelines to boost staff awareness and to make sure accessibility needs are built into products of the future.

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Are there enough professional disabled actors?

Lisa Hammond in Eastenders Lisa Hammond plays Donna Yates in Eastenders

TV channels are publishing guidelines declaring the number of disabled characters they will put on screen, but are there enough disabled actors out there to play the parts?

In the UK those who want a career in acting are likely to attend drama school or another form of formal training. But many disabled people feel they can't go down this route due to lack of access, or because of prejudice.

"If you weren't disabled, we'd definitely let you in," was one response that actor and director Simon Startin received from a drama school at the start of his career 20 years ago. "These were the good old days when they could be blatant about it," he jokes. Another school told him they'd let him in if he "got cured".

He told Ouch's talk show that he did eventually go to drama school - impressively only 16 out of thousands of applicants were successful that year - but believes he got in because his disability is "visibly mild" and he did not require accessible adaptations, like ramps or lifts to be installed.

"I have a clenched body so I can get away with being 'odd' in able-bodied parlance," he says. "If you have more severe disabilities, then drama schools are in no way set up to cope with that."

Louise Dyson runs VisABLE People, a casting agency for disabled actors. "I get hundreds of emails from disabled people all over the world each week who want acting work," she says, but, though Dyson has encouraged a large number of students to go to drama school and most schools have been receptive, few aspiring disabled actors are drama school trained when they first make contact with her agency.

Simon Startin on stage in Islands Simon Startin (middle) is currently starring in Islands

The numbers who have formal drama training when they first approach VisAble People haven't increased since Dyson started the agency in 1994. "I'm really sad to say that, because I think that training is really important," she says.

One college who appear to be telling a more positive story is the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. In 2013-14 almost a quarter of students attending full-time courses there had a declared disability, a higher percentage than the number of disabled people living in the whole UK. "We are very proud of the work we do to support applicants and registered students who have one or more disabilities," says Dr Catherine McNamara who chairs the college's equality and diversity committee. Their disabled student numbers have been around this level for the 12 years she's worked there.

She's keen to say that these figures represent their mainstream classes and do not include the students with learning disabilities on their part-time specialist Diploma in Performance Making.

Startin doesn't think a career in acting has to come via a full-time drama school placement but thinks some kind of training is crucial. "If actors have no training, the ability to apply yourself and the tools for the job aren't there," he says. "Those without training are unlikely to get past any audition stage if they apply for a role because of the standards and prejudices of mainstream theatres."

More from Ouch
Sophie and a male actor during rehearsal. He is holding both her hands and leaning in towards her. Sophie Stone is a deaf actress who gained a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art

A number of schemes which trained those actors unable to access drama school have been and gone. The Missing Piece, for example, was a programme run by disability theatre company Graeae with London Metropolitan University in the 90s and early 2000s. It was an intensive four month course.

Startin says that "a whole tranche" of disabled actors came from that scheme and found jobs in TV, radio and on stage. He says that disabled actors "occasionally drip through" now but are thin on the ground. Recently he needed to find a young blind male actor for a role in A Midsummer Night's Dream but struggled and chose to recast the character as female because he was able to find a blind actress who was more suitable.

Diversity has perhaps been discussed more since actor, producer and comedian Lenny Henry started to lend his weight to the matter regarding BAME representation. Other minority groups, including disabled people, have benefited from the focus.

In July 2014, BBC Director General Tony Hall pledged to quadruple the number of disabled people on screen by 2017, and in January this year Channel 4 published a diversity charter stating that at least one main character in every drama and comedy commissioned must be from a minority group - this includes disability.

In November 2014, ITV announced a section of their commissioning process called the Social Partnership Programme. While it doesn't explicitly lay down targets for disability representation, it obliges producers to prove that their output visually reflects the diverse make up of Britain and that they have recruited production staff to help improve diversity in the industry as a whole.

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking Eddie Redmayne received praise from many for his depiction of Stephen Hawking

Dyson works with channels on their diversity schemes and says that Channel 4's promise to audition two disabled actors for every drama is a "big step forward".

Eddie Redmayne has been widely praised for his depiction of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, including by people who have motor neurone disease, the same impairment as the professor.

But even though non-disabled actors have often received awards for their portrayal of disability, disabled commentator Mik Scarlet told the Ouch disability talk show that it must end because they "overdo" it. "The person playing it has no knowledge of disability, has no understanding of it," he says.

Dyson adds that there is a problem when casting directors expect an exact disability and illness match from disabled actors. Often the match just isn't there and that's when they start looking at non-disabled actors again. She says disabled actors should have the first stab at those jobs because they don't tend to get the chance to audition for roles where there's no disability mentioned.

Simon Startin says he has chosen to play characters with more pronounced impairments than his own. "I've 'cripped' up in the past," he says, referring to a time he portrayed Caliban from Shakespeare's The Tempest as having cerebral palsy. "I wanted to play him as a disabled character because he's ostracised and spat at by everybody - and hated. He's described as a monster."

Startin happily admits that, for this role, his own disability "just wouldn't cut it".

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Viewpoint: Talking about mental health is just the first step

A couple walking along talking

People are being encouraged to spend five minutes talking about mental health as part of the second annual Time to Talk day. But talking isn't the end goal, argues Mark Brown.

If more of us speak about mental health problems, the belief is that judgemental attitudes will fall away.

That's the aim of Time to Talk day - a campaign which aims to tackle stigma, challenge attitudes and change behaviour around mental illness.

It's been organised by the people behind Time to Change - a programme led by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

Mind say that, since 2011, two million are said to have a more positive view of mental illness - based on figures taken from the most recent National Attitudes to Mental Illness survey. It seems more people in the UK are talking about mental health than ever before.

Despite this, admitting to personal difficulties is still hard for many people because of a fear of the consequences. It's what we call stigma and it can bring a feeling of personal shame. If you raise the subject and get a positive response though, it can be liberating.

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Awareness campaigns start the conversation, it's up to us to take it forward”

End Quote Lawrence Carter-Long National Council on Disability, Washington DC

Some liken Time to Change to other campaigns in the disability world which use simplistic slogans like "see the person, not the disability". It's said they're more about being "nicer" to individuals than changing those laws and circumstances which put disabled people at a disadvantage.

While "talk" might be an accessible entry point for the general public, it doesn't necessarily help those who experience facets of mental illness like hearing voices, which carry a heavier degree of stigma.

A subsection of campaigners have argued that focusing on personal stories from people with mental health difficulties has moved the debate away from bringing concrete social changes. They say it's systematic prejudice and discrimination that are the biggest problems, not shame.

In this month's Ouch talk show, commentator Lawrence Carter-Long from the National Council on Disability in Washington DC brings his perspective. He says having the conversation is a crucial first step and allows people with mental health difficulties to find others who have been going through the same, so they can then "build community".

He says one of the biggest problems is isolation: "[Those with mental health difficulties] don't come across other people that have dealt with these issues, know how to navigate those waters, that there's going to be light at the end of the tunnel, or a different mood at the end of the day."

Celebrities holding up number 5s Celebrities are encouraging people to take five minutes to talk about mental health

Awareness campaigns can start the conversation, he says, "but it's up to us to bring it forward."

Beyond getting people to talk about their mental health, Time to Change work with organisations to help them shape policy and practice around discrimination, and target black and minority ethnic communities to tackle specific cultural prejudices. But their most prominent call to action has been encouraging people to have that important first conversation about mental health.

The conversations that Time to Change encourage, from five minute chats to political pledges, are an attempt to build the platform for a wider change. But there is a danger that talking is thought of as the final goal, rather than the first step in the right direction.

Find out more about Time to Talk day by visiting the website.

Mark Brown works for Social Spider, a small enterprise which mostly concentrates on mental health research, training and publishing. He tweets here.

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Talk show 116: Oscars, acting and singing on the tube

Ouch in the studio

This month: Is it really like "blacking up" if a non-disabled actor plays a disabled role? Plus the monthly quiz, music and the man with mental health difficulties filmed singing on the tube who became a viral hit.

With Rob Crossan and Kate Monaghan.

How to listen

Listen here

More about this month's guests and discussions:

  • Lawrence Carter-Long presented a long running monthly film night in New York called Dis This. He also curated a season for Turner Classic Movies on the history of disability in film.
  • Mark Brown works for Social Spider, a small enterprise which mostly concentrates on mental health research, training and publishing. He tweets here.
  • Alika Agidi-Jeffs was filmed singing to himself on the London Underground. Commuters found it funny, and it went viral, but he was suffering mental health difficulties and has spoken out about it.
  • Simon Startin is a disabled actor and director. He can currently be seen in Islands, a satire about tax havens at London's Bush Theatre.

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

PDF download Read a transcript.[155k]

Producer: Damon Rose.

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How can cookery classes help people with learning disabilities?

Stepping stones cookery class

A leading charity says more support is needed to help adults with learning disabilities make healthier choices in their diet. So how would this support look?

"I love cooking," says Mark Wakeman, who has learning disabilities. He attends a regular cookery class at Stepping Stones, a charity that provides services for people with learning disabilities in South London. "I like cooking fruit," he says, "I like desserts but I'm trying to cut down. I'm cooking a curry."

The teacher of the class, Claire Reardon, aims to reinforce basic messages about nutrition. "The whole idea is to encourage healthy eating, she says. "We try to use seasonal ingredients that are fresh and healthy."

The British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD) told 5 Live Breakfast that people with learning disabilities find it difficult to understand the consequences of their lifestyles, so are much more likely to have diabetes, obesity, poorer health and to die younger than the general population.

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I need to learn cooking skills, I don't know how to cook. I need to learn more”

End Quote Bulent Abosoglu Cookery student

"There needs to be support and encouragement so adults with learning disabilities understand healthy eating and healthy lifestyle options," says the organisation.

The problem is said to be widespread and BILD believe the problem lays with the people who are choosing the food - often not the person with learning difficulties.

They found the three groups at greatest risk are: those living in homes or hospitals where they are cooked for, those living at home where a parent chooses their food, and those living in the community who are often driven to choose unhealthy options because they are cheaper.

Stepping Stones runs cookery classes

Stepping Stones say only one in ten adults with learning disabilities has access to a healthy diet. They want to ensure that the students on their classes are able to make active choices and aren't just "passive receivers" of food. BILD has identified this as the best solution.

Reardon takes classes of between six and 20 adults with learning disabilities. One of her students, Bulent Abosoglu, lives on his own. "I need to learn cooking skills," he says. "I don't know how to cook. I need to learn more."

BILD says short-term savings giving poor support to people with learning difficulties will result in far more expensive consequences in the longer term for the NHS. They want more support in place to ensure that advice about healthy eating is also available to social care providers.

The organisation says classes such as those provided by Stepping Stones, cannot be a "one off" with a day here or an event there. They say encouraging people with learning difficulties to take more responsibility for their eating choices will take time and requires good support.

Family members and carers can help in this goal says The Caroline Walker Trust, which provides nutritional support to vulnerable adults. They suggest writing a shopping list of food and drink - with pictures if necessary, drawing up a cooking schedule containing healthy meals and swapping unhealthy snacks for fruit.

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The new breed of 'vloggers' here to challenge people

Robyn, Jack and Rikki

"Vloggers" - or video bloggers - cemented their status last year as the future of marketing, advertising and fame. Now a new brand is emerging, one that teaches you what it's like to be a young person living with a disability.

The format is the same - someone talking into a camera about whatever is on their mind - but at the heart of the videos is an important message: I'm a young disabled person and this is what my life is like.

BBC Ouch spoke to three disabled vloggers to find out why they do what they do.

Robyn Lambird is an 18-year-old Australian with cerebral palsy who goes by the YouTube name T-Rex because of the way she walks. She started vlogging after people commented on her Tumblr photos asking about her disability. "I did it to let people with disabilities know they aren't alone," she says.

Lambird wants to help disabled children be more confident

Her videos are about life with cerebral palsy, along with general updates and fashion vlogs. It's important, she says, that viewers get the full picture when it comes to disability, and she wants to challenge any negative perceptions of her.

"You'd be surprised at how many people come up to me on the streets and, with a shocked look on their faces, tell me I look cool," she says. "It shouldn't be a surprise to people that a person with a disability might be interested in fashion."

Start Quote

I would have loved to watch vlogs from other wheelchair users when I was a kid”

End Quote Jack Binstead

Rikki Poynter, who is hard of hearing, agrees with Lambird. Her early videos were also about fashion, as well as make-up - a popular topic for vloggers.

She started making YouTube videos in 2010 after finishing high school, to combat feelings she was having of boredom, loneliness and depression.

Poynter became tired of talking about make-up and, changing tack, now creates videos that focus more on her disability - how to socialise in a loud environment when you are hard of hearing, for example.

Right now she has a new aim, campaigning for all vloggers to add closed captions (CC) to their videos making them accessible for deaf and hard of hearing people. She recently encouraged vlogging star Tyler Oakley to include them.

Poynter started vlogging five years ago


A subtitled version of Poynter's video can be found here.


She now spends a lot of her time emailing and hand writing letters to popular YouTube stars, encouraging them to think more about deaf viewers and, in time, hopes to increase people's knowledge of disability.

Poynter says it's difficult to get people who genuinely want to learn, and receives a lot of unwanted messages below her videos, including dismissive remarks like: "deaf people are so sensitive".

She says there's not much of an appetite for those YouTube videos made by deaf people using sign language so gaining an audience is a little easier for her as she can speak. Pointer adds that people leave mean comments about her voice which she says is a response deaf people often get.

The disabled vloggers we spoke to believe they are giving honest coverage of what it really means to be disabled, and creating important online communities for people to discuss the minutiae of their daily lives.

Jack during one of his vlogs Jack Binstead says vlogging is his life

Jack Binstead vlogs about his life with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease), and using a wheelchair.

One of his videos, Wheelchair Tricks, shows Binstead performing creative manoeuvres in his chair. He does wheelchair BMX in his spare time and in this video teaches others some of the more simple elements involved in chair control.

He starred as Leslie "Rem Dogg" Remmington in BBC Three's Bad Education, but now wants to make a career out of vlogging and motivational speaking.

"There was nobody in a wheelchair in my area when I was growing up," he says. "I just want to show them that they can do whatever they want with their lives. I would have loved to watch vlogs from other wheelchair users when I was a kid."


Other disabled vloggers

The Mandeville Sisters. Grace is wearing her ornate prosthetic arm and her sister Amelia is holding a realistic looking prosthetic arm

You can find help on how to closed caption videos from Google.

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About Ouch disability

Ouch explores the disability world in blog posts and a monthly internet radio talk show.

It is brought to you by an award-winning team of disabled journalists – Emma Tracey and Damon Rose – with help from guest contributors who all have personal connections to disability.

Ouch goes behind the headlines of disability news, and also lifts the lid on the little details about being disabled that are not widely talked about. You can add your comments on each story - click here for the house rules on taking part.

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