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Employers need to do more than just celebrate neurodiversity

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey / 2023-03-13
Posted in

This week is neurodiversity celebration week, a time when neurodiverse people show that we’re proud of who we are. It’s estimated that 1 in 7 people in the UK has a neurodiverse condition.

The idea of the week in essence is a great thing, but like most awareness weeks, without action it amounts to nothing.

I fully believe neurodiversity is a thing to be celebrated, without mine I wouldn’t be half as creative, straight-talking or able to chat to anyone about anything – all great skills for a freelance writer. 

However being neurodiverse in the workplace comes with challenges that neurotypical people (who don’t have a neurodiverse condition) don’t even have to think about.

For example, I have auditory processing issues, meaning my brain takes a minute to catch up to the information I’ve just been told and I often wont take in information first time. So if I’m being told something important I need it in writing and meetings or phone calls will often need to be recorded or summarised after. 

I also struggle with timekeeping and I’m nearly always late to every single thing I’m supposed to be at. I’ve tried not being late but inevitably it doesn’t work so instead I set alarms and manage people’s expectations. I’ve found for the most part people are understanding, but we need to change the narrative around lateness and the idea that it means not caring.

MP Emma Lewel-Buck previously told The Mirror that when she was running for office she found it difficult to access vital data because the membership list spreadsheet format was inaccessible to her “Campaigning was taking me twice as long because the format just didn’t function in the way that I do”

There are simple fixes to all of these things that employers can do to make life easier for neurodivergent people, but the fact they are still seen as “special adjustments” are holding disabled and neurodiverse people back. 

The problem here is that it falls to the individual neurodivergent person to inform and educate their employer or educator and many don’t have the confidence or feel like they can safely do that. 

There’s also the mental load this takes that many of us just don’t have the capacity for. If these actions are already in place for everyone, those of us who feel we can’t speak up can still be supported .

There’s also the issue with how neurodivergent people are still treated in society, autism is a punchline or synonym for unfeeling, and ADHD is constantly treated like it’s not real. Lesser known conditions like dyspraxia are still given the outdated label of clumsiness, which is then made fun of and often not associated with neurological issues such as problems with planning or processing.

While many employers and education settings now almost boast and how inclusive they are, the fact so many disabled and neurodivergent people are out of work speaks for itself

If we truly want neurodiversity to be celebrated, as it should be, we need to give neurodivergent people something to celebrate and the chance to thrive at work.

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ADHD is not my superpower

By Laura Wallis / 2023-03-13
Posted in

I was diagnosed with ADHD in 2018.  I was pretty sure I had it long before seeking a diagnosis and yet, it took me over a year to even decide to seek a referral for assessment.  

The reason for this, I now realise, was internalised ableism-I was worried what people might think of me (that I was “less able”) or that I might not be taken seriously because I had done “pretty well” academically.

When I did eventually receive my diagnosis, an ADHD advocate I knew shared a delighted smile and said “Congratulations!” I thought it was a strange reaction.  She explained that “some of the most creative and passionate people” she knew had ADHD. 

At the time, it made me feel better because I do think of myself as creative and passionate.

Since then, however, I have come across a lot of “toxic positivity” mainly from neurotypical people around ADHD, with the trope being that it makes those of us who have it creative, passionate, out-of-the-box thinkers and is, therefore a “superpower”. 

Whilst most people I know who have ADHD diagnoses are fiercely passionate and creative, the pressure to accept this narrative has the very real effect of erasing the difficulties we experience. 

Yes, sometimes I am creative. Yes, if I find the right moral issue or something really ignites my interest, I can become incredibly passionate. Yes, I do have “out there”, interesting ideas. 

These aspects of my personality are great, but there are times when I physically can’t action any of my creative ideas, wash the dishes or even send an email because the reward-based action centre in my brain isn’t ignited. 

These are not rare incidents; they are daily struggles that can lead to total inertia and extremely low self-esteem. I miss important deadlines, always owe money at the library for overdue books and often remember a task I haven’t completed just as I’m heading out the door, or going to bed.

The toxic positivity “ADHD is my superpower” culture that exists as a sub-culture of the ADHD community that’s potentially steeped in ableism, stemming from the “inspirational disabled person” narrative makes addressing the daily challenges of living with ADHD very difficult.  

The difficulties of living with ADHD are compounded by the stigma that surrounds taking medication.  I was recently collecting my ADHD medication from the pharmacy and the technician asked the duty pharmacist to check everything over before she handed it to me. 

The pharmacist looked at me, then at the medication and then said “to her”: “that terrifies me.” I knew what he meant, and, unfortunately, rather than react to his ignorant and highly unprofessional comment, I was stunned into silence. He meant that because ADHD medication is stimulant-bases he was “terrified” of people taking it and becoming addicts.

This is a popular opinion in general society.  Certain media outlets perpetuate this myth and a quick internet search on ADHD will reveal opinions that ADHD medication is “basically a street drug”, and that it’s “brain altering”. 

These narratives are false.  Far from being addictive, I often forget to take my medication, because I have ADHD, which impairs my executive function and working memory. 

Taking ADHD medication isn’t for everyone, but it has been hugely beneficial for me. It enables me to focus more easily on day-to-day tasks and quiets my brain, which means that I have less anxious energy. 

I’m generally very outspoken about my ADHD and a very strong advocate for those who have ADHD and the adaptations and understanding we may need, but I still find talking about taking medication for it really difficult, because of the stigma that surrounds it.

With ADHD diagnoses on the rise, what we need is an honest discussion about the realities of living with ADHD and the benefits (to many) of taking medication for the management of symptoms.  

We need content that acknowledges that living with ADHD is really difficult and that doesn’t compound the shame we feel by stigmatising medication, which is an essential management tool for many. 

We need to call out the ADHD as a superpower narrative – because I’m definitely not a superhero.

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There are more people like me on TV than ever before – so why hasn’t my life changed?

By Cathy Reay / 2023-02-24
Posted in

From Meryl Williams, a finalist on everyone’s new favourite reality show The Traitors, to Kiruna Stammel entering the GP practice on daytime soap Doctors. Annabelle Davis, daughter of Warwick, joining the cast of Hollyoaks, to Ellie Simmonds waltzing up a storm on Strictly and Francesca Mills, dry-humoured as ever, on The Witcher: Blood Origin.

It’s been an incredible couple of months for people with dwarfism in TV. 

There are more people that look like me on TV, showcasing disabled joy and awesomeness, than ever in my living memory. Whether acting, dancing, or reality tv contestant-ing, we’re seeing them in the fullness of who they are. We get to discover and enjoy their personalities, their talents and – like with all humans – the things they’re not so good at too. 

They’re not just shoved in front of a camera to talk about their medical diagnosis. They’re not just acting the part of the pitiful disabled person. They’re integrated, seamlessly and wonderfully, into multiple genres and contexts. 

I’m thrilled, obviously, about all these incredible women getting to fulfil their once unobtainable career goals, and in doing so paving the way for other disabled actors to follow suit. I’ll be honest, though, my life hasn’t changed since TV became more inclusive.

I’m still facing a PIP assessment. I’ve still got to contest my daughter’s refused DLA claim. I’m still saving up to hire someone to repaint my bathroom after a dodgy job (at 4ft I can’t quite reach to do it myself), I still need to get a stack of clothes altered to fit, because the legs and arms are always too long. 

I still need to raise funds to learn to drive (adapted cars and specialist lessons are expensive for those of us not on certain benefits) and yep, I still get filmed by strangers for doing something as ordinary as walking down the street with my mate. 

I’m still mocked, regularly, for my existence. And make no mistake, I’m very privileged within my community, because unlike many disabled people, I don’t (yet) have to worry too much about rising energy prices, losing my home, or not finding accessible work. 

As a white woman, I don’t experience racism and as an educated middle-class person, I’m able to advocate for myself in most contexts.

The truth is, representation is great, especially for younger generations, like my kids and their peers. Normalising not only the existence but also the skills and the range of disabled people in the media is vital and long overdue. 

But it’s not everything, and sometimes I worry that in fighting so much for representation – and celebrating those wins so loudly – we’re losing energy and focus for the bigger, more threatening fights our community is facing.  

The UK has been on the brink of recession since the Tories came into power, there isn’t nearly enough social housing (let alone accessible housing that meets the government’s safety standards) for everyone that needs it, energy bills are forcing people to choose between food and hot water, and healthcare – what healthcare?!

It’s a mess, and this class war and austerity crisis affects poor disabled people the most. Poor disabled people who are fighting – quite literally – for their lives in an environment so hostile and inaccessible that the barriers in place drastically and dangerously affect their quality of life. 

Meryl a woman with dwarfism standing in front of two people in cloaks with their faces covered by hood. They are all in front of a castle
Meryl Williams in The Traitors

Do I think seeing more women with dwarfism – or by extension, disabled people – in the entertainment industry is good? Yes. 

Do I think it could open further doors for other disabled people wanting to pursue similar careers? Yes. 

Do I think it might help disabled people to feel less alone, identifying with someone that looks like them on-screen? Definitely.

Do I think it will improve the quality of life of disabled people? No, not directly.

And that’s what we need, first and foremost. Improved quality of life, For all disabled people, but particularly those struggling the most. 

When we start our advocacy for people at the bottom, we can ensure those who are most affected are receiving the most support possible – and by extension, this will help people who are more privileged too. 

For example, changing the benefits system to better serve its most vulnerable claimants would, by extension, help those who are less vulnerable too (including me and my kid!)

It might not be super simple, but we all have the power to apply some kind of pressure, get our local councillors involved, write to our MPs, join advisory boards, join meetings, fundraise, change policies. No matter how small the contribution, no matter how local. It helps. 

So yes, by all means, let’s keep demanding and celebrating representation. Let’s keep having those conversations and making people see that we’re valuable and need to be in every room.

But let’s also use those representation wins to start demanding better for those in our community that aren’t lucky enough to hold the spotlight. 

Let’s direct the bulk of our vim towards the bigger fights, let’s shout about the danger disabled people face – the housing and healthcare and constant violent ableism.

We can celebrate later. Our community needs us.

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My wheelchair was supposed to give me freedom, but inaccessible transport means I am still restricted. 

By Marie Blackett / 2023-02-22
Posted in

Picture the scene. You’re on a bus. You’ve got your headphones on and you’re in your own little world, enjoying the trip. The bus slows and pulls up to a bus stop where a wheelchair user is waiting to board. How do you feel? 

If you’re me, your heart drops.

Because I’m already sitting, in my wheelchair, occupying the only spot that a wheelchair user can use, and I know that they are going to get denied access to the bus because I’m already there. The guilt is horrific.

This happened to me recently on a bus route where the services are once every two hours. The flash of intense guilt as we made eye contact was an utter gut punch.

Thankfully, because my chair can fold and I had someone with me to assist, I was able to transfer to a seat, fold my chair, and get my fellow wheelie on the bus. 

The other wheelchair user was so grateful and so thankful. He was on his way to a hospital appointment. If I couldn’t have made room for him, he would have missed vital treatment. 

Not being able to get on a bus is more than an inconvenience, it has real-world impacts.

I’ve been the other wheelchair user, watching a bus leave without me on it whilst I’m left figuring out what I’m going to do, how I’m going to make it to my destination on time.

It’s the reason why if I can possibly make it on my own wheels I will, even if it takes me longer or is less comfortable. 

But as a non-driver, I often have no choice but to get a bus. I almost always get the bus before the one I really need, so if I can’t get on the first time, I’ve got a second crack at it.

If I can’t do that, I turn up ridiculously early to be at the front of the queue, ready to claim the space.

It’s easy in these situations to begin to blame your wheelchair. “If I wasn’t a wheelchair user, I could have got on that bus” is a thought that violently intrudes into my headspace.

But then I remember: if I wasn’t a wheelchair user, I wouldn’t even make it to this bus stop to be denied access to this bus. And that’s where the frustration lies.

My wheelchair was supposed to give me freedom but inaccessible transport means I am *still* restricted. 

I would be lying if I said my wheelchair hasn’t given me the ability to do things and go places I previously couldn’t. My wonderful wheels, who I affectionately refer to as Lottie, have opened up a world for me that had previously been shrinking seemingly by the day. 

But it could still be so much more if the accessibility of the transport that non-disabled people took for granted was given more than the bare minimum. 

My choice of university was restricted to one because a frequent commute via train with an unreliable assistance system was not feasible. 

My ability to access healthcare is restricted by the timetable of the aforementioned two hourly bus services.

It’s not made better by the fact I’ve been treated so horrifically by staff at the nearest train station to the hospital my specialist is based that I can’t go there alone anymore. 

I made so many incredible friends during the pandemic that I’d love to meet in person but I cannot face taking a train due to traumatic experiences trying to access rail assistance, and the alternatives, such as coaches are not reliably accessible. 

My ability to begin to build a career in my chosen field of heritage spaces, museums, and archives feels in jeopardy because right now travel is too much of a battle for me to face, so I can’t visit these sites and build up my knowledge and passion to take forward into a career in this space. 

Every area of my life is hampered by the fact that travel using public transport is a frustratingly inaccessible and often traumatic experience. 

And sadly it’s a situation that I don’t see changing soon. The UK government have promised better access to public transport in their 2021 National Disability Strategy. 

Not only was the strategy deemed unlawful in 2022 by the High Court for its failure to properly consult disabled people, but so far the Department for Levelling Up has failed to announce any measures to begin to tackle the systemic inequality we face within transport. 

It’s 2023. There are approximately one million wheelchair users in the UK. Buses having one space, that we’re also (incorrectly) expected to share with other groups, is absolutely ludicrous. 

Two wheelchair users wanting to travel on the same bus at the same time shouldn’t be hard. We deserve the same freedom to travel that non-disabled people enjoy.

My wheelchair, a tool of independence and freedom, could be bringing me so much more if society deemed to give me more than the bare minimum. 

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My life as a disabled digital nomad

By Hannah Shewan Stevens / 2023-02-20
Posted in

I am a disabled digital nomad travelling the world on a full-time and (hopefully) permanent basis. 

After the combined power of a mental health crisis and the coronavirus pandemic decimated my income, I worked seven-day weeks in an effort to achieve a career milestone of becoming a full-time editor before turning 30. 

Then, when an opportunity arose to fulfil that dream, I realised that signing up for a 9 to 5 and a stable income had become my worst nightmare. The concept felt confining instead of freeing. So, I turned my attention to another one that I shelved long ago: being a digital nomad. 

Thanks to a myriad of complicated and disabling chronic illnesses, I locked up the dream a long, long time ago. Over the years, naysayers had transformed the goal from a tricky possibility into an absolute impossibility. 

I never thought that I would revive it. But, in 2021, I was diagnosed with endometriosis after living with the symptoms for 15 years. The following surgery drastically reduced the amount of pain I live with and made my symptoms more manageable than they had been since age 14. 

Chronic pain and occasional mobility struggles are still a daily reality but the surgery cracked the lock on that box and out came the dream. Battling the fear was difficult, though. I could not shake the voices telling me that a disabled person could not be a digital nomad.

I never eradicated the fear entirely but I did take a leap into the unknown to relinquish its control over my life. 10 months ago, I packed my bags and boarded a one-way flight to South East Asia. It has been the hardest and most rewarding experience of my life. Somehow the terrifying unknown has become a trusted friend.  

Freeing myself from the belief that chronic illness makes travel impossible opened up my mind to endless possibilities. There are, of course, always barriers for disabled travellers. 

hannah a white woman with black hair in front of a green umbrella at night

Accessibility is limited across South East Asia and I am privileged to be mobile enough to visit remote regions in spite of this. 

While countless disabled people sit on street corners selling whatever they can or asking for donations, accessibility is largely ignored in the infrastructure. 

That definitely took some getting used to and I still struggle with the overwhelming sadness I feel for disabled people living without support or access in some of the places I have visited.

Finding reliable medical support and securing comprehensive insurance is also difficult because doctors are scarcer and pre-existing conditions trigger a markup in prices. 

Starting in Bangkok, I have spent the last six months circling between my favourite places in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. I keep falling in love with every place and feel a magnetic pull connecting me to South East Asia whenever I consider leaving. 

In Thailand, I hiked to the top of my favourite island Koh Phangnan, swam for hours off the coast, and spent hours navigating Bangkok’s winding streets. While visiting the North, I learned how to ride a moped and spent hours exploring the winding hills of Pai, and sampled the unbelievably tasty food in Chiang Mai. 

During my month in Cambodia, I ticked a major item off of my bucket list by clambering around the temples of the Angkor Wat complex. 

hannah a white woman in front of a tall tired house

Even in the baking heat, my body withstood the strain and chronic fatigue held off to allow me to soak up every second. And, because I am slow travelling, meaning I prioritise building meaningful connections with places and the people rather than jumping to a new place after hitting the tourist sites, I took several rest days afterwards to recover. 

Travelling around Vietnam, I took on hikes to mindblowing viewpoints, went ziplining, explored caves in Phong Nha, and spent hours exploring remote regions in Ninh Binh on a tiny boat rowed by an ancient woman with powerful arms.  

I never thought my chronically ill body would be capable of doing these things. But here I am, living a dream that I thought would never see the light of day. 

When I first set off, my anxious brain was convinced that I would be back on a return flight within a few months. Now, I have no intention of returning to England before the end of 2023 and, even then, it will be for a short visit before I set off to explore a new continent. 

Starting out, I feared that the lifestyle would compromise my health and worsen my symptoms. Incredibly, it has done the opposite. Although I still deal with high levels of pain and occasionally reduced mobility, my overall health is better than its been since I was a small child and I experience far fewer flare-ups. 

My mobility is better because I am more dedicated to regular physiotherapy, exercise consistently and eat a healthier diet than I ever did at home. I drink less and sleep more too. 

Modifying my work schedule has had the biggest impact. I was working myself into a constant state of burnout at home because I needed to make more money to cover the UK’s higher cost of living. On the road, with savings as a safety net, I work a maximum of three to four days per week and my health is benefiting greatly from it. 

Of course, there are still challenges involved. I am often travelling with people who are non-disabled and it’s hard to take a rest day when your friends are off exploring.

It’s a slow process but I am getting better and prioritising my health over new adventures by opening up to new people about my chronic illnesses and unashamedly taking rest days when necessary. 

Managing flare-ups solo is also daunting. The first time I got severely ill, I caught Covid in Hanoi, Vietnam and I spent hours looking at flights home so I could be with family. But I persevered, navigated the Vietnamese hospital system and got the treatment I needed. 

While spending just under two weeks alone in an Airbnb sucked, I am proud of myself for sticking it out and continuing the digital nomad adventure. 

I’ve visited so many amazing places and who knows where this year will take me.

All I know is that I do not want to live in England again and I am completely at peace with my life. My illnesses may be incurable but so is my passion for travel.

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Kaylea Titford’s neglect was appalling- yet media focused on her weight

By Alex Birch / 2023-02-14
Posted in

Trigger warning: this piece contains descriptions of death of a disabled person by neglect and fatphobia in the media surrounding the Kaylea Titford case. Please take care and only read if you feel able.

When I first read about the death of Kaylea Titford, I was shocked: both by the deep neglect she experienced—culminating in her passing at her home in Wales in October 2019, aged just 16—and at how misleading the headlines were.

Parents killed girl by letting her become obese” Announced BBC News, The Evening standard declared “Father of obese teenager found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.” 

Kaylea was a disabled girl born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus who lived and died in appalling conditions because her parents—enabled by a society that consistently devalues disabled lives—chose not to prioritise her care. 

Yet the mainstream media’s primary concern seemed to be that Kaylea was ‘obese’. 

Kaylea was once an enthusiastic wheelchair basketball player who attended a mainstream school. But during the first lockdown of 2019, it seems like her parents gave up on helping their young daughter lead a dignified and independent life.

Kaylea was confined to her bed between March and October 2019. Her hoist was left to gather cobwebs; her too-small wheelchair was used as a dumping ground for clutter. 

When Kaylea’s mother finally sought medical attention for her, months into lockdown, she was dead. Paramedics found Kaylea’s body covered in bed sores so badly infected that maggots were present while she was still alive. She hadn’t been washed properly in weeks.

Kaylea Titford was literally left to rot—an outrageous way to treat any child. A jury has recognised this, and her parents will be sentenced for manslaughter in March. 

Notice how I’ve managed to write up to here without describing Titford as ‘morbidly obese’, or any other scary-sounding term for ‘very fat’?

That’s because centring Kaylea’s fatness in the story of how she was neglected to death is a choice—and a problematic one. 

Having reported on anti-fat bias in the past, I’ve been struck by its pervasiveness in media coverage of Kaylea’s death. 

I’m not saying her weight was completely irrelevant. It is well known that when a person’s body carries very large amounts of fat, this can lead to health issues. Moreover, Kaylea’s weight was significant in the arguments made against her parents at trial. 

But clickbait coverage has allowed her fatness to dominate the story to the point where other important details are ignored

For example, a Sky News report listed Kaylea’s weight stats and her family’s favourite types of takeaway well before getting around to mentioning that she hadn’t been properly washed in weeks. 

How Sky News reported the case

To get that information, the reader would need to scroll down considerably, because it’s eleven paragraphs in—further than most readers, who rely on headlines, will read. 

Failing to deal with hygiene was clearly one of the main ways that Kaylea’s mother and father failed her. Surely, that shouldn’t be treated as an accessory detail? 

Disappointingly, The Guardian has also lent a veneer of credibility to the sensationalistic ‘killed by obesity’ angle with “Kaylea Titford’s father found guilty of killing her by letting her become obese” 

Not only did their report use a misleading headline, but it compared the case with that of Christina Corrigan, an American girl who died aged just 13 after losing mobility due to her body weight (which was over double Kaylea’s). 

The media used the case to launch a ‘debate’ about whether having a fat child should be considered ‘child abuse’. Corrigan’s mother was ultimately found guilty of child neglect.

Highlighting the ‘similarity’ of the cases risks reinforcing the idea that Kaylea’s death (and her parents’ inadequate care) was ‘about fat’. Perhaps the main similarity is that both Kaylea and Christina were both ‘obese’ girls with untreated bedsores—a skin problem that can turn deadly in people of all sizes. 

Untreated bedsores have been found in numerous cases of disabled people who died after being neglected by their carers. 

But there has been little journalistic interest in connecting what happened to Kaylea with other disabled people in the UK who have been neglected to death. To name just one example, Deborah Leitch, a young woman with Down Syndrome whose mum allowed her to die from starvation and untreated scabies in 2019.

The people who propagate this disgust often claim they are trying to help people by discouraging ‘unhealthy lifestyles’. But in practice, anti-fat stigma and prejudice can actually harm people’s health

In the quest for clicks, news sites have dehumanised Kaylea, depicting her as ‘obese’ first, and a person second. 

Aside from being cruel, research evidence suggests that stigmatising media coverage of ‘obesity’ does not help fat people lose weight. Its real purpose? 

To drum up outrage and prejudice—and in this context, to decontextualise Kaylea’s death from a wider trend of crimes against disabled people, fat, thin, and everywhere in between. 

Why has Kaylea’s story been so misrepresented? Why has it been divorced from this context? 

Above all, I believe the cause is a society that moralises fatness and treats fat bodies—and the lifestyle choices that are assumed to create them—with disgust. 

Kaylea Titford’s parents abused their power by withholding basic care from their daughter for months on end. 

Kaylea deserved much better in life. In death, the least that we can do for her is fight against her memory being reduced to a modern-day freakshow.

A reminder that The Unwritten’s founder and editor Rachel Charlton-Dailey is running a campaign to expose media ableism and get everyone to report ableism to IPSO in order to show we need guidelines for reporting disability. Rachel has created a guide to complaining here.

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The Media’s Constant Cry That ADHD Isn’t Real is Deliberately Ableist Misinformation

By Charli Clement / 2023-02-06
Posted in

White middle-aged men gatekeeping ADHD is not new, but the floods seem to have opened over the past week and every outlet is suddenly crying out about this “epidemic”.

Except it’s not an epidemic, is it? Because ADHD isn’t an illness, and it’s not true that everyone is suddenly qualifying for a diagnosis.

Most of these articles talk about ADHD being the latest “trendy mental health condition” – but it’s not a mental health condition, showing from the very first sentence that they have no idea. 

Of course, we have seen an uptake in diagnosis. It comes from a variety of factors – ones that make perfect sense, unless you’re trying to whip up outrage and misinformation in the Mail. 

We know that marginalised people have been chronically underdiagnosed with neurodivergences like ADHD and autism, and that these represent a large amount of those seeking diagnosis at this point in time.

And I’m sure this weekend’s slew of “ADHD isn’t real” articles has nothing to do with the parliamentary debate this week… right?

I was one of many who discovered their ADHD during the pandemic. Six years after my autism diagnosis, and six years of expressing to doctors how busy was brain was (“it’s autism-associated anxiety and depression!)

I spent my second year of university chained to my desk, totally unable to do my work.

I was experiencing executive dysfunction, internal hyperactivity, emotional dysregulation and more. I had been feeling this way for years, particularly at sixth form when there was less structure, but the way the pandemic took any semblance of routine or real life meant it all came to forefront and was less masked.

These articles are predictable, now. They tend to go one of two ways – “beware of the TikTok generation!” or “private doctors are diagnosing everyone!”. 

Waiting lists for ADHD diagnosis can be anywhere from two to seven years in the UK. Many of us are actively encouraged to go private if we can, and others go through Right to Choose – where the NHS funds a private diagnosis.

So, I’m sure diagnoses being made are overwhelmingly private. But you don’t go through the process – one with hours of exhausting self-advocacy, hours of admin, and where you have to continually talk about your trauma – unless you’re pretty damn sure that you need to. 

The idea that doctors are diagnosing everyone and anyone is deliberate misinformation. 

We wait years, beg to be listened to, fill in endless inaccessible forms before we can even sit in that chair. Even then, you have to go through what feels like a never-ending assessment discussing every bit of your past, evaluating all your worst days and difficulties.

Some journalists are insisting that surely everyone must have these traits! Who doesn’t lose concentration sometimes? 

Except – ADHD diagnosis has never been about traits that other people can’t have. We aren’t aliens. The point is the level of impact on our daily lives – the way traits are long-term and have a significant effect, and are present since childhood. 

To pretend that everyone is experiencing that is gaslighting those people into believing they don’t need support.

And yes, TikTok is having an impact. But so has Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr. Blaming a platform just because it’s full of Gen Z’s is hardly evidence – and is it any surprise that ADHDers are overrepresented on a social media platform that is essentially a dopamine slot machine? 

There is an issue of TikTok trivialising certain ADHD traits, I won’t pretend there isn’t. But people who are discovering themselves isn’t inherently a problem – especially when the school system certainly isn’t going to do it for them.

Besides, a few teenagers saying “maybe I have ADHD then!” in a few comment sections when they don’t isn’t the downfall of the NHS.

One of the latest articles made a similar argument to this – saying the uptake in ADHD diagnoses is overstretching services and that we need “less awareness”. 

If an increase in neurodivergent people seeking diagnosis is the downfall of the healthcare system of one of the richest countries in the world, maybe that should be blamed on the government instead? 

Services have been overstretched before this increase – that’s the product of a system that has been continually decimated and underfunded by a government that doesn’t care whether you’ve got ADHD, a broken leg, or pneumonia. 

Demonising those who are seeking support rather than those slashing funding is misguided at best, and intentionally dangerous and ableist at worst. 

If you are someone who wants to seek a diagnosis but these articles are putting you off, remember that they are written by people with no lived experience and no stake in the topic. The pedaling of click-bait ableism does not take away your realities. 

Finally, to my fellow ADHDers – you are valid, and your struggles are real. You deserve the help and support you need. 

We are not scapegoats for a system that governments have intentionally broken down.

If like me you are sick of the constant ableism in the media, Unwritten founder and Editor Rachel Charlton-Dailey is running a campaign to expose media ableism and get everyone to report ableism to IPSO called #MediaAbleismWatch

Last week IPSO told Rachel there wasn’t a remit for guidelines on reporting disability, so let’s give them one. Rachel has created a guide to complaining here.

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The post The Media’s Constant Cry That ADHD Isn’t Real is Deliberately Ableist Misinformation appeared first on The Unwritten.


Editors Notes: IPSO Told me Nobody Complains About the UK Media’s Ableism- so Let’s Prove Them Wrong

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey / 2023-02-06
Posted in

One of my goals this year is to make a lasting change in the reporting of disability in the media. So when I secured a meeting with the head of standards and regulation at the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) about guidelines for reporting disability I thought I was one step closer. Oh, how wrong I was.

IPSO regulates some of the biggest papers in the UK, including Daily Mail, The Sun, The Times, The Telegraph, and Metro – some of the worst offenders in the last decade of casual and downright overt ableism.

But instead of discussing potentially coming up with guidance, I was told by the biggest print media regulator in the UK that there was no remit for this.

Because apparently, nobody complains about the way the media writes about disabled people in this country.

Now you and I both know that isn’t correct, and when I drilled down into that, it was actually that they’ve never had enough complaints about one specific instance of ableism in the media to make a ruling.

But this is what happens when it’s a systemic problem and the majority of what is reported about us is bad. 

Unlike other movements, there are no specific catalysts for the discrimination we receive on a daily basis. It’s become such a normal part of society to see disability as one of the worst things that can happen to someone, a narrative to which the press has massively attributed.

Ableism in the media happens every single day. In small ways like the language that suggests disabled people are suffering or that we’re inspirational. Then there are the ingrained ways we’ve seen for decades such as how the press massively contributed to the narrative that everyone on benefits are scroungers and faking to not have to work.

Then more recently is the really really harmful way that columnists and experts are given inches to proclaim that chronic and neurodivergent conditions aren’t real and are inspired by TikTok trends.

I see this belief often and as someone who has been misunderstood and derided most of their life over their conditions I can’t explain the untold damage it does.

These narratives also don’t ask why so many people are suddenly seeing themselves in social media posts after years of thinking they were just “weird” or being gaslit by professionals,

While the Head of Standards agreed with me that there is always lots of outrage on social media when a paper is ableist, she said it doesn’t translate into complaints.

So, I need your help to send a message to IPSO and mainstream media that the way they write about disability and the message they spread to their mostly non-disabled readership is not okay. 

On the same day as my meeting, Daily Mail published “why are so many adults being diagnosed with ADHD now?” Then at the weekend, a columnist at The Times wrote “I’m sorry but all this ADHD doesn’t add up”

screenshot of an article by Dominic Lawson with title “I’m sorry, but all this ADHD doesn’t add up. Celebrities have helped convinced us that we all need an ‘illness identity’”.
Image courtesy of Charli who wrote an excellent thread on this

It’s by no means just these two publications or just about ADHD, but IPSO needs to reach a threshold of complaints and ADHD seems to be the easy target at the minute.

So, if IPSO wants complaints we need to give them some.

Here’s how to make a complaint about either or both of them:

Go to this link

In section 1: on click material published in print and/ or online click online for Daily Mail and both for The Times and write the publication name Daily Mail or The Times.

In section 2: click no on previously contacted publication 

For the Mail complaint

Headline: Why are so many adults now being diagnosed with ADHD? 

Date: 30/01/23 


For The Times complaint

Headline: I’m sorry but all this ADHD doesn’t add up

Date: 05/02/22


In section 3: For clauses breached click 12 discrimination and then on the next page, write your own reasons for the complaint or copy and paste from the templates I created below.

For the Daily Mail article, you can use this template.

And for The Times one, I created this template:

Finally, fill in your details, review and send!

Please share this widely with your networks, pals and communities using the hashtag #MediaAbleismWatch. If you want to share this all on Twitter, I have a quick tweet you can share, or a thread about The Times piece and one about the Mail one.

I know that these things take emotional, mental and physical energy so please only do so if you can, a share on social media would also be massively appreciated if you don’t have the capacity to complain.

The burden shouldn’t fall on us to do this and it shouldn’t take us complaining for it to be changed. But we need to take a stand. 

Let’s show them how loud our voices can be

In solidarity 


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The post Editors Notes: IPSO Told me Nobody Complains About the UK Media’s Ableism- so Let’s Prove Them Wrong appeared first on The Unwritten.


Christina Applegate and the Power of Disabled Hollywood Stars

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey / 2023-01-24
Posted in

Christina Applegate has rarely been off our screens throughout the different eras of her life and ours. After emerging in commercials and a soap opera as a child, she played a teenager on the successful and long-running American sitcom Married with Children. Then, she won an Emmy for her guest appearance on Friends. Other starring roles have included the Anchorman films.  

Over several years, as she recounts it, the tingling and numbness she was experiencing worsened. Finally, she was diagnosed during filming for another successful TV show, Dead to Me, that captured another era of life. She had Multiple Sclerosis.   

This ever-presence in our lives gives an influential and compelling power. In a world where disabled people don’t control their narratives, the disabled celebrity might be the most revolutionary of digital storytellers.   

There’s an artificial intimacy between celebrity and observer, particularly because stars like Applegate have acted since infancy, meaning our lives have been wrapped around theirs for decades.  

So, they can shape their narratives and speak on their terms. Still, celebrities have a knack for making individuals feel seen and understood — even if it’s only a fleeting illusion of intimacy. Thus, celebrities as digital storytellers can be gritty, honest, tough and tender.  

Hollywood celebrities like Christina Applegate are expanding representation — with an intimate, up close, staring-at-you-right-in-the-face honesty about the reality of having a disability.    

Even if just in a moment of recognition when you see the brand of the cane she uses – Neo Walk by the way – or that she has found that elusive thing: a durable, practical and attractive shoe — the power remains with her.  

The way that Applegate offers snippets of her life feels important. That she can reflect honestly on living with a disability in her own words and can share her hard-fought lessons.  

In her current social media presence, deeper truths are conveyed than most media will permit: the media only allows for archetypes or binaries. So often, non-disabled people don’t think of disabled people as complex human beings with conflicting emotions or of the nitty-gritty disabled mind.    

Honesty such as this is essential: “This is the first time anyone’s going to see me the way I am,” she said. “I put on 40 pounds; I can’t walk without a cane. I want people to know that I am very aware of all of that.”  

Seeing those differences in your reflection can be jarring, and seeing how those differences are warped on social media is more so. 

To be a disabled woman is to be fair game. When Applegate shared her exchange with a troll, who accused her of getting ‘bad plastic surgery.’ It felt commonplace — an everyday piece of ableism that doesn’t quite land how it used to; or should.    

In a newspaper interview, Applegate said of the acceptance process: “it’s not like I came on the other side of it, like, ‘Woohoo, I’m totally fine,’” she declared. “Acceptance? No. I’m never going to accept this. I’m pissed.”   

It reminds me of something I said at 16 and will resonate with many disabled people: I couldn’t have a moment of ‘I don’t wanna do this.’ My younger self never articulated anger about my condition and what it stripped away; to say, “I’m pissed”, would have elicited lectures about how I simply didn’t have a choice. 

There was no time to process the medical interventions littered throughout my youth. That repression or resentment, or some of it, would’ve been healed rather beautifully by a cathartic ability to say at intervals: fuck this.  

Scathing honesty is essential because so much of the disabled experience is hidden — we’re taught to hide and downplay it. 

The scraped-back hair, the bone-deep exhaustion, the days spent in darkness because you pushed, the lethargy that sets into your limbs, the fog, the coldness of your bathroom tiles as you collapse from exhaustion.     

Fame is an evergreen, often bleak subject for the camera. But there’s a growing honesty when it comes to those staring-at-you-right-in-the-face moments. 

For example, Selena Gomez sharing her experience with lupus. The snippets that the public received mainly focused on her mental health, which includes a bipolar disorder diagnosis.    

Disabled Hollywood stars, whose voices and faces have defined generations, from Michael J. Fox to Selma Blair, are telling their human stories through photoshoots, candid, confessional interviews, public appearances and red-carpet walks. 

They are splintering those stereotypes, archetypes and old Hollywood ideals — with plainspokenness.  

Christina Applegate, Selena Gomez, Selma Blair and Michael J. Fox might be the forerunners for something which will continue to develop. 

More intimate, up close, staring-at-you-right-in-the-face disabled celebrities who can continue to move through the world on their terms enable us to do the same. 

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How Waterloo Road is Normalising Disability in Mainstream Schools

By Faith Martin / 2023-01-23
Posted in

Waterloo Road is back and more explosive than ever before. After seven years away, the BBC fan favourite high school soap has returned to our screens, tackling the issues of modern-day living that affect young people up and down the country. 

Something the show has always been at the forefront of though, compared to its counterparts is representing disability in a mainstream school setting. 

Since its arrival in 2006, Waterloo Road has made a real impact with its highlighting of disability issues. With characters such as Carla Bentham, a young autistic girl who was at first struggling in school and someone who it seemed the mainstream education system simply could not support. However, viewers saw things turn a corner for Carla when she was given the proper assistance to facilitate her learning. 

There was also Tariq Siddiqui who was left paralysed after a car accident causing him to be a full-time wheelchair user. The show depicted his difficult journey to eventually accepting his disability. Waterloo Road has also tackled storylines around conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD and Multiple Sclerosis.

The new series however seems to be taking its disability representation to new heights with both disabled students and teachers helping to end the stigma that surrounds disability and mainstream education. 

As someone who first attended an SEN school before experiencing the mainstream education system, I know first-hand how different the two setups are in contrast and how detrimental it can be if you’re placed in a setting that isn’t fully equipped to deal with both your disability and your level of academic understanding. 

I’m also fully aware of what it can feel like as the only disabled kid in the class. Anxiety-inducing, intimidating, odd and uncomfortable are all words that come to mind when I think about my time at school. 

Considering I left secondary school just 5 years ago, it’s still surprising to me that even back then most people just didn’t understand my disability or cast me aside.

Unfortunately for me, disability representation wasn’t really spearheaded when it came to tv shows growing up. 

Sure there was the odd soap character here and there or some horrendously depressing depiction of being disabled that was used for the viewer’s pity, but nothing that taught a 15-year-old me how to navigate boys, body image or education whilst juggling the attitudes towards disability that I didn’t even fully understand myself yet.

Skip forward to now though, and Waterloo Road is showing both disabled students and teachers in a way that teaches newer generations to forgo the social awkwardness of disability and embrace it as a simple fact of life for millions of people up and down the country. 

Characters such as Wendy Whitwell who is the headmaster’s assistant in the show (played by Jo Coffey, a disabled actress and comedian) is frequently seen using her mobility scooter to get around the school, whilst her witty one-liners have made her character a fan favourite overnight. 

The big difference with this calibre of representation is its subtlety, which is also where the magic lies. Wendy’s disability hasn’t even been mentioned in the first seven episodes, only a mere gesture to her mobility scooter even hints at the idea. 

Caz Williams (Lucy Begg), a pupil in the show, is seen using both crutches and a wheelchair in various scenes. Again this is something that isn’t brought up or made into a feature, It’s just a factor that is so ingrained into normality on the show.

It doesn’t feel like a big deal that a disabled person could be employed in a school setting or that a disabled student was well integrated into school life. In fact it almost feels as if it’s something you should see every day. 

Some might say by not explicitly mentioning it you’re perhaps losing a more direct storyline, but personally, I think the fact it’s in the viewer’s subconscious is much more impactful. 

I think for many disabled young people today, shows like Waterloo Road are providing both a platform to be understood and included. But it’s also a space where something that can feel like a huge deal at that age, is unpacked for what it is. The human experience for millions of other school-age children. 

The idea that disability can just exist in spaces that were not necessarily designed for us a few years ago feels much more progressive. Hopefully, it will start to become normalised to see a disabled person on television rather than a big triumph of diversity. 

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