Disability symbolises everything we cannot do, equality symbolises everything that, in an ideal world, we want to do, and equity is what
I want equity, not equality!
TEDxYouth@BrayfordPool, Being Human, 2019
"Write about your journey" they said.
"People need to know who you are as a professional."
So I guess, what you won't want to know is; how many times I've been stranded in places nobody should ever be stranded, how many times a day I wonder if the bright, sparky idea I've just had is the work of a genius or whether it'll lead to certain death, and how many times I've forgotten to charge my wheelchair which, almost always leads to being stranded in the middle of nowhere with certain death rapidly approaching. These are not conventional opening lines of a professional bio but it is how most of my tales begin. If you hop on-board with ijot, I can guarantee, we'll find ourselves somewhere unexpected ready to concoct a beautiful plan to change the world. Sometimes, we've got to forge our own path.
For many years, I was consumed by the label of 'being disabled'. It was the card I was dealt so that's what I had to be because that's what society had taught me to be. I didn’t expect people to pity me, instead, I ran for the hills. I convinced myself that my dysfunctional limbs and six wheels didn’t need to be a part of me because if I allowed any hint of the 'D word' to meaningfully enter my sphere, I'd be defined by it…And disability shouldn’t define anyone.
Dismissing an aspect of who you are, especially when it's so visible, is counterproductive. My statement to the world regarding my cerebral palsy echoed and exuded the same confusion that society has towards disability in general. We were in a catch 22 situation. Neither party had the courage or awareness to look ourselves in the mirror and have a frank conversation about all the 'what ifs' the world had to offer: What if our conversation caught on fire? What if sheer terror sends us into orbit? What if we're judged? What if we deeply soul search to discover what we want the future of disability to be?
Without a doubt, society has come a long way since it was considered the norm that people with disabilities shouldn’t be seen or heard, and for this I am grateful. That said, we've reached a sticking point. Equality Acts in their various guises, have given disabled communities rights which offer us far more than what we were once entitled to. On paper, we are now seen as equal to our non-disabled peers. In reality though, the overarching emotion is still fear…Fear from society that they may say something to offend us; fear from disabled people that even with societal evolution, we will never fit in.
This is where ijot bridges the gap.
Forging your own path or, as I like to call it, dancing in your own lane, is the greatest thing you can ever do.
After ten years of wading through the 'what if' sea, I set aside my flippers in place of ballet shoes on the TEDxBrayfordPool stage. In a space where there's only room for dancing and no room for doubt, I advocated for disability, equity and diversity. I'll let my Talk speak for itself here; however, to unashamedly quote Brené Brown, my 'red dot debut' was the catalyst for a "breakdown/spiritual awakening…" I realised that my trepidation of mid-flight spontaneous combustion, was less about what people thought of me and more about my inability to reconcile my self-image with the message I wanted to share. Until that point, I didn’t know how to use my voice to influence change for myself or anyone else. This vicious circle had to end, so I joined fellow activists to reshape the discourse.
With immense gratitude to the spotlight of TED, I now collaborate with individuals and organisations on a local, national and international level to promote equity above equality. By shifting the focus of the conversation from the principles of what we can do based on the rights we've been granted, towards who we are innately supposed to be, we promote true inclusivity and equity within a diverse world. Whilst the concept of equality has given us the chance to have our voice heard, equity gives us the confidence to discover what our voice sounds like and the core values that project from it. Equity is synonymous with freedom; the freedom of self-acceptance and autonomy. Through introducing this ideal to disabled communities and beyond, universal paradigms begin to shift. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we have the liberty to choose who we want to become. Then, with an inevitable vibrancy, our inner-advocate is unleashed.
Through empowering people with disabilities to craft a world which embraces equity and diversity, ijot creates holistic communication founded upon authentic inclusivity. I believe that when accurate representation is illuminated, societal views of what it means to be disabled organically evolve to encompass perceptions which are no longer governed by the mythical limitations of labels.
Here lies the essence of ijot
Empowering people with disabilities to craft a world which embraces equity and diversity.
ijot prides itself on being a multidisciplinary organisation which is driven to break down the barriers of disability with society and culture. To give you a taste of what we do, below are brief summaries of our current projects and consultancies.
ijot in orbit with
Maisie's Magic Wheels
From orbiting the stage to orbiting the page; ijot is the advisory body for what we hope will be a bestseller. When author and all-round creative, Julie Fox was on the lookout for disability consultants to edit her series of children's books, we flew into action.
Julie's protagonist is Maisie, an ordinary girl with an extraordinary superpower – she just so happens to ride on wheels. By joining forces, we endeavour to inspire disability positivity. In everyday life, wheelchairs do not fly, however; our mission is to depict the diversity that lies within humanity through ensuring that disability is represented and normalised in literature for children of all ages.
Maisie is a multitalented character; therefore, it's only right that we should lift her from the page and onto the stage. With the help of theatrical events company, Curious Creations, it is our dream that she and her magical wheels will be transformed into a theatre production to illustrate the significance of disability integration. In a Research and Development project, we will take Maisie into schools and out on the streets to open up a conversation and dispel the myths around what it means to be disabled. We trust in power of creativity to change perspectives and we know that Maisie is a catalyst for this.
The Nora Project
Here at ijot , we take the 'go big or go home' approach to life. Let's face it, if our plan is to change the world, we can't be averse to travelling it. So we went to Chicago – virtually –amidst a pandemic, to meet The Nora Project (TNP).
TNP was founded to demystify disability. They know first-hand (as do we) that disability exists and that everyone will experience it but how people perceive it will radically inform the inclusivity of society. With an Ability Inclusive Mindset, they are teaching children across the States to AIM higher by embedding disability, empathy and inclusion studies into the American education system.
"Can we collaborate?" we asked, and from the moment they gave us the nod, we've been like kids in a candy store. In partnership with TNP and our funding associate Creative Rebel CIC, we are developing a coaching initiative throughout disabled communities for teachers, mentors and mentees alike. Graduates of the forthcoming programme will have; harnessed their relationship kills, know the freedom attributed to telling their own story and captured an inner belief which allows them to be authentically themselves in an accepting society. We collectively strive for disability to be seen for its benefits to everyone and not as a problem that needs to be fixed.
ijot and a collaboration on the move
Speaking of travelling; in 2019, as I, Jo Tolley went into orbit on the TEDxBrayfordPool stage, there in the audience sat Matina Tsiora who was looking for a partner in crime. The then Director of Sensory Traveller Holidays was seeking an Accessible Travel Consultant because, it may surprise you to know that no matter how picturesque a view is, it can't always be enjoyed by everyone.
In turn, a professional and personal relationship blossomed. University lectures were given and blogs were written about everything from the determination it can take for someone with a disability to successfully make it out of the front door, to the orienteering qualification that must be procured in order to navigate Istanbul airport.
We passionately want to spread the message that travel doesn’t simply connote the luxury of sun, sea, and Sangria. A trip to the local shop can evoke the same sense of independence and autonomy for someone with a disability as a week in Honolulu. In these uncertain times, adaptability is paramount, so whilst we may not be able to jet-set, we can stay connected. In collaboration, ijot and Matina; a holistic travel expert, will build an online guide and network for disabled communities designed to promote the importance of venturing beyond the doorstep.
Let's have a cuppa
and a chat.
Disability does not define anyone but a fundamental step in the plan to change the world is for disability to lose its label and be celebrated as an aspect of humanity. If you'd like to dance in the vibrancy of diversity with ijot or wish to find out more, let's have a cuppa and a chat.