Hi, I’m Martina. I am an elite athlete with learning disability. I want to share my story to inspire you, maybe even change the way you think about learning disability. If you want to talk to me about anything, you can find me on twitter as @martina_barber1.
I am a World and double European champion in the Heptathlon. I also hold the British Heptathlon Record. I am classified as a T/F20 athlete. This means I have a learning disability.
I am involved in lots of other things besides athletics. You will get to read more about my very busy life later on in this blog! My motto is ‘never give up and always give your best in everything you do’. I apply this to my sport, my work, my education and everything else!
I’m a Heptathlete because I love being able to master lots of different events. As a T/F20 athlete I can only enter 4 events in athletics. I’m focusing on the 400m and long jump for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
Since the ban in 2000 in Sydney, IPC (the International Paralympic Committee) have made it harder for athletes with leaning disability to participate in sports at an elite level. We can take part in 3 sports out of 23 sports in the Paralympic games. The events are Swimming, Athletics and Table Tennis. In Athletics we can only take part in 4 events, which are the 1500m, Long Jump, Shot Put and 400m. Lots of athletes are having to change their event just to compete at the Paralympics. I think there should be more sports and events in athletics for athletes with learning disability.
When I was at school I struggled in the classroom. I wasn’t good at it but when it came to PE I was good. I enjoyed it and even got a bit competitive at times! When I left school for college, it was a barrier because I find change hard to work with. I was at a small school. We had 12 pupils and 2 teachers to every class and then college was BIG. We had about 30 students and only 1 teacher in the class. This was a big change for me and took me a while to get used to.
I was the only one in my class that had a disability in all 4 years at college, so I found it hard to speak to people in my class. My college didn’t help me through this. Even though I struggled, I always gave it my best and worked hard, and with the right support I got through it. I’m not going to lie, I found it tough and stressful at times, because I had to do my work in my spare time at college and at home to keep up. I didn’t give up or quit, I kept on going and stuck with it. I knew what I wanted to achieve and I knew I could achieve it.
In my second year of college I was told I couldn’t do the next level of sport at college, because they couldn’t continue to support me. A tutor I admire told me. I felt annoyed. You can imagine what it feels like when someone tells you that you can’t do something.
So I went to North Herts College to see if they would let me do the course. I thought they were going to say no, but they said yes. I did the course and passed. I proved to the last college I could do it. I felt proud because I didn’t give up, I didn’t let what they said get in my way.
If you work and have the right support no matter what it takes, you can achieve and succeed at what you want. So if someone says you can’t do something, go and prove them wrong by having a positive mind-set, because you can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it.
I have lots of highlights from all the community visits that I have done. I think getting to speak at the House of Lords in front of a lot of important people was one of my favourite highlights! It was amazing!
The project has helped me develop as a person. I was shy before but now I can speak to people that I don’t know. It’s helped me with my communication skills, personal development skills and I have grown in my confidence to.
I think it is important to work hard and try my best in everything I do. I might not get things right or understand the first time, but I don’t give up. I try and I try again until I can do it! In athletics, I practice the same thing over and over again so I remember what I have been taught. This takes a lot of commitment, time and energy but it is worth it.
I think if you put your all into everything you do, you will get positives result and may even surprise yourself. If you don’t try your hardest you could end up wishing you had done more.
British Athletics – the dream
I was part of the British Athletics Parallel Success team for 2 years. This is for athletes with a disability and have potential to go to Rio 2016 and\or Tokyo 2020. I train hard for 6 or even 7 days a week. It would be amazing to get to be in the Paralympics because I will be competing with the best in the world.
I haven’t really thought too much about what I will do after athletics, but I would like to work in sport with people with disabilities and coach them different kinds of sports. I am qualified to coach over 10 different sports! My favourites are sitting volleyball, blind football and athletics (I have to say Athletics!).
I would like to continue being a role model to inspire people. I strongly believe in showing people we can all overcome barriers. With the right support, and a hard working attitude, you can do it. Maybe not overnight, it could take time, but if you create and believe, you will achieve!
If you could tell people just one thing about yourself what would it be?
For the Great Interactions book, Polly Braden photographed MacIntyre clients holding up handwritten cards with their answers to that very question. The cards revealed what was most important to them; not their experience of having a learning disability or autism, but their relationships, individual talents, and favourite pastimes. When we began to develop the Great Interactions exhibition with Polly it became clear that this simple, hands-on activity would work extremely well in a gallery setting too.
Since the Great Interactions exhibition opened at the National Media Museum four weeks ago over 1,300 visitors have written and displayed their “one thing” on cards in the gallery. In fact people are so keen to take part that we have to empty the wall daily to make room for new cards.
Again, what is most striking is how overwhelmingly positive people’s comments are. Almost everyone has written about the people they love, the hobbies they enjoy most and the things they have achieved. Football, gaming and Harry Potter make regular appearances, but so do peoples’ families and their hopes and plans for the future. Some include superb drawings too.
Below is a just a small selection of our visitors’ “one things”. To add your own, be sure to visit Great Gallery Two at the National Media Museum by April 10th or leave a comment here.
Barry Horne is Chief Executive of the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS). EFDS exists to make active lives possible and ensure that millions of disabled people can lead active lifestyles. Dedicated to disabled people in sport and physical activity, EFDS supports a wide range of organisations to include disabled people more effectively. The national charity looks to a better future where everyone can enjoy the opportunities available. Established in September 1998, EFDS has a vision that disabled people are active for life.
Here, Horne blogs on the crucial role that supporters have in disabled people’s lives to be and stay active.
EFDS puts disabled people at the heart of all our work and particularly in our research and insight. Increasingly, within our research, disabled people are telling us about the importance of the support they call upon in order to be active.
Eight in 10 supporters say they have some level of influence in encouraging disabled people to be active. That’s just one key finding from a report we released at the start of the year.
We want the report to help guide providers on how to engage with these supporters and help increase disabled people’s activity levels.
Supporting Me To Be Active demonstrates the important role people who support disabled people play, whether in a professional or personal capacity. Nine in 10 told us that they felt they provided a range of emotional or practical support to enable a disabled person to be active.
Six in 10 said one of their key supporter roles was to act as a motivator or inspirer, generating participation ideas and suggesting activities that they think most suitable for the disabled person.
A supporter for a person with cerebral palsy, physical and learning impairments told EFDS: “It is very important for me to motivate – if I didn’t he’d be at home all day.”
Supporting Me To Be Active also showed that practical support is often crucial. Six in 10 said they offered logistical and organisational support, helping a disabled person to access an activity.
“We had to find a place that was near enough… to walk to, or that we could drive to easily,” said one.
Another supporter added: “I have to look at where it is, what it is, what it entails, how much it costs.”
At EFDS, we know through our own research that many disabled people often have smaller social networks, upon which they rely for day-to-day support.
Supporting Me To Be Active shares our discussions with those who regularly support disabled people, to understand their views in more depth. These are friends, family, and even professional paid support. The people in these networks can play a significant role in encouraging more disabled people to be active.
I am very proud of the report which shows the impact supporters can have on disabled people’s participation. Key to their influence is the relationship the supporter has with the disabled person and the extent to which they are active themselves.
In addition, it’s about how willing people are to recommend sport and physical activity to the disabled person. Findings pinpoint particular areas for improvement, such as marketing, which can influence more supporters to choose their opportunities.
In addition to Supporting Me To Be Active, I’d strongly recommend taking a look at our Motivate Me and Talk to Me reports, which have been key to many organisations’ future thinking. These reports add to a collection of useful insight we are building to gain a bigger picture of disabled people’s lives, especially when it comes to sport and physical activity.
Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) a wheelchair user himself, is acknowledged as the UK’s foremost consultant on disability matters. He is a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general and was awarded an OBE in 2001 for services to equal opportunities and disabled people.
Phil was featured in the first Disability Power List featuring 100 of the most powerful, influential and inspiring disabled people. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science (Hon Dsc) in 2009 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to equality and diversity from University of Hertfordshire.
PHIL’S BLOG – Learning Disabled People Need Our Support
Like many other disabled people of my generation I went to a residential “special school”, most of the students had physical impairments but there was a significant number who had learning disabilities. In those days they were variously labelled as “mentally handicapped” or “educationally subnormal”, or perhaps worst of all “severely educationally subnormal”. Labelling was all the rage back in those days!
One of the other more shameful recollections I have of my school days was the fact that some of the physically disabled students frequently bullied or took advantage of the learning disabled pupils. The idea that disabled children at “special schools” are kind to each other is a myth like so many others.
Expectations of learning disabled people back then were very low. On the day I left school I talked with a learning disabled lad who I’ll call George, I asked him what he was going to do once he’d left. He said that he was going to “sign on” and claim benefits. Once he had saved enough money, he was going to buy a gold watch. Looking back I realise that George was already contemplating retirement at the grand old age of 16. (Gold watches were retirement gift in those days). No one including George saw employment as an option. He was expected to live at home on benefits and attend a day centre.
I guess we would all like to think that attitudes have changed since those days but unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this is not the case.
It is still more difficult for learning disabled people to find and keep a job. In fact, less than 1 in 5 individuals with a learning disability work, compared to 1 in 2 of those with other forms of disability. Of those that do work, most only work part time and are low paid.
At least half of all adults with a learning disability have to live in the family home – which means that many don’t get the same life chances as other people to gain independence, learn key skills and make choices about their lives. (http://bit.ly/1UtS0Ed)
Mencap studies show that 9 out of 10 people with a learning disability reported having been a victim of hate crime and bullying. Of these, two-thirds were victims regularly and one-third were being bullied on a daily or weekly basis. Half of the people surveyed had suffered verbal abuse, and a quarter had been physically assaulted.
The UK has a reputation for being caring and humane but the way we treat learning disabled people is neither caring nor humane.
It is time for those of us connected to Disabled People’s Organisations to develop much closer ties with organisations run by those with learning difficulties; we need to support them as they campaign for full inclusion and equal rights. While we should not speak on their behalf, we should help them to develop and promote their case and get behind their campaigns. The disability movement needs to ensure that the voices of learning disabled people are not only heard but given equal importance. They have waited long enough now is the time to bring about real change.
Rashmi Becker, along with a young lady supported by the MacIntyre charity, met Iain Stewart, MP for Milton Keynes South, at the Houses of Parliament where they discussed what good support looks like and the challenges facing people with a learning disability and autism.
Many of the people featured in the Great Interactions book are from Milton Keynes and Iain was pleased to hear positive examples of different services working together to provide better support and opportunities in his constituency.
It was hoped that Iain would help raise awareness of better practice amongst his colleagues at a time when social care faces continued pressures and reforms and too many people do not have the opportunities and outcomes they should.
I really enjoyed speaking at the Great Interactions launch at the National Media Museum, Bradford. It was great to hear from the other speakers but best of all were the photos in the exhibition. For me, of course the highlights were the sport based photos. There were two incredible photos of swimmers. It seems I can never get away from swimming!
S14 is the classification for swimmers with intellectual disability. Athletes with Learning Disability were banned from the Paralympics following the Sydney 2000 games. This was because the Spanish Basketball team cheated by fielding ineligible players. All athletes with Learning Disability were banned for 9 years from all international competitions. All countries, all athletes. EVERYONE! I still get angry thinking about it. I passionately feel that we were discriminated against. Please contact the UK Sports Association if you would like to find out more about the ban period.
In my life every day is different. I have lots of different jobs, and am always happy to take on another one, like the MacIntyre talk. One day I could be running a fitness boot camp, the next swim coaching or training private clients, and the next doing a presentation or a motivational talk. I’m very lucky but have also worked hard to get a good support team around me to help make these opportunities happen.
Sport has been incredibly important in my life. It has given me everything. I wasn’t great at school academically but get me in a pool and I’d beat most people! I went from competing competitively at 12 to double world champion at 14. My disability never stood in my way of my success.
A big role model in my life was one of my coaches Steve Parry. He represented GB at the Olympics, European and World Championships. He made training fun! That’s hard to do when you have to get out of bed at 4:30am, in the pool by 5.15am and continue training until 6:30pm every day! He used to mix up his training with things like, who could do the best dive? Who could do the fastest 15m? Training became fun as well as challenging. I have taken this into my coaching both in the pool and on land.
My family were so supportive throughout my career. From a beginner to elite swimming and onwards. It is so important for everyone to have a strong support network, whether you have a disability or not. When you have had a tough day, a challenging day or a good day you still need someone to listen to you. My advice would be to build a strong team. That team could be family, friends, teachers, coaches, even managers! Build a team that are with you, not against you. Let them help you reach your goals but not achieve them for you. Importantly, always remember to achieve your goals for yourself, not anyone else. This was and is a very important part of my career.
Learning disability affects people in different ways. My disability meant I struggled to remember how many lengths I needed to do in the pool. For example, a 200m swim as a short course is 8 lengths but as a long course it’s 4 lengths. It was all very confusing for me! My coach made an easy to read table explaining the distances and how many lengths I needed to do. We stuck this poolside. It helped me concentrate on my race, learn my lengths and not get anxious about the swim. Simple adjustments can make all the difference! Be proud of yourself, be proud of who you are, be proud of what you have and want to achieve. Everyone needs support. For example, a diary to plan their time or a list to remember what they want to buy for tea! We just don’t call it support, it’s part of everyday life.
I was fortunate to have a great time at school. I had a great set of friends and an amazing sisters, who saw me as Dan, not ‘Dan with a disability’. My friends and family have been as crucial to supporting me to succeed as was Mick Massey, my swimming coach. Mick was amazing for me. He coached as a 12 year old novice all the way to become a World Champion. He always kept me positive, knew when to push me and also knew when give me space. Mick pushed me to the max and was and still is a friend I can lean on. This year, I’m lucky enough to be marrying his daughter and my fiancée, Natalie Massey! He will never get away from me now!
I am also an Ambassador for the UK Sports Association’s, My Sport, My Voice! project. I love being an Ambassador. I get to do events like the Great Interactions launch! My role is to raise awareness, challenge people’s perceptions and show people what people with learning disability can achieve! I have been able to talk at the House of Lords, talk to 500+ people at the School Games and even co-deliver the Inaugural Inas Awards.
The project enables our Ambassadors and Reps to talk openly about their training, achievements, and overcoming personal challenges. It also means we can talk to policy and decision-makers about how much people with learning disability can, and want, to play a much more prominent role in society. UKSA thanks them all for their huge contribution to date.
Project Editor Rashmi Becker in awe of London 2012 Paralympian Dan Pepper‘s medals…
Speaking at the Great Interactions launch Dan reminded the audience that we all need support to achieve our dreams – but the people supporting us must not try to do it for us – we have to get there ourselves, our way…Important, inspiring words.
Today, the Great Interactions exhibition launched to friends and the media at the National Media Museum in Bradford – giving some of the people who feature in the photos the opportunity to see their images up on the wall and in the book. Here are just a few of the famous faces there today.
Not only were the photos and the book enjoyed, so was the cake celebrating 50 years of the MacIntyre Charity…
In 2014 Bill Mumford, then CEO of a national learning disability charity approached me wanting to mark the charity’s 50th anniversary. I had just returned from Everest Base Camp as part of an autism fundraising mission and Bill was a bit of an Everest pioneer having led a group of people with learning disabilities to Everest in 1994. Bill knew of my work with another charity which I had left seeking a better work-life balance.
Bill was clear he didn’t want a corporate self-congratulatory celebration. We were both fascinated by the work that many frontline support workers do to make a difference to the lives of people with a learning disability and autism. I had recently become guardian to my older brother who has autism, and overseen his move from a long-term life in institutional settings and paternalistic, impersonal treatment to supported living where he had become a tenant in his own home with a team of people that enabled him to achieve his potential. Bill had been trying to understand what makes a good support worker in his own organisation. So we agreed that the anniversary year should be about highlighting just what can be achieved when people are supported to have the same opportunities as anyone else to live their life to the full.
I put together some ideas around communicating the personal stories of people with a learning disability and autism and the people that support them. I had just written a short story about my brother’s life and been asked to talk to families about my experience and realised that families needed to hear that their loved ones deserved and could achieve a better life with the right support.
Given the power of photography as a medium, I wondered if there was a way to capture moments that matter in the lives of people with a learning disability and autism. Through a partnership that has lasted almost two years, I was able to team up with the brilliant and compassionate photographer Polly Braden, who travelled the country observing and capturing images and stories of people’s daily lives as well as major milestones, from going to the local shops and catching a bus to graduating from high school and getting married.
At first we weren’t sure what ‘a good life’ would look like on film but as time progressed it became more obvious. It was no different than for anyone else – having connections with people in our daily lives, being able to make choices and having some sense of control, be it relative to our capacity, being able to enjoy life, participate and be included. These are things that many of us take for granted yet many people with a learning disability and autism continue to come up against barriers and difficulties in trying to enjoy these same simple things.
I’m really proud of the Great Interactions Book and Exhibition at the National Media Museum. Polly has truly engaged with the people she has photographed and whose stories she has captured. With so many people affected by or who know someone with a learning disability or autism, I have been touched by the amount of goodwill and encouragement from people outside the project whose individual contributions have made such a difference to the end-result.
It is through my work with Bill, Polly and many other visionary policymakers, academics and individuals that I was inspired to apply for a studentship at the University of Cambridge to undertake PhD research examining and evidencing the role of frontline support workers in enabling people with a learning disability to live a better life. I am grateful to the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East of England for awarding me the full funding to undertake the 3-year research through the Cambridge Intellectual Developmental and Disabilities Research Group in the Department of Psychiatry. It is my ambition that this research will provide critical insight and evidence that will influence social care policy and practice and ultimately contribute towards improving the lives of people like my brother and the people in the Great Interactions book.
Click here for further information about my research.