A Cheltenham teenager is so fed up with people’s attitude toward disability that he has launched his own campaign.
Josh Reeves says he has been patted on the shoulder, made to follow a trail of paper so not to track mud with his wheelchair and forced to the front of the queue by well-intended but patronising people.
But the worst thing? People ignoring him and talking to whoever is with him.
“The thing I hate most is when people talk to my parents or my carers not me. Or when they kneel down and try to talk at ‘my level’. To them I say’ don’t kneel down. You’ll hurt your back and you look stupid’.”
Now the 18-year-old has launched his Don’t Call Me Special campaign aimed at helping children understand disability.
Josh, who is a second year student at National Star College, has visited two primary schools in Cheltenham to talk to the children and has more visits planned in the autumn.
The birth of his campaign is documented in a new TV series called The Unbreakables on BBC Three. It follows the lives of teenagers with disabilities at National Star College, a specialist further education college based in Gloucestershire.
“I have a disability – cerebral palsy – but that doesn’t make me special. Special is a term for someone who can do everything and who is out of the ordinary. That’s not me. No one is special or normal in this world if you think that people with disabilities are special then you are stupid,” said Josh, from Pontypridd.
“People like me who have a disability can do stuff like everyone else. We just do it in a different way. Just because we are in wheelchairs doesn’t make us special.”
Josh said attending a mainstream school made him feel isolated and angry about how he was treated.
“They used to put paper roll on the floor so that I wouldn’t leave muddy tracks. When I was younger I wanted to be a museum tour guide and was going to take GCSE history but it was taught on the first floor and the school lift didn’t work,” he said.
“Instead I had to stay downstairs and have one on one teaching rather than be with a class,” he said.
“I was isolated from doing PD (Physical Department) with my friends and they promised I could go swimming but that never happened.”
Josh, who was recently elected student union vice president at National Star, hopes to have a career in disability campaigning when he finishes college.
He has been an active campaigner in the A Right Not A Fight lobby. The campaign calls for students with a learning difficulty or disability to have the same choices that most young people take for granted, such as choosing a further education college that best meets their learning and support needs.
It is an important issue for Josh because his family had to fight for funding for him to attend National Star which is a specialist college which has students from England and Wales.
“I wanted to change the world but didn’t know where to begin but National Star College has helped me find the beginning. Then when the film crew said they wanted to come with me when I talk to children in school I thought that was great. For me it’s important because I want people to see that we are human.
I want to be the voice of people who can’t speak up. I would say to David Cameron that he needs to stop hiding away and talk to people with disabilities about what life is really like.
“He says that Britain is a different place since the Paralympics. He can tell that to my friend who went to a nail bar but they wouldn’t serve her without an ‘adult’ with her because they saw her chair and said she was a child. She’s 18 and told them that but it made no difference.
“Where’s the equality in that?”
The three-part series, The Unbreakables, is one of the flagships of the Defying the Label season on BBC Three. The last in the series is this Thursday at 9pm but the other two episodes are available on iPlayer.