When I was around nine years old, a kid at school went around the playground warning everyone that they’d catch my ‘disease’ if they went near me.
At the time, I was shocked and distraught because it really hurt my feelings. But the next day, I went up to him and gave him a massive hug to show him that it wasn’t true, which unfortunately ended up scaring him.
That incident was the first proper moment I realised there are people in this world who aren’t going to be kind to me as someone with spina bifida – a condition that affects my spine, causing me to use a wheelchair.
It’s why I’m passionate about challenging misconceptions around disability, as well as trying to show non-disabled people how to be better allies.
Disability charity Leonard Cheshire released new stats this week revealing 73% of disabled people say that more needs to be done for non-disabled people to understand that their words cause offence.
The charity also found that nearly half of all disabled Brits feel regularly ‘ignored’ or ‘overlooked’ by non-disabled people due to widespread use of inappropriate or demeaning language.
I was disheartened that this figure was so high but I was sadly not surprised because I know all too well about this stigma.
The thing about my disability is that I’m completely comfortable making fun of it. I often refer to myself as one of those seagulls you see at the beach with a gammy leg, so I try to have a sense of humour because I think it’s important to have a laugh about things sometimes.
But when non-disabled people stare at disabled people on the street out of ignorance or use offensive slurs, it’s not on.
There have been times where I’ve been spoken to like a child or somebody has used offensive words to describe me – even though they think they are being genuinely curious and friendly. Other times, people can be intentionally cruel.
I have been called a cripple, spastic and even told I was a trip hazard and would end up hurting someone by nightclub security. It makes me personally feel belittled and degraded. Like I’m alien.
It’s frustrating because disabled people like me just want to be treated with the respect we deserve. Whenever I get the chance, I try to speak up and educate people. I also try to speak up for other people when I see the same thing happening to them.
One way I’ve tried to spread this message – as well as express myself as a disabled person – is through rap.
Growing up, I loved anything that made noise and music became my escape. My parents bought me a violin at the age of four and I was hooked, so I think my dad had a little regret buying it for me!
By the age of 15, I was struggling at school because my spina bifida made my hand-eye coordination out of sync, which meant I’d struggle with writing. That’s when one of my teachers suggested I get into rap because she knew I had a passion for music and she said it’s like poetry through song.
I started writing my own raps from that point and I absolutely loved it. It was a way for me to really express myself and it just blossomed from there.
I settled on the name Kray-Z Legz because I wanted to reclaim the stigma around disability – both in reference to my crooked legs affected by spina bifida and the mental health stigma around the word ‘crazy’.
It sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable referring to me as my rap name but that’s the point – I’m comfortable with it and I want to break those barriers. Sometimes people don’t understand that though and get so nervous or caught up in wanting to say the right thing, but it’s my way of sharing my disability with the world.
Some highlights of my rap career are collaborating with Snoop Dogg and supporting Coolio live on stage, which was a dream come true in getting to meet him and hearing the Kenan and Kel theme song live.
Another honour was being approached by Leonard Cheshire earlier this year to produce an acapella rap about ‘The Language of Disability’ – I jumped at the opportunity.
I hope the rap helps non-disabled people realise that their words can have a huge impact and that it’s important to get it right when they’re talking with us.
I think it’s the little things that can make a big difference when it comes to how people can improve their language and how they act.
For example, I’m completely fine calling myself disabled since it’s a part of who I am. But saying ‘able-bodied’ for non-disabled people just suggests that we’re completely unable, even though we just do things a different way.
Most of all – maybe more important than the actual words – it’s about how people interact with us. I get talked down to, people avoid talking to me because they don’t know what to say or worry about other people’s opinion of them associating with somebody with a disability. People also often mistake my amazing partner of two years for a carer, and that hurts a lot.
What Leonard Cheshire’s report really reveals is the huge number of disabled people who feel the same way I do. When we’re constantly referred to as ‘the disabled’ and put in that one box, it takes away from us as individuals.
Yes, we are disabled people, but at the end of the day we’re all human just like everyone else and want the same respect as any other.
Personally, my life – including my disability – is an open book and I’m happy to talk about it with anyone, but this may not be the case for others.
I hope the video opens up conversations and helps normalise our lives because ignorance has no place in our society.
As for me, I’ll continue to try to dispel stigma around disability. I was recently invited to a local school for kids with learning disabilities so I can help them write and record raps and they can try to express how they’re feeling.
I know how important that would’ve been for me growing up.
At the end of the day, we’re all human and trying to make the most of the time we’ve got. Non-disabled people, don’t make it harder for us by using stigmatising language.
I hope as many people as possible get to listen to my Language of Disability rap and please check out Leonard Cheshire’s website to find out about this amazing campaign.
Let’s start these open conversations so we can start educating ourselves and move forward from our outdated language.
Leonard Cheshire are dedicated to supporting individuals to live, learn and work as independently as they choose – whatever their ability. Find out more about their Possibility with Disability initiative on their website here.
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