We’re a diverse bunch, us disabled people, aren’t we? All different. Different skills, talents, ambitions, aspirations, personalities – oh, and different impairments. Like many disabled people, I’m a bit uncomfortable with being described as ‘inspirational’ or as a role model. It feels a bit patronising somehow. But I do love it when I find someone who champions the reality of disability – particularly the positive parts.
Someone that I believe champions disability really well is Francesca Martinez. You may have seen her acting in Grange Hill, or on Extras. Or you might have seen her on various TV programmes (Frank Skinner, Russell Howard, Jonathan Ross, Loose Women and many others).
Or you might associate her with promoting the WOW (War On Welfare) petition and making passionate speeches lobbying against welfare reforms. Then again, you might have seen her in her element, doing stand-up (or rather sit down) comedy. Whichever, you will be in no doubt that being born with Cerebral Palsy has not held Francesca back at all, and her new book about it all comes out later this month.
This actor, author, activist and self-described “wobbly” comedian has already achieved more than most people do in a lifetime. And the most important thing she has done, in all of those roles, is challenged the way people think about disability. Humour is a great vehicle for taking the sting out of a difficult message.
I run a social enterprise called Evenbreak, a not-for-profit jobs board which helps inclusive employers attract talented disabled candidates and in turn helps disabled jobseekers find work with employers who will value their skills and we also promote the benefits of employing disabled people.
We ran a conference earlier this year, aimed at sharing best practice around employing disabled people, and we were thrilled when Francesca agreed to come along and speak there.
The conference was attended by people from large organisations who are interested in employing disabled people, and most of the day was spent looking at examples and case studies of good practice. We wanted people to go away feeling positive and upbeat, and so Francesca came on last.
In her inimitable way she was very challenging and thought-provoking, but all done with humour. She had the audience in the palm of her hand. We laughed and cringed in equal measure as we recognised the reality of her observations.
Immediately following the conference I was able to have a chat with Francesca about specific issues around disability and employment. Evenbreak has a policy of only employing disabled people (we practice the values we promote), and of course our mission is to help talented disabled people who can and want to work to find employment where they can reach their potential. We found ourselves agreeing on every point!
After the excitement of the conference had died down, I thought again about Francesca, and how her take on disability aligns with the values that Evenbreak is built on. So I approached her again, this time asking if she would consider being our patron. She is incredibly busy – her new book launches this month and she is embarking on a tour shortly, and I know her lobbying work takes up time. However, to my delight, she agreed, saying that she loves the work that Evenbreak does!
And so it came to be that this champion of disability now champions the work of Evenbreak, which also champions disability. Champion!
By Jane Hatton
Visit the Evenbreak website to see their jobs board.
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