Back in spring 2017, we spoke to disability blogger Chloe Tear about her life as a student with cerebral palsy. Since then, she’s achieved a lot. Her blog has now had more than 86,000 views, she’s been voted into the Shaw Trust’s Power 100 list, which recognises influential disabled people, and she’s worked with MPs to bring about change for disabled people.
We caught up with the disability activist to find out more about her time at university, growing her blog, her plans for the future, and her tips for other budding disability bloggers and activists.
How did you find growing up with your disability and long-term health conditions? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
I was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy at the age of 7. I had challenges from birth, but it was hard to pinpoint them until then. Later, at the age of 15, I began to experience chronic pain, and at 18 my sight deteriorated. This has meant that there has always been some kind of new challenge to learn how to overcome and manage.
What it’s like growing up with a disability is often hard to explain. On the one hand, I found it difficult to fit in and was bullied. But, on the other hand, I have had so many amazing experiences because of it. I also have a family who embodies the notion of resilience. No challenge has ever been too big to face, and laughing along the way has meant nothing has been a purely negative experience.
My disability has obviously shaped my life. But it has never been seen as something that controls it and who I am. Yes, there are days where it ‘wins’. But I know that you can always try again tomorrow. I think it is this mentality that has helped me to manage my disability over the years.
You’ve written for Disability Horizons before about your experience of going to university. Now that you’re in your final year, how do you think your time at uni has shaped you and your life?
I think the flexibility of university has allowed me to progress my advocacy work in ways a sixth form never could. Not being there five days a week is certainly a bonus for most students! But for me, it has been especially helpful. It’s meant I that I’ve had more time to manage my condition and ensure that I can rest in order to go to lectures and get my work done.
University has also allowed me to live away from home for three years and become more independent, which the help of personal assistants. I am so grateful to have been able to have this support. But, despite all of this, it’s still sometimes being hard to achieve. I have to keep going and pushing.
Your blog, Life as a Cerebral Palsy Student, has reached more than 86,000 people. What was your aim when you started it and why do you think it’s become so popular?
How popular it’s become continues to amaze me every day! I honestly don’t think words can express how much it means to me. It is an absolute pleasure to write my blog and support from people has been incredible! I actually stopped writing my blog a year in and didn’t look at it for six months. This was never intentional, but life got in the way and I was so busy around exams.
When I went back to it, I nearly shut it down. I enjoyed writing it, but had lost inspiration and thought I had exhausted all possibilities. Very few people knew I even wrote a blog and the thought of people finding it scared me a little. I was extremely shy and wanted to continue writing, but not publish it.
But when I realised that my blog gave hope to parents of younger children with cerebral palsy, I had to carry on. So, I just started blogging again actually promoted it for the first time, setting up a Facebook page to go along with it. That’s the best thing I ever did! I never wrote the blog for the views, but people seeing it and knowing that it helps them feel less alone is a big driving force to keep going.
When I started blogging, I did so to prove that people with cerebral palsy are just like everyone else. Over the years, I have moved away from this, and I think this reflects how I feel about my disability. I now talk about the not so nice sides and want to document the whole picture.
I love the fact people enjoy reading my work, yet I don’t think I could pinpoint what is so different about what I do! There are other bloggers out there with CP and their content is equally as valuable. I think because I also now talk about my visual impairment too it allows me to connect with more people.
How did you feel being voted into the Shaw Trust’s Power 100 list?
I was honestly amazed to be nominated. Just to be included in the publication is an honour. It is incredibly lovely to know that I am making a difference. Being recognised for this is truly special. Again, there are so many campaigners out there and we all make a valuable contribution.
I remember the launch event for the Power 100 and feeling so proud that I have a disability. This is the notion I take away from being on the list. Being disabled doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and being able to convey that to others is such a pleasure.
There are so many times when feel like I’m out of ideas of what to post, or I get one too many negative comments about having a disability. It is times like that when I think back to that evening and I remember to be proud.
You’ve also worked with your local MP to put questions to parliament on disability hate crime. How did you find that experience and what questions did you get into parliament?
I actually found it a really lovely experience, as it gave me the opportunity to take such a horrible situation and turn it into something positive. I wanted to use my experiences to raise awareness and ensure the issue is taken seriously.
It also helped me to open up. There was a time when I didn’t feel able to write about my experience and be so public about it. But having the backing of my local MP made it easier. I can now talk about the hate crime a lot more freely, having written and even spoken about it when giving talks.
We wanted Parliament to tell us what it is going to do about the significant rise in disability hate crime over the past few years. It has since put in place various campaigns, which have all helped the steady decline of disability hate crime. But, we still have a long way to go!
You’ve been nominated as a finalist or winner for a number of awards, such as the National Diversity Awards’ Positive Role Model within Disability. How do these recognitions of your work make you feel?
They all mean so much to me. I write to raise awareness and because of pure passion. So to know that what I do is actually making a difference is an amazing feeling. I feel extremely proud to have received the awards I have, and I hope it means my work reaches more people.
Living with cerebral palsy can be a confusing time if you don’t have the right support around you. I believe that no one should have to go through it alone. Our journey through life is different from our peers and I just want to show others a possible path they could take.
If I have helped one person, then I consider that a huge achievement. Awards aren’t needed to validate my work but they do give me the energy to continue raising more awareness.
How do you find balancing working on your blog, attending university, working with organisations and having a social life, all with a disability?
When you put it in a list like that it is a lot of things! In all honesty, I don’t. I am getting better at learning my limits, but it can be hard to say no to all the exciting opportunities that come my way! I sometimes have to cancel everything and spend the day in bed – it’s the only way I know I’ll be able to get things done.
Another way in which I manage my time is my diary. I think I would be lost without it! I write everything down and ensure this includes time to recover. Being organised has also allowed me to plan ahead so that I can rest before bigger events and ensure all articles and talks are written on time!
Unfortunately, this does mean I always seem to be doing something, even if this is while I am in bed. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I thoroughly enjoy everything I do, but it can be a lot to manage at times.
We know a lot of our readers are bloggers themselves. What would be your top five tips for starting and growing one?
- Know your audience. This will allow you to write content that suits your readers and can really help with the growth of your blog.
- Write about what you love. You don’t need to follow any rules, have posts planned months in advance or pick the same topics as others. Just write what you’re passionate about.
- Don’t be afraid to be honest. The posts that are the hardest to publish are often the ones that get the best reactions. Sometimes you have to write from the heart.
- Reach out to other bloggers. The community is huge and very friendly, so reach out for advice and to share each other’s blogs. Reading other blogs help, too.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect. The content you produce is amazing, it was created by you and you enjoyed doing it – that makes it worth a read!
Do you have any immediate plans for when you finish university and what does the future hold for you?
After my undergraduate degree in psychology and child development, I hope to study a masters in journalism. For many years people have suggested I have a career in writing, yet I always wanted to keep it as a hobby, in case it took the joy out of it. But the more I get to write (and actually get paid to do it!) the more I realise it is possible to combine a passion and career.
I would also love to travel after my masters. But in terms of the rest of my future, anything is possible. The last few years have shown me that we cannot predict what is to come, from losing part of my sight to the success of my blog.
However, when I finish education Life as a Cerebral Palsy Student will need a new name. So it’ll be great to go self-hosted and build up a new brand of work.
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