To mark its 30th anniversary as a charity, Whizz-Kidz are releasing “30 Stories” from wheelchair users across England, Scotland and Wales in partnership with National Life Stories at the British Library and supported through a grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The milestone project will amplify the experiences of wheelchair users across the UK over the past 30 years in response to daily life, policy changes and cultural shifts.
This ambitious and historic project will result in stories being archived as part of the British Library’s oral history collection, ensuring that the life experiences of wheelchair users today are captured forever. The biographical interviews are accompanied by striking portraits from Ranald Mackechnie whose work includes photographing the Royal family and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Athlete, TV presenter and author, Ade Adepitan said in his interview: “My ambition in life was to be like those incredible god-like athletes. I wanted to be one of them, I wanted to be part of that team. And I just went on this mission for the rest of my life. It took me the best part of 15 years… I got dropped and turned down I think about 7 or 8 times. I started to think you know, people like me didn’t get that kind of success. You know, I wasn’t destined for it.”
Actress and Patron of Whizz-Kidz, Ruth Madeley said: “When I got my first Whizz-Kidz chair, everything changed. It was bright pink and yeah, I was like Barbie on wheels! I grew up never seeing anyone who looked like me on television. You’re either inspirational or pitied. There’s no middle ground…”
Penny, Kidz Board Chair* said in her interview: “Disability has become some sort of inspiration porn…disability isn’t something that needs to be overcome, it’s something that needs to be accepted… disabled people are put under enormous amounts of pressure to be perfect… we have to work harder than our non-disabled peers, to be given less.”
A time to reflect
The first of its kind on such a large scale, 30 Stories was undertaken pre-, during and post- a number of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, and aims to highlight the biographical lives of a diverse range of wheelchair users across the UK.
In the three decades since Whizz-Kidz was founded, there has been significant change in disability policy, legislation and wheelchair services, such as the Disability Discrimination Act that came into force in 1995 and NHS Wheelchair Services devolving to local health authorities. The interviewees explain how, when and why changes in policy, legislation as well as the charity’s clinical services, have impacted them throughout their lives.
CEO of Whizz-Kidz, Ruth Owen said: “We are very proud to share this ground-breaking and historic project which means the voices of wheelchair users will be heard and remembered forever. It’s vital to share their experiences, challenges and aspirations, reflecting back over the past 30 years to raise awareness of disability issues and most importantly, looking forward to a bright future.
“It’s amazing that the oral history recording will be archived at such a prestigious organisation as The British Library, with its global reputation for heritage and historical archives. We are also immensely grateful to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for supporting us in making this fantastic opportunity a reality.”
British Library Oral History Archivist Charlie Morgan said: “These interviews will enrich the national collection of oral histories with detailed, personal testimonies about the lives of wheelchair users in the United Kingdom. On behalf of National Life Stories at the British Library, I am delighted that researchers now and in the future will be able to access these recordings alongside our other rich oral history collections to chart the diverse experiences of disabled people in the 20th and 21st centuries.”
Looking ahead to a digital future
As well as raising awareness of first-hand experiences and bringing accessibility to the forefront of discussion, this audio project marks a significant shift in Whizz-Kidz embracing a more digital way of working and supporting its beneficiaries. Last year the charity supported more than one thousand children and young people with vital mobility equipment and social clubs across the UK, and there has been an increasing need for more online resources and support, which the charity is working to meet. As well as overcoming some of the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, having an increased digital offering will allow more wheelchair users to benefit from the support and connectivity offered by Whizz-Kidz, regardless of their location.
The 30 Stories audio interviews are live now and can be downloaded here. An ongoing project, more stories will be published in coming weeks and months. The archive of full interviews will be made available at the British Library in 2021.
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