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Judith's Story

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To mark our 30th anniversary, we’re releasing 30 stories from wheelchair users across our history.

This ambitious and historic project will result in stories being archived as part of the The British Library Sound Archives ensuring that the life experiences of wheelchair users today are captured forever. With thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and The British Library for their support.

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Bangkok, 1988. Both born with Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy, Judith Merry and her twin sister, Laura, were placed into an orphanage where they were predominantly cared for by two women from the British Embassy. 

In 1989 they were adopted by their parents - a British/Irish couple who were living and working in Thailand – before moving to England as a family when they were four years old.  

From receiving powered wheelchairs and winning a grant to produce her own selection of accessible clothing, to being on the Kidz Board and going on work placements, Judith has had a long relationship with Whizz-Kidz - expanding for over half of her life!  

Now in her thirties, Judith looks back at her upbringing and shares her story with us, delving into her experiences of adoption, disability, and being a twin, and how those experiences shaped her family relationships and self-identity.  

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From Bangkok to Buckinghamshire - Listen to a clip here

“As the story goes, normally these ladies would just raise money and sell tickets and raffle, but these two ladies in particular wanted to do more than just give money. 

"They would help at the orphanage and came across my sister and I, who were unfortunately quite sick babies.

“From there, one of the couples that were looking after us were going back home to the UK for Christmas and needed another set of hands, so they put an advert up at the embassy and my parents saw it and came over to the main house to see what they could do to help.

“Immediately my parents decided then and there that they would adopt us, so they started the process. 

"We moved in with them for Christmas ’89.”

On interracial adoption - Listen to a clip here

“The conversation was about questioning, not criticising…I can appreciate, as well as living with our disability diagnosis, the kind of conversation that is now had about interracial adoption and overseas adoption by parents who are of a different race to yourself and skin colour, is a far newer and bigger conversation.

“Then, I’m aware that people just did things and didn’t really think about the result of your actions, or what it could mean, perhaps in the future, for the child who grows up in an all-white environment and you don’t see anyone that looks like you.

"But, you know, there was no guidebook, they were just learning on the go really, and I think fortunately Laura was another person that looked like me and shared the same experience, so that made a lot of it much easier.

“For us as a family, disability had taken precedent in our lives practically and mentally, in terms of its focus, and it’s only really when I got to my late twenties/early thirties that I had time to really think about perhaps what it meant to be adopted and knowing some background information of where I came from. 

“Having the disability side of things and my health issues settle gave me the space to contemplate - coming into my thirties - about what it meant to be adopted and be a different ethnicity to my parents and be born in a different country, so it’s a vast story really!”

Family values - Listen to a clip here

“What I think we’ve seen as a family with disabilities, is that there is a lot of mental exhaustion and fight that is needed to get various equipment and support systems in place, even to go to a school of your choice.

“Both of my parents are all action, and nothing is impossible.

“We definitely have very healthy dinner conversations and debates, as our political views are also very different and helps us see different perspectives, so we’re always having very good, not arguments, but very good, lively conversation at the dinner table.”

On being an identical twin - Listen to a clip here

“We are incredibly close. I would say there is a different relationship when you are a twin, having all shared experiences and having lived the same, having the same start in life and being found by the right people.

"My mum might say 'fate', but I don’t know if I always believe in that - it’s about having ended up where we are very much together, and having someone that knows exactly what you are going through and how you’re feeling, especially when you have the same operations and in terms of a degenerative condition.

“Laura has similar memories to what I have, so it kind of corroborates the experiences. 

"That’s the unique thing about having an identical twin with the same experiences, you can match your memories, because you’ve lived them together.”

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Accessibility in theatre - Listen to a clip here

“I do think that for the most part there has been a far quicker improvement in terms of accessibility into theatres, in that the physical access is far better than even some general buildings I go to in London.

“People treat you like an adult, not just like someone with a disability. 

"I’ve always used them and that sort of entertainment form as an example of how to… accommodate someone with a disability and to treat them like anyone else.

“In terms of the theatre as an art form itself, just like many other areas when it comes to inclusiveness of disability, it’s still slowly getting there.

“It’s still slowly improving. I have seen more in passing, in terms of children’s TV and dramas, because you notice it, because of course it’s still a rarity when you see an actor who has a disability who is just a character that has no relevance to fact that they have a disability…

"Until you stop noticing it, then it becomes in the public's conscience.”  

The Paralympics and inspiration porn - Listen to a clip here

“I do think that the Paralympics really – although these are elite athletes, as I used to point out to my friends… who have trained years and years to be in the best shape they can be – really showed people what people with different types of disabilities could do.

“The word inspiring is always used and it’s always one, I know, that’s taught in the community - where people who are called an inspiration are just living their life like any other person – that it can be a bit of an iffy word.

“I think having that exposure of the Paralympics showed people that were wanting to be taken seriously as athletes and that anything is achievable, but still, what is important to show, that there’s still struggles.

“It doesn’t mean you always have good days. You didn’t just become an elite athlete overnight. 

"There’s a lot that happens along the way and these individuals still need care support to enable them to carry out their activities.”

Whizz-Kidz equipment - Listen to a clip here

“The fact that we were advised to do that and was able to receive two wheelchairs really was a life saver… to be able to have powered wheelchairs of the high standards that they were – that’s what Whizz-Kidz gave. 

"There was no other charity that was providing grants that gave mobility equipment to children and families and enable them independence.

“Whizz-Kidz has been involved since I was the age of 12, I guess, and I’m now 32 – 33 this year – so half my adult life, if not more! 

“Getting the support and getting a powered wheelchair has given me great independence to enable me to do anything I really want to.”

Whizz-Kidz work placements - Listen to a clip here

“When I finished uni there was an opportunity to work in the city, that Whizz-Kidz would place you into, and I said yes. 

"That was the first paid job and that made a huge difference to actually be paid for work, where before I had been volunteering for a long, long time because I found some employers weren’t accommodating to hire myself…because of having to adapt to certain needs.

“That was a big thing, doing an internship for three months in London – learning to balance my health was a big aspect, and also being seen as someone who is working as a 20-something year old, rather than just being defined by the disability.”

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