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Miro'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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“We often say to young people, 'What do you want to do when you grow up?'

"It's probably one of the most harmful questions you can ask because you're telling them that the future is all about the individual and the future is all about the individual living individualised lives.

"We spend little time asking 'How do you want your community to be in the future? How do you to meet friends, How do you want to support each other?'"

It’s hard not to agree with that.

As a Research Fellow in Disability Studies, Miro’s interview is a highly engaging whistle stop tour of the power and politics at play in everyday life for wheelchair users in the UK.  

Acknowledging his own privileges, Miro lays out his thoughts on disability activism for the future, calls for young people’s voices to be heard and for everyone to recognise our inter-dependency.

From recalling his spinal surgery and his friend’s attitudes towards disability to wheelchair provision and the lack of wheelchair users in disability charities, Miro covers a lot of ground.

As an academic on social policy, he also has some useful tips for how everyone can become better allies to marginalised communities.

"Everything that we think and do, is affected by politics. It is deliberately done, but we have separated politics from life, so it’s seen as abstract.

"People say 'I've got no interest in politics’ or ‘politics doesn't affect me because I live my life the way I want to live my life'. But everything is political.

"Everything is affected by political decisions and by the politics and the levels of fluctuating power that comes with that."

Miro, in his powered wheelchair, smiles at the camera while in a garden

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Disability politics - Listen to a clip here

“I have always been interested in the notion of disability politics which is about thinking of disability as a political subject.

"Disability has historically, and indeed now, it is entrenched in medical discourse. It's entrenched within charity and tragedy perspectives.

"Disability politics is about looking at the experience of disabled people as a form of social oppression and marginalisation.” 

The power dynamics involved in wheelchair provision - Listen to a clip here

“Chairs have changed in the way that I feel I have more ownership and control of them.

"Not only in terms of what it can do, as in its performance, but also in terms of the control of what I want the chair to be used for, in those different environments.

"In the past you are told this chair belongs to this organisation and you’ve got to get permission at all times to use it. You had to ask to take it somewhere.

"It was just a way of reinforcing that disabled people don't have any real control over their lives and everything is determined by professionals or by organisations. 


"
It's very easy to see equipment that disabled people use as been overtly medicalised, and this means it looks uncomfortable, it doesn't aesthetically appear very nice, but more importantly, it doesn't blend into the style of the individual and how they want to present themselves in their environments.

"But just in the same way that I will choose the colour of my phone, the case I'm going to have on it, you want your tools and technologies to be aesthetically in line with your ideas of how you want to present yourself to others. 



"As the chairs have evolved, it has changed the way people engage with each other.

"For example, the fact that my chair goes up and down means that my PAs or my partner when they're assisting me with personal care, it's much easier for them, and it helps reduce the risk of injury or pain for them when they're assisting.

"Chairs look nicer and they can build your confidence."

Miro smiles at the camera while in a garden

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Let’s listen to young people - Listen to a clip here

"It's dreadful if we assume that a. we have the answers or b. we should wait until we have the answers before we start taking some sort of direction.

"I think at the moment what we should be doing is trying to make the spaces more accessible for people to come forward and say, 'Can I get involved? Or 'Here are my ideas' and not to be closed down or shouted at or dismissed.

"A lot of my work and research is with young disabled people and their experiences of activism and campaigning.

"A lot of their experiences is getting dismissed and that their voices aren't seen as credible or that their ideas should be limited to only talk about young people's issues.

'I think that's deeply problematic. Because we should move away from the idea that young people, and I don't just mean in terms of disability, that young people should only talk about young people's issues.

"Young people have got ideas or should be supported to develop ideas on how they want their community to look, on how they want their health service to function, how they want their education system to work.” 

The future of disability activism - Listen to a clip here

"The future of disability activism is on the one hand, making people more aware of the current situation, but also making that space to talk about the future.

"When I'm lecturing on notions of future democracy or notions of social justice now and in the future, sometimes students say to me, 'Is it more important to spend time debating what the future should look like, or just trying to get there?' And I think, well you can't get there without debating it, but also I don't think any of us have the right answer.

'So why don't we just keep spending time discussing this and making the space to discuss it and make the space for people to become aware of this because then we will make radical decisions and we will make incremental ones.”

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