Coming out of the closet: My Journey to recognising my disability

Founder Richard Jones in his wheelchair outside the Glancynon Inn

Hello folks, today, in honour of Disability Pride month which ended a few days ago I want to share a story that’s close to my heart – the story of how I embraced my disability.  I know this is going to sound odd to you but coming out of the closet to me wasn’t anything to do with my sexuality, it was recognising my disability.

Primary school was different, I was a mainstream pupil but attached to a special unit, there were only five of us in the unit when I started, we were the first five.  The school was small and everyone knew everyone, and yet I was different, even though I was mainstream I wasn’t recorded on the register, my name wasn’t called out… I was the “plus one” for a few years that was how I was referred to on the register…. until my mother put a stop to it, she went and had words with the teacher over it and from that moment my name was on the register… thanks mam!

I should say at this point that my parents have always, always been in my corner, whether it was my mother sorting out teachers or my father having a word with the parents of kids were giving me grief.  They’ll never know how grateful I am for their love and support, it’s what has made the person I am today… ok you can decide if that’s a good thing or not!

My parents fought the local authority in order for me to attend the local comprehensive school with all my friends, I had years of uncertainty where all my friends knew where they were going but I didn’t.  The local authority wanted to send me to a special school, or a school that had a special unit attached to it.  I wanted to stay with my friends, all my friends bar a couple were going to our local comprehensive and I wanted to do that too, why wouldn’t I, and why shouldn’t I.

Richard dressed as postman pat for a school play.
Richard dressed as postman pat for a school play.
Richard in his school year photograph.
Richard in his school year photograph.

It is important to put some context on this, I’m talking about late 80s early 90s, societal views on disability were nowhere near as developed as they are now and the world relied heavily on the medical model.

In 1992… showing my age now I know, my family and I won our battle to allow me to go to our local comprehensive school, and so the fun began.  It was a mixed bag of emotions; on the whole I loved my time in school but it was a struggle because of access.  I was lucky, like primary school I had an amazing support worker, in Primary I had Ruth and Elizabeth and in Comprehensive I had Kevin, three more people who contributed to making me the person I am today.

Both Primary and Comprehensive school I was in mainstream classes and only went to the unit for lunch time, lessons I couldn’t access or for health or social reasons.  I was the first wheelchair user to be educated in mainstream schools in the Cynon Valley and up to the time I’d left there was only one other wheelchair user in the school.

After leaving Comprehensive I went to live in Bridgend College… now this is where my story takes a turn.  I’d never seen myself as being disabled… now that probably sounds ludicrous to you but everywhere I’d been there was a distinct lack of wheelchair users, and disabled people for that matter.

The real turning point came when I started in  Bridgend College. Here, I had the opportunity to live with other disabled students, and it was a game-changer. Suddenly, my wheelchair wasn’t a source of curiosity or discomfort; it was just a part of life, nothing more, nothing less. Being surrounded by a community that understood and embraced diversity was liberating.  Some would say that this was the start of my journey to self-acceptance.

At first, I was a bit hesitant. Embrace my disability? Why would I need to do that? But it hit me harder than a sneaky puddle on a rainy day – I had been subconsciously suppressing a part of myself. It was like I had been trying to fit into someone else’s shoes (or wheels!), and it was exhausting.  Embracing my disability was like coming out of the closet – a breath of fresh air that lifted a weight off my shoulders.

Acceptance wasn’t just about acknowledging my physical differences; it was about embracing every part of who I am. The wheelchair became a symbol of positivity and determination.

Photograph of Richard on his HND graduation day
Photograph of Richard on his HND graduation day

But, let’s be real – self-acceptance is not a walk in the park. It’s a rollercoaster ride with loops, twists, and surprise drops. Along the way there have been moments of self-doubt and the judging looks of society these haven’t gone away, but I’m getting there.

My journey to self-acceptance was like an awakening, a journey that opened up my life, gave me new opportunities, new outlooks and even helped me launch my business. And now, I think we should all embrace our true selves and be proud of our disabilities.

Thanks for reading,

See you soon.

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