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Mel Wardle Woodend: Using Experience and Disability to Help Others

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Mel Wardle Woodend is Staffordshire Poet Laureate 2019-2022. And, much of her work is inspired by learning difficulties, mental illness and disabilities

Some of the poetry written by Mel Wardle Woodend is inspired by her OCD, while others are inspired by both her and her husband’s dyslexia and her experience with Meniere’s disease. She says, “I feel privileged to be able to do this because people have told me that some of my mental health poetry has helped them to feel less alone in what they too, are experiencing.”

So, let’s take a look at her work and career.

Becoming a Poet Laurette

Mel Wardle Woodend

© Express and Star

Mel has made some great achievements with her poetry. For many poets, becoming a Poet Laurette is a far-off dream that only happens to other people. For Mel, it became a reality in 2019, when she was awarded the role of Staffordshire Poet Laurette for her contribution to raising the profile (and popularity) of poetry in and around Staffordshire. While most of us were facing our own different challenges in 2020, during the pandemic, she had the extra challenge of adapting her work to online platforms.

This included the co-run event with Jon Watkiss, WORD Staffordshire. Running this online had the added benefit of helping to connect people who would otherwise be emotionally isolated during the strict periods of lockdown.

Dyslexia

Mel also creates dyslexic-friendly books. The motivation behind setting up her publishing company, Dream Well Writing, was her husband’s struggles with dyslexia, alongside her previous experience of working as a support assistant. Mel worked with young people who faced barriers to literary development. This prompted her to follow the examples of publishers, such as Barrington Stoke who format their books in a way which makes reading more accessible for people with dyslexia.

Hearing Loss

Pixabay image

© Pixabay

However, Mel faced further challenges when waking one day to realise she couldn’t hear properly in one ear. This was later diagnosed as Meniere’s Disease and spread to her other ear. She describes the experience as frightening, leaving her too concerned to walk down the street on her own, due to not hearing approaching cars or footsteps of people which she was always aware of until that point. This new disability affected her poetry as a career, because of the predominantly listening aspect. One example of this is being unable to hear responses from children during assemblies or participants during workshops.

Although hearing aids help, Mel describes some of the challenges involved in adapting to them.

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“I find the things I used to enjoy as a routine part of life – going out to a café with friends, hosting poetry events, running workshops, and even watching TV – can be very exhausting as my hearing aids amplify all the sounds they pick up and send them straight to my brain! Then the brain has to work really hard to try to decide which of the sounds it actually needs to process (such as the person I am speaking to and not just all of the background noises). I know I will never hear words properly in my left ear again as those sounds have been permanently lost – but the hearing aid helps my right ear a lot with clarity and I have been learning lipreading, which is starting to help me a little too.”

Further education

Pixabay image

© Pixabay

Before her hearing loss, Mel was looking into a doctoral research programme, which she put on hold in the hope her hearing would recover. After learning it wouldn’t, she made the decision to apply and is now taking her PhD at Aston University. The support from the university has been a great help, but it wouldn’t be possible without her determination and ability to adapt to some of the significant challenges thrown at her.

She shares an encouraging message to anyone facing similar or different challenges in life.

“I think, successfully applying and gaining my place and starting a new ‘journey’ as a deaf student has really been an achievement to be proud of. The one thing I have learnt is that you cannot let things hold you back – it is fine to have dark and difficult days (and completely normal when going through something quite life-changing) – but important to not let a disability take away the things that are important to you.”

 

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Breaking Barriers: Inspiring Leadership from Physically Disabled CEOs

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In the realm of corporate leadership, a group of remarkable individuals is not just making waves but breaking down barriers—CEOs who, despite facing physical challenges, have risen to the top echelons of their respective industries. Their stories of resilience, determination, and success serve as beacons of inspiration. Let’s delve into the lives and achievements of the top five physically disabled CEOs who are transforming perceptions and paving the way for a more inclusive future.

Satya Nadella – Microsoft:

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, stands as a testament to the power of inclusive leadership. Though not physically disabled himself, Nadella’s commitment to accessibility and empathy in technology has been shaped by his son Zain, who has cerebral palsy. Under Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft has prioritized accessibility initiatives, creating technology that caters to individuals with diverse abilities.

Jen Easterly – Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA):

Jen Easterly, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the United States, has had a distinguished career in cybersecurity and counterterrorism. Easterly’s achievements highlight the importance of diverse perspectives in critical fields. Despite facing physical challenges, she has risen to lead a key agency responsible for securing the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Alexandra Reeve Givens – Center for Democracy & Technology:

Alexandra Reeve Givens, President and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, has combined her legal expertise with a commitment to technology policy. Daughter of the late Christopher Reeve, she carries on his legacy of resilience. Givens advocates for digital rights and is a prominent voice in discussions surrounding privacy, online freedom, and disability rights.

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John Kemp – The Viscardi Center:

John Kemp, President and CEO of The Viscardi Center, has dedicated his career to empowering people with disabilities. As a person with a disability himself, Kemp’s leadership has played a pivotal role in advancing disability rights and accessibility. His work at The Viscardi Center focuses on education, employment, and empowerment for individuals with disabilities.

Caroline Casey – The Valuable 500:

Caroline Casey, though not a CEO in a traditional sense, is the founder of The Valuable 500, a global initiative advocating for disability inclusion in business. Casey, who is visually impaired, has been a driving force behind major corporations committing to making their workplaces more inclusive. Her work emphasizes the business case for diversity, challenging companies to prioritize disability inclusion at the highest levels.

The journeys of these physically disabled CEOs highlight that leadership knows no physical bounds. Their stories inspire us to reevaluate preconceptions and recognize the value of diversity in leadership

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Ade Adepitan, a Black BBC presenter and disability inclusion advocate, is breaking barriers.

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Ade Adepitan

In the world of television broadcasting, Ade Adepitan stands out not just for his charming personality, but also for his incredible journey as a black and disabled BBC presenter. Adepitan’s narrative is one of perseverance, breaking down barriers, and becoming a strong advocate for disability inclusion in the media. 

Ade began his athletic career at an early age, motivated by a love of wheelchair basketball. His talent in the sport inspired him to join the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team, which competed in the Paralympic Games in 2004. His passion and accomplishments on the court established the groundwork for a tremendous career that would span other sports.

Ade Adepitan

Adepitan’s journey into broadcasting began as a sports presenter, covering major events such as the Paralympic Games and the Invictus Games. His eloquence, passion, and depth of insight quickly caught the attention of the BBC, leading to his role as a prominent broadcaster and documentary maker.

Ade Adepitan’s impact at the BBC is both profound and trailblazing. As a black presenter with a disability, he brings a unique perspective to the screen, challenging stereotypes and reshaping narratives. Adepitan’s warmth and authenticity have made him a beloved figure among audiences, transcending barriers of race and ability.

Besides his on-screen talents, Adepitan is a strong champion for disability rights and inclusivity. He uses his platform to raise awareness about the issues that disabled people experience, as well as to advocate for more media representation. Adepitan’s lobbying includes efforts targeted at increasing opportunities for disabled people in the entertainment sector.

Ade Adepitan’s experience as a black, disabled BBC presenter acts as an inspiration for aspiring broadcasters and anyone confronting physical problems. His accomplishments emphasise the necessity of diversity in media representation and add to the continuing conversation regarding inclusivity in the entertainment business.

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In conclusion, Ade Adepitan’s tale demonstrates the power of determination, tenacity, and honesty.

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Listen to Dis’: Disability-Led Arts Organisation

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Listen to Dis

Listen to Dis’ are the inclusivity-focused, disability-led arts organisation championing disability culture through art and performance

Listen to Dis’ is a registered non-profit community arts organisation that champions disability culture through the medium of inclusive art and performance. Their work manifests in many forms including workshops, artist series and theatrical touring, and everything has an underlying message to support and empower the global disabled community. 

Here we highlight how Listen to Dis’ is bringing this message to life: 

Listen to Dis’ VOICE

Listen to Dis’ VOICE is a weekly open-access program where artists join forces to learn, create, explore, and connect. The focus topic changes each week yet is always in keeping with the Listen to Dis’ core message of advocating for the disabled community. Through this profound program, Listen to Dis’ has created some truly important work surrounding ableist ways disabled bodies and minds are viewed. 

Listen to Dis

Listen to Dis

The Other Ordinary

The Other Ordinary is Listen to Dis’ touring crip theatre company. Launched out of a class at the University of Regina named Devising Inclusive Theatre, and directed by Listen to Dis’ founder and artistic director Traci Foster. Dubbed TOO, it fosters the talents of emerging professional artists that produce tour shows with a focus on how it feels to live and work as disabled people. 

Take their first show, ‘Neither Heroes nor Ordinary People,’ as a prime example, which uncovers the realities of living with disabilities through music, monologue, dance, beatbox, and singing. Their second show, Mine to Have, is about sexuality, sensuality, disability, and 

the political right to live in one’s body. 

Listen to Dis

Listen to Dis

Visiting Artist Series

LTD’s visiting artist series connects disabled artists with the wider arts ecology by inviting artists, both disabled and not, to host workshops that explore disability art. Inviting artists from outside the LTD’s group enables LTD’s network to expand but also ignites deeper learning on both parts of the essence of disability culture and mindset. 

LTD’s is amplifying the voices of the disabled community through a variety of mediums that all celebrate art, performance and culture. Follow their journey on their Instagram here

Through facilitated dialogue and inclusive art practice and performance, we weave new realities for our members and for the broader community – shifting the way people perceive disability and creating an understanding of and appreciation for crip art, mad art, and disability culture.

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