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Sunday, 15 September 2013

If you read our inspiring guest blog posts from Emily Yates you'll be familiar with the charity organisation she mentioned called Jolt Trust. We're really interested in what this small charity offer to disabled people and what they have already achieved. So we'd like to share some more info about the Jolt Trust movement with you...

"Since 1983, the Journey of a Lifetime Trust (JoLt) has been making a positive, lasting difference to the lives of hundreds of disabled, ill, abused and neglected young people. JoLt is a small charity run on a totally voluntary basis by a group of ordinary people with families and careers. It was set up in 1983 to make a positive lasting difference to the lives of disabled, ill, neglected and abused young people.Every two years, we organise expeditions all over the world for groups of young people (from fourteen to twenty one years) with significant disadvantages. All long to travel to far-away places. JoLt makes their dreams come true." - JoLt Website

Sounds amazing right? Fancy getting involved?

Well there are many ways you could help to get involved with this charity and their work. First of all is by donating so that they can continue to offer these fantastic expeditions for the disabled youngsters in years to come. If you'd like more information about this please click here.

Or you could nominate a youngster to be considered for taking part in the 2014 expedition across Africa!

"We are busy planning our next journey for July / August 2014. We aim to travel from the heart of Africa to the Indian Ocean. We will start our travels in Zambia, before heading through Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland and arrive in Mozambique a month later. We will take in the mighty Zambezi River and Victoria Falls before entering Botswana, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. South African highlights include the world famous Kruger National Park and Blyde River Canyon. The Kingdom of Swaziland will be the location for a community project and some exciting trekking, before arriving on the beaches of Mozambique to complete our journey." - JoLt Website

For more information about how to nominate please click here!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

After reading about Emily's incredible story so far we decided to ask her some questions about her involvement at London 2012 and what her plans are for the future. Here is our short Q+A session with her...

1. As a wheelchair user, how did you find the facilities and accessibility at The Games?
I thought it was incredible.  Not only were the facilities great, they were so great that I honestly did not have to put in any extra effort compared to an able-bodied person.  The lifts and toilets were conveniently placed; everything was lovely and flat, with vehicles to help you out if you struggled with distance.  Most of all, though, there was always someone willing to help you out if you needed it.  Such an inclusive, wonderful atmosphere.

2. Would you encourage a disabled person to apply to be a volunteer at The Games and why?
Absolutely, and why not?  Everything you could possibly need will be available to you.  You will make friends that you immediately have a bond with, as you are all volunteering for the same reasons: to have fun, and to make a difference to the success of the event and the enjoyment of the athletes.  I'd even say that I had an advantage working as a disabled volunteer at the Paralympics. I felt that, a lot of the time, I was able to communicate well with athletes who had similar disabilities, and they were equally confident that I would be able to help them out.  My wheelchair also fell apart during one of my shifts, and I couldn't have been in a better location for it to be mended by all the amazing technicians!

3. What is your favourite memory from working at London 2012?
There's so many! Of course, meeting Seb was incredible, as was being mentioned in his speech.  What I remember most, though, is the constant buzz that surrounded London.  Everyone was vibrant and happy; it made working at the Games an absolute joy.

4. What advice would you give to a disabled person that is considering applying for tickets to Rio?
Read the accessible guide I'm writing, which will hopefully tell you all you need to know about making the most of your time there!

5. Tell us a bit about your book 'An Accessible Guide to Rio' and when can we get our hands on a copy?

Right now, the guide is still in the very early stages. The aim, though, is to create a fully comprehensive guide that will help those with varying disabilities to get the most out of their time in Rio. It'll let you know where is good to visit, where you can rest your head after a busy day, and where you can go to party with ease!  Of course, there will be lots of information about accessible transport and tourist attractions, too.  And it won't just be suitable for those with disabilities either.  The elderly and families with children in pushchairs may also benefit from it, too.  If all goes to plan, we are hoping that the guide will be distributed free of charge through disability organisations and networks, so that the guide really does hit its target audience!

Emily's Twitter: @EmilyRYates

Sunday, 1 September 2013

- Emily and Seb at London 2012

- Emily and her friend Tom with 
The One Show's Alex Jones

Me and my twin sister, Lucy were born 10 weeks prematurely, and later diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, after not being able to walk for quite a while when we were young.  My early memories are of constantly walking up and down the stairs at our local Children's Development Centre to try and strengthen my legs.  We had a lovely childhood, and loved school.  I don't remember our disability ever affecting us, how we made friends, or our outlook on life.

At 9 years old, I had an operation to improve my walking, as it was getting so bad that my knees started to knock together and my posture was worsening.  I had Derotational Osteotomy where my thigh bones were cut and pinned back together.  My hamstrings were also lengthened.  This huge procedure took quite a while to recover from, and I lost all the muscle tone in my legs, leading me to use a wheelchair.  I have no recollection of this change ever really bothering me; I was actually much more mobile with the wheelchair, and I started playing wheelchair basketball locally and at county level.  I remember my wheelchair even being quite cool when I started secondary school!  Again, apart from a few issues with school trips and risk assessments, my time at school was so enjoyable. I did well in my GCSEs, and decided to stay on at 6th form, with the hope of attending University.

In the summer of 2008, at the age of 16, I as given an amazing opportunity which would change my life forever. I was nominated by my school to go to southern Africa (Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa) with the JoLt Charity, an incredible organisation that takes disabled or disadvantaged young people on a literal 'Journey of a Lifetime'.  Here, I met people with similar life experiences and similar ambitions.  Together, we did things that we'd never imagined would have been possible.  We rode elephants, went cage diving with sharks, and climbed some of the highest sand dunes there are! I immediately got the travel bug, along with 30 life-long friends.

After JoLt, I was determined to travel some more. After my A Levels, I went to the Sinai Desert with the Yorkshire Schools Exploring Society, and was the first wheelchair user they'd ever taken on a trip.  I was also the first wheelchair user to ever cross the desert on camel! Whilst in the area, we also completed our PADI Open Water Scuba Diving course - a real challenge for me - but it was so worth it.

After Sinai, I moved to London after being accepted to study English at Queen Mary, University of London.  I totally fell in love with London, and all the opportunities it has to offer, and I adored student life!  It was half-way through this fresher year that I was accepted to move to Melbourne, Australia for a year studying abroad.  Going to the other side of the world was quite a scary thought, but I was ready for the challenge. In Australia, I snorkelled at the Great Barrier Reef, volunteered at a juvenile prison, and met another wheelchair user, Alex, who was to become my travelling partner for the year.  Of course, I managed to fit a little study time in, too...  Urging myself to grab such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like moving to Australia is something that I'm so proud of.  It would have been so much easier to sit back and stay in my comfort zone, but taking that risk was the best thing I've ever done.

I returned to London in July 2012, after heading from Australia to America to intern at the United Nations in New York.  It was at this time that I received a call from the London 2012 team, saying that my application to be a Games Maker at the Paralympic Games had been successful.  The day before my first shift, I got another call, asking me if I would talk at a press conference the following morning.  I said yes, thinking nothing else of it.  But, lo and behold, I arrived that morning to be greeted by Lord Sebastian Coe - we'd be doing the conference together in front of loads of journalists!  I told them all how amazing the Games had been for those with disabilities, 'lifting the cloud of limitation' on everything that they thought was previously possible.

I then worked at the Excel arena, working as a Games Maker in the warm-up team for Wheelchair Fencing.  I absolutely loved it.  We got the chance to take athletes out onto the field of play, and then take photos with them and their medals!

Seb then went on to use my 'cloud' quote in his closing ceremony speech of the Paralympics.  My phone was going mad with calls and texts - I couldn't believe it!  My friend Tom and I had previously spoken about how great it would be to write an accessible travel guide for the next set of Games at Rio 2016, and this was suddenly our opportunity.  I quickly got in touch with Seb and the team at the British Paralympic Association, both of whom have supported my ambition to create the guide right from the start.  I am now writing the guide in association with Dorling Kindersley and Rough Guides.  We are currently trying to raise sponsorship so that we can distribute the guide free of charge to those who will benefit the most from it. I'm also about to start a Master’s degree in Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, and I'm hoping that my dream to help others with disabilities to embrace the idea of travelling the world really makes a difference!
I am so fortunate to have been given so many wonderful opportunities, and each one has led to another one.  To anyone reading this, the only advice I can give is to urge you to say 'yes' to any exciting offer that is made to you; you never, ever know where it might lead!

 - Twitter: @EmilyRYates

Next week's blog post will feature a short Q+A with Emily about her experiences at London 2012 and her plans for the future - so stay tuned!