Hey folks! This newsletter is about all things disability AND allyship, to give you a fresh perspective and advice that you can implement immediately to make your world more inclusive of disabled people. As a disabled woman myself, I am on my own allyship journey and I am excited to have you come along with me.
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#Thought - Why Rose Ayling-Ellis AND Giovanni Pernice are brilliant human beings!
(Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA)
[Image: Giovanni Pernice, an Italian man, wearing a pale pink button shirt, is standing next to Rose Ayling-Ellis, a white, Deaf woman wearing a pale pink embroidered dress. They are laughing and holding up the Strictly Come Dancing Glitter Ball. Fireworks are exploding behind them.]
The reason this newsletter is out a little late is that I have been processing what it means for Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice to win BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing this year. I had the newsletter almost finished when I scrapped what I had written and decided that I wanted to end this year with my heart on my sleeve…
*Below is an expansion on my Linkedin post from yesterday.
In what was the most diverse Strictly Finale yet, two marginalised communities felt seen and heard, were loved and accepted and shown that what was once thought impossible is actually the most possible thing in the world. With the first ever same-sex male partnership and the first ever Deaf competitor, a TV show has given hope and shown opportunity to the LGBTQAI+ and Disabled communities like never before. With both couples making the final and both smashing it in the dance department, so much so that even the judges couldn’t separate them, a TV show has shown that those that are different can be successful and celebrated for their differences.
What Rose Ayling-Ellis achieved was, simply, breathtaking. It wasn’t simply the dancing that was great- because wow, she improved week on week, blowing the judges away with her musicality and brilliance. It was also joie de vivre and sense of fun that she brought to, not only the dance floor, but the training room, interviews and behind the scenes Insta reels with Giovanni; Rose showed, week on week, that there is joy and happiness in being disabled. She didn’t hide that she is Deaf, instead, she spoke proudly of her lived experience and the opportunities and friendships and love that being Deaf had created in her life. And then she gave us, the audience, the privilege of stepping into her world, through her beautiful couples choice dance. That dance was the moment the curtain was parted, only a sliver, and for a tiny second, into Rose’s world. And Rose shone through so brightly…
We also can’t forget about Giovanni Pernice, Rose’s professional dance partner. I talk a lot about disability allyship - some might say I am passionate about it, because I know that to make lasting change in an ableist world we need allies, like yourself, to step forward with us for equity and fairness. What emerged throughout the weeks and months of Strictly this year was a person who was committed to allyship in every single way. Firstly, it was Giovanni who adapted his style of teaching to make the dances accessible to Rose. This included them both counting out the rhythm of each dance, each step, creating a dynamic between them both that was built on absolute trust. It also meant teaching Rose the minutia of each dance, having her lay each dance like a track into her muscle memory.
Secondly, Giovanni listened and really heard Rose, about her needs to get the job done. And he believed her; his ego firmly stayed tucked away in deference to Rose’s expertise about her own impairment. Giovanni actively learnt much more from Rose than she learnt from him. There was no “we can’t” or “that is impossible,” instead there was “how can we” and “let’s figure it out,” the kind of creative problem solving skills that we disabled folk need non-disabled people to embody alongside us.
Through creativity and adaptability, this couple smashed it. They showed a trust in each other and a love for each other that was built on belonging. And for disabled people that is at the core of our longing - we want to feel that we, no matter our impairments or conditions, belong in every nook and cranny of society. If we want to fly, swim, teach, learn, grow and thrive, we want to feel that society will give us the space and opportunity to do so. If we want to dance we want to feel that society will give us the space and opportunity to do so - and that is exactly what Strictly and Giovanni did for Rose.
Disability is, more often than not, represented as a tragedy or as pitiable or as being a signifier of evil, yet on this TV show, that is seen globally, we have authentic, beautiful and joyful disability representation. We have seen what including disabled people in our lives, work places and communities can look like and I can't explain how empowering this is for me and the disabled community. To be given a chance to shine, a chance to step into our potential in a space that we want to be in, thrive in; that is where you will see disability authenticity burst through.
When I was a child I desperately wanted to be a ballerina. I obsessively watched The Nutcracker and dreamed that one day I could dance like that. My dance expressed itself in another way**- in the swimming pool and the Paralympics, where I had my own successes. But Rose has awoken that dream in me again - what will my next dance look like? I can see the possibility now… I know you will see me floating across the stage one day, whatever that stage may be. It is in this knowing that Rose has awoken the dreams of opportunity and possibility in the lives of many disabled children and adults all over the world.
And what about you? How are you going to step your allyship up? Just 48 hours after the final, Giovanni has showed his continuing commitment to allyship by announcing today that there will be British Sign Language interpreters provided for his forthcoming tour. He has adapted, learnt, and integrated that learning, so much so that it is now core to his very life. So I ask you, how can you make allyship and accessibility a core aspect of your life? How will you adapt the way that you do things to ensure that disabled people have access and inclusion? How will you listen and learn from the disabled people in your life and, like Giovanni, integrate it holistically into your work and community? How will you create a culture where disabled people feel they belong?
I am having a rest from the newsletter next Monday, like everyone, I am very tired after the strange and stressful year we have all had and I need a break. I will be back, however, on the 3rd of January 2022 - with a special offer for my subscribers - ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! So keep your eyes peeled for the 3rd.
In the meantime I want to thank you so much for all of your support and I want to wish you all a safe and happy holiday season and new year.
** It took a discussion with my friend Anj Handa to understand that my swimming career was my version of dancing at that point in my life. Thanks Anj for helping me see that.