Redefining Success As A Disabled Person – TEDx 2019

pippa sat on edge of stage at TEDx, iconic red carpet and lettering in background. Pippa is wearing a burgandy long sleeved top, black jeans and black pumps.

In December 2019, I took on one of the most nerve-wracking challenges of my life and gave a TEDx talk in York. You can watch the talk on YouTube, and below you’ll find a blog post equivalent of what I wanted to say… all about redefining success as a disabled person. I really hope it gives you some food for thought!

So, I’m the kind of disabled person you don’t see in the media. I haven’t climbed a mountain, I haven’t defied the odds and become a medical miracle, and I have no plans whatsoever to compete in the Paralympics.

Instead, I was lucky enough to acquire a debilitating chronic illness as a teenager. It took five years to find my diagnosis, and even then I was left with no prognosis, no targeted treatment, and no cure. In fact, all I had back then was just a handful of leaflets, some prescription painkillers, and a questionably wobbly wheelchair who I proudly named George Ezra.

I had to recalibrate my entire young adult life to accommodate my illness and really, this is where the trouble first began.

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York’s Wheelchair-Accessible Indie Coffee Shops and Cafes

pippa sat at table wearing jumper and looking down at tea cup in hands, with tea pot on table in front

If you’ve ever visited York, you’ll know it’s an absolute goldmine for cute and quirky independent businesses. You could visit a different indie coffee shop for breakfast every weekend, and in my former years as a student (prior to becoming a wheelchair-user), that’s pretty much what my friends and I did.

Fast forward a few years to the present day, however, and finding a local, wheelchair-accessible spot for a cuppa and a bite to eat when you’re out and about is infinitely more difficult, especially when you’re trying to stay away from chains of Starbucks and Costas and support local businesses and tourist attractions instead.

Sadly, there’s a real lack of accessibility awareness in York centre, especially for such a well-known touristy spot. Many organisations are quick to defend themselves with excuses of listed-buildings and historical accuracy, rather than liaising with disabled visitors and making a commitment to at least trying to improve their accessibility. And in my eyes, it’s a real shame.

That said, there are still a fair few lovely spots committed to welcoming disabled visitors, including the following…

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Accessible York – Encouraging Inclusive Tourism in North Yorkshire

pippa in power-chair, pointing to outdoor sign reading 'speed limit within this yard 15MPH' and laughing

Back in September 2013 when I moved to York for university, it’s safe to say my new friends and I fully made the most of all the city had to offer. As a non-disabled student at the time, there were no barriers holding us back from exploring the tourist attractions and thriving indie businesses that York is increasingly becoming well-known for… besides the pesky student budgets and the occasional hangover, of course.

However, part-way through my degree, chronic illness inconveniently invited itself into my life. And as I’m sure you can imagine, things have never since been the same. Whilst my health has declined over the last 5 years and I’ve become an ambulatory wheelchair user, my eyes have been well and truly opened to the unrelenting and often invisible obstacles that disabled and chronically ill people face in day-to-day life. And the tourism industry here in Yorkshire, wonderful as it is, is no exception to this.

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