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How to challenge ignorance and educate people
Whether it's through competition at a world-class level in the Paralympics, speaking in the House of Lords, or changing perceptions on the street, Tanni Grey-Thompson is no stranger to overcoming a challenge.
Below, she speaks about how to deal with both professional difficulties that come with the responsibility of voting in Parliament, to how she deals with ignorance and discrimination against her as a woman living with disability.
Accepting that you can't please everyone.
It's not always easy. If you're getting a barrage of people saying that they think you're awful, or you're not doing a good job... I've had it in times in my political career where people have really gone for me. It's hard to switch off from that. It's about trying to sort of find balance.
I mean, some of the funny stuff that I get is, people stopping me in the street saying: “You're the athlete, aren't you?” I retired 13 years ago, but yes, you know... They say: “Oh, you're not as skinny as you used to be.”
Because I'm not training. OK, what you can't say ever, ever, ever: I'm not training 15 times a week anymore, so I don't need to have, like, zero body fat, you know? So you just have to say: “I know.”
I've had people really swear at me and say: “You're a really bad person because you voted this way.” I guess the decisions we make in politics, people will both love you and hate you for those decisions. And, you know, most of us want to be liked. It's hard.
How Tanni Grey-Thompson votes in Parliament.
What I always say, maybe how I vote in Parliament... If I can't describe, in five sentences, why I voted a certain way, I shouldn't vote on that topic. I mean, actually, no one ever asked me why I vote a certain way – they'd be much more confrontational – but I think you have to understand.
You have to be able to explain to people so if when people say, “why did you do that,” you have to give them the time to explain to them why you've done those things.
Sometimes they understand it, and sometimes they don't. The reality is: not everybody will love you for what you do.
The hardest discrimination to deal with.
I think some of the hardest stuff I dealt with was actually when I was pregnant. I had a lot of people saying to me: “People like you shouldn't be pregnant,” mainly meaning disabled women. Some of that was quite hard to deal with, but then I have had a good family around me who just, support me and help help me through that.
The discrimination I experienced as a disabled person is probably some of the toughest stuff to deal with. It's usually “people like you,” and it comes with the pointy finger.
Before lockdown, I was told that people like me shouldn't try and commute at busy times because non disabled people have jobs they're trying to get to. Yeah, that's what I'm doing. So my response to “people like you” is: What, you mean Welsh people? Or do you mean wheelchair user? And that normally stops people and gets them to think a little bit.
I mean, that's been rehearsed over many years. But it's finding a way you can challenge people without losing your temper and screaming at them, which might make me feel better for about two minutes, but actually doesn't change their attitude.
Changing perceptions of someone living with disability.
There are times where I do shout back at people but you know, what I try to do this time shift people's view of what disabled people can and can't do. And most of the time, a lot of people aren't used to talking to disabled people or know what to say. And it's about trying to change those attitudes.
I've been I've lost count how many times I've been asked: How did you get pregnant? You have a mummy and daddy who love each other very much...
I'm interested in people's perception of what you can be as a disabled person.