However, for many people with disabilities, social isolation is a much greater issue than for other members of the community.
Ellie Simpson knows this all too well. As a teenager she felt progressively more and more isolated from her peers. Despite being just as intelligent, Ellie’s physical restrictions due to her cerebral palsy (CP) meant she was very reliant on friends for basic functions – not something that teens are keen to do. She felt left out and self-conscious.
“My able-bodied peers were becoming more and more independent, especially when we all turned 18. Although mentally I was at the same level as them, I couldn’t have the same independence”, Ellie said.
“I was able to have independence away from my parents, but this meant relying on my peers to physically look after me, for example cutting up my food. It became clear that they weren’t willing to do this – presumably because they didn’t feel it looked particularly cool?”
“When I left school, as expected my ‘peers’ moved away to university and cut off contact with me. It really hurt. I took a gap year as I was unsure of what I wanted to do, and I was left with virtually nothing other than 3 A-Levels”, she said.
Starting small: growing big
So, in 2013 Ellie created CP Teens UK in an effort to bring together people like her who were also struggling with a lack of support and social isolation. It began as a Twitter account, then rapidly expanded into a website, blog and Facebook page.
CP Teens UK helps teenagers and young people with CP and similar disabilities, and their families. It connects people, enables friendships, promotes, distributes and organises events, offers help and support, and gives teenagers and young people with CP a voice.
This fast growing community is now reaching people outside the UK as well, and impacting people of all ages and from all walks of life. Most recently, CP Teens UK has expanded to incorporate ‘CP Tinies’ (0-8 years) and ‘CP Tweens’ (9-13 years). Students studying a range of subjects have used CP Teens UK in their studies, while parents of children with CP also use CP Teens UK as they find it “invaluable”.
As well as focusing on friendships and support, CP Teens UK has a particular focus on Disability Sport.
Ellie didn’t expect CP Teens UK to turn into such a massive hit.
“In October 2013, I decided that I wanted to take CP Teens UK all the way and gain charity status and as a result of this the first ever fundraiser ‘The Sponsored Wobble’ (a 5k walk/wheel/wobble) took place”, Ellie said.
“Since then, we’ve held an inaugural Ball, and a second Sponsored Wobble. We’ve made some fantastic partnerships, including CP Sport, and also now have a RaceRunning (a disability sport for people with severe cerebral palsy) group based in Sheffield.”
Making a difference
“There was clearly such a need for something like CP Teens UK, I just didn’t realise what I was about to start off!” she said.
We know that medical and therapeutic care is vital to helping people with disability live the fullest life possible, but these can only go so far. A fulfilling life also means having quality of life. And every single person deserves this in order to have the opportunity to contribute to society.
Building supportive communities, first online and eventually on the ground, helps improve the social, economic and personal quality of life for people with CP. Ellie’s CP Teens UK is a brilliant example of this.
“CP Teens UK has had, and continues to have, a profound impact on many teenagers and young people with CP and similar disabilities. I receive messages on a weekly basis from young people from across the UK (and even abroad) telling me how CP Teens UK has helped with their self-confidence and how they no longer feel alone”, Ellie said.
“There is no greater feeling than this. It’s just so wonderful to know that CP Teens UK is actually making a difference”, she said.