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Becky Olaniyi’s speech – transcript

Becky Olaniyi

Hi I’m Becky, I’ve been working with Sisters of Frida for 2 or 3 years now. To you give you a bit of background I met Eleanor at this conference in London and she sat next to me and she was like “I run and organisation for disabled feminists and we need a young person to come and speak” and I said “Yes okay, sure” but I had never spoken in front of any crowd, ever, and I was so nervous. But I spoke for like half an hour and it went really fast and it went really well and from then on I’ve spoken at Woman of the World festival two years in a row …

Recently I’ve been doing other stuff that’s not so disability focussed and one thing that I did was with this organisation called Reckless Development and that’s basically an organisation that organises travel and trips and they brought me in to talk about how to make travel more enjoyable and more accessible and I was really glad that I was able to do that because most of the access issues have been around disability and what it was like … and I was allowed to talk more about what it’s like having a disability and trying to work with other people who have disabilities in developed countries. So that was fun.

I talk about how my life has changed in the time that I’ve been working with Sisters of Frida and how things have changed for me from being a student at home and my life at University. When I first came to Sisters of Frida I was still living at home and at sixth form and people at Sisters of Frida wanted me because I have the perspective of a young person that was missing …. I didn’t know much about feminist theory, I didn’t know much about disabled theory – I still don’t know anything basically, but I just talk about my life experiences. And people seemed to like that so I thought okay I’ll just keep doing this, and then when I went to university, Sisters of Frida was the first experience I had of being around other disabled people because when I was younger I kind of avoided being around people with disabilities because I didn’t want to be seen as disabled. So I just used to stay with people who were able bodied and some people who had invisible disabilities who I thought could pass as ‘normal’. So this was the first experience I had of being around other people, other women with disabilities but when I went to university I met a lot more disabled people and I socialised a lot more with disabled people and I think Sisters of Frida was a big part of that.

Prior to coming to this organisation I felt uncomfortable around disabled people, I felt like I didn’t want to be clumped into one big room with disabled people, disabled women and I kind of shied away from that label. But after being with Sisters of Frida and then going to university I was a lot more open to disabled people and I joined my university disability society and I ran for the disabled mayor of all the disabled people in the universe! And I won it – there wasn’t much competition it was me and one other person – but still I won it. I was happy about that and then – what else have I done? Everyone has so much life experience and I’ve done nothing at all!

I was in Marie Claire – it was this thing called ‘Break Free’ and I was really happy about it but when it was published I was like “Oh this is not what I expected” because we had a half hour conversation about what it’s like to have disabilities and what it’s like being a university student with a disability and I said there were ups and downs, there were some good parts and there were some bad parts but then from a 30 minute conversation she took only the stuff that made me sound really tragic and miserable and I was just like – oh she took everything I said and she twisted it to her own narrative and I was really annoyed. It was about breaking free from boundaries and restrictions and she wanted to pigeonhole me into this box that I was a tragic disabled person … I spent so much time on the phone (and I hate phone conversations) and I said I spent my time talking to you and you just twisted my words and I was really upset about that and I didn’t even want to show my mum but I did and I don’t think she read it she was just really happy that my picture was in the magazine.

What else have I done? I’ve been having all kinds of difficulties with students with disabilities and I’ve been trying to overcome them, and then I gave up trying to overcome them and now I’m going to a new school. Because accessibility was really bad in terms of living and of studying and when I got to university they didn’t even have a table for me and I thought “I’m paying money to be here and you don’t even have a table for me” and they said “Well, we’ll sort one out next week”. And aside from being at university and struggling I think my life at home has improved a lot more now that I’ve started socialising with disabled people. It’s not necessarily that people have to have the same disability as you, or the same health issues as you, but of course there is a shared experience with people with disabilities that can sometimes lead to a relationship with more depth between people. So now that I’m socialising with disabled people my life has improved a lot.

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