North East Expo - An Honest Experience

Today, I visited North East Expo Expedition; the biggest business event in the region. I attended mainly to network, as running a non-profit we are always looking for business backing, but also the fact there was lost of local stands there and seminars really excited me as I love to 'support local'.

Background: I run projectparent which is a non-profit providing gift boxes for parents of children who stay in hospital over Christmas. I am also working on a new project, 'Sponsor a Stay', which funds respite breaks for disabled adults & their carers through business sponsorship schemes - hence why I was eager to network! Finally, I am also a freelance blogger and public speaker, avidly into disability/accessibility & helping others. 

There were minor bumps throughout the day, but there's two things I really want to talk about here.

I arrived and went over to my first stall, which thankfully was my good friends Joe and Alexandra. As we were chatting, a man approached from behind and started started stroking Spencer (we'll get onto that in a minute) and came out with something which honestly shocked me. He saw a picture of me modelling on the stand whilst I was stood up, alongside a photo of me in my wheelchair (and my physical self being in a chair), turned to me and said 'so your in a wheelchair because your lazy then?'. Once I told him how offensive that was, he continued to say 'well I bet everyone says that about you'. The worst thing about it was none of us knew this man, he didn't introduce himself and I'd already explained I'm an ambulatory wheelchair user.

The fact that this was the first event I attended myself was a huge step for me and to be knocked at the first hurdle was hard. I wasn't dressed for people to take me seriously (note: it does still matter what you look like at events like this, ditch the jeans Kate and buy your first suit!). I'm young and many underestimate the power of young people. And most importantly, I got judged on a set of wheels instantly and that is not okay.

The next thing that happened was a general thing, people stroking my assistance dog. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't the best at saying 'no' but most people didn't even ask; I was still nervous about what people would say after my first encounter so just rolled with it. But what was so difficult was people would either stroke my dog, or ask to stroke my dog, then completely ignore me. My dog, as fabulous as he is, isn't here to provide entertainment and he is an ice-breaker but the conversation needs to continue. If you were one of the people who either just stroked Spencer and left, or only asked questions about the dog & not a single thing about what I do, think about how that makes me feel. I work extremely hard in what I do and for people to treat me equally, and quite frankly, I deserve it.

So yes, today has been difficult to say the least. I'm so grateful I had some friends there, some friends at the end of the phone to rant to and my family to cry to tonight. I'm not done yet, I'll be going back in a pink power suit with more confidence and a charity bucket charging £10 to stroke Spencer, it's all a learning curve...

Note: Thank you to the people who were genuine and took the time to talk to me today - I appreciate your time and the fact I wasn't all with it. 

Kate & Spencer

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