A regular guy, enjoying life31 July 2012
Martyn Sibley describes himself as a regular guy who happens to have a disability called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). He is a lifelong wheelchair user and cannot lift anything heavier than a book or shower by himself, but there are lots of things he can do. He is an entrepreneur, has a Masters degree, is the co-editor of an online magazine and is an avid blogger. He has travelled the world, drives his own car and lives independently in London.
He describes his childhood in St Ives in Cambridgeshire as 'fortunate' and his parents as 'very forthright' about his going to the local mainstream school and pushing him to acquire good academic results.
Martyn went on to university in Coventry where he completed a degree in economics and a master's degree in marketing. University was a new experience for him. He had to rely on people other than his parents to provide his care.
When he completed university he returned to his home town and entered the world of work through a local job at Scope. He worked in human resources and training for a year, and gained some valuable experience before getting a transfer to the London office. He worked there for four years before taking the leap into self-employment.
Independently of this career move, Martyn had also been working on another dream of his: to travel abroad for a long period, volunteer and do something meaningful, to meet people from other cultures and to learn a new language. A lot of volunteering roles were not suitable because of his needs but he found a role in a small charity in which ran projects for the local community, particularly for disadvantaged young people.
After spending seven months working on budgets for equipment and personal assistants and getting everything in place, Martyn flew off to the north west of Spain, to volunteer with a local charity in a small town in Asturias with a population of 80,000. He described the town as full of children and older people, while many of the younger people were at university or at work in the bigger cities nearby.
During training they prepared him for the challenges he might face and while there were times when he missed home, he found volunteering to be a great experience. It gave him the opportunity to do something meaningful and to meet people from other cultures and learn a new language.
"When you have a disability, volunteering is a good way of testing your own needs and strengths, to see if fulltime work would be possible for you. It gives you the chance to overcome barriers without being in paid employment. It also gives you work experience on your CV, which will make it easier to find paid work," Martyn said.
"If any disabled people would like to volunteer abroad like I did, it's important to acknowledge there will always be worries and doubts. But don't let your disability stop you. It will take a little bit longer to arrange, it will also take patience and thinking outside of the box. I have proved it is possible, though, and it's definitely worthwhile and worth pursuing,"
Martyn believes that with the right support, disabled people can thrive. Without government support, accessible buildings, inclusive infrastructure, educated attitudes and open organisational practices, disabled people are marginalized, whether legally, socially, politically or economically. His message to disabled people is to follow your dreams, be aspirational, identify the barriers relevant to you and your impairment, never let your disability stop you and always enjoy life.
Constantly motivated to do new things, to challenge the status quo, to make a difference and to lead the way for what is possible for disabled people, Martyn lives what he believes, and if he can do that in the sunshine, he's a very happy man.
Martyn Sibley aims to inspire and inform people about disability issues by sharing his experiences. He meets with government ministers and runs a series of webinars which provide practical information about living with disability and is the co-editor of the online magazine www.disabilityhorizons.com. If you would like to get involved in raising awareness or would like advice about challenges you may be facing please contact us by phone 020 7803 4847 or email email@example.com.