Campaigner Sophia Kleanthous is an outgoing and ambitious young woman, working to end disability discrimination and shine a light on ableism in society. This International Women’s Day, Sophia is campaigning for the recognition of all women.
“We have created a moment where I personally feel comfortable sharing the discrimination I have faced as a disabled woman, I think what is really important is that being a woman is not just one thing,” emphasises Sophia.
Growing up, Sophia would often use terms like “I’m not like other girls and women” because she wasn’t very girly, but quickly realised that this actually came from patriarchal ideas of what a woman is and is glad initiatives like IWD will show other young girls who don’t fit into these stereotypes, that they do belong.
Disabled women, women of colour, Black women, transgender women, and women of all sexual orientations and beyond: IWD is a day for everyone. And this IWD, Sophia chooses to challenge the norm.
“The reason [IWD] is really important to me, is I wish I had something like this when I was younger,” Sophia says.
“It is not about being a woman and being one thing. There are many elements of a woman’s identity that is stereotyped and needs to be challenged in the first place.
ABLEISM AND ME
Throughout the pandemic, understanding and representation of disability has been below par with many disabled people feeling left out of society. Ableism is a significant barrier in society, and it can leave disabled people behind.
Furthering her drive to challenge stereotypes, Sophia has created a campaign and a movement called Ableism and Me, working to ensure our society is accessible.
“A lot of people, when they think of disability they think of someone in a wheelchair, the reality is not everyone is in a wheelchair; I have a mobility aid I sometimes use and sometimes I don’t,” explains Sophia. “I try not to use it out in public, generally because I’m scared at how the public will react.”
In June of last year, Sophia set out a three-point plan for Ableism and Me, detailing the steps she and the rest of the Ableism and Me campaigners will take to highlight the experiences of the disabled community worldwide.
Sophia enthuses: “With the website, people can post their experiences of everyday ableism. It is similar to the everyday sexism campaign, because it will be giving people the chance to write in their own words and share their experiences in their own voice.
“I hope people will then see this and see how common ableism is.”
Ableism is ingrained in society: from transport, education, workplaces and more needs to be done to put an end to discrimination and ableism.
Unfortunately, Sophia, like many other disabled job seekers, has faced discrimination in the employment market.
“There have been times where I was let go from a job because of my chronic illness,” reveals Sophia. “I was also screamed at by a former manager, she used to swear at me when I was on the phone with customers; it was an awful experience. I thought I had no rights.”
However, charities like Leonard Cheshire are working to continually ensure the disabled community are upskilled and have a path into paid employment, without discrimination; a route that should be the norm for everyone of working age.
“When I got into Change 100, I suddenly found the motivation from the Change 100 brand itself,” Sophia enthuses. “At the heart of it, it’s looking making sure a person can get into work, stay in work, and have meaningful work.
Sophia adds: “I would feel hesitant using the word disabled in a public setting, but Change 100 gave me that confidence and empowered me to be able to work despite my mental health and chronic disabilities.
“It showed me that the working world is not closed off to you because you are disabled.”
Sophia has since discussed her experiences of working with a disability, and getting into paid employment through Change 100 on her blog.
Looking forward, Sophia is continuing to campaign to raise awareness of disability, chronic illness, encouraging more widespread education of disability – starting off in schools – to fighting ableism and sharing the experiences of herself and others through Ableism and Me.
With campaigners like Sophia on hand, the barriers disabled people face are sure to be challenged.
Sophia concludes: “There is a big, loving disabled community out there if you are newly disabled or struggling with your identity, please reach out. This International Women’s Day could be a great step in breaking down barriers.
“I also choose to challenge the idea of ‘gendered conditions’ and disabilities,” she adds. “Many chronic illnesses like endometriosis for example can also affect trans men and non-binary people and anyone who menstruates. This needs to be understood by the medical community and society to prevent stigma and increased complications.”