Disability didn’t define me, but discrimination nearly broke me – now I’m fighting back
If Jessica Smith’s life was a Hollywood movie then the story would have gone like this, a child born with a disability overcomes adversity to beat everyone in her school at swimming. She swims so well she swims all the to the Paralympics, there she achieves her dream, music plays as she swims off into the distance happily ever after.
But Jessica Smith’s story is far more raw, far more unacceptable, far more painful and thus far more human and far more inspiring.
In the latest episode of ‘the mentl space’ podcast host Scott Armstrong had the privilege of diving, forgive the pun, into a life forged not by her physical situation, not by the body she was born with, but by people’s reactions, society’s prejudices and even elite sports indifference to inclusivity.
It’s a story that saw Jessica battle with mental health, it’s a story that nearly killed her. But, appropriately enough for a children’s author, the story did not end there.
Now a global inclusivity advocate Jessica is on a mission to have open and honest conversations about diversity, about attitudes, and is determined to inspire future generations.
Throughout this conversation, Jessica shares her inspiring and emotional journey and highlighted the importance of embracing differences, changing conversations on leadership, moving forward with responsibility, and pursuing gender equality.
Her insights shed light on the challenges faced by marginalised communities and the need for a more inclusive society.
She joins ‘the mentl space’ podcast also as a judge for ‘the mentl awards 2023’ which aims to hero individuals, initiatives and industries and institutions across the public and private sector who are tackling the stigma of mental health and creating cultures where people thrive.
Inspiring The Younger Generation Through Technology And Acceptance:
Jessica emphasised the significance of engaging with younger generations to foster acceptance and understanding. She shared, “But that has allowed a different conversation with the younger generation, a conversation about technology, a conversation about that is so cool that you are so different and we want to be like you.” Her experiences in schools have shown that children are now more open-minded and less fearful, creating an environment where differences are celebrated rather than stigmatised.
The Changing Conversation On Leadership And Tokenism In Companies
Discussing the evolving conversation on leadership, Jessica acknowledged the progress made but also highlighted the persistence of tokenism. She expressed her frustration, stating, “So, let’s get Jess in to come and talk and we’ll tick that box and we’ll take a photo. Fantastic. So, is that frustrating? Yes and no.” Despite the challenges, Jessica recognised the importance of being part of the first step towards change and educating organisations on the need for genuine inclusion.
Moving Forward With Responsibility
Jessica emphasised the responsibility she feels to share her story and help others. She explained, “I think it’s about perseverance and I think it’s about trying to be accepting of what the reality has been for me as a female living with a disability.” Rather than succumbing to anger or bitterness, Jessica chooses to focus on acceptance and resilience, inspiring others to do the same.
Optimism In Pursuit Of Gender Equality In Society And Sport
When discussing gender equality, Jessica expressed optimism while acknowledging the work that still needs to be done. She stated, “We need to be talking about it, but we have to put things in place that are gonna result in action and change within policies and procedures and strategies.” Jessica believes that society and sports are interconnected, and progress in one domain can positively impact the other.
By addressing gender inequality head-on, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society.
Listen or watch the full, powerful conversation now.