Interview with TEDxBrighton Speaker Amy Oulton

Amy has been a wheelchair user for the past ten years; she has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes weak tissues, joint dislocation, chronic pain and fatigue. In spite of this, Amy lives an exciting and hugely positive life, travelling the world, working as a graphic designer for a charity and campaigning to change the way society understands disability. We managed to catch-up with her ahead of her talk at TEDxBrighton on 20th October. 


Hey Amy! Tell us a little bit about what you’ll be speaking about at TEDxBrighton this year?

My talk is about why we need to have conversations about disability – just not with disabled strangers on the bus. 


Why do you think it’s important for people to hear about this?

Because all too often my life is made harder by physical barriers someone has chosen to put there, or questionable attitudes by potentially misinformed people. I think until people can look beyond my wheelchair they won’t see the benefit of including me. It may be surprising but I believe that looking past my disability involves engaging and being comfortable with it. 


This year’s theme is ‘Wonderland, Society’s Search for Utopia’ – what does the word ‘utopia’ mean to you and your line of work? 

I guess my utopia is a world where I can be as independent as my body allows me, that if I’m unable to do something it’s not because of a physical or attitudinal barrier someone else has put there. Utopia for me is also a place where disability is so mainstream and expected that people no longer feel surprised by or uncomfortable about it.


Looking at the speaker line-up, who else are you interested in hearing talk this year? 

I’m really looking forward to hearing Sanderson Jones talk, I live in London and I’ve seen him at The Sunday Assembly a few times. I think it’s really important that we find other ways of finding a community when you live in a place that can be as lonely as London.  


I’m also looking forward to Jake Tyler’s talk as mental health is a subject close to my own heart.


Why do you think Brighton has proven to be such a welcoming and receptive audience for stories like yours? 

Brighton always strikes me as a place that prides itself on being inclusive, particularly of the LGBTQ+ community. I also notice it in the smaller things, like restaurants being way more willing to cater to my ridiculous (but medically necessary) pescetarian, wheat, garlic and onion free diet than London. To be honest I would love to move to Brighton one day I’m just not sure I could cope with some of the hills!


Finally, what’s the one change you’d like to see in the lives of our audience this year, following your talk?

I’d like people to go away with a commitment to think about how they’re going to make sure people with disabilities can be included. It might be that they have substantial influence somewhere or it might be something as simple as looking a wheelchair user in the eye when they’re blocking the access space on the bus with their buggy and saying ‘what would be the most helpful thing for me to do in this situation?’

Saying that though, I’m pretty sure the buses in Brighton have a buggy and a wheelchair space… I really should more there!