by Janice Tillett
Born in December 1971, I have seen many world changes, not least the public’s and media’s attitude towards disability sport which surpassed my experiences of an elite athlete who swam for Great Britain from 1989 to1995, including at the 1992 Paralympic Games held in Barcelona, where I won two silver medals with the GB team in the relays.
Twenty-two years on I remain proud to say that I was a Paralympic athlete, cumulating when I was accepted as a London 2012 Gamesmaker when the greatest ever Paralympics came to Britain.
It was in 1996, when visiting Atlanta, Georgia, to be a volunteer journalist for the Paralympic games, I had the opportunity to visit the church of the great Martin Luther King, who inspired me to raise awareness and fight for the rights of a minority group in society. In my case this would be for disabled people, especially those people with a sensory impairment – a so-called hidden disability.
At the start of the new millennium I was defined as deafblind, having no useful vision together with a hearing loss, which made it necessary for me to wear hearing aids. In 2012 I was fitted with bone anchor hearing aids which help to maximise my useful hearing.
I became a voluntary director at national charity Deafblind UK, and in 2003 I swam the width of Lake Windermere to raise national awareness through the media of the issues faced by deafblind people. This was followed up in 2009, after the birth of my daughter, when I completed the Great North swim, which enabled me to be an equal participant in the lake, with the help of a guide swimmer.
In 2006 we had our daughter Mary-Elizabeth which presented fresh challenges not least the general lack of awareness from professionals and finding the appropriate support that I needed when my husband Roy was at work as a Instructor Train Driver, which involves working 24 hour 7 day per week shifts.
In the meantime, our family lost both Roy’s mum and my mum in 2010 and 2011 respectively. However during this time I have explored my faith and am now active in my local church.
My church family at Christian Celebration encouraged me to play the drums, an instrument I learnt during my early teens when I had useful sight and hearing. I now play on a Sunday during the service and I am fully integrated within the church.
On a personal level, I cannot lie and say that I have come through my life so far unscathed, inspite of the many positive opportunities I have had presented to me.
Within the last two years, I have had both my hips replaced and am looking towards further knee surgery as well as working with my community mental health team, all of which keeps me on an even keel, well most of the time!
Through my involvement at church I have made friends and one of them supports me to enable me to use the gym and to go swimming, which does my well being the world of good!
Although I have only been involved with Sense a relatively short time, my daughter Mary Elizabeth enjoys going to the Sense members weekend. I also enjoyed being part of the BBC See Hear programme which was transmitted in May.
The programme demonstrated the support I need as a deafblind person to enable me to be the best wife and mother I can be, in spite of the many challenges I face living as a deafblind person within our society.
First published: Monday 23 June 2014
Updated: Tuesday 1 December 2015