Sophie Morgan was just an ordinary kid growing up in the South of England. A little bit of a wild child, a little bit naughty, but normal all the same.
“I hadn’t really got much direction. I was just working it all out as you do at that age.”
The night her A level exam results were released was a big deal. Sophie and her friends had been at a celebration party and she was driving everyone home.
“It was a typical young driver scenario, full of friends, music, it was late. I hadn’t had my license for very long.”
A combination of all of these factors came into play, along with Sophie’s inexperience and she lost control of the car.
She suffered extensive injuries, breaking her spine at T4, and sustaining significant damage to her face and head. Needing a lot of surgery and reconstruction she spent three months in intensive care, then rehabilitation and back out the other side.
”It was an extremely difficult time. I don’t remember a lot of it.Sophie MorganInclusion Revolutionist
Sophie quickly came to terms with the fact that the crash was her fault alone and was grateful that
her friends hadn’t been physically harmed. But mentally and emotionally, the experience left scars that would take a long time to heal.
“I don’t know what it would’ve been like if they had injured me or I them. It was a saving grace. But to this day, they’re reluctant passengers.”
Sophie’s tendency to push boundaries kept her moving though and she very quickly got herself back behind the wheel of a car, knowing that learning to drive would play an important role in achieving her own independence.
That was her main coping mechanism – focusing on what she could still do, not what she couldn’t. Then, finding ways to teach herself the things she didn’t know how to do.
Like learning how to get in and out of the bath, to sit on the toilet, so she could stay the night with friends who didn’t have an adaptive bathroom.
“I found the tricks I needed to live life without adaptations as much as possible.”
At such a young age, Sophie felt like she was coming back into the world with a blank slate. Her sense of identity wasn’t truly formed yet, and she took it as a blessing that she could go out and be whoever she wanted to be.
“No partner, no responsibilities, no job, but I hadn’t lived a huge life. There were things I hadn’t done. There were pros and cons for sure.”
But Sophie wanted to be as positive as possible and pursued her dream of becoming an artist, going headstrong into art school.
One of Sophie’s main drivers in life is to make the world more accessible to better support the disabled community. But here she says she exercises caution, because there is a danger with making things too adaptive.
“The more we rely on equipment and gadgets, the more we become dependent.”
The more you are able to adapt to the environment the better, rather than waiting for the environment to adapt to meet your needs, says Sophie.
“The first time I tried to climb in the bath was like climbing a mountain.”
But now she can do it with ease – and in fact finds it easier than using a shower chair. So Sophie has taught herself how to deal with the little things.
“The stuff I knew I would come up against – the world is not adapted for us.”
While now things have changes, and need are likely to be met, more often than not, if a newly injured person surrounds themselves with gadgets, she says it’s a trap.
“I’m all for making things accessible but if they’re not, I’m going challenge my emotions into creativity, I’m not going to be boxed in this cage, going to adapt and find a way.”
This is something Sophie learnt either the hard or the good way – or maybe both. In her work with the BBC she travelled to West Africa to film a documentary, The World’s Worst Place to Be Disabled?
Here Sophie took a step outside her front door and discovered disabled people being sacrificed, chained to trees, and taken to camps.
“The struggles are real – you see stuff like that, then come back to the UK and New Zealand, and realise we’re very lucky in lots of ways.”
It’s no way near perfect and Sophie spends a lot of her time fighting the systems alongside lawyers, holding big retailers to account over lack of access.
“We have laws to protect us that often aren’t enforced, it leaves us behind, we’re not able to contribute properly to society.”
Sophie has a lot on her plate – so much so her mum frequently jokes “for a paralysed person you never sit still!”
But she claims, that after her accident she took every opportunity and now, she’s both reaping the rewards and suffering the consequences of being so unbelievably busy.
Rediscovering her passion for art and drawing was a coping mechanism for Sophie, who used certain drawing techniques to help her cope with certain aspects of her injury.
Her art has become a successful side project, with her selling her pieces and also doing commissions. But her career path changed when she was still in art school and she received a call from the hospital where she had done her rehabilitation.
The staff member on the other end told her the BBC had been in touch – “looking for crazy disabled people” – and she immediately thought of Sophie.
The BBC wanted to take 11 different disabled people across Nicaragua. Sophie said yes in a heartbeat.
“It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done, and I would never do it again. But it was an amazing experience.”
Most of all it forced Sophie to come to terms with exactly how disabled she was. She had been proud of the way she had come back to the real world after rehabilitation, proud of her independence, but now she found herself face to face with all the challenges of the jungle.
”It was a wake up call. Outside of your own environment, you are disabled.Sophie MorganInclusion Revolutionist
This was Sophie’s first bit of TV work and when someone said she should try presenting, the seed was planted, and her TV career was launched. In her role as a presenter, Sophie feels she has a certain responsibility to shape the way disabled people are seen on TV, in the media and also to challenge and be a voice for those who need it.
One of the big turning points for disabled people in the UK, says Sophie, was the broadcasting of the Paralympics in 2012. By giving Paralympians mainstream coverage, it really normalised disability.
“Paralympic sport mainstream coverage at the London games was ground breaking and amazing, and the marketing at that time was very deliberate, very specific, but quite divisive.”
The campaign the marketers had gone with was Paralympians as “Super humans” and while this changed the dialogue completely, it didn’t sit well with the general disabled community who weren’t athletes.
“What people saw was that disabled people could do sport, but they didn’t think about the other stuff, like the fact that many of us struggle to get to work every day.”
The next time round, in Rio, a new campaign was launched – “Yes I can”, displaying disabled people doing day to day things.
Currently, Sophie says work is being done for the 2020 Tokyo games.
“We’re not in a great place in the UK in terms of certain situations, it’s a political conversation, it’s bigger than sport – redefining what disability means and how we are broadcast.”
In amongst her TV job, her role as a consultant for retailers and brands, and a regulator for what should and shouldn’t be allowed on TV, Sophie is also trying to get her motorbike license. And when she gets it, she has plans to take on a trip round the world.
In terms of the accessible world as a market, it’s hugely untapped – a space with up to 260 billion pounds of spending power. It’s slowly, slowly expanding and growing says Sophie, with companies and businesses starting to see the potential to make money.
While businesses might only have their financial gains in mind, Sophie doesn’t care. As long as it’s happening and the disabled community is being served, that’s enough for her.
In general Sophie says she does tend to set the bar high for herself. As a result, her low moments can be incredibly low.
She spent three years on bed rest as the result of a pressure sore, she’s had recurring skin problems, infections, incontinence issues, the lot. Outwardly it might seem like everything is fine, but Sophie wants people to realise that isn’t always the case.
“I set those goals because I worry about the time when I can’t do things.”
Her sores flare up every now and again – meaning back to bed rest, which is absolute torture for Sophie. But she spends that time thinking of all the things she is going to do when she is back up and running.
While she might seem extreme, the key message Sophie is trying to promote is that, no matter what, there is a way to achieve your ambitions.
“There’s resources, we’ll help find a way.”
Even her own mother questions why she does these crazy things but Sophie maintains if she were to stop, she would be incredibly bored.
If you’d rather listen than read…
Listen to the Podcast with Sophie Morgan now.