Paralympic swimmer Ellen Keane wants to 'change perceptions' about people with disabilities

Paralympic swimmer Ellen Keane wants to 'change perceptions' about people with disabilities

Updated: 2 months, 23 days, 11 hours, 37 minutes, 21 seconds ago

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Paralympian Ellen Keane has told how her new podcast was something that was a long time coming — and her hopes to help “change perceptions or give other people a voice”.

The D Word, which began last month, aims to change society’s perception of people with disabilities. The sixth and final episode will be coming out on International Day of Persons With A Disability next month and will feature a chat with her parents.

Ellen told Chic, “It will be talking to them about having a disabled kid, what it was like growing up and what advice they would give to parents with disabilities. But the podcast itself, I wanted to do for a very long time.”

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The 27-year-old explained that with “having a voice in the media and having questions asked of me, getting loads of opportunities”, she saw an opportunity to try and spark change.

She continued, “I’ve always felt like there was something more that I could do to change perceptions or give other people a voice, and that’s where the podcast came from.

“It’s been in the background of my mind for a lot of years, but I’ve never had the opportunity to have the support that I have with Allianz: to be able to produce it at a high quality, get the imagery right — and even the name itself.

“I didn’t want to do it until I got the name itself right. There were a number of names that it could have been, but when it came to The D Word, it just seemed so simple.

“Disability is a word that people are nearly afraid of. It’s nearly seen as a dirty word, or one that people are reluctant to acknowledge or use. When you see the imagery and you see The Big D, it’s like, ‘what is this all about?’ — and it’s not what you might think it’d be about. Your mind might wander.”

Ellen added that her aim is for the podcast to be a mix of education and comedy — and told how “each episode is with a guest with a different type of disability".

She said, “I’ll have guests who are born with their disability, who may have had a disability later in life, hidden disabilities or maybe someone who has had to make a decision around their disability — and then my parents.”

Ellen opened up about the stigmas that she is hoping to break with The D Word as the series goes on.

She explained, “Because disability is seen as a taboo and people are treated differently because of their disabilities, it’s more to show that we’re all people at the end of the day.

“We all have personalities, we all have things that we want to say that aren’t just about disability — and maybe even just to show the way we live our lives and the little things in our everyday that could be different if people just knew about it.

“One of the questions that I ask is ‘what’s the funniest thing that ever happened because of your disability?’ My guests will come out with answers — like, for me, I love when people ask me if I need a hand and I just look them up and down like, ‘obviously I need a hand’ — because I don’t have one.

“It’s that sort of dry humour that we have going on in the background.

“It’s just kind of about breaking the stigma of talking about it and putting it out there. The more exposure you get of different types of disabilities — or even different types of people — the better.”

Paralympian Ellen Keane

The Paralympian told how her favourite part about working on the podcast is the freedom it gives her — as well as the “safe space I’m able to create with my guests”.

She continued, “Because I’m disabled as well, it’s an opportunity for people to say things that they probably wouldn’t usually say in an interview. They can relax a bit more when they’re with me, because I’m also sharing my experiences with them.

"We’re able to relate to each other and compare and contrast, which I think is probably the best thing about it.”

As for who her dream podcast guest would be, the answer is simple.

The Dubliner said, “Lewis Capaldi recently coming out with his Tourette’s diagnosis and being so open about talking about it — that’s a hidden disability in itself. I’d love to talk to him and the banter that I want to have on my podcast, I feel he’d bring that banter.

“So, if Niall Horan is reading this — if you could hook me up with Lewis Capaldi, that’d be fab.”

Earlier this year, Ellen was a finalist in the most recent series of Dancing With The Stars — and she shared the biggest thing that she learned about herself from the experience.

She said, “Because I’ve been doing the same thing for so long, in terms of swimming and that being my career, I kind of took for granted how much of a habit I was in in terms of being confident and knowing what I was doing.

“I hadn’t done something new in so long. So, when it came to the dancing, I was like, ‘Oh, this is new — and there’s nobody for me to compare myself to or to judge my dancing off, because I’m the first person in Ireland to do it with one arm’.

“I know Lauren Steadman did Strictly Come Dancing with one arm, but it was a different arm — so it was all different. I was the first person kind of doing it, so I struggled with that in the beginning.

“I also struggled with — even halfway through, I think it was with my quickstep towards the end of the series, I was getting emotional about to do it. My dance partner was like, ‘what’s wrong?’ And I told him I was worried about my hold. And he was like, ‘but why — you've got it’.
“So it was just about being aware that when I’m doing things for the first time, I’m not going to be an expert in them. Sometimes, because I am the first person to do these things, I just kind of have to go with it and try — there always has to be a first person.”

Ellen Keane was speaking as part of the launch of her new podcast ‘The D Word’ which is supported by Allianz Insurance. The “D-Word” podcast aims to change society’s perception of people with disabilities and the six part series is available to download from all podcast platforms now. Allianz are partners of Paralympics Ireland and the Olympics Federation of Ireland and have been proud to support Ellen since 2017.

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