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What is Normal?

Lecture by comedian Francesca Martinez tackles society’s views of diversity and disability

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“We need a different value system - one that values difference and doesn’t demonise it,” says Francesca Martinez, as a guest lecturer at City, University of London.

A comedian, writer and actress, Francesca came to speak at City in November 2017 to talk about the 'The Beauty of Diversity' and an inclusive approach to health.

Hosted by Jacqueline Davies from the Division of Nursing in the School of Health Sciences at City, Francesca was presented in a one hour lecture slot for student nurses. The event was used as an innovative opportunity to invite staff and the wider to community to be involved in the student curriculum.

Francesca has cerebral palsy, but prefers to describe herself as ‘wobbly’, and in the talk she repeatedly turned to the theme of ‘what is normal’, while telling hilarious stories of her life and her views on disability and society.

Having appeared in shows such as CBBC’s Grange Hill and Extras with Ricky Gervais, Francesca spoke about her experiences and the importance of having the power to choose how to view ourselves.

“You are perfectly you,” said Francesca. “I realised I had the power to choose to view myself. I didn’t have to take societies views and labels. I could make up my own.”

Discussing how this change occurred, she said: “Nothing physical changed but my perspective changed - my whole life was transformed. It is so sad that young people are walking round crippled by self-doubt.”

In their first year at City, student nurses participate in developing healthy communities. In learning about the social determinants of health, they are encouraged to appreciate diversity and discuss the social science theory that a divided society is bad for our health.

As part of the presentation Francesca spoke about why this value system which breeds self-doubt has been manufactured.

“There is no normal - they are social constructs,” she said. “Accept who you are.”

Explaining about the difficulties faced by thousands of people in the UK when they try to access benefits such as disability allowance, Francesca spoke about how “we should be proud to help people”.

“It is so important that we re-evaluate how we see difference. Disability is natural and normal. We need to stop being so superficial. We need a truly equal and compassionate society and a different value system.”

At the end of the talk, Francesca answered questions from the floor and the audience then reconvened in the Foyer outside the Great Hall for an opportunity to get a signed copy of her book ‘What the **** is Normal’.

Speaking about the event, Jacqueline Davies said:

“I was delighted that Francesca was able to perform at City and present her experience of how difference is valued. This personal perspective was presented in a well-crafted show that is able to deliver a compelling argument for diversity rather than dividing us in to the carers and the cared for. Enriching the social and cultural capital of students and others connected with the university is important to developing a healthy community.”

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