Updated: May 16
This week we are so happy to shine a spotlight on former netball player and sports physiotherapist Zoe-Jane Littlewood. She is black woman, she is dyslexic, and she is proud!
We love Zoe-Jane's attitude, and see her as a great example and a great role model for other dyslexic and neurodivergent people - athletes or not. It can be really hard to self-advocate as a neurodivergent person, so hearing people like Zoe-Jane speak so honestly and openly, and with such flare and confidence is really inspiring. We hope those of you reading, watching or listening agree, and perhaps take a little bit of confidence from the way she sees dyslexia, neurodivergence, and difference...
Zoe-Jane raised some fantastic points when I spoke to her, and it was really hard to edit the conversation down. Even so, I'd like to draw attention to something that was neither discussed nor edited out, but glaringly obvious nonetheless - and that's the subject of intersectionality.
For those of you who don't know, the definition of intersectionality is "the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage."
There's a good chance I let my fear of saying the wrong thing stop me from raising this important point during the interview, and I hope I don't do that again... It's my opinion that in sport, life, and the DE&I space, avoiding difficult conversations only serves to stall progress in the long term, as much as it feels like the easiest or safest thing to do at the time. For avoiding this conversation, Zoe-Jane, I am sorry, and I will address it in the future!!!
I'm almost certain that most people impacted by intersectional issues would only welcome someone wanting to genuinely educate themselves - no matter how clumsily.
Especially when reaching out to marginalised people and communities, it can feel easier and safer to 'stay within your tramlines', to follow the rules set out by others, because that way things are less likely to go wrong, and you as an individual are less likely to be held accountable if they do. But if we don't think outside of the box, and address the uncomfortable issues, the layers of complexity that affect those most in need, we will never be able to have a positive and long lasting impact.
When I talk about those most in need, I'm not necessarily talking about visible need, although they often overlap with the invisible. To use Zoe-Jane as an example, if we only see her as a woman, we neglect the fact that she is black and dyslexic. If we only see her as black, we neglect the fact that she is a woman and dyslexic. You see where this is going... If we only see her as dyslexic, we neglect the impact that being a woman and a black woman at that has had on her life experiences to date, her psyche, and any external pressures that she may be feeling. If we don't respect all of these factors in tandem, we can never truly help Zoe-Jane the black dyslexic woman.
And Zoe-Jane is not alone. More often than not, intersectionality is associated with neurodivergence, and a massive barrier to neurodivergent people receiving the understanding and support they need to thrive - within sport and out.
Again, it comes down to coaches and managers being openminded, educated, and curious - in essence, person-centred. Get to know the whole person, and you will be able to help them find the formula to their own success.
Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to join the live chat we are hosting as part of Neurodiversity Week 2023, where we will be joined by Zoe-Jane and former Sport England Senior Regional Development Manager Charles Freeman. Please see our social media for more details.
Follow Zoe-Jane @The_Dyslexic_Movement