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They said I couldn’t – so I proved them wrong

Ben Mudge, Kate Grant, and Joe Boyd have all spoken to UTV Voices about challenging misconceptions. Credit: UTV

UTV digital series Voices gives a platform to those with a story to tell and this month features contributors who could have been held back from achieving their full potential.

Each of them has, in one way or another, been told: “You can’t do that.”

And each of them has resoundingly replied: “Oh yes, I can.”

Ballymena man Joe Boyd has certainly lived through some changes when it comes to how people with different abilities are perceived, even in terms of the language used.

He was born in the 70s and, having been starved of oxygen at birth, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy – although that isn’t how it was referred to back then.

The condition then known as “spastic diplegia” led doctors to tell Joe’s parents their little boy was “retarded” and that the outlook for the future was incredibly bleak.

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Joe grew up struggling under that burden, as anyone would, having to deal with physical limitations, a lack of acceptance, and even bullying.

He often wished he could be someone else. Anyone else.

But Joe persevered and, against the odds, achieved his long-held ambition of becoming a journalist.

Joe Boyd at a signing event following the publication of one of his books.

That achievement would, no doubt, make the late headmistress of his then ground-breaking primary school – which was the first of its kind in Northern Ireland outside of Belfast - very proud.

“To open a special school in Ballymena really had a life-changing effect,” Joe said, of the impact Beechgrove Special School had.

“The late headmistress, a lady called Ethel Kenny, noticed that I had an amazing way with words.

“She said to me from about five-years-of-age: “You’ll be a great journalist one day, Joseph …”

For every voice telling me that I couldn’t do it, there was always this voice saying: ‘You’ll be a great journalist one day, Joseph …’

– Joe Boyd

Not everyone had that kind of belief in Joe’s ability though and he recalls trying to enrol at college, aged 17, to do some GCSEs.

“And I was told basically: ‘Go back to the special school …’” he said.

“And I can remember crying and just thinking: ‘Where has all your great writing gone? Where’s the great journalist gone?”

Despite the many hurdles in his way, Joe did not give up.

Now, he has been a journalist and author for 25 years.

He also has an Open University degree in social policy, a counselling qualification, a diploma in psychology, an advanced diploma in cognitive behavioural therapy, and is happily married.

Oh, and despite having to rely on the help of a wheelchair or walking frame, he is also a qualified gym instructor.

Not bad for someone told they would never amount to anything.

UTV Voices can also be found on our Facebook page here.

The series previously heard from Ben Mudge, a Thor-like personal trainer with cystic fibrosis, and model Kate Grant who was the first woman in the UK with Down’s syndrome to walk a catwalk.

UTV VOICES: Previous Instalments