There is disbelief in Francesca’s voice as she nods her head sadly. Today is World Cerebral Palsy Day, and as she discusses the fact that the neurological condition affects one in 400 UK births, there emerges a keen-edged determination to prove preconceptions wrong. Born with CP, Francesca Dean, 22, is used to proving people wrong.
Francesca, who lives in Rossendale, is a stoic believer in CP-sufferers’ ability to thrive just as she has done: learning to speak, flourishing academically, starting her own blog, and discussing her determination to become a children’s writer.
And speaking to Francesca, one motif shines through from her considered viewpoints. “I want disability to be an open subject,” she says. “Kids say ‘why’s she in a chair?’ And I say ‘my legs don’t work’, because if you’re four or five, there’s no point getting too technical about it. You have to bring it down to a level where they understand and feel happy about it.”
Having been told by doctors at birth that she could experience struggles speaking, the eloquent Francesca rightly holds her ability to communicate in high regard - an ability that has seen her achieve 10 GCSEs (which she calls a ‘massive milestone’) before studying travel and tourism at Rossendale College as well as business at Blackburn College.
“I’ve proved doctors wrong!” she says. “[Going to school] for me has been the best. I don’t think I’d have flourished if I had stayed in special school; I’ve experienced subjects I never thought I’d do. It’s been an awesome journey. It’s been nice to be included and have normal relationships with people. I’ve been so lucky.
“My family have always told me never to be afraid of speaking your mind and that’s one thing I’ve never held back from doing,” continues Francesca. “I’ve always thought ‘if this is the situation I’m going to be in, then this is how I’m going to deal with it’, and the outcome’s always been positive.
“I’ve got friends who unfortunately have got CP but they can’t communicate and I think ‘I’m so lucky’; it’s made me realise I can’t take anything for granted.”
Francesca’s blog, CP and Me, is a wonderful depiction of a happy, positive, and refreshingly forthright woman. Set up three months ago, it aims to makes CP accessible. “I don’t want it to be ‘this is CP, this is how it’s going to be’,” explains Francesca. “I want it to be ‘look at this girl, she has CP but she’s out doing things’ - especially with parents whose children have been diagnosed. I want to make it lighthearted.”
And her fondness for the written word is well-established. Francesca recently signed up for an e-learning course on children’s writing, and - inspired by Jacqueline Wilson’s Tracy Beaker series - is keen to instill a modicum of proud awareness into the CP discourse.
“Tracy is a very feisty 10-year-old child who knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to get it and that’s how I see myself,” says Francesca. “She’s been through all her hijinks and it’s made me realise life isn’t that hard if you put your own spin on it. Life should be in the now - you should be proud of where you’ve come from, I certainly am, with my family. That’s all you need to remember really.”
Most of all, she wants to show young people with CP that barriers can be broken. “I’ve always been interested in writing stories because my imagination runs wild,” Francesca says, before discussing her own potential writing style, saying: “I would make sure my main focus would include everyone to make it as inclusive as possible.”
Here is an impassioned woman with a story to tell, but at the minute, a simple sentence sums Francesca up nicely. “I’m loving life right now,” she says, with a smile.