5 Minutes with Sky

Sky dressed in black, with short purple hair and a sleeve of tattoos, giving the thumbs up sign

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, yes I’m Sky. I’m from Hong Kong, now living in LA (Los Angeles) in the United States. I’ve been in the States for 4 years now and I love it.

I’m 28 and a tattoo artist. In fact, it’s my boss who sponsored me to bring me to the States. I specialise in portrait tattoos, he saw my work on a visit to Hong Kong and although my parents weren’t happy about it, 3 weeks later I was on an airplane to LAX (LA’s International Airport).

I’m not dating anyone right now, but I’ve made some great friends and love hanging out in LA. I love the fact I can just be me. I have short purple hair right now and love to try out new looks. My friends in Hong Kong were great about my style choices too, but I love the fact people compliment me now rather than think I’m somehow rebelling against something.

In my free time I like to get to the beach, Venice is my favourite area, it just has such a great vibe. When I have more time, I love to see more of the States; this country is so much bigger than I’d even realised and there is so much to see. I’ve been to 9 states so far and my plan is to visit them all.

Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?

Up until a few years ago I would have struggled to answer this question, however now I have a diagnosis, or a label, and know I’m dyslexic and dyscalculic.

When I was still in school people always thought I wasn’t paying attention. You see, I could read aloud at the same speed as most of my friends, but just didn’t absorb anything I was reading. I couldn’t answer questions on a passage I, or someone else, had just read out in class. I couldn’t explain why I didn’t remember things so quickly, which is still the case, but after seeing a specialist here in the States it makes so much more sense. My working memory, that’s what they call it, just doesn’t work so well. Strangely though, I always found it easier to read in English than I did in Cantonese. I’m still not sure why that is, maybe it’s all linked to my memory.

Similarly, in math class, I just didn’t get equations and was always a few years behind my friends. Even now I avoid using cash, as I’m never sure how much change I should be getting.

Although, I was always talented at art. The only teacher that seemed to like me in high school was my art teacher. He always said I would go far, but my parents said I’d never get rich drawing pictures and they really wanted me to go to university and become a doctor or a lawyer. I don’t think they just wanted a daughter who had a great career, they also wanted me to be successful for myself; I just feel they and I have a different understanding of what success means.

All of this meant my grades suffered and although I graduated from high school, I didn’t get the grades my parents had hoped for and would have had to re-sit to have any hope in going to university, which wasn’t what I wanted anyway. I did however get top marks in my whole year group for art and won 2 national awards.

As an adult, with a career I love, in an amazing country, I’m really glad my brain is wired the way it is. I believe my love of art and my ability to recreate some amazing images as body art, are because of my wiring and not despite it.

If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?

For me I’d have to say not making assumptions. If someone can’t read or take in information as quickly as you can that doesn’t make them stupid or uneducated, it simply means we process information differently. It’s the same with numbers. I may not know how much change is due to me in a store, but could you recreate a replica of a deceased relative over someone’s heart? Because I can.

Oh, and I’ve joined some forums and I now understand neurodivergent people, those of us with non-typical wiring, are often asked whether they can be ‘fixed’. Dyslexia, Autism, Down Syndrome and so many other neurodiversity traits aren’t something that needs to be fixed, simply accepted and embraced. I have a few friends now who have shared the fact they’re autistic with their employers and they have all been asked to see occupational health or to provide a doctor’s note. It’s important people understand why these traits shouldn’t be medicalised, as it’s simply who we are and not a medical condition. I’d also really like to do more to show people the added value neurodiversity brings. Some of my autistic friends are just so great at not getting bogged down with unnecessary details, can just get the job done and they’re very analytical; I guess that’s why most of them work in engineering and data type jobs, as they play to their strengths.

Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?

There are three things I can think of. The first is moving words on websites, they’re always too fast for me and even when I can read them, I have to concentrate too hard and don’t actually compute what I’m reading. I don’t even bother trying now.

The next is how information or instructional videos are made. Most of the time I can pause, replay and navigate to specific sections to make sure I’m following, but sometimes I can’t and watching a whole video again doesn’t work for me. Oh and what is it with videos that have music playing and someone speaking at the same time? It’s really hard to take information in like that. I’ve found some videos that have the content also written out in a separate document, some of these have been great as they’re really structured so I can just search for the part I need and take in the information in my own time. Although if it’s all just plain text, these still don’t help me.

Finally, I’d say signs in airports. You know the ones, where you find your gate? Because the information flicks over every few seconds and the lines for each flight aren’t always clear, it takes me far too long to work out if I need to go to the gate and which one. Plus, if I ask a member of staff they tend to just point to the screen and politely tell me “the information is on the screen”; I don’t like to go into details with them, so I just go back to the screen and try to work it out for myself. I know they can’t see I’m dyslexic, but there is a reason I’m asking.

So, I guess I’m not just talking about screens in airports, it’s about service. Is your information accessible and do your staff understand one size doesn’t fit all?

Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?

The only thing that ever bothers me at home is labelling. Some bottles have some really cool letter styles on them, which I think look pretty good, but I can’t read a lot of them. I don’t see these funky styles used in so many other places, which is good for me, but it stops me buying some things as I’m not really sure what I’m getting.

If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?

That’s a really tough question. These may not be things that help me directly but are close to my heart.

My first would be people being respected and recognised for their experience and capabilities. So many companies prioritise university degrees and grade, when the best people for their jobs and their teams may not thrive in those environments and so both miss out. It’s the same with interviews and pre-employment tests, people aren’t check boxes and there has to be a better way.

For my second choice I’d say keeping written information to a minimum, or at least structuring documents for clarity. I often receive emails from companies I have an account with, and they are just full of so much text. There aren’t always any sub-headings to help with context either, having these in bold really helps me compartmentalise information. Also, images really help some of us take in information, just streams of text doesn’t do the same and even my neuro-typical friends tell me they tend not to read lengthy emails. Why is it we understand the need to include pictures for children to absorb information, but then it’s widely accepted that adults don’t need the same and a whole heap of plain text is fine?  

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