I'm sat writing this in the garden of the house I grew up in. It's always nice to come home and switch off from the day to day chores. I can't believe it's nearly September though. This year has been a rollercoaster, full of media and political drama. Fortunately the world is still full of amazing people and great moments!
I've had a few micro concerns to deal with, mostly from the daily grind of my mission. You know the mission around changing the world to be more inclusive. For over 7 years now I've been involved in projects for disabled people:
- My blog provides a personal insight into the juggling act of living independently, and the great possibilities available to disabled people IF we are fully supported.
- Disability Horizons showcases the lifestyle opportunities that are available, and shares tips on how to grab them.
- Accessible Traveller was a huge success in giving disabled people specific information and great discounts for tourism. More news to come on this in September, as we're expanding into other topic areas!
- Disability United is our new campaigning website for accessing your basic needs with a disability.
- I've also started working with bigger organisations on how they can be more inclusive with their offerings and in their marketing communications.
As the Beatles said, it's a long and winding road. My aim has always been to become redundant from this mission. To see a day when disabled people are truly equal and included in society. Unfortunately with the government cuts on vital services, some parts of society not being aware of the discrimination occurring, and many disabled people feeling exhausted from the struggle, it's a big battle.
Something that I have realised might shift the conversation. Many civil rights campaigns started with civil unrest. This grabs the media's attention, which grabs the people's hearts & minds, which forces politicians to act. In turn we see legislation to protect these civil and human rights.
The hard fought battle for legislation in the UK was gloriously won in 1995 with the first Disability Discrimination Act (also known as the DDA - which was updated in 2005, and is now within the Equalities Act, covering many segments such as race and gender). I can never repeat enough how amazing these disability activists were. My life and millions of other disabled people's lives would be very different without their heroism.
Unfortunately the disability rights movement hasn't stuck together so well since the legislation passed. There's so many differences in our needs and preferences. From the many different impairments, to the different political opinions, to the different organisations (those 'of' disabled people v those 'for' disabled people), and just the many different personality types.
So why should all disabled people be the same anyway?
The answer is they shouldn't. However to remove the barriers in society that disable us, we must have some kind of cohesive aim and message. With the political and legal approach appearing to struggle, maybe it's time we switch strategy.
There is no solid data about disabled people. One area we need to improve on is research. With a true understanding of the numbers we can prove to the government how cuts cost society more money, and how investing in inclusion actually makes our economy and society better. The two key categories this would support are independent living (housing and health/social care), and for access to the most appropriate education.
The other key area is with businesses. Sometimes it's easy to always blame government. They don't seem keen to enhance their image with disabled people either, unfortunately. However businesses may hold the key to the next wave of accessibility and inclusion progress.
There's been a lot of talk recently about the 'purple pound'. This is the colour representing disabled people. Much like green for the environment and pink for gay people. When we look at disabled people as consumers and as valuable parts of our economic workforce; I think the scales start to tip in our favour.
With reliable data and a strong economic model, we can educate and engage businesses. Internally they can recruit, retain and promote disabled employees. Giving us a platform to contribute our talents, and to be financially independent. Externally businesses can ensure their buildings, products, services and information are fully accessible and inclusive to everyone.
Why though? Why would businesses spend money on these changes?
The reason is that disabled people who can work (and there's plenty of us) are great assets to any business. Resilient, reliable and very capable workers. Furthermore we have money, we spend it with our friends who have money, and when we find an inclusive brand we often return many times.
I will just take a moment to cover my ass from the disabled people who feel betrayed by this rhetoric. Not everybody with a disability can work. This must be acknowledged too. However, most of us who don't work struggle because of the environment businesses operate in. Not because they're actually totally incapable of working. So let's be aware of the minority who cannot work, and find ways of supporting them to live an equally and comfortable life. But not let this derail the bigger picture benefits of placing disabled people as only needy/vulnerable human beings.
My vision (off the back of many books, discussions, thinking and planning) is a very sci fi one. All innovations come from dreaming though. I see a world where housing/education/work/leisure & tourism are truly available to everyone. No matter their abilities.
I believe this is possible from tools such as: 1) universal design where buildings, products, services and information are fully inclusive 2) assistive technology where say smart phone apps enable me to turn on/off lights and open doors autonomously 3) customer service innovation where say a waiter is trained to support me with using the toilet or cutting up my food in their accessible restaurant.
Pretty crazy stuff to imagine right? However society does face a real problem at present. We have an ageing population, and a more educated/ambitious generation of disabled people. All problems need solving. Particularly one that effects us all directly or indirectly. The opportunities of solving such a problem is exciting and the right thing to do.
If we can harness a message around true inclusion. Joining disabled people of all differences. Joining non disabled with disabled people. Joining the dots of access, technology and customer service. I know my sci fi dream will become a reality.
What do you think of this idea? I'm sure there's holes and weak areas. So please join the conversation. Let's fill in the holes and start changing the world together :-)
I'm off to prepare for my next trip. I'll be in Exmoor next week, showcasing how accessible the outdoors has become, in partnership with the National Trust and Disability Horizons. See you soon!