After one month on the road, two weeks ago to the day I completed my Britain's Personal Best challenge. As I reflect back on my big ride many questions about disability issues have been swimming around my mind, to try and create some order, here are just some of my views on what could, and should, be changed.
My girlfriend Kasia, assistant Martin and I traversed the UK from John O'Groats to Lands End. I hope you've been following the articles on my online magazine Disability Horizons, the videos on my blog, the flickr photos and social media updates. The planning and executing of this trip was exhausting. However the media and the public really grasped the message that we carried.
I do not want to repeat the magnitude of what a personal challenge this was - this has already been well documented as an ambassador for Britain's Personal Best at www.whatsyours.org.
I am passionate about disability issues and my trip highlighted to me how much more work we have to do in 2013 to keep them in the spotlight. Disabled people should not need or want for anything relating to their medical condition, especially the very basic things to help us through the day. To see how inaccessible many of our buildings, forms of transport and indeed some members of the public were; was very eye opening. It was also sad to meet disabled people who have lost hope of ever having sufficient social care, equipment and support to live as they deserve to. In pondering the reasons, I came up with a couple of thoughts, ideas for you to consider.
I want to promote the social model of disability, which conveys the notion that people with a disability are only disabled by societal barriers. If the barriers, whether physical (like steps), attitudinal (for example discrimination and disability hate crime), and procedural (such as the 24 hour rail assistance booking process), are knocked down and support is given to overcome these barriers, then people will no longer be disabled. If everyone understands disability in this broad context, they will quite rightly want some actions to lend their support.
Having just completed the famous 'end to end' trip, I wanted to wrap my potential solutions into a catchy and similarly named slogan. I came up with 'spend to mend'. Here is how different groups of people can 'spend' their time, and sometimes money, on 'mending' our inaccessible world:
The general public
Whilst the social model of disability has enabled some social change it puts the general public at large in the blame category. This is understandably confusing, unfair and a little harsh. After all, you did not decide to build steps, view disabled people as Bond villains or create disabling daily processes, all because of a conscious hatred for disabled people. However it is also fair to say that ignorance does not justify, as with other 'isms' we must wake up to social issues and be a part of the change together. Please help by:
- Considering how inaccessible public buildings and the transport infrastructures are in your local area
- Visiting a few of these places and find out if there is alternative access and adjustments for disabled people. Should they say no, please let us know
- Writing to your local MP and explain that you believe in the sufficient funding of social care and support the funding of assistive equipment/technologies, and in educating society on removing barriers to disabled people
Local and multinational businesses
Successful businesses have identified a need in a market place, created a solution via a product or service, and sold it for a profit. Making changes for disabled people is often not a priority. Of course, many businesses are socially minded but making adjustments really comes down to cost. Many business owners complain about the Equalities Act 2010 (the newest law to include the Disability Discrimination Act) saying that whilst they had spent money on ramps, lifts, hearing loops and so forth, nobody has ever used them.
Here are some suggestions for why making these necessary changes are not bad for profits and how businesses can help improve the situation by:
- Understanding that of the 10 million disabled people in the UK alone, many could be or could become, customers, recent figures have revealed that disabled people have £80 billion spending power
- Understanding that a £50 ramp can pay for itself very quickly if it unlocks just one customer
- Telling customers via a bespoke marketing campaign that the business is accessible if it is so
- Spending a bit of time and money doing charitable things, just because it is nice to be good without reward every now and then
I think I have already outlined the many problems we face, but one of the most surprising for me was being criticised by other disabled people for trying to raise awareness. We do face government cuts, have to navigate silly processes, be the recipients of strange views and struggle to access a lot of rightful places so lashing out at each other does not help. We have as much responsibility to mend things as non-disabled people. A start would be by:
- Working on our own personal goals, personal limitations, external barriers, and attempt to work towards our dreams
- Understanding the things in our way and turn them into bite size issues
- Writing to MPs, meeting social workers, obtaining helpful equipment/technology, fundraising, fighting for social care funding and ultimately never compromising our health or happiness due to our conditions
- Being proud of ourselves, to grow as humans, to dream big, to never give up and to educate others patiently of our disadvantage to close the gap of inequality we find ourselves in
The government is the oldest entity in the world to throw blame at but I think we haven't always given them enough praise for the good things they do. If there was no government I would not find myself in an electric wheelchair, driving a heavily adapted car, with full time PAs and receiving Disability Living Allowance. Before the angry mob start having a pop, there is clearly a lot more I want the government to do. It does often come down to money, but in a shorter term way than you might think Mr Cameron. Here are some suggestions I put to the government to mend this social problem:
- Acknowledge the number of disabled people needing support
- Spend money on making public buildings and transport infrastructure accessible
- Spend more money on disabled people's social care requirements
- Spend money on assistive equipment and technology grants
- Understand how costs will be saved from unhealthy/unhappy people
- See increased tax revenue from employment of disabled people and their Pas
- See the increased tax revenue from the higher levels of consumer expenditure, and see the economy flourish by unlocking amazing people's potential
- Finally, if someone cannot work due to their condition, spend time and money supporting them to be the best they can be no matter what
I think you'll agree the trip from Lands End to John O'Groats sparked a lot of feelings and thoughts inside me. The above is a very simple laying out of solutions to a lot of very complex problems, for everyone mentioned. My hope is that this gives people a different perspective on disability. As Martin said to me on the trip, the key to progress is empathy. If we all understand each other's situations we can aim to satisfy our own needs, their needs and sometimes compromise in the middle. All of this while the roller coaster of life rides on.
Challenge your Britain's Personal Best on www.whatsyours.org
Keep up with the latest disability adventures on www.disabilityhorizons.com
Please donate to our chosen charities on www.justgiving.com/user/45406731
See more photos on www.flickr.com/photos/martyn_sibley/sets/72157635430985579