How are extra costs being reduced for disabled people?

Today (October 19) sees the launch of a new report by the Extra Costs Commission looking at progress made to reduce additional costs for disabled people.

Scope research demonstrates that on average, disabled people spend £550 a month on costs associated with their disability. These costs include things like expensive items of equipment such as powered wheelchairs or screen readers, paying more for energy bills, or facing higher insurance premiums.

Whilst Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment play an important role in helping disabled people meet some of these costs, this report makes it clear that more work is needed to tackle the financial penalty of disability.

Extra Costs Commission

Addressing the problem of extra costs was the focus of a year-long inquiry from July 2014 to June 2015, the Extra Costs Commission, which identified ways in which government, businesses, disability organisations and disabled people can drive down these costs.

Earlier this year, the Commission reconvened to review the progress made in delivering the recommendations it outlined.

Disabled people demanding more as consumers

The Commission identified that households with a disabled person spend £212 billion a year, the so-called ‘purple pound’. As such, disabled people and their families have the potential to be a powerful consumer base and influence how businesses serve them.

One example of this happening involves Rita Kutt, whose four-year-old grandson Caleb has cerebral palsy. Struggling to find popper vests to fit Caleb, she contacted Marks and Spencer to see whether they could stock these in larger sizes.

This led to Marks and Spencer developing a specialist clothing range for disabled children, which includes popper vests and sleepsuits. These are significantly cheaper than similar items sold by specialist retailers, making a huge difference to families with disabled children who face additional costs.

You can read more about Rita’s story on Scope’s community.

Disability organisations empowering disabled people as consumers

A number of disability organisations have been supporting disabled people and businesses with driving down disability-related costs.

We’ve created a ‘money hub’ with information to help disabled people manage their money more effectively, whilst Nimbus Disability has started to offer discounts to users of its Access Card. Whilst these are both fairly new, disabled people have so far responded positively to both of these initiatives.

Businesses serving disabled people better

Alongside the example of Marks and Spencer mentioned above, Uber has been thinking about how it can meet the needs of disabled people better.

They have developed a new service called UberASSIST for passengers requiring additional assistance whilst travelling. Uber has also introduced wheelchair accessible vehicles to its fleet in London. They plan to grow these services to enable more disabled people across the UK to access them.

There are a number of taxi and private hire vehicle providers that serve disabled people well, and it’s good to see Uber creating even more choice in the market for disabled passengers.

Read more about Kelly Perks-Bevington’s experience of using taxis and private hire vehicles.

What next?

Much more needs to happen to reduce extra costs for disabled people, so it is important that the momentum generated by the Commission is not lost.

As such, the Commission calls upon different groups to build upon progress so far to tackle disability-related costs. For instance, disabled people should continue to raise the profile of the ‘purple pound’, whilst company boards of businesses should act as champions for disabled consumers. A cross-governmental approach is also needed to help drive down the range of additional costs faced by disabled people.

Now that the Commission has ended, Scope will be taking forward the work of this inquiry, with a focus on addressing the extra costs of energy and insurance for disabled people.

For further information, please speak to Minesh Patel, Senior Policy Adviser at or on 020 7619 7375.

I’m not avoiding you, I have face blindness! – End the Awkward

Carly is an Autism advocate, filmmaker and speaker. She wasn’t diagnosed with autism until she was 32, and now works to raise awareness of autism and girls.

For End the Awkward, Carly shares some of her own awkward experiences, especially those related to a lesser known aspect of autism – face blindness.

I was diagnosed with autism at 32. It’s typically seen as a male condition, but I have three daughters and two of them are autistic. Everyone I knew with autistic children had sons. There was nothing for girls. So I went on the internet and looked up everything I could about autism and girls. That’s when I first thought “I’m autistic too!”

Misconceptions about autism

When I was 14 my parents took me to see a psychiatrist because I was having difficulties. I couldn’t go to school, I was constantly anxious, I spent a lot of time in my room. He just said I was lazy. Then, after my girls were diagnosed and the penny dropped for me, I went to see a clinical psychologist. He made me do a test and, although I scored highly,  he asked about my hobbies. When I said I’ve always liked acting, he said “Well you can’t be autistic then because autistic people can’t act”.

He also asked if there was any chance I could be making this up because autism in girls is so rare it’s impossible to have two in one family. So I went to the National Autistic Society and I decided to make a film about getting a diagnosis. I ended up being diagnosed on film!

I think it’s important to teach parents and to show people that there shouldn’t be any stigma, it’s okay to be autistic and it’s okay to be a parent and be autistic.

Awkward moments with face blindness

Before my diagnosis, I had no idea that face blindness even existed. Now I realise I’ve been dealing with it all my life. If someone wasn’t where they should be, like if I saw my teacher in the supermarket, I didn’t recognise them. People must have thought I was rude.

Now that I know I have face blindness, it can be even more awkward, because if I think it might be someone I know I start hugging them! Sometimes it turns out to be a complete stranger. I have a friend who has distinctive dark hair, often wears a checked shirt, and spends a lot of time in a café that I also go to. So one day, I walked into the café, saw a man in a checked shirt, with similar hair and I kissed him on both cheeks. Then I realised his wife was looking at me like she was about to hit me. It was the wrong person!

Another time, at New Year’s Eve, the person I was with was wearing a shirt that was very popular at the time. Midnight comes and we had a kiss, as you do, and he tapped me on the back. I was kissing a completely different person! It didn’t go down well. If I’d had my diagnosis at the time I could have said “Sorry  – I’m face-blind”. What a good excuse!

Carly smiling at the camera on a wooden bench with a brick wall behind her

I get words mixed up a lot

Autism is a communication and language disability, which affects me in different ways. One is that I tend to just say what I’m thinking. It’s like being Jim Carrey in Liar Liar and I can’t stop it. Everyone says “Oh you’re such a funny person” but I don’t mean to be a funny person at all. I often take things too literally as well. Which can be really awkward.

I often get words mixed up. For example, the words necklace and knickers just sound the same to me. It’s very important that no-one ever asks me to take my necklace off! Another one is I often mix up how and who, which can be awkward as I often ask “Who are you?” rather than “How are you?” or if I’m being asked “How are you?” I may reply “Carly?” or if I’m asked “Who are you?” I may reply “A bit chilly actually”. As you can imagine, this, on top of not recognising people, makes the outside world rather daunting!

Ending the awkward

When you get diagnosed you get self-awareness. An understanding that this is how you see things and this is how other people see things differently to you. I spent 32 years of my life thinking I must be “stupid”, “crazy” or “unliked”. Now I know why life was, and still can be, awkward. I hope by sharing my experiences I can help people.

It’s okay to say to people “This is how my disability affects me”. For example, if we arrange to meet, I ask if they can send me a photo of what they’re wearing that day. A lot of my autistic friends, we naturally do this with each other. So we’ll say I’m stood here, I’m wearing a blue coat and I have a red bag. It might seem weird to non-autistic people so we need make people aware, tell them how they can help. Decent human beings aren’t going to trip you up on it. I think anybody with a disability would prefer that people ask questions about what we need. We don’t mind. Not asking can break down any communication and that’s really sad.

When I saw End the Awkward I thought this is really good. Not everyone wants to listen to the serious side of things but boy there are some funny awkward stories! I think humour is the best way to get people to remember something. Information is really important but sometimes it can feel a bit like “Am I studying for this?” I think a joke helps bring people in.

To find out more about Carly’s work, visit her website.

Read the rest of our End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story. 

Not a superhuman? Never feel guilty for not doing ‘enough’

Anna Scutt is an actor, singer and hypnotist. In this blog she writes about the impact that adverts like ‘Meet the Superhumans‘ had on her, and how she’s come to accept that it’s okay to admit you’re not okay.

That ‘Meet the Superhumans’ advert. It, and programmes like ‘Disabled Daredevil’, used to make me feel inadequate for not doing something amazing like a bungee jump or a triathlon.  Until two things happened last weekend to change my mind.

One, I read Kim Daniel Daybell’s blog ‘You don’t have to be an athlete to be superhuman’, and two, I got talking to a man sitting next to me at the theatre.

“How does your CP actually disable you?”

He was very impressed that I had come to London on my own.  In the course of conversation, I told him I had also been to Milan to the opera, and that I’d sung in opera myself at university.  At which point he asked ‘Forgive me, but how does your cerebral palsy actually disable you?’

That made me think. Things that I consider ordinary – I drive, I sing, I’ve got a language degree and can watch all those Scandi-noir dramas without subtitles – non-disabled people consider superhuman because they realise that those things are way more difficult for me than they would be for them. They’re not being patronising, they’re just being non-disabled. He was genuinely interested though, so I answered his question: I am in constant pain. I didn’t tell him I hate it. And it took me a long time to admit it, but it’s OK to hate it.

Anna acting on stage. She sits on a mans knee, turned towards each other, in period costume
Anna playing Gwendolen Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest, with Paul Henshall as Jack Worthing

Never feel guilty for not doing ‘enough’

There are so many inspirational stories on the internet that not being OK with my CP made me feel like a failure.  But who doesn’t hate being in pain? That doesn’t make me a failure, it makes me human.

All these inspirational people tell you that you can do anything you put your mind to, but actually, ‘Yes, I can’ might not apply to you.  And that’s OK too.  I mean, it sucks, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  I want to dance – tap, jive, quickstep – but my body doesn’t.  I am an actress and I would love to be in a lavish costume drama, but there aren’t many wheelchair users in Jane Austen.  Feel sad about it, feel angry, but never feel guilty.

Anna smiling at the camera in her wheelchair

If you want to play sport, opportunities have improved thanks to the Paralympics.  But if you don’t, nothing much has changed.  Coronation Street did more to raise awareness for me.  I used to get glared at in public if I got out of my wheelchair and walked, as if I was faking my disability. (I blame Little Britain’s Lou and Andy!)  But since Izzy Armstrong stood up out of her wheelchair at the bar of the Rover’s, the glaring has stopped.

Equality is still some way off, but it’s OK not to be a trailblazer or an activist. Someone else will raise awareness; someone will take that inaccessible shop to court, but don’t feel guilty if it’s not you.

You’re only human, after all.

If you want to find out more about Anna’s career, check out her webpage or watch her showreel. 

If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with Scope’s Stories team.


“I hate it when people fake” – and other things you hear as a part time wheelchair user

Chloe is a student and blogger, creator of Life as a Cerebral Palsy student and an Ambassador for CP Teens. 

She has mild cerebral palsy, seizures and sometimes uses a wheelchair. For End the Awkward, she talks about some of the awkward moments this brings and how a balance of education and humour is the way to improve attitudes.

People often think I’m drunk

I’ve had various nights out where people thought I was completely wasted. I have cerebral palsy but I can walk unaided, with my stick. On a night out I don’t tend to wear my splints. I probably look ‘normal’ when I’m sat down and when I stand up people are shocked. People assume that, because I’m on a night out with friends, I’m drunk, when actually I can’t drink a lot with the medication I’m on anyway. At most, I might be a bit tipsy but bar staff will say “Oh you’ve had one too many”.

I tend to go one of two ways – I either make a joke, like “Oh yeah I guess I am… wonder why I’ve got this stick though” or I just say “Well actually I have cerebral palsy, I’m not drunk”. To which they’re usually like “oops”.

Misconceptions about wheelchair-users

Once, I was out clothes shopping with friends and I was in my wheelchair. My friends went one way to look at something and I was looking at a dress. It was on a higher hanger so I was leaning forward, not even standing up, just reaching and this woman looked at me and said “Ugh I hate it when people fake.” I was thinking “What?!” and obviously my friends weren’t there to back me up. I said “Excuse me?” and she said “Well you know, all these people pretending” and I said “Do you know what a part time wheelchair user is?” and she still didn’t believe me. I was just a bit speechless so I just went in the opposite direction.

Should we carry you down the stairs?

I’ve been at a restaurant where there were stairs to go down and the waiter came over like “We could carry you down the stairs?” so I said “I’ve got my stick, I can get down myself if that’s okay” and he just stared at me. I was like “I can walk. I may be exhausted by the time I get to the table but then I can sit down for the meal and I’ll be fine. And he was like “Oh… okay… so do you want me to carry your chair” and I said, “Well yes, that would be very helpful”. I’m amazed by how many people still think you either use a wheelchair all the time or you don’t, or you can either walk or you can’t.

Photo of Chloe in her wheelchair, wearing her leg splints

Fear of the unknown

Because I also have seizures I get avoided quite a bit – people don’t want you to go unconscious on them! It can happen anywhere, like in the middle of busy city centres! There can be warning signs but it varies. I have three different kinds of epilepsy. It can range from “Sit me down now, I’m about to pass out” to no warning whatsoever and I’ll just fall.

I definitely think it’s more a fear of the unknown that anything else. People aren’t sure what to do if it happens so they don’t want to be in that situation. There are so many different kinds of seizures. People think about the ‘typical seizure’ but a lot of mine aren’t like that. So they don’t really know what’s going on. Their instant reaction is to call an ambulance or stare at me, neither of which is helpful. I rarely need medical intervention.

There’s no need to avoid me though. Once I collapsed on one of my friends and she wasn’t sure what to do but I came round and it was fine. She knew that I had seizures but she’d never actually seen one until then. She just joked “A warning would have been nice!” and now she’s used to it.

Ending the Awkward

I think you have to use it as an opportunity to educate people but maybe with a slightly humorous twist. You don’t want to be too serious because I think they’ll just go “Right I’m avoiding doing that again ever in my life”  but if you laugh it off too much they might not realise that what they’ve done is bad. It’s about getting that balance right.

To hear more from Chloe, visit her blog. 

Read the rest of our End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story. 

“My guide dog isn’t a sat nav!”

Guest blog by Emily Davison, otherwise known as Fashioneyesta. Emily is a Scope for Change campaigner and stars in our new End the Awkward film made with UNILAD.

My name’s Emily Davison, otherwise known as Fashioneyesta. I’m a university graduate, writer, fashion and beauty blogger and YouTuber. I also happen to be visually impaired and work with a Guide Dog.

Every day I come across many misconceptions towards my disability and in turn I usually find myself in front of my camera or typing away at my laptop discussing these with my followers.

I was keen to take part in Scope’s End the Awkward campaign – to represent the sight loss community and to show that sight loss does not equate to ignorance, being un-fashionable or being stereotyped.

You can’t give my guide dog directions!

In my new film, you see me in an awkward situation around one of the most outlandish myths surrounding my guide dog – which is the common belief that people can give her directions instead of myself, and that she can follow them like a GPS system!

But, of course there are plenty more awkward moments where that one came from…

‘You’re well dressed for a blind person’

As a fashion blogger, comments I hear a lot are to do with my appearance. People will say ‘you don’t look blind!’ or ‘you’re very well dressed for a blind person.’

As if anyone with a visual impairment – simply because they lack sight – cannot have a conception of style, beauty or looking good, which is of course not true.

‘She’s blind and she’s wearing high heels!’

Another one I encounter on a regular basis is ‘Oh my god! She’s blind and she’s wearing high heels, how ridiculous!’ My answer to this is what does sight loss have to do with the clothes I wear? In what context do those two things relate?

I chose to take an interest in fashion because I enjoy the shopping process, I enjoy looking and feeling good and I happen to love wearing high-heeled shoes.

Awkward speed dating

Another time I went speed dating, and after talking to the person opposite me for a few minutes I got onto the subject of being visually impaired.

When I told him about my vision he sat back, blinked and said ‘Oh…Well what do you expect me do say to that?’ And the conversation came to an abrupt, very awkward end.

Young woman sitting on steps near a beach

‘But you don’t look blind…’

On the bus one day I sat on one of the priority seats – those usually reserved for disabled people, elderly people or those with child.

But my guide dog was out of view and therefore to some I could appear to be a ‘normal person’ – a term I use very loosely.

An elderly gentlemen boarded the bus and said to me ‘Can you move please! These seats are for disabled people.’

It just so happened that my stop was next and so instead of staring a brawl I got up to expose my little four-legged friend, in all her guide dog splendour (neon harness).

There was a deadly silence…..He then responded ‘Oh god! No sit back down… it’s…it’s just…you don’t look blind!’

We all make mistakes

Awkwardness is something I experience in my everyday life, we all do, but disability shouldn’t be something to feel awkward about.

If you have ever felt awkward around disabled people – maybe you said something wrong or made someone feel embarrassed – the thing to do is simply apologise.

We all make mistakes in life and as long as we move forward and learn from them, this is what truly matters.

Follow Fashioneyesta

If you would like to keep up to date with my work you can find me on my blog, Twitter and YouTube. And don’t forget to share your awkward stories too as part of End the Awkward.

Dyspraxia and social anxiety: why I’m not hiding anymore – End the Awkward

Guest post by Rosie, who has dyspraxia, which affects her movement, balance and sensory processing. For End the Awkward, she talks about feeling different, her journey to acceptance and how she stopped hiding.

I’ve always been aware of how differently I learnt and how tasks which everyone else found really easy took me so much longer. At the age of 4 I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, an invisible difference which is still very misunderstood. Dyspraxia is thought to be caused by a disruption in the way messages from the brain are transmitted to the body. This affects my ability to perform movements in a coordinated way, balance, motor skills and sensory and emotional sensitivity.

Every person with dyspraxia is affected differently. Even though I’ve always been very determined, I was also very shy and self conscious. I hated being centre of attention and any fuss made feel uncomfortable. I really struggled making friends as everyone was very different to me.

People didn’t understand

The lack of understanding which surrounds dyspraxia didn’t help at all, a lot of people didn’t and still don’t know what it is. I was misunderstood, judged and negative assumptions were made about me. I was called clumsy, careless, stupid, lazy and told that I simply wasn’t trying hard enough.

If you had asked me to describe what dyspraxia was and how it affected me I would have avoided the subject completely. I just didn’t know how to talk about it and was scared that people would run a mile if I disclosed to them. Awful bullying and ignorance at work had left me too anxious to speak, struggling with social anxiety and in a dark place.

Feeling different

A common theme for many dyspraxics is feeling different and struggling to make and maintain friendships. Over the years I’ve beat myself up a lot and wondered why I couldn’t be as socially confident as others, which is an ongoing challenge. I struggle with managing my emotions and can be prone to panic attacks and sensory sensitivity, which means the environment around me can be very overwhelming.

I’ve also spent a lot of my life hiding. Hiding from situations or environments which either triggered my anxiety or where I’ve felt uncomfortable. I concealed my  dyspraxia and social anxiety which lead to me experiencing depression. For ages I thought it was just me being me.

Rosie dressed up for an event

Anxiety was taking over my life

Social anxiety made me feel in constant worry that I was going to embarrass or make an idiot out of myself. I worried that I would have a panic attack, experience sensory overload in public or say something that nobody “gets”and have everyone laugh at me.

Then there’s the constant worry that you’ve done something to upset someone and that people hate you and are simply putting up with you. When you’re anxious your whole body can tense up, you can start feeling sick and you can struggle to give eye contact, which is hard enough when you’re dyspraxic. It was easier to avoid doing anything or going anywhere.

After hitting a very low patch I realised I couldn’t  go on like this. Anxiety was slowly taking over my life, stopping me enjoying the things I loved and leaving me fearful, low and constantly on edge, unable to sleep and with zero confidence and self-esteem. The more anxious I became the more clumsier I was and the more mistakes I was making and the more I beat myself up. It was a vicious circle.

Meeting others helped me stop hiding

I got involved in Dyspraxia Foundation where for the first time I felt like I could be myself. Nobody judged me if I made any mistakes. I met others who were dyspraxic and I didn’t feel so alone. I began to learn about how dyspraxia affected me but also the strengths which dyspraxia can bring, which to me are being caring, creative, able to think outside of the box and I’m a very determined soul.

By spending so much time hiding I wasn’t showing the world all of Rosie and I was missing out on so much. With the support that’s out there, I’ve been able to achieve a degree and a masters degree. I’m also learning strategies to help me cope with day to day life and support my mental health.

Ending the Awkward

I’ve been able to help others by writing blogs and raising awareness, helping them feel less isolated and alone. It’s given me more empathy when supporting students in my job as a learning support assistant. I’m determined that nobody should go through or feel what I have. Learning to be kind to myself is something I’m still working on but I’m fighting my fears one little step at a time.

That’s why I’m getting involved in Scope’s End The Awkward campaign. Disability and difference is nothing to be scared of – we’re human beings with feelings. A little bit of patience, time, and kindness can go a long way. Nobody deserves to be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of being different. After all, wouldn’t the world be such a boring place if we all were the same? You never know what you might find out when you take the time to get to know someone.

You can stay up to date with everything End the Awkward on Twitter and Facebook using #EndTheAwkward or visiting Scope’s End the Awkward webpage.

To read more from Rosie, visit Rosie’s blog.

Why a country that works for everyone must include disabled people

Earlier this week at Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham we held an event with senior Conservative Party parliamentarians to discuss how disabled people can be at the heart of the Prime Minister’s social justice agenda.

Scope attends political party conferences in order to influence decision makers from across the political spectrum and discuss Scope’s work and priorities with them.

This was the first Conservative party conference since Theresa May became Prime Minister so it was an opportunity to understand her, and her new cabinet’s priorities. Theresa May set out her commitment to social justice in her first speech as Prime Minister. She said she would make Britain a country that works for everyone and we are determined to make sure that includes disabled people.

Our event heard from the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board George Freeman MP, Scope’s Executive Director of Policy and Research Anna Bird, Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee and Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive of Bright Blue. We arranged the event in partnership with Bright Blue, a think tank.

We were also joined by MPs with an interest in disability and social justice, including the Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Maria Miller MP and Heidi Allen MP. Attendees emphasised the importance of Government departments working together in order to improve the lives of disabled people and what more the Government and employers can be doing to support disabled people in work and the progress that is needed to improve attitudes. Recent Scope research found that 85% of disabled people do not think employer attitudes have improved since 2012.

Managing extra costs

Theresa May has said her Government will do more to support those who are “just managing”. Life costs an average of £550 more a month if you are disabled, as a result of the need for specialised equipment or of using more of the basics such as heating and clothing. These extra costs undermine disabled people’s financial security and reduce their ability to save or build any financial resilience, leading many disabled people into debt and poverty and preventing disabled people from living independent lives. Disabled people have an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets than non-disabled people.

In his speech to conference, Damian Green MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions spoke of the need to tackle the barriers that disabled people face when looking for work and announced that the Government will soon be publishing a Green Paper on disability employment. Scope have set out the things we would like to see in the Green Paper including further reform of the Work Capability Assessment, specialist employment support and changes to sick leave.

The Prime Minister’s speech

Of course, one of the biggest moments of the week was Theresa May’s first leader’s speech to conference as Prime Minister. Having given a speech on Brexit earlier in the week, this speech focused mostly on domestic policy. She reiterated her commitment to making Britain a country which works for everyone.

For disabled people this must include halving the disability employment gap, tackling the extra costs they face and ensuring they are able to live independent lives. She highlighted the need for consumers to be protected and represented on company boards. Later this month we’ll be publishing our ‘one year on’ review from the Final Report of the Extra Costs Commission to highlight how more can be done to reduce the extra costs disabled people face.

Over the coming weeks and months we hope that Theresa May will outline in more detail how a country that works for everyone will include disabled people. We will work to make sure the Government prioritise employment, protecting disability benefits and independent living for disabled people.

Read more about our work on the extra costs of disability

“I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary” – Read about our event at the Labour Party conference on disability and employment.

Sign language isn’t just for swear words – End the Awkward

Liam is a student, writer, blogger and has his own radio show. He also happens to be deaf. For End the Awkward, Liam writes about awkward moments, misconceptions and how to communicate with a deaf person without avoiding them or making them feel uncomfortable.

I’m not a comedian, yet there seems to be something I do which makes people laugh on a night out. Except I’m not laughing and everything’s suddenly turned a little bit awkward. It’s a tumbleweed moment, and I don’t know what’s so funny.

I’ve misheard something. All it takes is for me to confuse two similar sounding words and everyone around me either laughs or feels uncomfortable. It’s particularly easy for this to happen in a pub or restaurant, where background noise is a constant problem. As soon as I realise that I’ve misheard and ask for clarification, the conversation has moved on and I’m told it ‘doesn’t matter’. It’s frustrating, but I try to shrug it off.

For the rest of the night, people avoid conversations with me in case there’s another mishap, so I’m left trying to understand people talking around me. It’s particularly hard in a bar when there’s a lot of noise and a group of men in the corner getting way too invested in a game of football.

Communication is key to ending the awkward

Most hearing people don’t know how to communicate with deaf people, and that’s where the awkwardness lies. Poor deaf awareness has led to misunderstandings and a sense of mystery surrounding the deaf community.

Something I still find uncomfortable is asking someone to repeat themselves. Sure, as someone who struggles to hear now and then, you’d be right to think that I’m allowed to say ‘pardon’ every once in a while. Yet, as I ask them to say what they’ve said again, I fear that they’ll do something which isn’t helpful – be it shouting, exaggerating lip movements or getting frustrated.

In the end, I’ve resorted to asking someone to repeat themselves around two or three times. After that, I just nod, smile and agree. It saves the hassle, but it becomes a problem when you then find out that they were complaining about something you shouldn’t have agreed with. Oops.

Liam wearing radio headset, smiling at the camera

Sign language has so much to offer people

In 2014, I was on the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Youth Advisory Board. At the first meeting, I met a few young people who use British Sign Language. However, as I didn’t know any BSL at the time, I was forced to write on scraps on paper, or use mobile phones to talk to them.

It worked, but not knowing basic BSL made me feel a little embarrassed. So, in-between the next three meetings, I tried to learn sign language wherever and whenever I can. The end result was that I could finally communicate with my friends on the youth board in BSL. Now, I’m more involved in the deaf community and a few misconceptions I had have since been debunked.

As someone who is keen to teach others, I’ve had a lot of friends ask me to show them some BSL. The only problem is that they want to know swear words and not useful phrases which will help break down the communication barrier.

How to End the Awkward

I’m not saying that every hearing person has to take BSL lessons. Next time you meet a deaf person, just say hello and ask how they like to communicate. If they happen to know BSL, ask if they can teach you a few words or phrases. If not, there is one workaround which I am encouraging my friends and other people to do.

Written English is the best way for deaf and hearing people to communicate together. If a hearing person cannot understand BSL, and a deaf person is struggling to understand what they’re saying, then taking out a phone and going to the notepad app can really help. It may feel awkward for the hearing person having to type out their response instead of saying it, but the alternative is far more awkward and confusing.

Eventually, hearing people will get to understand the lives of deaf people, ending the misconceptions, ending the mockery and ending the awkward.

You can read the rest of our End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story.

Why Emma thinks laughter is the best way to End the Awkward

Emma Satyamurti is an employment lawyer and litigator, and a partner at law firm Leigh Day. She believes that humour can be a great tool in changing attitudes and talks about the way we’ve used a lighter angle with our latest End the Awkward ad.

Feeling awkward makes people do the strangest things. My own back-catalogue as an unwilling awkward-ee includes:

  • being offered money
  • being ignored
  • being singled out;
  • being chuckled at for no reason;
  • being asked if I am ok when I am not doing anything that could suggest otherwise (unless being out of bed counts);
  • being talked about as if I am not there (along the lines of “isn’t she super?”)
  • being laughed at (admittedly mostly by children, and not very often).

These are by no means unusual experiences for disabled people, and there are many other variations on this theme. As part of its End the Awkward campaign, Scope has made some fantastic videos of disabled people talking about people’s responses to meeting them, which are as hilarious as they are poignant.

I don’t want to be too hard on awkwardness

I don’t want to be too hard on awkwardness though. It is very definitely not the same thing as hostility, or arrogance, or bigotry or the other horrible things that many disabled people are subjected to, though there may of course sometimes be an overlap.

Ironically, while being on the receiving end of awkwardness can be very uncomfortable, my sense is that awkwardness (and its close relative, anxiety) often arises from impulses which, properly channelled, are benign and indeed positively good: kindness, concern, worry about causing offence, protectiveness, sympathy and so on.

The End the Awkward campaign navigates this skillfully. In its light-touch and witty exploration of the issue, it conveys not so much a finger-pointing rebuke at misguided non-disabled folk, but a gently mocking send-up which cuts awkwardness down to size and shows how unnecessary it is.

Shared laughter is like shared food – it can bring people together and dissolve defences, at least temporarily.  In the likely event that the ad makes us laugh (it’s very funny), I think we are all laughing at the same thing whether disabled or not.

What the ad makes fun of is the ridiculous panic of some of the non-disabled employees when a new and diminutive colleague is brought round to be introduced. It is this which the slapstick style of the film emphasises. We are encouraged to laugh not at the people themselves, but at what they do.

While disabled viewers may enjoy seeing a familiar scenario blown up into full-scale farce, non-disabled people may recognise a caricature of their own confusion in the office-workers diving for cover under their desks. But I would bet that any viewer will enjoy the comedy and cringe for the dapper new-joiner faced with such a woeful welcome.

It’s a fine line to be sure, and this is, I think, what makes the ad so clever. It packs a real punch but aimed at the issue, not at the inadequacy and vulnerability any of us can feel in an unfamiliar social situation. Awkwardness, embarrassment, ignorance, confusion; these are all states that thrive on silence. By bringing them loudly out into the open – diffusing, and at the same time defusing, them with humour – End the Awkward makes these things easier to recognise, talk about and change.

You can read the rest of our End the Awkward blogs, or get involved in the campaign by submitting your awkward story.

Halving the disability employment gap – a plan for the future

Ahead of Conservative Party Conference this week, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Damian Green announced the Government is to stop Work Capability Reassessments for people with long term conditions.

This will be welcome news for some disabled people and it’s a step in the right direction that the Assessment needs reforming. However, we believe this needs to be part of a wider package of improvement from the Government if it is going to achieve the bold ambition of halving the disability employment gap by 2020.

The Government has announced it will be publishing a green paper shortly on how it will enable more disabled people and those with long term conditions to get and stay in work.

Our hopes for the Government’s green paper

We think this must present a coherent and achievable plan, which needs to work across the different areas of work, and address the barriers and disadvantages disabled people face getting in and staying work.

Ahead of Damian Green’s speech to the Conservative Conference today, we’ve set out five areas we believe the green paper should cover if we’re to halve the disability employment gap by 2020, enabled those who can work find a job that suits them and, ensure that when disabled people are in work they are able to thrive:

  • Reporting progress towards halving the disability employment gap
  • Best practice for employer
  • Reforming the Work Capability Assessment
  • Specialist employment support
  • Improving and innovating support for working disabled people

We believe that a detailed reporting system, breaking down employment rates by area and impairment will help make sure that barriers to employment are identified. This will also support the Government to understand what is working.

We hope that the green paper also looks the important role businesses play and encourage employers to create modern flexible workplaces where all staff are supported to achieve their potential. 85 per cent of disabled people do not think employers’ attitudes have changed over the last four years.

Whilst some employers are leading the way on disability employment, there are over 5.4m businesses in the UK who we need to spur to take action, and need the support to do it.

Supporting disabled people into work

We also believe the Government should go further on the Work Capability Assessment and start a conversation with disabled people on the wholesale reform of the fitness-for-work test.

Disabled people are pushing hard to get jobs, but still face many barriers to find work and thrive in employment which aren’t included. The test should be the first step to identifying those barriers so the right support can be put in place to help people get back to work.

Access to specialist employment should also be widened and offered on a flexible and voluntary basis. Work Choice, a specialist support programme for disabled people which is voluntary, has delivered much better results for disabled people than the mandatory Work Programme.

Finally, we believe there needs to be reform to in-work support. Fluctuations in a physical or mental health condition can mean extended periods of time away or on sick leave, and too often this leads to people having to stop working completely. The green paper should set out innovative and improved support for working disabled people and, vital in work support schemes such as Access to Work should be promoted more widely.

Over the coming months Scope will be speaking to Government and parliamentarians of all parties about the changes we think are needed to halve the employment gap, improve employer attitudes and make sure disabled people have the same employment opportunities are everyone else.

Read the rest of our blogs on halving the disability employment gap and read our response to Damian Green’s speech.

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

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