“Yes I Can, If…” – campaigning for better disability access

Will Pike is a games developer from London whose parody of Channel 4’s Superhumans advert has gone viral with over half a million views. Tens of thousands of people have signed his petition to ask the two high-street chains which feature in the film for better access.

In this blog, he shares the story behind his campaign and talks about the changes he’d like to see as a result. A text description of the video is available at the end of this blog post.

In 2008 I went to India, on the way back home we had a stop over in Mumbai and the hotel I was staying in was attacked by terrorists. 168 people died, my spine was injured I am now paralysed below the waist.

I’ve been in a wheelchair for eight years now and in that time have been through ever emotion under the sun. I have days when I just can’t be arsed with the barriers and negative attitudes. I made this film because too many shops and restaurants are effectively off limits to wheelchair users like myself.

Inspired by the Paralympics

After the London Paralympics I was expecting there to be a big shift in places becoming more accessible but it just hasn’t happened. Two weeks before this year’s games started I approached my friend Heydon Prowse about the idea and he got a team of people together to produce the film. Errol Ettiene directed  it and did an incredible job, the team turned a good idea into a slick, professional-grade commercial.

It tops and tails with Paralympic references because I wanted to show how day to day life can feel like Paralympic event for a wheelchair user. But whilst the whole thing was inspired by the Paralympics, these issues still remain for disabled people now the games have ended. This is bigger then just me having a unique experience, this is a global issue indicative of a massive absence of consideration for disabled people. My experiences aren’t isolated and sharing them makes them more powerful and potent. It turns individual struggles into a social issue.

The film isn’t in any way a criticism of the Superhumans ad, but it could only ever do so much. Channel 4 started a relay race about disability awareness and they passed the baton on. They didn’t know who they were passing it on to, but it just so happened it was me. I’m leveraging the awareness their brilliant ad created to further the message. My film couldn’t exist without theirs and whatever success we get is their success too.

Will sat on a sofa against a brick wall

The petition

I’ve been asked why I chose to focus my petition on American Apparel and Caffè Nero and the honest answer is, it was just their lucky day. We were filming on Tottenham Court Road and it just so happened they were the shops that didn’t have wheelchair access. But it was also important that we didn’t pitch this campaign at one-off shops because whilst they have a responsibility, it’s the big chains that have a major responsibility and the ones who are neglecting their civic duty. It could also have a domino effect across all their stores.

It’s not that people are fundamentally thoughtless, it’s just that it’s simply not in the social conscience to be considering these things. It’s only when someone comes along and questions access that things will change.

The people I spoke to in the film felt bad and wanted to help but they are purely innocent in this whole thing. It’s the companies they work for who are responsible for disability access and inclusivity. It’s irresponsible to expect hapless shop assistants to have to deal with that situation. I hope American Apparel and Caffè Nero can see it from that perspective too, it will protect their staff from these embarrassing and awkward situations that they shouldn’t have to go through.

Reasonable adjustments

The Equality Act states that all buildings and public places have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people are not disadvantaged when accessing their services.

However, in terms of holding public places accountable, it’s actually down to the customers and patrons of that establishment to draw attention to their inadequacies. If that premises doesn’t then do something about their lack of access or facilities, that person is then responsible to bring them to court. Which basically means that all those people with disability – who may or may not have had their benefits cut, or are finding it difficult to gain employment, or even struggling to leave the house – are the ones who must embark on an inevitably time-consuming and costly legal case.

We really hope that this film, though aimed at Caffé Nero and American Apparel, is able to shine a light upon a flawed and, frankly, ridiculous system. It should not be the responsibility of each and every disabled person to flag up a high street chain; it should be the responsibility of the Government and Councils to assess disability access, educate businesses, and ensure funding is in place for reasonable adjustments.

People may think little things like step-free access won’t make a difference to the majority of the population, but it makes a massive difference for a selective few which in turn has a positive influence on the relationships we have with non-disabled people. In turn the whole community will be accessible and better for everyone. And that’s where the #AccessForEveryone hashtag came from.

Will in his wheelchair outside a restaurant where there's a step

What’s next?

We just have to wait and see! I haven’t been contacted by Caffè Nero or American Apparel, but I wonder whether someone is going to bring it to the big bosses. One way I’d like that conversation to go is that the big boss turns round and says: “Are you telling me we haven’t got step free access in our Tottenham Court Road branch?! Right, heads are gonna roll!” That’s far fetched but I am an optimist at heart.

Both brands have a real opportunity to turn this bad situation good by handling it well. If they acknowledge they were wrong and make changes they can come out of this smelling of roses and will get so much good publicity from this. I will be giving them every chance to handle this magnanimously, with humility, and with a real ownership. But if they don’t, we will do everything we can to highlight their ineptitude.

They really can lose a lot of business because of this. Some people have been commenting saying they will boycott these shops until they make a change and if that becomes the consensus, if that becomes the rallying cry, then together we can change a lot.

You can visit change.org to sign the petition or follow Will’s progress.

Will’s story is also a great example of disabled people being ‘bold and loud’ as consumers – something called for by the Extra Costs Commission. Led by Scope, this was an independent inquiry that looked at ways to drive down the additional costs faced by disabled people. Next month a report will be published reviewing progress with the Commission’s recommendations for tackling extra costs.

Video description: Paralympics billboard, zooms into the word “superhuman”. Alarm clock turns to 7.00am. Man laid in bed opens his eyes, sits up, and smiles. He spins around his bedroom in his wheelchair. Plays plastic toy trumpet. Dances into the bathroom. Sits in the show, miming the lyrics into the shower head. Puts a shirt on, grabs his hat with a reaching tool. Leaves his house, flipping hat onto his head. Wheels down the a busy high street. Tries to enter Caffè Nero, wheels crash into a step. Tries to enter Pizza Express and speaks to a waitress about accessible toilet facilities. Does a wheelie and dances down the street. Goes into American Apparel and talks to staff member. Wheels into a pub, stops himself at a flight of stairs. Then wheels down the ramp, sits with a friend both clinking their pint glasses. Text reads “Leaving the house can feel like a paralympic event for wheelchair users. change.org/accessforeveryone”.

“It’s nice you people are allowed to work” – End the Awkward

In this blog Scope’s Campaign Manager Rosemary Frazer talks about the reaction to our End the Awkward campaign. She tells us why she’s convinced that using humour helps to tackle negative attitudes. 

“It’s nice you people are allowed to work”

A cab driver said this to me when he was bringing me to my office recently. My non-disabled friends were stunned when I told them. My disabled friends simply give a sympathetic and knowing smile. Whether through innocent ignorance or lack of thought, some non-disabled people say and do the oddest things around disabled people.Rosemary smiling for the camera

I’m writing this blog in response to some of the comments and criticisms I’ve read about Scope’s End the Awkward campaign, which aims to challenge attitudes towards disability.

I should ‘out’ myself first. I am Campaigns Manager at Scope. I am writing this on my day off and it is very much my own thoughts and opinions. (Anyone who knows me will know I can’t and won’t be told by anyone what to think or say on disability issues or anything else!)

Some people have commented that our latest H.I.D.E content is patronising and others have said that people don’t behave that way. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

Whilst no one has ever hid in a stationery cupboard or got under a table to avoid me, I have experienced very odd and sometimes very hurtful and disabling treatment as a wheelchair user in the workplace. Let me share a few of my own experiences.

“How would you feel working with a disabled person?”

  • There was the colleague whose entire tone of voice would change when speaking to me, as though I was a 7-year-old
  • There was the line manager who told me ‘It was a great privilege to work with people like you.’
  • There was the occasion where a team I was about to join was asked how they would feel about working with a disabled person
  • There was the senior manager who would ruffle my hair each time he saw me and accompany this with ‘Hello lovely young lady.’

I felt so alone and isolated. No one else in my workplace said anything or thought such behaviour odd or wrong in any way. Of if they did, they weren’t prepared to say anything.

This has had an impact on me and no doubt on my career and promotional opportunities. In the past when much younger I have left jobs as a result of such behaviour. At other times I have felt so demotivated that I felt like just giving up!

Of course I wouldn’t tolerate such nonsense now. But that has come with experience and building up my confidence to challenge such things. It also helps that I have allies that will support me should anything like this happen today.

Does humour work?

When I started working at Scope in 2013 I was a bit sceptical about End the Awkward and thought we should be focusing on other things like poor social care support, lack of access, or disability hate – rather than these tongue-in-cheek films which seemed rather silly. Of course Scope does work hard on those other areas and have done so in the past. There’s also a lot of great work being done by other organisations and by fantastic disabled activists too to address these issues.

I’ve read research findings on attitudes towards disability and it really saddens me that we have not moved on in our views towards disability in the way we have on race, sexuality or gender. End the Awkward addresses that.

It also takes the issue directly to a big section of the population who don’t engage with disability equality and too often don’t know any disabled people. We’ve found that humour is a great way to engage this audience who might not have previously paid attention to disability.

The Golden Rule

We know that from the feedback we receive. Attitude change is crucial to getting better policies and practices in place to give us the opportunity to flourish in the workplace, to play our role in communities and enjoy the same life chances as others.

When I speak with younger disabled people they tell me how much they love End the Awkward. Non-disabled campaigners tell me how impressed they are with the approach we have taken. I have seen how humour has been used successfully to address other areas of discrimination and I honestly believe it can work to address the sometimes suffocating prejudice I have had to endure throughout my life.

So H.I.D.E, don’t hide. Just don’t treat us differently than you would want to be treated yourself and if you have your own ideas on how to improve attitudes towards disability then please share them with us. We always want to hear from you!

Want to get more involved in End the Awkward? Share your awkward stories with us