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.
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.