End the Awkward project manager Neal Brown, who has a hearing impairment, asks some of our disabled supporters what End the Awkward means to them and how it changes attitudes around disability.
End the Awkward is just one of a number of behaviour change campaigns that have been run in the UK, tackling a range of social issues including racism, homophobia, and drink-driving.
These campaigns use different tactics for getting people’s attention. Stonewall’s ‘Some People Are Gay. Get over it.’ campaign was confrontational; NHS Stop Smoking adverts have used shock tactics with graphic imagery.
With End the Awkward, we’ve always taken a tongue-in-cheek approach, because we know that people don’t mean to be awkward, so we don’t want to point the finger.
We spoke to some of our supporters about what the End the Awkward campaign means to them, and have shared their responses in this post.
“Humour breaks the ice”
Carly Jones, an autism advocate, filmmaker and author, told us why she thinks humour is effective:
“Humour breaks the ice, it captures interest, it relaxes people and gives them permission to be human. In return they get to hear and really listen to what makes us human too.”
Behind the light-hearted tone, there is a serious message. We know from our research that two-thirds of people feel awkward around disability, and that over a third (34%) are actively avoiding disabled people because they are worried about being patronising.
How did we get here? Liam O’Dell, a student, blogger and radio show host, shares his thoughts:
“For a long time, disability has always been seen as a mystery or a taboo. Everyone worries about slipping up or saying the wrong thing to a disabled person and everything becomes awkward when it doesn’t need to be. The lack of discussion involving disabled people is a long-term issue which has led to rude, embarrassing or laughable stereotypes being created.”
But End the Awkward wouldn’t be successful if it wasn’t based on the real-life experiences of disabled people. I’ve had many awkward moments in my life where people assume that I’m being rude because my hearing impairment means I’m not engrossed in the conversation.
But I shouldn’t have to disclose my impairment when I go to the barber or the pub just to avoid being judged by strangers. When people find out about my impairment things do change. People start to feel embarrassed and become overly apologetic. I feel like I have to reassure them that it’s okay.
It’s not just me. Layla Harding, a Masters student, uses mobility aids and has experienced awkward situations as a result.
“End the Awkward is hugely important. When I use mobility aids I endure these awkward moments time and time again. Just yesterday I was encouraged to “get training for the 2020 Paralympics”, told that my having a disability was a “such a shame because you’re a pretty young thing”, and was congratulated for getting “out and about” on the tube.
During situations like these it’s extremely frustrating because there is so much you want to explain to people and teach them but it’s difficult to get it all across. That’s why I think End the Awkward is important because it hopefully makes people see disability in a different light.”
I don’t think that anyone wants to be awkward around disabled people, or that anyone chooses to be awkward. And disabled people can feel just as awkward as non-disabled people. End the Awkward helps by showing that we are not alone in our awkwardness, and that it doesn’t take a lot to be less awkward and make life better for all of us.
Over the last three years, End the Awkward has done more than challenge the awkwardness around disability. It has also played a role in empowering disabled people like business woman, Kelly Perks-Bevington, helping them to feel more confident and to achieve more.
“When I was first invited to do End the Awkward, I was skeptical. I never talked about my disability, as to me, it felt like it didn’t exist! And, although it still feels like that, I’m also proud to be disabled and I have a new confidence around the whole subject.
I think by working with Scope on End the Awkward I’ve really dealt with those confidence issues and embraced who I am! Wheelchair and all!”
People ask why we run End the Awkward when we could be lobbying government to directly improve the lives of disabled people. Well, we are still campaigning for disabled people alongside End the Awkward. But we will have more success campaigning if we have society on our side, and that starts with changing attitudes.