Category Archives: Campaigns

How the next Government can make Everyday equality a reality

In just six weeks’ time voters will go to the polls to have their say in the General Election. 

Today we are setting out our calls for the next government – commitments and changes we are asking for so that by 2022 disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else: Everyday equality.

We know that in 2017, life is still much harder for many disabled people than it needs to be. Too often disabled people can’t access the support they need to at home, in education or work and face negative attitudes, extra costs and pressures on family life.

Action is needed in a range of areas which is why we would like the next government to take a cross-government approach to disability which tackles the barriers that prevent disabled people from participating fully in society.

Today we are calling for action in three main areas:

Improving disabled people’s work opportunities

Text on infographic reads: Disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people

Many disabled people want to work but continue to face huge barriers without the support they need to find, stay and progress in work. The disability employment gap – the difference between the employment rates for disabled and non disabled people – has stood at over 30 percentage points for over a decade and less than half of disabled people are in work.

We are calling on the next government to commit to halving the disability employment gap and report publicly on the progress it is making towards this target. We also want to see reforms to the support disabled people receive in and out of work, including the Work Capability Assessment, changes to sick pay and ending benefit sanctions.  It is vital that the government also provide better careers advice, work experience and opportunities for apprenticeships for young disabled people.

Ensuring disabled people have support to live independently

Social care plays an important role in supporting many disabled people to live independently, work, build relationships and be part of their local communities. However, we know that over half of disabled social care users aren’t getting the support they need to live independently.  We believe the next government should invest in social care so that disabled people of all ages get the support they need.

It’s also vital that the government tackles the barriers disabled people face getting online as just 25 per cent of disabled adults have never used the internet compared to 8 per cent of non-disabled adults. The next government should commit to improving digital skills and increasing digital accessibility.

Improving disabled people’s financial security

Infographic reads: Life costs more if you're disabled. On average, disabled people spend £550 a month on disability related costs

Disabled people spend on average £550 a month on costs related to their impairment or condition. Extra costs may include specialist equipment or higher heating bills.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is vital in helping disabled people meet some of these costs. Many disabled people face difficulties when applying for PIP and the assessment decision is often overturned at a later date.

We would like to see the next government protect the value of PIP and develop a new assessment that more accurately identifies the extra costs disabled people face.

Disabled people often have negative experiences as consumers and receive a poor service from businesses. That’s despite disabled people’s households spending £249 billion a year. Therefore, we are calling on businesses and regulators to improve the experiences of disabled customers and give greater consideration to how they can support them.

There are 13 million disabled people in Britain – a hugely significant number of votes – and 89 per cent of voting age disabled people have said they will vote at the next election. We are calling on all candidates to listen to and engage with disabled people and for whoever is next in government to deliver that strategy which will achieve everyday equality for disabled people.

Throughout the election look out for opportunities to engage with your local candidates at events, hustings and talk to them about what everyday equality means for you.

Infographic with text: There are 13million disabled people in the UK - 21 per cent of the UK population

Find out more about how you can register to vote in this election in our latest blog and share on social media what everyday equality means for you by using the hashtag #Everydayequality. 

General election 2017: Make sure your voice is heard

Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap general election to take place on 8 June. 

This week, with just six weeks to go until polling day, we’ll be setting out what we believe needs to be done by the next Government to achieve everyday equality for the UK’s 13.3 million disabled people.

Over the next six weeks we’ll share more information about the policies we think it’s important all political parties commit to, that we believe are needed to achieve everyday equality for disabled people. 

We also want to encourage people to register to vote, get involved and have your say this general election.

How can I get involved?

The next Government has an opportunity to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people and help deliver everyday equality by 2022.

It’s important that the voices of disabled people are heard in this election. Voting, as well as taking part in election events in your local area, gives you the chance to tell politicians what’s important to you and what you would like to see them do.

In the run up to the election there will likely be events and hustings in your constituency which you can attend. You can  ask the candidates questions about what they plan to do on the issues that matter to you, whether that’s about social care or making your local area tidier and safer.

Scope is encouraging everyone to register to vote in this election. Remember, if you don’t register or aren’t registered already, you won’t be able to vote in this election.

How do I vote?

 The deadline to register to vote is 22 May. You must register to be able to vote on the 8 June.

You can register to vote either online or by printing off the form (which is also available in Easy-Read and large print).

You can vote by post by registering for a postal vote online. Your ballot paper will arrive in the post and you’ll need to fill it in and send it back by the deadline on the papers.

You can also nominate a proxy to cast your vote for you. They will attend the polling station and mark your ballot for you. They will need to be a close relative and agree to vote on your behalf.

Find out more about voting by proxy.

Otherwise you can vote at your local polling station on 8 June. Your polling station should be open from 7am to 10pm. If you’re planning to vote on the day, find out where your polling station is and what you need to take with you.

Are polling stations accessible?

All polling stations should be wheelchair accessible and support disabled voters.  If you need to use a disabled parking space, these should be clearly visible and monitored throughout the day.

There are lots of ways you can be supported to cast your vote inside a polling station:

  • If you cannot mark your ballot paper, members of staff called Presiding Officers may mark your ballot paper for you. You may also attend the polling station with someone who you would like to mark your ballot paper on your behalf.
  • Polling stations should provide tactile voting devices. The tactile voting device attaches on top of your ballot paper. It has numbered flaps (the numbers are raised and are in braille) directly over the boxes where you mark your vote.
  • Polling stations should provide large print versions of ballot papers.

Polling stations should be accessible for everyone wishing to vote. If for whatever reason your local polling station isn’t accessible, Presiding Officers should provide you with a ballot paper and allow you to vote outside of the polling station. Find out more information about what happens at polling stations.

If you visit a polling station and find it inaccessible, you can complain to your local authority. 

Reform is needed to halve the disability employment gap

The Government’s Green Paper consultation on Work, Health and Disability closed last week. Find out how we responded to the consultation and which areas we argued need action from the Government.

The Government has made a welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap – the difference between the employment rate of disabled people and non-disabled people – which has stood at around 30 percentage points for over a decade. If the Government is serious about increasing disability employment, then it must tackle the barriers individuals face to entering, staying and progressing in work.

Improving out-of-work support

Too many disabled people aren’t getting support to get into and remain in employment. Where disabled people do access support, at Jobcentres or through employment support schemes, many feel it is too generic and does not take account of their needs or interests.

It is vital that all disabled people who want to work have access to voluntary, specialist support that is tailored to their needs. Taking part in any form of employment support should be completely voluntary for disabled people, and have no impact on the financial support they receive.

As well as this, Scope wants to see a total reform of the “fit for work” test, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which decides whether someone is able to receive Employment and Support Allowance.

Currently, the WCA fails to capture the range of barriers to work that disabled people face, which means many individuals are not getting the right support to move in to work. That’s why we’re calling for the WCA to be replaced with separate assessments for financial support and employment support needs.

Supporting disabled people in work

New research by Scope has found that in the last year 58 per cent of disabled people have felt at risk of losing their job because of their impairment or condition. That’s why it’s so important that once disabled people take up jobs, the right support is in place to enable them to stay in work.

Something we want to see is an expansion – and better promotion – of Access to Work, a scheme that provides disabled people with financial support to work. We also want to see the requirement to take Statutory Sick Pay in consecutive blocks to be lifted. This would give individuals more flexibility in taking time off from work, for example through part-time sickness absence or a phased return to work.

Working with employers to drive change

Efforts to halve the disability employment gap will only be successful if we see a shift in how disabled people are perceived in the workplace. The need for action is clear – 85 per cent of disabled people feel employer attitudes haven’t improved since 2012.

Building on progress made with other aspects of workforce diversity, employers should shift from compliance with the law to taking a more proactive approach to attracting, recruiting, supporting and developing disabled employees.

For instance, the Government’s Disability Confident scheme – which provides guidance to employers on hiring disabled people – has a Business Leaders Group which is well-placed to drive best practice among employers through new research and peer-to-peer networking. However, it is crucial that this group has sufficient scope and capability to realise such an ambition.

Next steps following the Green Paper

Scope welcomed the opportunity to respond to this Green Paper. However, this will only lead to change if Government and employers take meaningful steps to tackle the barriers disabled people face to entering and thriving in work.

Therefore, we would like to see a cross-government strategy for disability employment – presented as a White Paper – as soon as possible. This should include a range of reforms to support disabled people in and out of work, along with clear indicators to determine the success of these. It is vital that any proposals are informed by the experiences of disabled people.

Find out more about Scope’s work to tackle barriers to employment for disabled people.

I want employers to be able to talk to me about my needs

Holly moved to the UK from America over 10 years ago. Being blind, she has experienced many challenges in finding employment.

Here she talks about some of those challenges, bad attitudes she has experienced and what she thinks needs to change to ensure that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.

My first proper job over here was as a nursing assistant on a psychiatric hospital ward. Before I could start, I had to have an occupational health assessment. The woman in the assessment knew that I was visually impaired and she was asking me lots of questions like, ‘how would you see if someone threw something at you?’ and stuff like that. I obviously wanted to say I can see stuff like this but didn’t want to reply sarcastically because the job depended on this.

At the time, I had just moved to the UK, which was very expensive, and me and my husband had no money between us. It was so important that I got this job. We were just living day to day and having to borrow money which was just so miserable. I didn’t want to say anything wrong or make the assessors get mad at me or anything like that.

Holly, a young disabled woman, poses with her dog

It was worse than weird

The assessment was just really confusing. She kept asking me about medical records that I didn’t have any of over here. When she suggested that I should get my medical records sent from the US over to here, I didn’t know whether me getting the job depended on this happening.

Towards the end of the assessment, the woman pointed out that my shoelace was untied and I kind of nodded but thought it would be rude to interrupt the conversation to sort it. Before I’d even had a chance to say that or tie it myself, she leant over and did it for me. She actually tied my shoe for me!

It was one of those things where I just thought, I need to leave before I do or say anything! At the time I thought it was weird. But it was worse than weird. It was condescending and so horrible. It really didn’t imply anything good about what this woman thought of disabled people.

When I got home, I was just really confused and my husband was really upset on my behalf. He didn’t think that I was treated very well.

It was such a stressful time

After all this, I got the job and, because it was such a big hospital, I luckily never had to see her again after that! Unfortunately, this was only a one year contract and due to various reasons, it made me very ill and stressed. This resulted in me having over two years of job hunting and applying for ESA.

Looking for work was such a stressful time. It felt like I already had a full time job sorting out ESA. It was more exhausting than any job I’ve ever had and was just a total nightmare.

Not only was I foreign and disabled, but my qualifications were from a different country and I also now had a massive hole in my CV.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate what’s an effect of being an immigrant and what’s an effect of being disabled, but I think both of these things make employers look at me and say “there’s somebody else who’s easier”

Disabled people aren’t scary!

I think employers need to not be scared! I want them to be able to talk to me about disability.

If an employer could just ask us what we need or what they could do to make it possible for us to work there, everything would be so much better.

It should be ok to ask these things. Disabled people are less work, less scary and much less of a burden than employers think we are. I think there needs to be much more of a willingness to talk and more assurance for disabled people that there won’t be any nasty consequences of asking for what you need, that if you say the wrong thing, you won’t get the job.

I’m not that difficult to give a job to. Honestly!

Holly, a young disabled woman, smiles at the camera

The Government want to know what you think needs to change about the support disabled people get in and out of work. They want feedback on their proposals and will be accepting views until Friday 17 February 2017.

“This child is spastic. Take her home.” – Disability History Month

Dr Lin Berwick MBE, counsellor, lecturer, journalist, broadcaster, homeopath, Methodist preacher is 66. She is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to the Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, Lin remembers how a doctor labelled her as ‘spastic’ and encouraged her parents to have another child. 

“This child is spastic. Take her home…”

When I went blind

Lin went to a school for physically disabled pupils. When she lost her sight, she was bullied.

“When I went blind, the kids at the school were really nasty and I went through some horrible jeering and bullying, and people laughing at me because I walked into things. You know, I went to walk through a door that had glass panels and, because I could see the light through I thought the door was open, and of course it wasn’t. I sort of smashed my face, and then I walked into a brick wall and things like that, and hit my face again and I had tripod sticks poked into, and walking sticks poked into my face and handfuls of mud rubbed into my face, and kids saying ‘Can you see that, then, Berwick?’ It was horrendous at a time when you’re really frightened, because you’ve now suddenly got a new disability which you don’t know how to handle.”

‘Telephonist required’

Lin Berwick on phone
Lin Berwick on phone

Finding a job was another barrier Lin had to face. 

“When I got to the bank, it was one of these banks with these horrible revolving doors, which wasn’t easy, going through on a pair of tripods. Eventually, I found my way into the bank, and made my way to the accountant’s office, and when he opened the door he, said, ‘Oh, I know they told me you were disabled’, he said,’ ‘but I didn’t realise you were that disabled, but you might as well come in and sit down anyway’, and I thought, ‘God, this is a really good start to your first job interview!’ But I thought, ‘Well, I’m here. I’ve got one chance, so I might as well really go for it’, and he took my mother around the bank, showed her some of the obstacles, and we came back into the office and we started to talk about the work, and he proceeded to ask my mother every single question about my training.”

Becoming a Methodist preacher

God's Rich Pattern: Meditations for when our Faith is Shaken
God’s Rich Pattern: Meditations for when our Faith is Shaken

Even in her spiritual life, Lin faced prejudice when she tried to follow her vocation and become a Methodist preacher.

“The Secretary of the meeting said, ‘I think we’re going to have a problem with you.’ I said, ‘Oh yes! Why’s that?’ ‘Well, due to your disability, I don’t know how you’ll cope with the public speaking,’ so I said, ‘Well, as someone who’s done over 300 radio broadcasts, I don’t think you’re going to have a problem.’ ‘Oh,’ and he said, ‘And I don’t know how you’ll cope with the academic study.’ I said, ‘Well, I have ‘O’ levels, and I have the equivalent of a degree in Psychology.’ He said, ‘Oh, you can learn then!’ and I thought, ‘God, if this is the kind of prejudice I’m going to get, this is just amazing stuff,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I can learn’ and he said, ‘And then we don’t know how you’ll cope with the access to the church buildings,’ and I said, ‘There, I’m prepared to admit you have a problem, but maybe together, we can work at it.’”

Listen to Lin’s life story on the Disability Voices website.

Books by Lin Berwick

Find out more about the Lin Berwick Trust.

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month

From callipers to climbing Ben Nevis – Disability History Month

Mountaineer and writer John Hawkridge is 68. He is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to the Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, John remembers when he could run as a child and how in later life he tackled Ben Nevis.

Wearing callipers

John as a boy sitting on a step
John as a boy sitting on a step

Unfortunately for me I got selected to be fitted with iron callipers. So all of a sudden you find yourself in leg irons, and you know from being able to run, they’ve put you in these leg irons, and you can hardly stand up, never mind run. And they put you in them, and they tighten all the leather straps on you when you’re in. You know, it’s basically, it’s just a form of torture; they’re just forcing your joints against what they want to do. And so, you find yourself, you might be wearing your callipers ‘x’ amount of hours a day. Now bearing in mind I could take these callipers off and run, and run, hop, skip and jump, that weren’t something that I enjoyed at all.

Climbing Ben Nevis

John Hawkridge
John Hawkridge

By seven o’clock I was out and away, and heading up Ben Nevis. Initially there was no one else about, and I had the route to myself, but as time progressed it wasn’t long before people started overtaking me. Throughout the day I made really steady and positive progress, and up through a place known as ‘the Red Burn’, and then the massive, steep zigzagging path that went to the sort of summit ridge, or plateau, and then finally across this, where there were still snow and an ice field to be crossed towards the summit, and I ended up, I arrived on the summit about four o’clock. There were a few people there, and one that stood out was an American chap who, when he saw me coming, started dancing up and down, shouting, ‘What the Hell? I’ve flogged my so-and-so guts out getting to the top of this mountain, and what do I find when I get here? A so-and-so cripple. You’ve ruined my day.’ At which he screwed his stars and stripes up, shoved it back in his rucksack, and stormed off muttering to himself; ‘And I don’t know how the hell I’m going to get back down again,’ and I leant over and shouted to him, ‘That makes two of us!’”

Hear about John’s descent of Ben Nevis with broken walking stick and boot.

Rock-climbing films

In the mid-1970s I’d bought a good-quality Super Eight Cine Camera and had made films of some of the walks that I’d done and rock climbs; the two walks which I’d filmed being the Three Peaks of Yorkshire and the Dales Way – a 100-mile walk from Ilkley to Bowness on Windermere, and also I had some quite good shots of me rock climbing at Ilkley and Brimham Rocks.

In the late seventies I had been showing these films at various places, you know, if I had to entertain anywhere I’d take along me Cine and compiled a film and showed these films. And the fact that I’d been doing these activities had come to the attention of Yorkshire Television who sent a producer/director out to see me, with a view to making a film, and I remember well as he watched this Cine film, an half-hour film that I’d put together, and when it had finished he says, ‘This is absolutely fantastic, this is absolutely brilliant,’ he said, ‘but unfortunately we could never show this or make a film about this, because the public wouldn’t be able to take it…’

Climbing Everest

Books by John Hawkridge

Uphill All The Way book cover
Uphill All The Way book cover

His first book Sticks and Stones was published in 1987. This was followed by Uphill All The Way in 1991.

Listen to John’s life story on the Disability Voices website.

Find out more about Disability History Month on our website.

Language plays a central role in how we view disability – Disability History Month

Throughout Disability History Month we have been celebrating the lives of disabled people from the past such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Alfred Nobel and Frida Kahlo and explored the changing lives and experiences of older disabled people living in the UK.

In the final week of Disability History Month, Jack Welch, who campaigns to raise awareness of the challenges people with autism face, looks at the importance of language, the theme of UK Disability History Month 2016.

In the UK, we’ve made good progress in recent decades to provide legislation on the rights of disabled people. Despite these changes there are deeper challenges and barriers people with visible or invisible conditions still encounter.

For someone like myself on the autistic spectrum, the obstacles to get the right level of support in a mainstream school and identifying what reasonable adjustments are needed in employment are just a couple of examples that many, like myself, have to confront.

Disability hate crime

From recent research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, figures on disability related hate crime are worrying and attitudes towards disabled people are still of great concern. Disabled people aged 10-15 were almost twice as likely to have experienced a crime compared to non-disabled people (22% contrasted with 12.4%).

If levels of hate crime are still happening at this rate, despite recent developments and more positive portrayals of disabled people as we’ve seen with Rio 2012, we need to redouble our efforts to make people more aware of using language that is respectful of disabled people.

Jack smiles at the cameraI experienced a disability related incident on London underground recently. I was left shaken and frustrated at other people’s ambivalence and that they choose to look away. Those who verbally attacked me were younger than me. Scope’s End the Awkward research, shows younger people often have difficulty in approaching a disabled person. What role can schools and education play to improve this attitude towards disabled people?

So what can we do? Newspapers and other media outlets still use phrases like ‘suffering with autism’. I have autism, I don’t feel I ‘suffer’ from it.

Language plays a central role in how we perceive individuals with certain conditions and that in turn reflects our behaviour when we meet a disabled person.

We all must consider the language we use and how it can affect disabled people, and we need to begin from a young age. It’s more difficult to confront and combat prejudice at a later stage.

We need to prevent negative attitudes from developing and leading to the incident I experienced.

Find out more about Disability History Month on our website.

Jack has started a discussion about the importance of Disability History Month on Scope’s community where people can share their own experiences and discuss the impact language has on their lives.

My brother used to carry me on his back to school: Disability History Month

Alan Counsell is 79. He is one of a number of older disabled people who contributed to the Disability Voices website at the British Library Sound Archive as part of Scope’s Speaking for Ourselves project.

For Disability History Month, Alan remembers his struggle to get an education and find a job:

Being carried to school

The Headmistress at the school had refused to take me, and my Grandmother was formidable, absolutely formidable, where I was concerned: and through that visit I got to go to school, with the rest of the family; and my brother, can you imagine this –  I thought nothing of it until I got older. I was five; my brother was about nine. He used to carry me on his back to school in the morning. Came for me during playtime, that means he carried me around because I couldn’t walk; carried me home at lunchtime, carried me back after school after lunch, and carried me back after school in the afternoon. That’s a bit much, you know, for a nine-year-old, to carry a five-year-old, and he did that every day and never complained.

I wanted to be a librarian

I wanted to be a librarian, and the careers officer Mr Jolly said, “No way, no way, could you ever do anything like that,” and what came back was a voice from the side, and that was the headmaster, who said, “Now then, how can you say that, because you don’t know our Alan: he can do whatever he wants.”

Working in a subnormality hospital

In the end, I got into trouble one day, big trouble, and I was absolutely furious because of my own experience. I couldn’t stop thinking that had the education authorities have had their way, when they said I was mentally defective, I could have ended up as a patient in that hospital; and that was a rather daunting thought: and they had a block, a ward, called ‘H Block’, and, you know, they had ABCD wards. H was a ward for low-grade patients; that meant their intelligence was very low, and they also had behaviour problems. Many of them had to be restrained for a time; every student had to do at least one month on H Block, and my first day there I just lost it. I went into orbit, oh, terrible. We had to feed the patients, and the staff on the ward got a main course and a dessert and mixed them both together, and fed it to the patients. I couldn’t do that. I kept thinking, ‘This could be me’, you know, ‘this could be me’. There’s no way I’d want my food like that: so I refused to do it…

Alan Counsell at desk
Alan Counsell at desk

In 1969, Alan became a teacher at Meldreth Manor School. He continues to have a keen interest in education, through visits to schools and through his writing and training.

Listen to Alan’s interview on the Disability Voices website.

Books by Alan Counsell

“The contributions and achievements of disabled people are largely left out of the history books” – Disability History Month

We continue to mark Disability Month with a blog about artist Frida Kahlo, an early 20th century artist whose work explored her feelings towards being disabled and how it affected her body as well as celebrating the life and culture of her native Mexico.

Sam Pugh, who is part of the Scope for Change campaign group and president of the Oxford Students’ Disability Community, writes about why Kahlo is her hero and why she should be remembered during Disability History Month.  

“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.” – Frida Kahlo

There are few disabled people as loved and iconic as Frida Kahlo.

It is thought she was born with Spina Bifida, a congenital defect of the spinal cord, and as a child she contracted polio. She was severely injured as a teenager in a bus accident, with her injuries causing her lifelong pain and ill health.

Frida Kahlo's painting Tree Of Hope - An abstract self portrait with the sun and moon in the background
Frida Kahlo’s painting Tree Of Hope

Following her accident she was unable to leave her bed for several months – it was during this time that she became serious about her painting and marked the start of her life as an artist.

Frida is famous for her surreal and intimate self-portraits, many of which express her pain, frustration, and anger towards her disabled body, but also her acceptance and self love.

Frida the revolutionary

Frida was a revolutionary, not just in her political leanings and open bisexuality, but in the frank way she depicted her disability. At a time when disability was very much hidden and a taboo subject, Frida Kahlo exhibited to the world the impact of her own impairment in striking detail and was unabashed in her portrayals of disability. She was a beautiful, intelligent, and fiercely talented disabled woman.

Frida Kahlo's painting The Broken Column - Showing the artist topless with a column running through her torso
Frida Kahlo’s painting The Broken Column

Frida Kahlo’s image is instantly recognisable, but this isn’t the case for many of the disabled people of our past. The contributions and achievements of disabled people are largely left out of the history books, and it is vitally important that we educate ourselves and others.

Frida Kahlo's painting Without Hope - showing the artist in bed throwing up a mass of body parts
Frida Kahlo’s painting Without Hope

Society’s attitude towards disability has for hundreds of years been one of shame, distaste, and suppression. Disability has always been something that has been hidden and stigmatised, and this is why Frida Kahlo’s depictions of her own are so striking.

Self Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill - Showing the artist sat in a wheelchair next to a portrait of an elderly man
Self Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill

Celebrating disabled people

By celebrating disabled people who have contributed to society throughout history and recognising their achievements, we can challenge the negative attitudes and stigma related to disability and disabled people that are still so prevalent in society today.

Disability History Month gives us the chance to do this, but we cannot rewrite the history books in a month. Recognition of the existence and contributions of disabled people is something we should strive to do every day, both from history and in the present.

We are so often excluded and stigmatised, and face particular hardship in education and employment as a result of these attitudes, which add barriers to us reaching our potentials. There is still a long way to go until disabled people receive truly equal treatment, and this isn’t something we can achieve until we rid society of the prevailing belief that disabled people are incapable of making positive contributions to it.

Celebrating historical figures such as Frida Kahlo and remembering their great achievements will not just change our attitudes towards the past, but allow us to alter our attitudes towards disabled people today and encourage a society which will never hold us back from achieving.

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month

Disability is often written out of history. We need to ask why

As we continue to mark Disability History Month, Bekki Smiddy writes about  chemist and inventor Alfred Nobel. His legacy are the Nobel Prizes.  Nobel experienced epileptic seizures throughout childhood and here Bekki talks about her own experience of epilepsy and why it’s important we recognise that disability is not a bar to achieving great things in life.

I was diagnosed with idiopathic generalised epilepsy when I was eleven, after several years of unexplained seizures. I had no idea what any of it meant. And I didn’t really care. What I did care about was the way people had started to look at me.

Before I was diagnosed, I figured epilepsy meant I fell down and couldn’t remember sometimes, it wasn’t a big deal. It was other people that made it a big deal.

Every time the word epilepsy came up, everyone in the room would look at me.

My classmates would whisper the word “freak” as I went by.

I got sent out of the class by my teachers for having seizures.

I felt embarrassed and ashamed for something that was completely out of my control.

Leaflets on epilepsy are filled with medical jargon and only explained what was going on with my brain, and scared me with talk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy Patients (SUDEP).  What I needed to know was how it would affect my life, how it would change it, and how to not feel so alien.

Looking through history

When first diagnosed I searched for historical figures who had epilepsy. I needed to know that I wasn’t going to be limited; that I could still achieve what I wanted with my life. That I wasn’t “wrong” somehow.

Throughout my adolescence and education I used it as rebuttal for those that attacked me or belittled me for my epilepsy.

We have been authors, military and political leaders, philosophers, scientist, composers and painters. Having a neurological condition didn’t have to hinder me in any way.

Nobel didn’t hide his disability, in fact he wrote poetry about what are perceived to be childhood epileptic seizures.

“…the convulsions followed, til I gasped

upon the brink of nothingness – my frame

a school for agony with death for goal”

But it appears to be written out of his history like so many “invisible conditions”,

Disabled people need role models

Epilepsy charity websites I viewed had sections listing famous people with epilepsy. Yet, it is missing from many disabled people’s biographies. We all need role models, but especially disabled people as we struggle for equality and to enjoy the same life chances as non-disabled people.

Disability History Month is important because many people don’t see disabled people as an oppressed group or understand that the language often used and how our impairments are described, can be so damaging. When people talk about the economy being ‘crippled’, or say that someone is “having a fit” when they mean a tantrum can be so hurtful.

We need to know more about the lives of disabled people and I hope that Disability History Month will help dispel the myths and help improve attitudes.

Read the rest of our blogs for Disability History Month.