Category Archives: Campaigns

Could you be part of the next generation of disability campaigners?

We are looking for aspiring young campaigners to join Scope for Change, our campaign training programme for disabled people aged 18 to 25. It’s a free, six-month programme, and no previous campaigning experience is needed. Find out more and apply to take part.

Disabled people face many barriers to equality – whether it’s negative attitudes, unnecessary extra costs, inaccessible environments or a lack of support in education or work. But we know that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that young disabled people have the drive and skills to help make change happen.

We first launched the Scope for Change programme in 2016 to support young disabled people gain the skills and confidence to campaign on issues they cared about . This first group of campaigners set out to tackle a variety of issues: encouraging museums to be more autism-friendly, making British Sign Language lessons at university more accessible and affordable, gaining step-free access to local transport, and raising awareness of hidden impairments.

Ellie, who took part in 2016, campaigned for greater accessibility at nature reserves. Here’s what she had to say about her campaign:

“I want to further educate those working in the conservation sector to make sites of natural interest as accessible as possible: providing ramps up to bird hides, having blue badge parking spaces, braille or audio information boards, allowing assistance dogs, and accessible toilets… Opening up the senses in particular for those with profound and multiple disabilities is so important – and where better to do that than a national park?”

It wasn’t just their campaigns that benefited – many of the group said that being part of Scope for Change gave them a sense of solidarity with other disabled people and boosted their confidence. No longer feeling like they were working alone, the campaigners could collaborate, share experiences and learn from each other.

Why get involved?

Now Scope for Change is back for a new generation, to tackle more obstacles on the road to everyday equality. We want disabled young people to be empowered to make decisions about their lives, influence change, and make real progress in their communities and wider society.

Over a six-month period, we will support the Scope for Change group to plan, launch and their own campaigns to make change on the issues that matter to them. This will be backed up with ongoing support from Scope staff and a three-day residential training event to learn all the skills needed to create a winning campaign strategy.

Does this sound like the opportunity for you? Apply for Scope for Change now – applications close on Monday 28 May.

When I became disabled no-one would hire me, but Scope helped me find a job I love

Simone never had a problem looking for jobs before she became disabled. She had good references, experience and qualifications, but when she developed repetitive strain injury, it seemed like none of that mattered. After 15 months of getting no responses, Simone had lost her confidence and her hope. In this blog, she talks about how Support to Work helped her turn things around.

I developed repetitive strain injury a few years ago, a condition which affects my arms and my hands. My employer did try to make adjustments – things like speech recognition software and an adapted keyboard – but it got to a point where being on a computer even for 20 minutes caused so much pain. So, I made the decision to change career.

I didn’t think finding another job would be too difficult. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do lots of computer work, but I had so many transferable skills. But after 15 months of applying for jobs with no response, I lost hope. It got to the point where I was just applying for anything.  It didn’t matter what it was or what the pay was, I was just desperate to work. But I still couldn’t find someone to employ me.

A woman stares into the distance, in front of a bus stop
Disabled people, on average, have to apply for 60% more jobs than non-disabled people.

It was probably the lowest point of my life

It really knocked my self-worth and my self-confidence. You start to feel like you’re not worthy of being employed despite having a great career history. I felt like all my qualifications had been for nothing.

I felt lost, and when you get to that point, you need someone who can sit down with you and go “Okay, so these are your strengths and these jobs would suit you.” But I couldn’t find anyone willing to help. One agency told me “It’s unfortunate but employers will look at you as a liability.”

Then I got in touch with Scope.

The right support turned my life around

They were really quick to get started. When the employment adviser, Zaid, looked at my CV he said, “Wow, this is brilliant. I’m confident that we can help you.”

A women holder a file with office behind her

“I felt a sigh of relief. It felt like someone finally had my back, after months of feeling so alone.”

The main thing that Support to Work helped me with was my confidence. Because my confidence had taken such a huge knock, I didn’t feel like an employer should employ me. I didn’t think I was worth it. But when Zaid made so many nice comments about my CV and gave me so many ideas for what I could do, I started to believe in myself again.

I think I’d been coming across as negative on applications, but he helped me find the right approach to tell employers about my condition and talk about what I can do with simple adaptations.

With my new-found confidence, I applied for a role as Operations Assistant and I got an interview straight away. The interview went really well and I was offered the job! I felt uplifted. I was so happy. I was smiling for days.

For a long time, I couldn’t see a future but Support to Work really turned my life around.

Two women and a man chatting in an office, holding mugs
If you’re a disabled job-seeker, Support to Work can help you build confidence and develop skills for your job search.

My advice for employers

I love my job and I feel like my employers have exactly the right attitude. At the interview, I talked about my condition and they said, “You’ve got the skills we’re looking for, it won’t be a problem”. It put me at ease straightaway. I wish all employers thought like that when it came to hiring people.

Once in work, employers should make conversations about adjustments easy. In my current role, I feel confident that I could ask for changes if I needed them. I’ve got an open communication with my manager so if I do have any problems we can find a way to work around it. I also think they should be open to doing things differently. At work, I’m not afraid to say, “Look this is a bit much, can we do it a different way?”

Another piece of advice is to take advantage of schemes like Access to Work, which paid for my adaptive equipment – things like dictation software and an adapted keyboard – it hasn’t cost my employer anything and it enables me to do my job well.

Ultimately, I want employers to look beyond someone’s impairment or condition and focus on the skills and experience that they would bring to the role. Just because someone is disabled, doesn’t mean they won’t be an asset for your organisation.

Support to Work is funded by Virgin Media as part of our three year partnership to understand and tackle the issues disabled people face getting into and staying in work.

Our ambition is to reach one million disabled people with employment information and support by the end of 2020, so they can get into work, stay in work and realise their career ambitions.

If you’re a disabled job seeker, you can sign up to Support to Work on Scope’s website.

Tell the Government about your experiences as a disabled consumer

Last week the Government published a consultation called Modernising Consumer Markets, which is looking at ways to improve how different markets work for consumers.

We know that disabled people often face challenges as consumers, which can drive up the cost of essential goods and services. Below we outline what this consultation is about and some of the changes we want to see for disabled people.

What is this consultation looking at?

This Government wants to hear about ways to improve consumers’ experiences across different markets. This includes both regulated services such as energy and insurance, as well as private sector businesses selling things like food and clothing.

Whilst the Government wants to ensure that markets are competitive, there is an acknowledgement in this consultation that no one should be exploited if they lack the time or capacity to engage, and that “vulnerable” consumers need to be protected.

Some of the proposals the Government is considering including making it easier for consumers to compare the performance of businesses, and simplifying terms and conditions when consumers enter into new contracts. The Government is also interested in the role that data could play in helping consumers get the best deals or receive targeted support and advice – recognising the need to balance this with preserving privacy for consumers.

Improving disabled people’s experiences as consumers

There are almost 14 million disabled people in the UK, whose combined household expenditure, the so-called ‘purple pound’, totals £249 billion a year.

However, we know that disabled people often face challenges as consumers, which can drive up the cost of essential goods and services. Our research shows that on average, disabled people face extra costs of £570 a month related to their impairment or condition.

In some instances, disabled people are unable to access the products or services they need. For instance, our research shows that over half (55 per cent) of disabled adults have been unable to make a purchase because of an inaccessible website. Tackling these barriers is key to ensuring consumer markets work for disabled people.

Disabled people commonly tell us about experiences of poor customer service or a lack of disability awareness from businesses. We want to see a more consistent approach from businesses to supporting disabled consumers, particularly within regulated markets.

It’s also important that consumers are able to seek redress when something goes wrong. However, disabled people say that they are often put off making a complaint because of things like the length of time it can take and a lack of trust in the process. These challenges need to be addressed as part of this consultation.

How you can get involved?

This consultation is an opportunity for you to share your consumer experiences. The deadline for responses is 11:45pm on 4 July 2018.

You can email a response to ConsumerGreenPaper@beis.gov.uk

If you’d prefer to send a written response, you can write to:

Consumer Green Paper Team
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
1st Floor, Orchard 3
1 Victoria Street
London
SW1H 0ET

What Scope will we be doing

We will be submitting a response to this consultation, highlighting the changes needed to ensure disabled people receive a fair experience across different markets.

We want to ensure this consultation reflects the issues facing disabled people as consumers. You can share your experiences with us by completing this short survey.

For further information about the consumer green paper, please contact Ben Wealthy in the policy team on ben.wealthy@scope.org.uk.

“I have problems with my mobility and I’m at home every day. As a result, my energy bill has shot up”

Our new report, Out in the cold, reveals the high costs many disabled people face for their energy. 

Over a third of disabled people say that their impairment or condition has an impact on their energy costs. Many disabled adults have worried about paying their energy bills, and many disabled households are living in fuel poverty. 

This follows our research published last week which found that on average, disabled people face extra costs of £570 a month related to their impairment or condition.  

Paying more for energy is something that Lynley knows all too well. When she became disabled her energy costs shot up. In this blog, Lynley talks about the impact this has had on her life.

Three year ago I suffered a sacral spinal fracture due to early-onset osteoporosis, which damaged nerves and has left me with permanent neurological pain.

Before I became disabled, I never gave the heating a thought. It wasn’t on very often, but things are different now. I have problems with my mobility and I’m at home every day. As a result, my energy bill has shot up. 

When you can’t move around, you feel the temperature much more and being cold affects my pain levels enormously. I have to wear extra layers of clothing to keep warm and I need the heating on constantly.

I also have an electric blanket for my bed and an electric heat pad which I use to help with my pain. I use electricity to charge my electric powerchair which I need to use to get around outside the house. This needs charging frequently so it’s another additional energy cost.

My bill is so much higher than before. Coupled with the loss of my income as a teacher, this has made ‘getting by’ very difficult. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) helps but there is very little money left over for anything else. I have to prioritise heating so that I’m not in pain.

Life is now very different

Since becoming disabled, my living standards have changed dramatically. I was a professional secondary school teacher in a large comprehensive and was managing five members of departmental staff. I had a large amount of disposable income and enjoyed a fairly busy social life. Things are now very different.

I’m unable to work and now try my best to manage on my benefits  and my small pension but it is very difficult sometimes. Energy costs take up a substantial portion of my income. It’s even harder where I live because we are unable to get mainstream gas and have to rely on oil central heating which is extremely expensive.

Any kind of social life is extremely difficult, holidays are a luxury and disposable income is now virtually non-existent.

What would help

It’s not fair that disabled people who need more energy and who might be on lower incomes  have to meet these extra costs themselves.  There should be more support and awareness. I haven’t received any form of financial help with my energy costs.

Benefits like PIP are there to supposedly fill the gap but it is insufficient to really make a difference. I would like to see a different energy tariff applied if there is a disabled person within the home, much the same as the council tax rebate we are eligible for.

That would make a big difference to my quality of life.

Help us to get people talking about the extra costs. Share our report on Facebook  or Twitter using the #ExtraCosts

We also have information about support with your fuel bills

“I’m 22 and financially screwed” – help us tackle the disability price tag

Our new report The disability price tag highlights how disabled people on average face extra costs of £570 a month related to their impairment or condition. Many disabled people have shared their experiences of extra costs with us, and the impact that this has on their lives. It’s an injustice that needs to change. In this blog, Piers, a student in Wales, shares his experience. 

I’m currently studying for a Masters in Physical Oceanography. Being at university, surrounded by my non-disabled peers, has really highlighted the sheer amount of extra money that I have to spend, just because I happen to use a wheelchair.

“I’d say that every month I have an extra cost of about £1300 compared to my non-disabled friends.”

Firstly, my wheelchair itself was incredibly expensive and I had to pay for that myself. The wheelchair offered by the NHS was unsuitable for my needs, so I had to pay over £4,800 for one just to be able to get around and go to lectures just like everyone else.

On top of that, on average, I spend another £300 a month replacing parts and maintaining the chair. Even with this upkeep, it needs to be completely replaced every three or four years.

My housing is also more expensive than my friends – the only accessible student housing available is £110 per week, whereas friends of mine pay as little as £40 a week for similar housing.

Travel costs are increased due to the unreliability of public transport, the nature of hills in North Wales and the location of my lectures. I have to spend about £400 a month on taxis just to get around.

Food costs are also higher. I require easy to prepare food, either pre-chopped or in small quantities. My friends can buy items like pasta in bulk or do a large shop and carry it home. Unfortunately as a wheelchair user, it’s really difficult to manage more than a small basket of items whenever I go shopping. So this can increase my monthly bill compared to my friends by an extra £150.

Related to that, because so many shops aren’t accessible, I have to order a lot of the things I need online and get charged for postage. It may not seem much per item but all of those payments add up over the year.

Man holding a basketball on a court playing wheelchair basket ball

Financially, I’m screwed

My income each year is decreasing. Even with a student loan, Disabled Students’ Allowance and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), I still face a monthly shortfall.

It plays havoc with my social life because I can’t afford to do much, and if I do anything I’m worried about its cost. I have to take almost every freelance opportunity to earn any money I can to try to keep myself afloat, which impacts on my studies.

It’s socially exclusionary as well because my friends stop asking me to go do things with them because they assume I can’t afford things, which means I do even less.

Basically I’m 22 and financially screwed. It’s almost impossible to get a part time student job just because I use a wheelchair. I’ll be leaving university with at least £130,000 debt.

Man on a beach in a wheelchair next to a sign that says 'seating on promenade prohibited'

What needs to change

Firstly, businesses have a huge role to play. I’d love it if the items I needed to live independently weren’t extortionately priced. Companies know that as a disabled person I need the item so they can charge whatever they want. And there should be no delivery charge or a minimum spend for disabled customers.

There should be increases to PIP so it’s in line with the reality of these extra costs and investment into accessible housing so that it isn’t a quality that increases prices of housing astronomically. I also want to see the NHS bespoke wheelchair service restored and free NHS treatment – this would greatly reduce my extra costs.

Related to this, there’s the issue of employment. Extra costs aside, people rely on employment for financial security, yet there are many barriers to employment for disabled people – employers’ attitudes and discrimination being one of them.

Help us tackle the extra costs faced by disabled people. Find out more about extra costs, then share our report on Twitter or Facebook.

You can also read more stories or share your own experiences in our extra costs discussion on the community.

What the past year has taught me about kindness

The start of a new year is often a time to reflect. When Pippa acquired a long-term condition at university she felt really isolated, so she set up Spoonie Survival Kits to reach out to other people with chronic illnesses. It has been a huge success and in this blog, she reflects on how the incredible kindness of others has changed her life.

If there’s one thing the past year has taught me, it’s that even the smallest acts of kindness can make the biggest difference.

I became chronically ill halfway through my time at university and it was a bizarre experience. Being surrounded by mostly non-disabled peers had me questioning not only what my future would hold, but my self-worth too.

While I tried to adapt, I couldn’t help but notice what a lack of support there was for people like me. There are hundreds of wonderful programmes and schemes for young people in hospitals, but what about the thousands of people at home, who are too unwell to leave the house?

Living with a chronic illness can be incredibly lonely. You quickly realise just how significant the small things can be.  Even on the more difficult days, a small gesture can remind you that you can do this. With this in mind, I set up ‘Spoonie Survival Kits’.

I wanted people to know they weren’t alone

‘Spoonie’ is the slang term for someone living with chronic illness. The kits contain treats and surprises aimed at brightening someone’s day and reminding them that they are not alone, that they haven’t been forgotten.

The kits are sold online and half of the sales money is donated to charities, with the other half being put back into sustaining and growing the enterprise. In the last two years alone, we’ve sent over 700 kits to recipients all over the world, and raised over £3,500 for various charities. And the demand just keeps growing!

Pippa holding one of the gift bags
Pippa holding one of the ‘little bags of happiness’

Creating a community of kindness

Spoonie Survival Kits has taught me a humbling amount about the value of selflessness and generosity too. Since the very beginning of the project, countless people, many of whom are severely unwell themselves, have come forward to ask what they can do to help.

If it wasn’t for the support and encouragement that I’ve received, I’m not sure if Spoonie Survival Kits would be what it is now. The kindness of others is quite possibly the best source of motivation a person could wish for, and something that I will never take for granted.

We’ve found that the people who receive the kits often want to support our work, creating a cycle of ‘paying it forward’ – when the kindness shown toward you, makes you want to show kindness towards somebody else.

A circle of hands wearing bracelets around the Spoonie Survival Kits logo

What keeps me going

Spoonie Survival Kits has been a game-changer for me personally. It  gave me back my sense of purpose at a time when my physical health made me feel pretty useless.

The most rewarding aspect of the project in my eyes, has been developing accessible and remote volunteering opportunities, inclusive of chronically ill people. Everybody who works on the project has a long-term condition, and we pride ourselves on offering volunteer agreements specifically tailored around people’s individual circumstances. Many of the items within our kits are handmade by talented crafters living with chronic illnesses.

Having such a talented and dedicated team of volunteers is just one of the reasons why I love being involved with Spoonie Survival Kits, and our kit recipients often benefit all the more from knowing that those behind the enterprise are in similar positions to themselves.

When I’m having a tough symptom day and feeling sorry for myself (and believe me, there are plenty of those days), it sometimes takes just a simple nudge to encourage me to keep going. My new year’s resolution is to continue ‘paying it forward’, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to do the same!

 Find out more about Spoonie Survival Kits and support the project. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch with the stories team.

Tackling the additional energy costs faced by disabled people

Winter brings two certainties – lower temperatures and higher energy costs. This is particularly challenging for disabled people, who often consume more energy because of their impairment or condition.

In recent weeks, Ofgem – the energy regulator – and the Government have both announced short-term proposals to help tackle high energy costs. Whilst these are welcome, Scope is calling for more targeted reforms to support disabled people in the energy market.

Below we look at these changes in more detail and what they could mean for disabled people.

Disabled people’s experiences as energy consumers

Disabled people face a range of disability-related costs, amounting to an average of £550 a month, making it harder for disabled people to get into work, access education and training opportunities and participate in society fully.

Energy represents a significant type of extra cost for disabled people. In an independent inquiry into extra costs, The Extra Costs Commission, energy was the third most cited area of additional cost by disabled people.

Households with a disabled person spend on average over £3,000 a year on energy, compared to the £1,345 an average UK household spends. It is no surprise then that more than a quarter (29 per cent) of disabled people have struggled to pay their energy bills in the past year.

What changes have been announced?

In October, Ofgem announced a proposal to extend the Vulnerable Customer Safeguard Tariff. Currently, this limits the amount that  customers who are on a prepayment meter will pay for their energy bills. The extension would cover an additional one million customers who receive the Warm Homes Discount, which is a one-off discount for certain customers on their energy bills. This change would take effect from February 2018.

Ofgem has acknowledged that this approach will not support all groups with high energy costs, including many disabled people. It is considering what further steps it can take to support a wider pool of customers.

Alongside this, the Government has published its Draft Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Bill. This would put an absolute cap on certain energy tariffs, including standard variable tariffs and default tariffs, which have variable prices that go up and down with the market.

The cap would be set by Ofgem and would be temporary in nature. It would last until the end of 2020, although it may be extended for a year on up to three occasions, depending on whether the market becomes more competitive.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee has been reviewing the Bill before it is introduced in Parliament. We have provided both written and oral evidence to the Committee, and we want to ensure that there is a clear process for evaluating how these changes will impact disabled people.

 What needs to change?

The proposed actions from Ofgem and the Government offer some short-term relief to some disabled people. However, long-term reforms are needed to specifically address the additional energy costs many disabled people face.

One area of focus needs to be on ensuring disabled people are accessing the support to which they are entitled. For instance, research by the Extra Costs Commission found that 40 per cent of disabled people were unfamiliar with the Warm Home Discount, meaning many individuals could be missing out on this support with their energy bills. We want Ofgem and energy suppliers to work together to increase awareness of these types of support.

We also believe the eligibility criteria for the Warm Home Discount is not as effectively targeted as it could be. We want the Government to review the criteria so that it captures a greater number of disabled people who face additional energy costs.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been carrying out focus groups to deepen our understanding of the experiences of disabled people in the energy market. This will help us develop recommendations for tackling the additional energy costs faced by many disabled people, but it is clear that Government, Ofgem and energy suppliers all have a part to play.

Tell us about your experiences

Have you faced high energy costs because of your impairment or condition? If you would like to share your experiences, please contact: stories@scope.org.uk.

You can also visit Scope’s website for more information on support with your energy bills.

Smiiffy’s 7 tips for coping with isolation

Josh, popularly known as “Smiiffy”, is a rapper from Birmingham who is looking to challenge attitudes and raise awareness of mental health and disability. He did an Instagram Stories takeover for Scope on Friday, where he shared “What I Need To Say” posts throughout the day, and even wrote a special verse.

I have anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder. I haven’t been in a good place in the past few months. My anxiety sometimes makes it difficult to be happy, even around my own family. It also means that it’s quite difficult to know what mood I’m going to be in for Christmas.

Josh sitting on a pub bench, looking into the camera

There are a lot of times I do feel isolated. I often find that I do it to myself because I prefer to be alone. I constantly feel alone in a crowd. Even if I’m surrounded by good friends, I feel alone. I sit alone for a while and think that I don’t fit in here. And I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere, which is really difficult sometimes.

Scope’s What I Want To Say campaign is important to me because I feel like Scope’s giving people the opportunity to have a voice and let me say what I genuinely need to say. Letting people know that they’re not alone, and that there are other people there who are wanting to listen to them is incredible.

As part of this campaign, I took over Scope’s Instagram on Friday 8 December, and am sharing my top tips for reducing isolation:

Smile

Whether it’s someone I know well, or a stranger in the street, one of my favourite things to do is just smile. I feel like if someone’s having the worst day, at least I’ve acknowledged them. Plus, it always makes me feel much better too!

A hug always helps

Hugs always make me feel good. Be it a friend, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a cousin, a family member or whoever, it helps you forget about the loneliness, depression and anxiety you might be feeling for a while.

Social Media

Josh taking a selfie in front of a mirrorI always thought that I’d be lonely and I posted that on social media. That was the first time that I accepted my own mental health. Telling people how you feel on social media can help things improve.

I use it positively, to raise awareness and let people know that there is help out there. You can also be anonymous on social media and that can make it easier to talk about the fact that you’re struggling.

Find someone to talk to

For people that are lonely, there are a few community clubs and centres out there that are open for people on Christmas day. If people are alone, that’s definitely one thing that could help.

If you’ve got family around you but you’re still struggling, just trying to talk to people can help. In most families, there’s at least one person that understands, so if you can speak to that one person, then things can get easier. Just expressing your needs to somebody else will help in the long run, because they will find a way to help you through it.

Speak to organisations that can help

Josh (Smiiffy) wearing a Scope T-shirt

Scope have helped me massively. They’ve helped a lot of friends too. I’ve never really told anyone that I have Bilateral Perthes’ disease but through working with Scope and seeing the work they do, it made me feel confident enough to tweet about it. I feel motivated by Scope to raise awareness of invisible impairments, like mental health.

Do something you love

I think that a hobby, something you’re good at or enjoy, can help. When I started music, I wanted money, fame, popularity but then I released a song about when I was struggling called “Air I Breathe”. When I realised how many people it had impacted, I knew that was my calling.

Music has been hard because I don’t like the attention but I fought off my fears. If you have a talent and use it to create good things for yourself and inspire thousands of others, it can be life changing. I also like giving back to charity because as well as music, charity saved my life.

Smiiffy, a young disabled man, smiles by a microphone

Help raise awareness

Over the years thousands of people have messaged me and said positive things like “I love your music, you’ve saved my life” or “you’ve made me open up about my own mental health” which is incredible.

I want people to let people know that, if they’re struggling to talk or feel like they’re not going to be heard, speaking out about what you’re going through can really help.

Too often disabled people struggle to access the right emotional support, advice and information. As a result they feel like no one truly understands, leaving them disconnected and isolated from those around them. This is particularly heart-breaking at Christmas.

Please help us this Christmas by getting involved with our What I Need To Say campaign. Share the message, tell us your stories, and donate to Scope so we can be there for people who have nowhere else to turn.

Poor accessibility can lead to isolation, but this theatre company is changing that

Pippa works on Scope’s online community and is also an accessible theatre blogger. The festive season seems to be filled with activities but when they aren’t accessible, disabled people and families are often left out. This can be very isolating. For our What I Need to Say campaign, Pippa spoke to Erin, whose company DH Ensemble is leading the way in accessible theatre.  

Going to the theatre is an experience enjoyed and cherished by many families, especially during the festive season. However, like many other activities, theatres and shows often fail to be wholly inclusive of disabled people.

Although the accessibility of venues is improving, content isn’t always suitable for people with specific disabilities. However, one theatrical company with inclusivity at its heart is The DH Ensemble (previously called The Deaf & Hearing Ensemble). I talked to Erin Siobhan Hutchings about their new show.

Based on Erin’s own experiences of growing up with her deaf sister, ‘People of the Eye’ features Deaf and hearing cast members and uses stunning visuals to create an immersive experience for all.

Accessibility is a forethought, not an afterthought

Accessibility is built into the aesthetic, so deaf and hearing audiences can enjoy the show on an equal basis. For example, we use integrated sign-language as well as creative captioning, so whether you’re relying on that to access a performance or not, it brings so much more to your understanding of the world and the characters. I think that makes the work so much more interesting. It adds layers to the narrative and the way that you tell the story and connect with the audience.

Whilst the show was primarily designed with D/deaf and hearing audiences in mind, we also strive to ensure that venues where the show are performed are wheelchair-accessible. The production team also take precautions to ensure that audiences are aware of the visual effects beforehand, by sending out resources including descriptions of lighting effects and images of the projections used to those who request them.

Two women on a stage in front of the words '2 player mode'

Being excluded can be really isolating

The story is about myself and my sister growing up but it could easily be replaced with many other disabled people’s stories. The crux of the story is about families, relationships and isolation, and how important it is that we accept each other.

Deafness isn’t necessarily a disability that cuts you off physically or intellectually, but it’s isolation that can really affect people who have hearing loss. It’s that inability to communicate in a social situation that can be really isolating and that’s something that I noticed with my sister growing up.

We’ve tried to really show that in a way that puts the audience in that position, so some feedback we’ve had from audience members is that maybe a hearing person might not understand everything that happens in the play but that’s an important experience for them to have, they get some insight into that feeling of isolation themselves.

What I would really like people to take away is a little bit of empathy about the way that other people live their lives, and some idea about isolation and communication and how important that is. Then hopefully they’ll take that out with them into the world and influence the other spaces they go into.

Making theatre more accessible

It’s important that we’re all realistic about the diverse world that we live in. We’re a co-led deaf and hearing company and we strive to maintain that.

People understand that it may not be possible to make every single show accessible for everybody, but if you’re open to discovering what can make your work accessible, that’s a start. It’s better to ask people who really live the experience and get their feedback. I went to an interesting discussion with deaf and disabled artists recently where this was addressed.

Accessibility shouldn’t just be a tick-box exercise – put on a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreted show and do one relaxed performance and that’s it. That’s not really exploring the depth of how we can make sure our theatrical environment and all aspects of our society are welcoming for everybody, and that people can feel equal to everybody else.

As accessible theatre continues to slowly improve, it is the innovative work of companies such as The DH Ensemble that are really making strides in helping to address isolation and ensure that theatre really is becoming more inclusive for all.

The DH Ensemble is led by Jennifer K. Bates, Stephen Collins, Sophie Stone and Erin Siobhan Hutching. You can see People of the Eye in 2018:

  • 23 March Harlow Playhouse
  • 26 March Arlington Arts Centre
  • 7 April Nottingham Playhouse

Find out more about DH Ensemble and People of the Eye and get involved with our What I Need to Say Campaign.

Why the Chancellor’s comments on disabled people and productivity are damaging and inaccurate

Yesterday the Chancellor made comments which suggested that a higher number of disabled people in the workforce has had a part to play in the ‘sluggish productivity in Britain’s economy’.

To say we are disappointed in these comments would be a huge understatement. Even more so, as they come a week after the Government announced a new plan to support more disabled people to enter and stay in work.

We have been campaigning hard over the last four years to tackle the barriers disabled people face both in and out of work. And pushing hard to tackle outdated negative attitudes towards disabled people, whether in the workplace or in wider society. It’s vital that Government and employers recognise disabled people’s potential and the value they bring to the workplace.

Statistically and historically the correlation between increases in productivity and disability employment have gone hand-in-hand. It has never been the case that increasing the number of disabled people in work has had a harmful effect on productivity levels.

Graph showing correlation between disabled employees and productivity
Graph: Productivity against proportion of employees who are disabled

Our analysis of the ONS (Office of National Statistics) National Accounts and Labour Force Survey shows the rate of productivity in the UK has been unaffected by an increase of the proportion of disabled people in work. For instance, between 1998 and 2007 productivity increased by 22 percent, while the proportion of the workforce who are disabled increased from 7.6 percent to 10.4 percent.

It is therefore unacceptable that the Chancellor decided to attribute productivity challenges to disabled people so publicly in this way.

Just last week the Prime Minister committed to getting a million more disabled people into work, a move we welcome. And the Government’s own Industrial Strategy published last month, highlights that businesses with inclusive workplaces bring improved productivity.

Shifting attitudes doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years to shift perceptions. Yet it is this hard work that is essential for social change, and essential if we are to live in a country where disabled people can have everyday equality. However, it can take seconds to reinforce lazy, outdated and harmful stereotypes and undo all this hard work.

We have written to the Prime Minister to clarify her position and have called on the Chancellor to withdraw his comments.

What are your thoughts on the Chancellor’s comments. Share what you think on Twitter or Facebook using the #EverydayEquality