Working with disabled people: it’s so simple to get it right

Today we publish ‘Working for all?’, our new research about experiences of employment support among disabled people with high support needs. Aidan is 27 and works in London. In this blog he talks about his experiences of accessing support and colleagues’ attitudes at work.

Like many people, I get up at 6am each morning and commute to London to do a long day’s work at a job I love and an organisation I’m proud to be a part of. The only difference is that I’m blind, having been born with a genetic condition that affects my retinas. I’ve experienced a lot as a disabled employee: the amazing and the truly awful. I want to share what I’ve learned and explore where in-work support goes wrong and, most importantly, how we can get it right.

Not all employers think flexibly

I have had experiences in work where my disability has been viewed as a problem. The simplest adjustments have been refused, despite many adjustments not being expensive or requiring a lot of effort to implement. I once asked a line manager if I could structure my tasks in a way that would enable me to get the most out of my Access to Work support worker on the days she was in. This was met with the dismissive retort that it wasn’t “a part-time role.”

In another job, it was virtually impossible to get the managers to commit to the highly practical job descriptions that Access to Work require. I was refused simple requests such as using an alternative to PowerPoint or recording meetings. As a consequence, I’d often be working at home until 11pm to catch up and require far more support than would otherwise have been necessary. I was even told that because I had help with minuting, “you don’t look like a leader. You don’t look in control.” The message was always the same: I was presenting them with problems, and that is all they were. It was one way or no way.

I can’t hide my disability and wouldn’t want to, but I’ve developed tricks for subtle positive advocacy. At interviews, I always ask a question about the practical day-to-day work involved with the role. It allows me to slip in that I’m considering whether I’d need to use certain bits of equipment, or seek some support from the Access to Work scheme. I use a question to give them a crash course in case they were hung up on the disability. I believe that, right from the start, disabled employees should have a strong partnership with the employer. We are, after all, experts in our own disabilities. We need to support our managers, who in turn must take into account our needs in order to get the most out of us.

Employers’ mindsets need to change

In my experience, there are many people willing to challenge themselves and learn more about disabled colleagues. In my current organisation, for example, describing slides in meetings and running through proposed events in advance, have all become standard practice.

Colleagues understand that a disabled person is a person first and foremost. Combining their adaptability, my skill in offering solutions, good will and a sense of humour on both sides, we just make it work. Indeed, the fact that I require help sometimes has brought me into contact with colleagues in many different departments and roles. What might be thought of as a weakness is actually an asset for building strong networks, knowledge about other areas of the organisation and relationships that enable us to work better.

I want to see us get to a point where, instead of persuading employers to take a chance on disabled talent, they would say, “Why ever wouldn’t you?” I believe that with disabled people increasingly willing to express themselves and talk about their experiences, more and more employers are going through that game-changing mindset shift. That’s a great thing, but we’ve still got many more battles to fight before we win the war!

Find out more about experiences of employment support amongst disabled people with high support needs. Read our new research report, Working for all?

I’m just like any other mum – disability doesn’t change anything!

Marie and her husband Dan are the proud parents of Mark, who’s three years old. Marie has brittle bone disease and uses a wheelchair, so aspects of being a mum can be challenging. To mark Mother’s Day, Marie updates us on their past year –  Mark has been coming on in leaps and bounds, and there have been changes for Marie and Dan too.

Mark has my independent streak

Mark has stopped being a toddler and is most definitely now a fantastic, handsome and intelligent little boy. He has absorbed my fierce independent streak and most household tasks now echo with ‘No, Marky do it!’ in his own special little voice. His increased independence makes life easier physically – all the jobs I couldn’t do like picking him up are now in the past – but we have new challenges, how DO you discipline your toddler when he’s your own height? It’s a good job I can still shout and hold the purse strings!

One of his favourite things (at the moment!) is cooking, and this is where our fantastic adapted kitchen comes in; it means I can cook for the whole family and Mark can get involved too. He loves making gingerbread men! We designed the kitchen ourselves with a number of clever adaptations using standard materials to make it as cheap as possible – things like using wall units as low-level cupboards to give my chair room to fit underneath. It’s amazing how a few simple bits of lateral thinking make all the difference!

While the more sedate things are mummy jobs, the active things are daddy’s domain. Mark recently started swimming, something that he can do with Dan while I watch. I can swim (I’ve been known to flap about and propel myself up to 800 metres, although I won’t break any records!) but the idea of going in a bustling, busy public pool with Brittle Bones doesn’t sound too smart. I leave that one to the boys.

Marie and her 3 year old son Mark sat at table

Returning to work

And Mark definitely is a boy now, we registered him in our local preschool for 3 mornings a week starting back in January – the start of his funded time. He adores it! Whilst we’ve always had him out and about doing things (Start the Art, Mini Strikers, Rugby Tots to name but a few) since he was about 6 months old, he really has responded well to the structure of preschool. The loving and nurturing home we have created for him has worked, he’s ahead of his age targets across the board.

Mark now being at preschool has left a hole in my life, and I’m never one to sit still doing nothing. I’d get bored too fast. So, I decided to use my degree (First-class BSc in a number of subjects including Social Policy and Child Development) and my long experience in the health and social care field as both a recipient and worker to get a job where I can really make a difference. Such an opportunity arose and I’m proud to say I am now a college tutor, tutoring a wide range of courses. It’s brilliant! I get to bring a unique view to the table, helping students (e.g. care practitioners) see the wider issues at play beyond just learning the course. I hope they are learning a lot! Mark can also see me earning (as he puts it) ‘pennies for rides!’. I guess that returning to work as your child gets older is just another one of them milestones and I see myself as just like any other mum despite the 200+ broken bones, life-saving surgery as a teenager, the fact that I’m fully wheelchair dependent and have daily chronic aches and pains from years of physical trauma.

Dan has a new job too. Sadly he was made redundant following a very successful career in space research – he was one of the team who landed a spacecraft on a comet in late 2014. Google ‘Dan Andrews Rosetta’ if you want to read more! Sadly the end of the mission meant an end to the funding, and he lost his job. That was, naturally, a worrying time for us all. Not only was he job-hunting – he needed a company within a short commute distance to tie in with family, with normal office hours and that would recognise his transferable skills. He struck gold and is now working in the fascinating field of special missions aviation. Mark should have fun telling his school friends about what Daddy’s done for a living!

Marie holding a tray of gingerbread men while Mark sprinkles on flour

Remembering my own mum

So that’s it from us. A year of changes for us all and a lot of adventures! We like to think we’re giving Mark the best upbringing we possibly can. He’s always doing things and he most definitely doesn’t see me as anything other than ‘Mum’! It is still hard doing this without my own mum, there are countless times when I want to just call her and ask ‘What do I do if he…?’ or to share the latest milestone met. Readers who read my last blog will know that she passed away very suddenly in 2012 and this will be another emotional Mother’s Day for me. As well as all my other health conditions I am now also battling prolonged grief disorder but I am using my strength to ensure I am making each day count and living life to the full with my lovely little family. All I can say is that my upbringing from her definitely stuck, I wouldn’t be the fiercely independent working mum and wife that I am today without her teaching me that my disability needn’t stop anything!

Find out more about Marie and her family – read her previous blogs. If you have a story you’d like to share, get in touch with the stories team.

Say hello to our £4000 jackpot winner, Liz!

Liz was the lucky winner of £4000, in our Christmas 2016 Jackpot Draw. Liz has been giving to Scope since the late 1990s, and started buying raffles in 2003. She tells us how she felt when she found out, and why she supports us by joining in with our raffles.

How did you feel when you found out you had won top prize?

I never thought I would win! My first reaction was that I wanted to give some of the money back to charity. I found out just after Christmas, and it was nice to have all my family there to tell them. Everyone was so surprised and excited!

What are you going to spend your winnings on?

I’m going to give some of the money back to Scope, and some to another charity, where a family friend works. We’re then going to split the rest of the money between my family. My daughter has recently become engaged, so the timing of this win was perfect.

What does Scope mean to you?

Scope seems to be a very worthwhile charity- I’ve been supporting Scope for a number of years. I used to be a teacher and I taught several disabled students, I once went on a trip with one girl who had cerebral palsy and she joined in with everything. I think it’s important for people to not be treated as different, and I think this is something Scope is really passionate about. I always liked to buy raffle tickets to support Scope, but I really never thought I’d win!

Would you like to win the top prize like Liz did? You’ve got to be in it to win it! Join our Spring Jackpot today for a chance to win £4000, whilst supporting our vital work with disabled people and their families.

Visit our new online technology hub – in partnership with AbilityNet

Technology is transforming the lives of disabled people. We are working with tech experts from AbilityNet to highlight some of the software and equipment that can make life easier, more productive and fun in our new technology section.

Adapting your computer

Sometimes your existing computer has accessibility features on your existing PC that you might not be aware of. Try My Computer My Way, a free, interactive tool developed by AbilityNet that makes any computer, tablet and smartphone easier to use.

Check out our keyboard shortcuts, too!

Computers and autism

People with autism spectrum disorders can use a variety of multimedia applications and programs to experience the world around them within clear and safe boundaries.

How tech can support people with learning difficulties

Find out about touchscreens, keyboard and mouse alternatives and software that can help people with learning difficulties to access computers.

Visual impairment apps and suppliers

For people who have difficulty seeing conventional displays, there are many useful apps and specialist suppliers in visual impairment products. Other options to accessing information online include magnification and screen-reading.

Voice recognition

If you think you have never used voice recognition, think again! Voice recognition is becoming more and more mainstream so if you have a Windows computer or an Apple product, you already have it! Find out how you can use voice recognition more effectively.

Computer training and resources

One of the biggest barriers to disabled people accessing technology is training. We offer links to a wide range of private and voluntary organisations that offer computer training and support for disabled people.

Talk tech

Join our online community to talk to an AbilityNet advisor to discuss technology.

Read our equipment tips.

AbilityNet is a UK charity that helps older people and disabled people of all ages use computers and the internet to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education.

We want to see reform of the PIP assessment

The Government recently announced changes to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) that would tighten up access to PIP for disabled people. We are concerned that this will result in disabled people missing out on vital support to help meet some of the additional costs they face as a result of their impairment or condition, on average £550 a month.

Figures today show that 65 per cent of claimants are successful at tribunal when they challenge a decision on their PIP assessment.

This shows that the PIP assessment is not currently working effectively for disabled people. Below, Abbi, a young disabled woman, shares her experiences of the process of applying for PIP.

Abbi’s story

When the little brown envelope informing me of the need to apply for PIP dropped through my letterbox, I was nervous.

Since first qualifying for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2009, my health has deteriorated. Both the benefit itself and the access to the higher rate for the mobility component have made coping with this significantly easier.

With my mobility continuing to deteriorate, the thought of being rejected for PIP (as has happened to many of my disabled friends and contacts) filled me with fear.

“It did not seem to have been designed for disabled people”

Applying for PIP was a complicated process and one which did not seem to have been designed for disabled people. First, I had to spend 45 minutes on hold to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to confirm that I wished to apply. Ironically, I only had time for such a call because I was off work for health reasons.

I have a hearing impairment and once the phone was answered, I found it very difficult to hear the speaker. However, a request to conduct the conversation over email rather than by phone was refused.

The rest of the process told a similar story. I filled out an application form which did not leave sufficient space for me to detail all of my conditions and medications.

“My assessment took one and a half hours”

I had to reschedule my first assessment due to access issues and was told that assessments can only be rescheduled once. If I was unwell on the day of the rescheduled assessment, I would have to apply again.

Upon arrival at the assessment centre, a sign on the door informed me that my assessment would take no more than 20 minutes, yet my assessor did not appear to have any of the information which I had painstakingly written out in my application form. Instead, she expected me to answer every question again, verbally.

My impairments are complex, but nowhere near as complex as those of other disabled people I know. My assessment took one and a half hours.

The PIP system remains inefficient

When the news came, I was incredibly relieved to hear that I would be awarded the equivalent of what I was awarded under DLA. I still have access to both the services and the funding which permit my independence. I can plan for a future, even as my mobility deteriorates.

However, when I read the Atos report on my health, I found multiple serious errors. It included the suggestion that I experience one of my most disabling conditions ‘once a month’.

I don’t understand the confusing series of deadlines by which I was supposed to have submitted different documents or why those documents were so blatantly dismissed.

Four years after its foundation, the PIP system remains inefficient, inept and, in many cases, potentially harmful to the mental and physical health of many disabled people in the UK. I am immensely grateful for the assistance and security which my PIP award affords me but, as the government threatens further cuts to PIP, I remain fearful for others who have yet to apply.

With one week to go until changes to PIP come into place, we are calling on Government to think again. We are briefing government officials about why it is so important that they don’t go ahead with these changes.

Instead, we want to see reform of the PIP assessment so that it accurately captures the range and level of disabled people’s extra costs.

We want to hear why PIP is important to you or your experiences of getting PIP. If you’d like to share your story, please comment below or email stories@scope.org.uk.

For further information about PIP, visit Scope’s website or call our helpline for free on 0808 800 3333.

Donate to Scope with Apple Pay

Our supporters can now make donations instantly with Apple Pay.

We’re one of 25 charities that have been supported by Apple Pay to offer a speedy and secure way to donate. This has allowed us to make the process of giving to Scope faster and easier by removing the need to enter billing and contact information on web forms.

If you’re using an Apple device simply go to our donation page, select ‘Once’ as your donation and option and the Apple Pay button should appear. 

Donations are vital to keep things like our helpline running.

Paula contacted our helpline after learning she had cerebral palsy at the age of 60. Until then, she had never received any kind of support. Our helpline provides valuable support and is only possible thanks to donations from supporters.

Thankfully, in 2017 there are more ways than ever to donate to charity. That’s why we’re delighted to be working alongside Apple Pay to launch a more convenient and modern way of fundraising.

Contactless payment technology has been revolutionary across the commercial sector, with hundreds of companies and customers benefiting from the speedy and secure way to pay. We’re really excited to be at the forefront of this technology in the charity sector, giving our supporters another way to make donations and support disabled people and their families.

Apple Pay works on Safari with iPhone SE, iPhone 6 and later, and Apple Watch.

Our helpline is only possible thanks to donations from supporters. You can help us be there for disabled people and their families by donating to Scope today with Apple Pay.

The Budget 2017 – What does it mean for disabled people?

The Chancellor Philip Hammond has delivered the Spring Budget today. In this blog we look at the impact the budget will have on disabled people across the country. 

Ahead of today we were calling for sustainable investment in social care, a reversal of the reduction in financial support for those in the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group (ESA WRAG) and for Government to think again on changes to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

The Budget contained some positive news for disabled people on social care yet we were disappointed by the Government’s failure to mention, let alone reconsider, upcoming changes to disability benefits.

Social care

Following calls from disabled people, charities, MPs and local councils, the Government has provided a cash injection of £2 billion for social care over the next three years.

We hope this is good news for the 400,000 working age disabled people who rely on social care for assistance with everyday tasks such as cooking and getting dressed.

We were really disappointed when there was no further funding announced for social care in the Autumn Statement and so we are pleased that the Government has listened to calls for urgent funding.

The care system has been under immense financial strain over the past few years, with the adult social care budget reduced by £4.6 billion since 2010. £1 billion of new funding will be available this year, yet the King’s Fund has predicted the funding gap for this period will be nearly twice that at £1.9 billion.

The Government also today announced a Green Paper on social care, we will be campaigning to make sure this consultation and following action focuses on how the social care system will provide the support and outcomes important to disabled people.

Financial security

PIP is intended to help disabled people cover some of the extra costs they face as a result of their disability, on average, £550 a month. Therefore we think it is vital PIP focuses on the extra costs disabled people actually face, and not their impairment or condition. We are concerned about the Government’s move to tighten up access to PIP and have been speaking to Ministers and MPs about our concerns since the legislation was announced.

We wanted to see the Government use the Budget to reconsider this change and take the opportunity to review the PIP assessment process. Our helpline has seen a 542 per cent increase in calls relating to PIP over the last year, with many people successfully appealing their original decision.

We are disappointed the Government intends to go ahead with these changes, and will keep raising our concerns with Government.

Employment

The Government has made a welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap and we’ve been working hard over the last year to set out the reforms needed for disabled people both in and out of work to help make this goal a reality.

However, next month new claimants in the ESA WRAG will see a £30 a week reduction in their financial support. We don’t think that this will help disabled people find work and have been campaigning against these changes since they were first announced. Disabled people are already less financially resilient than non-disabled people, with an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets. A reduction in financial support could end up creating an additional barrier to work.

We are concerned the Government are pressing ahead with this reduction. Having missed the opportunity to halt the reduction in the Budget, we, alongside other disability charities, will continue to push for this to happen before the change takes effect.

The Prime Minister has set out her vision of a country that works for everyone, yet following this Budget there is much more that needs to be done to include specific needs of disabled people in that vision. We’ll continue campaigning on all of these issues and more to make this case.

It took me 32 years to get a diagnosis. Why is autism in girls still overlooked?

Carly is an Autism advocate, filmmaker and speaker. She wasn’t diagnosed with autism until she was 32, after two of her daughters were diagnosed. She found it a battle to get a diagnosis and started to notice a lack of understanding and resources when it came to autism and girls.

In this blog Carly shares her journey and talks about why we need to start recognising and supporting autistic women and girls. 

Growing up feeling different

My earliest memory is being the kid that couldn’t go to preschool without my mum staying. My mum actually got a job at the preschool so I would go! I remember it seeming very noisy and busy. All the kids were playing but I wasn’t. Then when I started school that didn’t change. I remember feeling very different then and things got even harder in secondary school. I was really anxious. I started realising that I never got invited to birthday parties. I couldn’t cope with bright lights and they actually made my quite hyper. My teachers just thought I was naughty.

My parents took me to see a psychologist at 14. He said I was just lazy and his advice to my parents – which is the worst advice you give an autistic person – was she needs everything new, she needs a fresh start. So we moved house and I started a new school but life just took a downward spiral for the worst. I got into all sorts of trouble, bad boyfriends. Obviously I had no understanding of how vulnerable and naive I was, no idea of the consequences of my actions at all. I ended up pregnant at 15 and living in a homeless hostel. I had my daughter who’s wonderful and I worked hard to turn things around, but there are serious consequences to not being diagnosed and not being supported.

carly-jones-blog-3-resized
Carly at the UN, where she spoke about autism and girls

“You can’t be on the autistic spectrum because autistic people can’t act”

I have three daughters and two of them are autistic as well, which is how I found out that I was. My 14-year-old was diagnosed when she was six and my youngest was diagnosed when she was just two. In the process of trying to find out anything I could about autism and girls for them, I realised “oh this explains everything!”

I went to see an NHS psychologist who gave me a tick sheet with things like “Do you prefer parties or museums?” – you know, one of those. I scored quite highly on it but then he asked “What are your hobbies?” and I said “I love acting” and he said “Oh then you can’t be on the autistic spectrum because autistic people can’t act”.

I left it for a while, then I wrote to the lady who discovered Asperger’s. I wanted to film it so that no-one else would have to go through this alone. Because I felt so alone. She invited me to meet her and I finally got my diagnosis – on film! There was a mixture of emotions but overall it was complete elation. I had my answers and I could start rebuilding my life, understanding who I am. I always felt like a second class ‘normal’ person and now I know that I’m a top class autistic, so I’m fine!

Why is autism in girls overlooked?

I was told in 2008 by educational staff that it was impossible that I could have two autistic daughters because autism only happens to boys. Every book I picked up to try to understand and support my daughters all referred to “he” or “my son”. There was nothing for girls. I just thought why?

I think gender stereotypes are a big problem. Not only are there lots of women who are undiagnosed and unsupported, there are lots of men who present themselves in a more feminine way and they’re not diagnosed and supported either because they’re not the stereotypical view of what autism is – they’re not “train spotters” or like “Rain Man”. Also, female pain and female differences aren’t always taken as seriously. It’s always “Oh they’re probably hormonal”. Even my reaction to the sensory overload was seen as “Oh she’s in a bad mood” – and being autistic, I couldn’t explain my discomfort to them.

Then there’s what I call the ‘chameleon effect’ – masking your differences and trying to blend in. We do this just to survive in a scary, unpredictable world. Things are changing but there are still pockets in the UK where this is happening and girls aren’t being believed and supported.

Head and shoulders shot of carly in front of a brick wall

I want to make sure the girls in our country are protected and supported

Globally there needs to be more recognition of autism and girls. In the UK it’s a really exciting time because I’m looking around and seeing so much more awareness. People finally believe we exist – yippee! That’s my first eight years done. Now my next eight years will be about making sure we have equality; making sure we have the same protection and opportunities as everyone else.

Some things that happened in my life were awful but in hindsight I’m grateful now because I know how important it is to make sure that the girls in our country are protected and given proper support. I spent 32 years of my life thinking I must be “stupid”, “crazy” or “unliked”. Being diagnosed gives you an understanding that this is how you see things and this is how other people see things differently to you. It gives you self-awareness. I’ve got a lot more confidence now. The hardest thing is knowing who you are after years of it being eroded away. I’m still discovering myself now but it’s quite exciting. I’m getting there!

Find out more about Carly’s story on her website. You can also buy Carly’s book about autism and girls.

If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with the stories team.

Budget 2017 – Will it deliver for disabled people?

The Budget outlines the Government’s spending priorities for the year. How can the chancellor Philip Hammond make his first budget work for disabled people? 

Ahead of the Budget next Wednesday (8 March) we’ve been responding the Government’s announcement that they intend to tighten up access to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) following two court rulings which widened access. We are really concerned that this could lead to disabled claimants missing out on the financial support they rely on to live independently.

We have spoken to MPs and Ministers about this change. It has also been debated in Parliament and raised in Prime Minister’s Questions. Disabled people spend around £550 a month on costs related to their disability and on average are less financially resilient than non-disabled people.

That’s why PIP, which helps disabled people meet some of these extra costs, is so important.

We want the Government to clarify the numbers of people who won’t be eligible for PIP following their decision and we have made them aware of our concerns. The PIP assessment must focus on the extra costs people face not their impairment.

In the Budget the Government should provide more reassurance that the financial support disabled people receive now or in the future will not be negatively affected.

We also want them to take action to drive down the extra costs disabled people face, properly fund social care and provide support for disabled people both in and out of work. We responded to the Government’s consultation on employment and submitted these points to the Treasury.

The extra costs disabled people face

As well has helping disabled people to meet the extra costs they face by protecting PIP, it is also important the Government take action to drive them down. We’ve asked the Government to develop a cross-Government strategy to tackle extra costs. We also want them to draw up a definition of a vulnerable consumer – with a particular focus on the energy industry – to ensure consistency in the support provided for disabled energy consumers.

Social care

The funding crisis in social care has remained high on the political agenda this year. Along with a number of MPs, local councils and other charities we have been calling on the Government to provide the social care system with the funding it so urgently needs.

400,000 working age disabled people rely on social care support for everyday tasks such as cooking and washing. It’s vital that everyone who needs it is able to access good quality social care that supports them to live independently. When we asked disabled social care users about their experiences of care, over half told us their care never supports their independence.

The Government has already committed to a review of social care. This is welcome but they must consult with and listen to disabled social care users as part of that review, something we have asked them to do.

It has been widely reported the Budget will include some money for social care and we hope will be used to improve care for disabled people. However, a short-term injection of cash won’t be enough. We need to see the Chancellor set out a sustainable long-term plan for funding social care as demand continues to grow.

Employment

Last year the Government launched a consultation on the support disabled people receive to find, stay and progress in work. That consultation closed last month and we want the Government to use the Budget as an opportunity to set out what they’ll be doing next. We want to see a package of real reforms set out in a White Paper as soon as possible.

Read more about what we said to Government on the specific changes.

We also want to see the Government halt a proposed financial reduction to people who receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

From 1 April this year new claimants will receive £30 a week less than current claimants. We don’t think that will help disabled people to find jobs, it will just make life harder.

Scope has been campaigning against this reduction since it was initially proposed and this is the Governments last chance to act.

On the day we’ll be tweeting as the Budget takes place and sharing our response to key announcements on the website. 

Why is it so hard to find books with a disabled character?

Dan White is the author of the brilliant The Department of Ability comic book, featuring a cast of superheroes whose impairments are their greatest superpower.

For World Book Day, Dan tells us how he was inspired to create the comic book and why there needs to be more disabled characters in literature.

My book-devouring, art loving daughter, Emily, had stopped anticipating reading about disabled characters in her comics or literature.  For her, that day would never appear. Or would it?

It was the disparaging look I saw on her face when she first learnt to read that set me on a course of action.  Art, writing and comics are my second love, and that drove me to create the group of disabled superheroes that is The Department of Ability – a graphic novel with a difference, launching later this year!

Disability isn’t the main focus – they’re battling to save the world

I wanted to draw disability in a way that was not really about the disability. Yes, the five characters in he Department of Ability show physical differences, but there’s no backstory, no preface on disability and how it affects this motley crew, you just get 5 different SUPERHEROES battling to save the world in a final war between good and evil.

The Department of Ability are colourful, strong and fun! A ghost? Alien? A Dog? A Cheetah? Emily? How’s that for diverse!?

Several of the characters designed for Department of Ability comic strip
The characters from The Department of Ability comic strip

The Department of Ability has captured hearts worldwide even before the first volume is published. But it’s not just disabled hearts, it’s hearts from everywhere. From the warmth of Matthew Wright, to the voice of The Today Show USA, to the desk of comic genius Stan Lee, the belief and enthusiasm of established comic writer Leah Moore (daughter of Alan) and the tireless work of Scope, all who have seen and loved my creations see a future of change.

There’s a growing desire worldwide to see more diversity and essential inclusion. It’s a strong a message to those in charge of what we read and watch, telling them, “we love difference, and want to see more of it. We all have a right to be heard”.

Inclusion is vital, especially for children

Currently, this world seems to be run by people terrified of accepting disability into the media they enjoy but inclusion is vital, especially for children. They need and want to see images that reflect themselves, otherwise we’re going to have another generation growing up being seen solely as needy and marginalised.  Who wants that?

I read and review many books on disability but they are incredibly rare and it makes you wonder how much more could be achieved if the industry threw caution to the wind and realised the good they could attain by giving us everyday, non-static, non-stereotypical characters.

Inclusion means include, and that means all. It will dispel myths, preconceptions, and will inspire the reader to discuss disability in a whole new light, barriers will fall and disability will not be seen as the last to the party.

A young girl holding up her drawing of her superhero, a mermaid with a wheelchair

I hope The Department of Ability will kick open a door for more diverse stories

All the talents that blossom and bubble in this amazing community will finally be able to show itself to the wider world, it just needs a thinker outside the box to see there is no barrier, and to see the power and might of the untapped purple pound, all £249 disposable billions of it.

2017 is the year of Department of Ability BOOK One, and it will hopefully kick open a door for an army of stories, pictures and talent to emerge.  The authors are there, the future is there, let it in. The Department of Ability are loud, brash, dysfunctional, passionate and determined, a bit like everyone else on earth really.

For National Storytelling Week, we asked for better representation of disability in literature. Read about the activities we’ve done so far and please help us spread the message.

Visit the Department of Ability website to read the comic strips and keep up-to-date with the launch.

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

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