Local elections will take place in England on 3 May 2018. In this blog we talk about the importance of voting and how disabled voters can access their polling stations.
150 council seats across England will be up for election, including all seats in London’s 32 boroughs. There will also be direct elections for the Mayor of Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Watford and the Sheffield City region. Find out if elections are taking place in your area.
It’s important that the voices of disabled people are heard in local elections. Local councils make decisions on a range of issues such as housing and planning, waste collection, road maintenance and local transport. Councils also provide a range of services in areas such as social care and health. Voting, as well as taking part in election events in your local area, gives you the chance to tell your local councillors what’s important to you and what you would like to see them do.
Access to polling stations
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.
The Government are trialling voter ID pilots in five different local authority areas. This means that if you are voting in Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford or Woking you will need to take ID with you to the polling station to vote in the local elections. Without it you won’t be able to vote.
Today (1 March) is the ten year anniversary of the first International Wheelchair Day (IWD). To celebrate, we spoke to the event’s founder, Steve Wilkinson, who told us how he turned it into a global event and why it’s such an important date in the calendar.
I was born with Spina Bifida back in 1953. I had a wheelchair when I was a kid, but preferred to walk, which I could do thanks to the calliper I wore and the walking sticks I used right through until about six years ago.
In 1987 I was on holiday in Florida and went to the Disney theme parks and hired one of their chairs. The freedom it instantly gave me was huge. When I got home, I got my own wheelchair and it allowed me to go much further distances and more comfortably. I couldn’t get anywhere without it now, it’s my life.
I started to campaign about wheelchairs and disability in the 90s when I saw how difficult it was to get into places and the access issues wheelchair users faced.
I worked with a lot of organisations on accessibility issues and campaigns. It made me realise that I wanted to start my own business. I’ve learnt over the years that a lot of good ideas fail because they don’t get enough mass engagement. That’s the biggest thing you need to give an idea momentum.
International Wheelchair Day was born
In February 2008, I started researching International Wheelchair Day and was surprised to find that there wasn’t one. I’m quite an adventurous person so I thought let’s just do something and see what happens.
I chose 1 March in memory of my mother because when I was a child, she was everything to me. She pushed me, both physically in my wheelchair and also as a person to take on challenges and be a positive person. She was my inspiration.
So on 1 March 2008, I put a post out on the internet about it announcing ‘Today is International Wheelchair Day, I know this because I just invented it’. However, these were the days before Facebook and Twitter were big things and nothing happened.
A year later I put another post up and again nothing happened. The third year, I discovered that a disability group in Salisbury had recognised IWD and were having a meeting about wheelchair access. I thought, ‘get in, somebody’s found it!’
It was 2011 when things actually took off. Hannah Ensor, a wheelchair user and a talented cartoonist, got in touch to say she’d heard about IWD and that she’d designed a logo for it. So that was it, out of the blue we had a logo. For every year since, Hannah has designed the official logo and every year it’s slightly different.
That was important because someone else had recognised the day and made it feel official. From there it’s just grown year on year.
In 2012 I went to Australia and met with a disability group in Adelaide and Gail Miller, the author of a book about life in a wheelchair. They were keen to recognise IWD and we held an event attended by the South Australia Disability Minister and Kelly Vincent, a member of the South Australia parliament (who was also a wheelchair user). They also helped me get some interviews on the radio in Australia and it just really took off there.
That year I also got an email from a woman in Nepal. They were having a parade of 80 wheelchair users in Kathmandu to celebrate International Wheelchair Day. For me, that’s become symbolic of what this day is. It’s all about engagement of people in a collective event. Last year they had 239 wheelchair users in their parade. They’re doing it again this year.
Every year I wake up the day after IWD, go online and discover all these different events around the world where people are celebrating it. It’s really gone viral. If you google it now, there are thousands of mentions of it. It’s got a life of its own!
A girl got in touch with me recently and told me that she wasn’t able to get out of bed most of the time. However, the five minutes that she spent outside in her wheelchair on IWD was her celebration. I just think that’s a fantastic story.
The wonderful thing about IWD is that there’s no one way to recognise it. People celebrate it in very different ways.
There are big events happening across the world. People mark IWD here in the UK and in Australia, Nepal, Senegal, South Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the United States of America. There are probably events elsewhere that I’m unaware of. It’s fantastic!
This year is the 10th anniversary of the first International Wheelchair Day, I hope it continues to grow and more people can engage with it and feel a part of something.
The start of 2017 was a dark time for Christie. Her daughter Elise had just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and without any support or information, Christie felt really alone. A year later, with a new positive outlook, she is a force for change. In 2018 she’s determined to keep making the world a better place for her daughter. In this blog, she shares their journey.
My daughter Elise was born prematurely and it was the worst time of my life. The doctors didn’t think she was going to make it but she did. I remember the first time she opened her eyes. After a month of being in hospital, we got to take her home and I was so happy.
The doctors said there hadn’t been any brain injury but she wasn’t developing as expected. So, after lots of meetings and nine months of waiting, we finally got a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, just before Christmas 2016.
I felt really alone
It was really overwhelming. I didn’t have any experience of disability and I thought it meant her life was over before it had even begun. I thought she’d have no future. I tried to be cheerful for her but my heart was breaking.
I didn’t want people to come over because I didn’t want questions. The first time I took her out in her wheelchair, I cried. I felt like everybody was staring at her. I had days where I just wanted to give up and lock us both away from the world.
That’s when I found out about Scope.
I’d been missing all the positives
I wanted to do everything I could for Elise so I called Scope’s helpline because I didn’t know where to start. They gave me so much information. I found out about what was available to us and the different equipment we could use. All these things have helped make life easier. But most importantly, Scope gave me so much hope.
They completely changed my perception of disability. It’s been a whole new life to get used to and I was just focusing on the negatives. Scope helped me to focus on the positives. I’d been missing them all.
You’ve just got to change the goal posts. Elise waving was a massive thing for us and, with her physio, she’s really building her strength up. She’s just got her Peppa Pig wheelchair which she loves and it’s given her so much independence – maybe too much as I recently found out in Asda when she kept wheeling off!
I’m determined to change the world for Elise
I still worry every day about Elise’s future. I worry about people’s attitudes, I worry that she’ll want to join in with things but she won’t be able to. The world puts up so many barriers and you don’t realise it until you’re in that world. And it is a different world.
I’ve been sharing our story this past year and I want to keep going. I feel less alone knowing that there is a community out there and people who care, people who’ve been in this situation.
We’re in a much better place this Christmas but life is still much harder than it needs to be. There should be more support but there’s not and accessibility is a big problem. Just because you have this diagnosis, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a chance.
This year I want to keep changing attitudes about disability, I want to make things more accessible, I want to give Elise everything she needs – I’m determined that nothing’s going to stop her!
I started a Facebook page called Elise Smashed It. I want everyone to see what an amazing little girl Elise is. I hope it raises awareness and changes perceptions about disability. I want to help other parents too and show them that there is hope. It might not be the life you were expecting, but it’s not the end – it’s just the start of a different life and you’re not alone.
These are my goals and that’s what I’m going to focus on this year. I hope you’ll join me.
Too often, disabled people and their families struggle to access the support and information they need. Attitudes towards disability can be a problem too.
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.
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:
Scope’s new strategy is focused on everyday equality but we can’t do it alone – it requires a collective effort of everyone working together. On IDPD, we’re highlighting some of the amazing campaigners and storytellers we’ve been working with this year.
Shani is tackling extra costs
From expensive equipment to higher energy bills, disabled people and their families pay more for everyday essentials. Support to meet these costs, such as Personal Independent Payments, often falls short. When you face so many extra costs, it can stop you from being able to go out and do things like everyone else.
Will is campaigning to make public places accessible
Last year, Will made a short film to highlight the poor disabled access found up and down our high streets. As a wheelchair user, he wanted to demonstrate how frustrating this is from his everyday perspective. He also wanted to draw attention to the fact that businesses are losing multiple paying customers.
The film went viral and thousands of people signed his petition. Alongside his job as a games developer, Will has continued campaign on accessibility – attending events in Parliament and speaking on TV. Read more about Will’s campaigning in this blog.
Christie is raising awareness to change negative attitudes
Christie’s daughter Elise is a happy, smiley two year old girl who has cerebral palsy. Elise has a bright future ahead of her because Christie is determined to overcome any barriers they face. Barriers like negative attitudes, expensive equipment and inaccessible playgrounds.
Dan and Emily are tackling the lack of disabled characters
When Dan’s daughter Emily asked why there weren’t any wheelchair users on TV, he knew that something had to change. A wheelchair user herself, Emily always wanted to find characters and people that she could relate to, but they were so hard to find.
Carly is making sure autistic women and girls are safe and supported
Carly is an Autism advocate and speaker. She wasn’t diagnosed with autism until she was 32, after years without support, feeling “like a second class normal person” and being told that “autism only happens to boys”. When two of her daughters were diagnosed, she noticed a huge lack of understanding when it came to autism and girls, and she’s been working to change that ever since.
From her own experiences, Carly knows that there are serious consequences to not being diagnosed and she has dedicated her life to making sure women and girls are protected and supported.
Shani is an events manager, disability campaigner and entrepreneur from Walsall. She features in Scope’s new What I Need To Say campaign which highlights the isolation that millions of disabled people face. In this blog, Shani shares her own experiences.
This can be down to poor access to services, inaccessible transport and venues, and financial challenges. When you face so many extra costs related to disability, it can stop you from being able to go out and do things like everyone else. That’s why I launched the Diversability Card – a discount card for disabled people.
Social attitudes are also a significant barrier. Many struggle to see the person beyond the impairment or condition and act awkwardly. One in four people have admitted to avoiding conversations with disabled people because they worry about causing offence or don’t know what to say. This really astonished me. Personally, I feel sorry for the non-disabled UK population who are missing out on interacting with 13 million of us fabulous people!
With so many barriers to contend with, imagine being a disabled person, experiencing the same life transitions as everyone else, but not being able to participate in the same way. No wonder disabled people feel lonely.
My own experiences of loneliness
Being part of the ‘What I Need To Say campaign’ by Scope made me really reflect about the times I have experienced loneliness or isolation, which has drifted in and out of my life over different periods.
As a young child, I attended a special needs school which made keeping in touch with friends very difficult as we lived miles away from each other. It also meant that I was sent to a separate school that my siblings, cousins, friends and neighbours attended. Whilst it was the best place for me because of the care I needed for my condition, it was hard to maintain friendships and any sort of social life.
Over the course of my childhood, I spent a lot of time in hospital with broken legs due to my condition Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bones). I would be in hospital for a minimum of three months at a time, missing school and home whilst only having adults to really talk to. I was very lucky that I always had lots of family coming to see me during the visiting time, but this is such a short amount of time in what used to seem very long days as a child.
I’ve also experienced loneliness as an adult, being excluded from social situations or activities due to my condition or people making assumptions about what I am able to do, or not. It’s really frustrating, especially as I’m a very independent person who will always find an alternative way of doing things.
I feel that increasing the awareness of different conditions and dispelling misconceptions about disability are major steps in combatting the ‘silent epidemic’ of loneliness and isolation.
Also, if you are a friend or family member of a person with an impairment or condition, take a moment to consider how they might be feeling, especially around this festive time of year. It can be as easy as making a quick phone call or popping in for a cup of tea to brighten someone’s day.
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.
Kris is the founder of Wheely Good Fitness, which offers exercise classes for both disabled and non-disabled people in Herefordshire.
On the weekend, he and a group of 32 people, headed to Dorney Lake in Berkshire to take part in the Superhero Triathlon – the first fully accessible triathlon of its kind.
Here, Kris tells us about his experiences of the event, attitudes towards disability in sport and why sport for all is so important.
There is an assumption that just because someone is disabled they’re not going to want to do sport, which has an impact on the opportunities available.
Unless you live in a main city, there’s not really a lot going on. If we took away the need to segregate, everything would be accessible to everybody and we could all go to our local leisure centres and take part in whatever it is they are running. I run mixed ability classes and there is no need to segregate at all.
Health and safety is always used as an excuse. To me, health and safety is one of the most patronising things used to discriminate against disabled people. London Marathon, for example, only allow 12 places for standard wheelchair entries on the grounds of health and safety. It’s absolute nonsense. They can allow a guy to run in a tumble drier but people who use a wheelchair every day of their life are “not safe”.
Accessibility shouldn’t be something we have to fight for. Disability sport should be given the same amount of precedence as mainstream sport but you don’t see a lot of it and when you do, the coverage of it is very different. It’s not seen as being as serious or respected as other sports. It’s a shame. And if you haven’t got a huge demand [for specialist disability fitness equipment] you can’t reduce the production costs which makes it hard for people to get involved. It’s a vicious circle.
My clients like the social aspect of doing sport. Most of the groups become like a little family. They have a drink afterwards and a chat. Their confidence improves – not only from talking to other people, but they also feel they’re achieving things in the class, instead of their impairment being a negative thing.
Things are improving but it’s a slow process
I’ve been running my fitness classes for four years now. Things have improved in accessible sport but it’s an extremely slow process. There are more and more organisations out there organising accessible bikes and equipment hire. So you can tell attitudes are changing. I think disabled kids have an advantage now to grow up with a much more positive attitude towards themselves that people didn’t have 20 or 30 years ago.
We’re starting to see more inclusive events too. There’s Parallel London which is in its second year and that turned out to be really good event. I was really excited as soon as I heard about the Superhero Tri as were many of my clients. There is so much adaptation. The run can be done in a chair, walking or on crutches. The cycle can also be done in a chair, they allow people in power chairs as well. You can also have a buddy compete with you to help with direction, encouragement, support or balance, so everyone can take part.
The Superhero Tri was a great event
We had eight teams altogether and 21 team members. It was a fantastic opportunity for people of all abilities to compete. The event has an understanding of disability so you’re not having to fight to take part, you’re not having to get people to make allowances for you, you are welcomed for who you are and what you can do. They’re saying “you tell us what you need in order to take part” – that’s what’s so good about it.
I was excited to take part. The only thing I was apprehensive of was trying to get that many people together at the same time, without anyone dropping out. The majority of people were really excited, there are a few I could sense were apprehensive, but they really wanted to do it.
I tried to put teams together of people who work well together in my fitness classes, or socially, so they can encourage each other and feel good about their achievements. Whilst it is a competition and it’s timed, to me and many of the team, it’s really about enjoying it and doing the best you can and saying ‘I did it’.
Most of those taking part hadn’t done anything like this before. There’s a mixture of abilities – some are quite confident and some are new to my classes and actually this was a huge step for them to take. It’s a nice journey for everyone. It takes time to start believing in yourself and realising what you’re capable of.
It was a great day, the weather held for us and everyone managed to beat the nerves and turn up. Everyone did well giving everything they could to be the best they could be. The atmosphere was fantastic and everyone was high spirited and extremely supportive of one another.
We were asked by Channel 4 who were filming the event to demonstrate our Wheel-Fit aerobics class for their highlights programme due to air next weekend which was a nice surprise for everyone and, despite being between races, we managed to squeeze in 10 minutes between transitions to demonstrate what the class was about.
I’ve been involved with Scope ever since I started running fitness classes. If I’m doing anything for charity, I do it for Scope. Scope is a leading force in changing ideas and perceptions of disability and leading the way to a positive future for disabled people.
Sport is a powerful tool encouraging people to seek their true potential, capabilities and discover their strengths and weaknesses, whilst creating and expanding social lives for a more proactive and rewarding life. It’s not just for the elite, the super fast or the super fit, it’s something for everyone, that can benefit everyone through improved fitness, well being, confidence and social skills.
Sport can be empowering and character building and should be open to all. It’s time to remove the barriers and discrimination and open up the world of sport to everyone of all abilities and all backgrounds on an equal footing.
Because of her particular impairments, cycling was not an activity Emma had ever considered, until her “super-sporty” colleague and friend Paula proposed that they should ride together in their firm’s annual networking cycling event. In this blog they talk about preparing for the event and their experiences of the day.
Do you fancy coming on a bike ride – I’ll pedal!?
Paula: I enjoy being active. I am curious to test my limits. I am not a great athlete by any stretch of the imagination – far from it. I do however wholeheartedly buy into the mind-set that anything is possible with committed training. Over the years, I have cycled London 2 Paris in 24 hours, completed multiple Ironman Triathlons and taken part in Race Around Ireland.
The other great love of my life is friendship. I cherish my friends. I find their company restorative, life-affirming and joyful. Emma is my friend and my colleague. When this year’s Leigh Day (the law firm I work for) cycle ride was announced I saw an opportunity to invite my colleague Emma into what I assumed was an unexplored part of the world for her – and because I enjoy cycling so much I just assumed she would too!
I searched the internet for adapted bikes and was heartened to see so many different varieties. It was clear to me that the means were available – all I had to do next was check whether the appetite was there. Interestingly this presented me with the most significant challenge: how to ask Emma if she fancied joining me on the ride. It sounds so daft now to read that but it is true. I had no idea if my idea would be well received, or come across as insensitive, neither did I know if my research into adapted bikes would be seen as patronising. The last thing I wanted to do was cause offence.
Emma wrote an excellent blog about disability and awkward conversations. So reassured with what I knew Emma thought about starting the conversation, I decided to park my discomfort and simply asked “Do you fancy coming on a bike ride – I will pedal!?”
Emma: It actually took a while for me to take the idea seriously! The first challenge was practical – how to find a suitable bike. Leigh Day put us in touch with Wheels for Wellbeing, a fantastic charity which works to remove barriers to cycling for disabled people. On our visit to try out the bikes, the link between wheels and wellbeing was very apparent on the faces of the people riding around the hall. There were people with a variety of imapirments and on a variety of bikes. We opted for a side-by-side tricycle (think Two Fat Ladies, but without the motor). For me this had the advantage of proper seats, so no saddle to feel precarious on, and a design that allowed for only one person to pedal.
The second hurdle – increasingly challenging as the day approached – was to sit with my fear of the ride and not chicken out. A corollary of being disabled is that you have to consciously build whatever measure of independence you can achieve, constructing your comfort zone almost brick by brick. So the prospect of abandoning the freedom and safety of (in this case) my car to effectively get on someone else’s bike was daunting. This mostly manifested itself as fear of accident and catastrophic injury, not because I had any doubts about Paula’s skill as a cyclist (she recently cycle-raced round the entire coast of Ireland!) but because we would be at the mercy of other road users without any protective shell. And more fundamentally, as a passenger, I would not be in control.
I look back on it as a day like no other
The day of the ride was blessed by sunny skies and a refreshing breeze. We were joined by our friend and fellow employment lawyer Tom Brown, who took turns with Paula on the 55kg trike. As the rest of the cyclists took off on their longer routes, we turned off onto our tailor-made route, only to discover later that we had done the whole thing backwards. The beauty of the Warwickshire landscape was a revelation, as was the universally kind reaction of all the people we encountered during the ride including all the drivers that got stuck behind us (this has made me reflect on my own habitual impatience behind the wheel!).
Now, after the event and still in one piece, I look back on it as a day like no other – a day of adventure, laughter, camaraderie and experiencing the countryside in a new way (in a car you are never really ‘in’ nature). Most of all, it gave me a new sense of what real inclusion means. Because for me, the best thing about the day was that despite the lengths to which all the people involved had to go to make it possible – from sourcing the bike, planning our route, exerting unfamiliar muscle-groups, heaving the bike over turnstiles and foregoing participation in the main ride – I never felt that they were doing it to be nice to me. While my physical limitations framed the practicalities of the day, my disability didn’t feel anything more than incidental; I was encouraged and facilitated to join the event not as a disabled person but as Emma, and for me that is priceless.
As we return to our day job of representing people facing discrimination and other forms of mistreatment, we both feel that we will often return to the experience of that ride as a kind of touchstone of what equality is really all about.
Will Pike is a games developer from London whose parody of Channel 4’s Superhumans advert went viral last year. Tens of thousands of people have signed his petition for better access. In this blog, he talks about how this affects disabled consumers, and what needs to change in media representation.
Back in September 2016, I made a short film to highlight the poor disabled access found up and down our high streets. As a wheelchair user, I wanted to demonstrate how frustrating these obstructions are from my everyday perspective. I also wanted to demonstrate that establishments are missing out. By not being accessible, they’re losing multiple paying customers. Regardless of the fact that I can’t walk or overcome a set of stairs without assistance, I still have money in pocket to spend.
The ‘Purple Pound’ is worth in the region of £240 billion. This spending power is exactly why society should be a more opportune place for everyone. Why are so many businesses unable to recognise this?
We need to see more disabled people in mainstream media
Whilst accessibility is fundamental, it’s no good just making a bunch of logistical improvements if attitudes to disability don’t change. I’m not simply talking about seeing disabled people as an untapped purple cash-cow. I want society to see the purple person behind the purple pound. It’s so important that disabled people are given a more prominent place in mainstream media, where they can contribute to reversing poor public perception and ignorance.
Fundamentally, this is the reason why diversity is so important. If we only have a monosyllabic representation of society displayed upon our TV screens, then we’ll continue to limit the prospects of anybody who doesn’t conform to a notion of the perceived norm. We must challenge this. It obviously goes beyond disability to include race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and age. It also means evolving our perceptions of beauty and happiness. For instance, in the film ‘Me Before You’, the main character is a quadriplegic chap called Will, who ultimately concedes that life with a disability, even with love and financial stability, is so miserable that he must end it all. What kind of message does this send out to the world? For those with a disability it’s insulting and heartless. While for those without a disability it simply reaffirms the (misplaced) need for pity.
Change is happening, but we need more
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Change is happening, but society needs to do more than the bare minimum. We need to see more disabled people on telly, while ensuring that the inclusion of disability isn’t a token gesture toward equality. There also needs to be a comprehensive strategy to improve the quality of life for all disabled people, positioning us as simply part of the normal spectrum of human experience. Only then will society truly benefit from the Purple Pound.
At present only 2.5% of all characters on TV screens are disabled. It’s hardly surprising then that 81% of the 13 million disabled people in the UK do not feel they are well-represented on TV and in the media. This has to change. It’s time for businesses to recognise the value of the purple pound and put more disabled people at the heart of their campaigns.
Now in its seventh year, the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards is one of the most inspiring events of the year. It shows the incredible capacity of technology to improve all our lives. There were over 200 brilliant and life-changing projects to choose from but here are some of my favourites that improve the lives of disabled people:
AbilityNet Accessibility Award winner: Bristol Braille Technology
Bristol Braille Technology is building a revolutionary and radically affordable Braille e-reader called Canute, designed with and by the blind community. The world’s first multiple line Braille e-reader will launch by 2018 and it is hoped will be around 20 times cheaper than existing digital Braille devices.
BT Connected Society Award winner: Sky Badger
Sky Badger finds educational, medical, financial and social support for families with disabled children all over the UK. Over the last five years, Sky Badger has supported over one million disabled children and their families. Sky Badger puts the emphasis on having fun.
Digital Health Award winner: Fizzyo
Both of Vicky Coxhead’s sons have Cystic Fibrosis and because of this they have to do an hour’s breathing exercises every day to keep infections at bay. She applied to feature on a BBC2 documentary The Big Life Fix and was introduced to Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. She enlisted the help of Creative Technologist Greg Saul to create a device that could take the boys’ breaths and turn them into controls for a videogame. Combining gaming with saving lives proves a potent mix – see Fizzyo.
Digital Skills Award winner: FabFarm
FabFarm is a digital aquaponic farm that is designed, built and operated as a social enterprise by disabled students in Derry, Northern Ireland. Developed by the Nerve Centre, FabLab, it uses new and emerging technologies to help empower, engage and inspire 20 young people with special educational needs to develop new skills which are directly focused upon their employability in the digital marketplace.
There were so many other great projects that were shortlisted and deserve a mention:
AutonoMe is a support system that combines the power of video and mobile technology to help people with learning difficulties through everyday tasks.
Optikey is a new assistive on-screen keyboard, designed to be used with low-cost eye-tracking devices. It brings keyboard control, mouse control and speech to people with motor and speech limitations.
Signvideo British Sign Language (BSL) video interpreting services can help deaf people communicate easily and professionally over the telephone or face-to-face, with hearing colleagues. Signvideo offers instant access to an experienced, qualified video interpreter within minutes, via PC or Mac, tablet or smartphone.