Tag Archives: inclusion

Why the fashion industry needs to include disabled people

Meghan is studying fashion at the University of South Wales. For her end of year show she designed a sportswear line which is specifically adapted for different impairments. In this blog she talks about the reasons behind it and her hopes for the future.

At school I was good at Product Design and Art, so I knew I wanted to go into a form of design. I wouldn’t really say I was a big fashion person in the typical sense which is why I wanted to do sportswear – it’s design for a purpose.

Discovering a gap in the market

I’m in my third year now and I have to do a final collection. I started looking into adapted clothing and I discovered a massive gap in the market. A lot of the people I spoke to said that the clothing that is out there is quite unfashionable or really expensive. There’s not enough choice for them in mainstream fashion.

I feel like the fashion industry does forget disabled people. When it comes to adaptive clothing, there are maternity sections in shops but disability is almost completely forgotten about. All the clothing is just t-shirts and trousers, there’s nothing stylish, which is what they want.

 

Molly posing on the catwalk

In some ways it sends a negative message to disabled people regarding sports and they might not feel confident enough taking part in sports or going to the gym, especially if they are wearing something they aren’t comfortable in themselves. But I think there has been a change in attitudes more recently because I have been seeing more representation, but I also don’t know if that’s because I’m involved in it, so I’m noticing it more.

Accessibility can be an issue too. The girl who I have as my visually impaired model, she’s got her own business helping websites and apps make their stuff more accessible for disabled people.

Kyron posing on the catwalk

Developing my sportswear line

After talking to various people, I decided to design pieces to suit four different impairments: visual impairments, dwarfism, amputees and down’s syndrome. I got in contact with a charity called “Follow your Dreams” which is for people with down’s syndrome and learning difficulties. I went to a few focus groups with them to meet people who have down’s syndrome and to get information about what they would want out of clothing and sportswear. I also spoke to Disability Sport Wales.

The Fashion Show

For the show, I had four outfits shown and I used the same models that I’ve worked with on my photo-shoots. I’ve got Tony, who is a world champion athlete, Kyron who is a Paralympian. Molly, who has ushers syndrome and runs her own company – Molly Watts Ltd – and finally, Emily who has down’s syndrome. The show was on 26 May and was a great success.

I really wanted to have all disabled models because otherwise it would completely take away the impact. I just hope that I raise more awareness from it and show people what’s possible.

If you have an experience you’d like to share, get in touch with the Stories team.

Photos by Michaela Harcegova.

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.

For National Storytelling Week – help us champion books that feature disability

Here at Scope, stories are central to everything we do. For National Storytelling Week we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate authentic stories and calling on publishers and authors to improve the representation of disability in literature. Read on to find out about all our activities so far and what we plan to do next.

Why tell stories?

Great stories have the power to connect us, to raise awareness, to make people feel and act. They’re at the heart of everything we do at Scope and they have a huge role to play in achieving social change. Few people are moved by statistics or facts, but when you hear someone’s personal story it can have a powerful impact.

Stories tell us things we didn’t know before; they show us other ways of living, other experiences, other views on the world. They can also make us feel less alone by showing us people like us and stories like ours – happy ending or not.

Telling authentic stories

At Scope, every story is told by the storyteller themselves – we’re just the ‘caretakers’, if you like. Although we interview people about their experiences, the stories we share are always in first person and completely in the storyteller’s own words. And they always have the final say – we never interview and run! We hope this builds trust and shows just how much we value them.

We work with storytellers to share their stories in lots of different ways. This could be anything from a policy report – using real experiences to bring our influencing to life, at events, in fundraising materials, in films and, very often, on Scope’s blog.

We’re really proud of the way we tell stories at Scope. Putting storytellers in charge means we only ever tell authentic stories. We give people a platform to share their diverse experiences and show a more accurate picture of disability. Often, opportunities for people to share their stories are lacking – disability isn’t a huge focus in the media and when it is, it’s often the negative side that you see. We want to make sure that people can tell the story that they want to tell.

Which brings us on to National Storytelling Week.

Dan, an author holding up his comic book, poses with his daughter Emily who uses a wheelchair
Dan and Emily White – creators of Department of Ability

People want to see better representation of disability in literature

In the stories team we’re privileged to hear about a range of experiences in our day to day work. Unfortunately, for most people, their chance to read stories about disability are limited. If you think back to the books you enjoyed as a child, or even as an adult, you’d be hard pushed to find many featuring a disabled person. As a result, lots of people either don’t know much about disability or they only know the limited (sometimes misleading) view that they’re presented with.

This contributes to poor attitudes and stereotypes which can affect disabled people’s lives in number of ways. Another downside is that disabled people don’t get to read about stories and characters they can relate to.

We ran a Twitter poll which showed that 3 in 4 people want to see more inclusion of disability in literature

So, for National Storytelling Week, we ran lots of activities to campaign for better representation of disability in literature, and celebrated some great work that we want to see more of. 

We ran a comic book workshop with Dan White, creator of Department of Ability. Dan was inspired to create the comic book when his 11-year-old daughter Emily wondered why there were no wheelchair users like her on TV. Dan then set out to create a comic book where Emily would lead a group of superheroes whose impairments, far from holding them back, are actually their superpowers. To watch a film about the comic book workshop, head to our YouTube channel.

Following the workshop, we posted each superhero creation on Facebook and ran  a competition – with the winner getting to see their superhero turned into a guest in the next Department of Ability comic book. Here’s a short film of the winner, Daisy, explaining her superhero design.

We also partnered with the Huffington Post to share a blog each day from different storytellers. Incase you missed some of the content you can catch up here:

“Books Hold A Special Place In My Heart – I Just Wish They’d Have A Place For Me” – Heather’s blog

“The World Needs More Disabled Superheroes” – Dan and Emily’s vlog

“I Don’t Want To Read Books That Treat Disability As A Tragedy” – Anne’s blog

“It’s Immensely Important For Disabled People To See Positive Portrayals Of Themselves In Literature” – Asim’s blog

“Hey JK, Why Wasn’t Harry Potter Disabled?” – Phil’s blog

Following that, we partnered with Books on the Underground to do a ‘book drop’ where we hid 30 copies of Quentin Blake’s ‘The Five of Us’ around accessible tube stations. We had lots of engagement on our social media channels and our campaign was featured on Books on the Underground and on Quentin Blake’s website which was an amazing way to share our message with new audiences.

Our next step is to reach out to publishers and authors to ask them to improve their representation of disability in future books. We will keep you updated once we hear more. – so stay tuned!

To find out more about stories at Scope, head to our Stories Hub and please get involved.

Disabled people and domestic abuse – we need to do better

Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse than non-disabled women, yet support services aren’t always accessible. Disabled people can also face unique challenges in recognising and reporting abuse. It’s an issue that isn’t often spoken about. This needs to change.

With this in mind, domestic abuse charity Safe Lives is doing a ‘spotlight’ throughout October and November, focusing on how professionals can better support disabled people experiencing abuse. They have been posting resources, webinars, blogs and podcasts and they are doing a live Twitter Q&A on Friday 2 December.

We spoke to Carly, an advocate for autism and girls, about why this is so important.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 32 which is a late diagnosis, but autism in girls wasn’t really understood. I have three daughters; two of them are autistic as well, which is how I found out that I was. I was looking up everything I could about autism and girls and thought “I’m autistic too” – I ended up being diagnosed on film!  The consequences of not being diagnosed can be severe, including being in unhealthy relationships.

Recognising and reporting abuse can be harder for disabled people

For us all in society, disabled or not, the very nature of what abuse is can be murky. All too often we see adverts of women with bruises as an image of domestic abuse. Abuse, however, takes many forms. It’s difficult enough to recognise and report abuse for anyone experiencing it, but for disabled people it can be even harder.

The choice for a disabled person to leave their abuser is not an equal choice to those who do not rely on their abuser for their daily care as well. And how can a person with a social and communication condition have the equality of access to leave, when they may not even realise that what they are experiencing is abuse?

A lot of autistic people are vulnerable because of our lack of social imagination which is about understanding “If I do this, what happens next?” – consequences. We’re very often so consumed in our own thoughts that we think other people have the same wants, needs and agendas as we do, which can lead to us being very vulnerable. Another thing is our theory of mind – we imagine that other people have similar thoughts to us. So if you knew you were experiencing abuse, you may not report it because you think that other people already know. Because you know, they must do too. It can lead to an autistic person being very angry and resentful because they think “Why aren’t you helping me?” – it’s because that person doesn’t know. You need to ask us direct questions, basically.

Carly sitting at the UN with a few people in the background
Carly, speaking at the UN about autism and girls

A “one size fits all” approach to domestic abuse doesn’t work

It’s only in recent times that coercive control has become a legal offence. For someone on the autistic spectrum who requires support with their routine, the control of their lifestyle, the control of their access to social events and family and control of their money, this could easily disguise an abusive relationship to an onlooker. Mix this with an autistic person’s fear of dramatic change, delay in emotional processing and the theory of mind differences described above, and you can see how someone may not seek help.

We need our safeguarding explained in a different way and support services need to be more accessible. The stuff that’s out there is really good but some little add ons would help. I’ve had a meeting with the NSPCC about their schools workshops and I’ve created a short online course on safeguarding for people with autism, which is free to do. Hopefully it will help people think differently.

Including disabled people in these important conversations

Safe Lives’ spotlight on this issue is vital. The protection of disabled people from abuse is a multi-layered complex matter that simply is not covered by standard safeguarding projects. The media also all too often leave our unique needs and experiences to one side in the vital adverts  and workshops on abuse – how to recognise it and how to seek help.

I think for many people, disabled adults are either viewed as not having relationships or sex and therefore void from these conversations, or seen as just being able to access the same sexual health and abuse information as everyone else. Of course, in reality, this is not the case. The most vulnerable in society are often the last to be supported. Disabled people aren’t asking for special treatment but we are asking for a fitting reflection of our experiences in society and to be part of the conversation, a seamless inclusion and not an afterthought.

If you have been affected by the content of this blog, you can contact the Samaritans or your local Refuge service for support.

You can find all Safe Lives’ content on their website and take part in the Twitter Q&A on Friday 2 December.

Disabled Survivors Unite is an organisation working to improve access to services for disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence. Visit their website to find out more.

Disabled Artistic Director talks about his work and the importance of inclusion

Robert Softley Gale is an Artistic Director at Glasgow-based theatre company, Birds of Paradise. He’s been acting and working in theatre for 15 years.

For World Theatre Day, he talks about his work and why inclusion is so important.

Getting in to theatre

I was at Glasgow University studying Business Management and I got a phone call from a theatre company in Edinburgh looking to employ disabled actors. At that point I’d never done any performing so I thought there’s no way I’ll get this job. I’d done a bit of amateur theatre but only ever backstage – directing or writing, stuff like that. But I was your typical cocky 21-year-old so I thought I’d give it a go, and I got the job. After that I just kept going.

Creating my own work

The amount of opportunities for disabled actors have come and gone over the years. I felt if I wanted to keep working I had to start creating my own work. I worked with the National Theatre in Scotland on a piece called ‘Girl X’ which did well, and I did a one-man show called ‘If These Spasms Could Speak’ that toured all over the world. When the job at Birds of Paradise came up, I felt ready to go in to making more of my own work and on a bigger scale.

I think there’s much more pressure on disabled artists. If I make something that’s crap, people go “oh he’s disabled, of course it’s crap”, but overall it’s a great challenge.

Making the arts more accessible

There are so many barriers for disabled people to work in the arts. A lot of it is attitudinal. People just don’t think disabled people can do the job. As a disabled actor there will be things you can’t do – but everyone has limitations. Every actor brings what they have to a role.

I worked for the Scottish Arts Council for two years, helping organisations become more accessible. When that role came to an end I set up flip with a colleague, to continue that. When organisations are advertising for roles, for example, where do they advertise? Do they say that they want to employ disabled people? If you don’t say that specifically, a lot of potential disabled employees will presume that the company won’t want them, because that’s been their experience over the years.

It’s also about expanding their networks. A lot of directors in Scotland say “I want to employ disabled actors but I don’t know any”. Well get off your bum and meet some – I can introduce you to about forty! On the whole, organisations want to do better. There’s just a lot of fear around getting it wrong and because of that, some people would rather do nothing.

Why it’s important that the industry is inclusive

I think the visibility of disabled artists is going to change attitudes generally. The fact that there are now disabled characters in soaps is a massive step forward. It normalises disabled people. They’re part of society so they should be part of film, TV, theatre or whatever. Disabled people’s stories haven’t been heard, so by putting us on stage, you’re putting our stories on stage. And that creates more interesting, more dynamic theatre that’s better for everyone.

I imagine a lot of non-disabled people think that if you’re disabled, all you’re ever thinking about is your disability but it’s not the case. It would be so boring if it was! To me, talking about gender or sexuality or politics, any of these things, it’s how we become more human and more real to people. That’s what I try to do with the work I make. Because if non-disabled people can look at us and go “well actually you’re not that different from me”, then we can change their perspective.

Robert’s latest show – Purposeless Movements – has been touring in Scotland.

‘Wendy Hoose’ by Johnny McKnight runs at the Soho Theatre, London from 12 April to 7 May.