Lee Adams is an activist and author of the blog, Touching Elephants.
Campaigns have the power to change the thoughts and feelings of individuals and nations alike but the subject of disability within them is, through no fault of its own, becoming a barrier to itself. My own personal challenge with disability is not unique but finding myself behind the barriers of disability is. There has been some fantastic work done to highlight the challenges of disability and more importantly the stigma that disabled people face, but there is much more to be done. Disability is becoming a buzzword without any real understanding attached to it and, in my experience, it is left to social media to provide a better understanding of it and a space in which individuals are considered, understood and valued.
Perceptions of disability
Personally, I have really enjoyed the media coverage surrounding mental health and disability, but its objective is not demonstrated in everyday life. We use many terms and words associated with disability and partially due to the 2012 London Paralympics, we have seen a major shift in how society acknowledges disability and in particular mental health. I have started to see debates about depression and illness, about the term disability and about who is considered disabled. It has stopped being about the individual which for disabled people, charities, organisations and campaigns has become a huge barrier towards eradicating the stigma that such interpretation causes. Discussions on disability shouldn’t be focused on what we can’t do, but on what we can do as individuals. Campaigns that achieve this will ensure disabled people have a voice and deserved sense of belonging in society.
‘Live Aid’ for disability
We need to think carefully about our perception of disability and the words we use to describe it. The more we negate a true understanding of disability, the more challenges charities will face in their quest to reduce the stigma surrounding it. I remember watching ‘Live Aid’as a teenager. Looking back, we couldn’t have envisaged the longevity and success that such a campaign has had in increasing our awareness of the challenges and suffering that third world countries face. It is somewhat confusing then, that we are not able to apply this shift in attitudes towards other areas of society and in particular, towards disability. Stigma is a barrier that comes from a lack of understanding and is arguably more debilitating than disability itself. It isolates people and creates an unrealistic society with no appreciation for individuals.
Disability in the media
Areas of the media sometimes create or add to this stigma. We often find ourselves watching a programme featuring topics that rely on an impactful headline without giving any real substance to the story. This leaves the audience to come to their own conclusions and may lead to a misguided view of a very serious problem. Even with the availability of communication outlets such as TV, radio, written media and social media, campaigns and organisations still face a huge battle to communicate the awareness and acceptance of disability. The term disability should not be a buzz word; it is a term that represents a part of society. All it takes is some knowledge and understanding to remove these huge barriers and to make progress. Let’s embrace the motivation of campaigns and allow individuals to enjoy their lives without judgement or stigma.
Have a great campaign and above all have some fun!
Right now, we’re creating plans for an ambitious new campaign. It’s a game-changing long-term campaign that aims to influence the next government, raise living standards for disabled people in Britain and change attitudes. We need you to help us shape it.