At the time of posting this, it’s Disability History Month in the UK. It’s not very widely known – and when I talk about it, it gets a lot of questions from people. The main one is something like “it’s quite good for disabled people now though isn’t it?” or expecting disabled people to be able to take part in all everyday activities.
Now I’m no expert in the academic side of Disability History (I really need to brush up on that), but I can tell you that it’s not all hunky dory for disabled people in a lot of ways – so I thought I’d share a few things that society still need to work on to make things equal for disabled people and ultimately why we use months like this to shout about them. Now, it’s important to note I’m speaking as a white wheelchair using woman – so my experiences may differ from other disabled people with different identities.
So here are a few things we need to improve on:
Physical disabled access into and inside buildings
For those who don’t really know disabled people, a lot assume that everything is pretty accessible. I will get comments like “oh everything’s accessible now isn’t it – it’s the law”. Although, yes in the UK in 2010 the Equality Act was brought in to say ‘goods and services’ should be accessible to disabled people – that’s not always the case. There are still many places I can’t access as a wheelchair user. Even if I can access a building, it may be in the back door, behind the bins with a locked door. So it’s not always as glamorous as you think! There are also many other access requirements people have such as interpreters, alternative formats to documents, subtitles and captions to videos. However – it’s very rare that people naturally ask for requirements or just include them as a default. It’s usually often the disabled person that has to ask for these adjustments.
Now, I could write a whole blog on just this – but travelling when you’re disabled is a lot of physical and mental energy. Whether it’s travelling across the globe or to your local shop. There’s definitely an expectation that disabled people should plan well in advance. To book train assistance you need to book at least 24 hrs notice and taxi companies can be very similar. There is often only one disabled space on a UK bus (a nightmare if you’re with a fellow wheelchair using friend!) and the same for trains. Basically as a disabled person, there’s a lot more planning to do. You have to have a plan A,B,C up to G. I’d really love a world where I could just book a taxi, hop on a train for a spontaneous trip – now that sounds dreamy (especially as we’re in lockdown 2.0 right now!).
Disabled representation in the media
There are some pockets of amazing representation out there for disabled people. Actors include Liz Carr, Ruth Madeley, and Cherylee Houston to name a few. There are many disabled artists out there training and auditioning for their dream jobs. However it’s still the case that even when a character is disabled in a film – a non disabled actor is chosen to act the part instead. We don’t just need more representation, we need more disabled people across the arts to be taking part in casting decisions to make sure that representation is there. I truly believe only then will we see positive changes not just in the arts but around the world. Media plays a big part in how we see people, our biases and interactions we have. It’s not just about (although still a big aspect) disabled actors achieving their life goals as every actor wants to.
More disabled role models
Following on from that, it’s not just about people on the TV and the media – it’s everyday role models too. There’s that famous saying “you can’t be what you can’t see” and I truly believe that. We don’t really have many well known disabled leaders (although there a few locally around the UK) but I think in order for disabled children to aspire to become leaders, we have to provide examples of how it’s done. We also have to provide accessible settings in order for disabled people to thrive in their roles.
I think the biggest one for me that affects all of the above is misconceptions of disabled people. I speak regularly about the reactions and comments I get from people everyday as a small wheelchair using woman. It ranges from the funny like “do you sleep in your wheelchair?” to the outrageous such as “it’s nice to see people like you smiling”. It gets tiring sometimes and can really affect your day. It’s why I do my job now of blogging and training people on good communication. I think one thing I’d love more non-disabled people to realise is that every interaction with a disabled person is important. Although you may not get it right all the time, striving to be inclusive in every aspect of what you do – is a great start.
Why we need Disability History Month
These are just a few reasons why we need months like this. It’s to share our experiences, make our voices heard but also to show that it needs all of us (disabled and non disabled) to be able to make valid, long term changes and be an equal part in society. Are there any things you would add to this list?
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