By Nora Latapi-Dean (she/her), Regional Diversity, Inclusion & Participation Manager at NHS England Southwest
Over the last 14 years, UK Disability History Month has been celebrating the lives of disabled people whilst simultaneously challenging disablism and oppression. Unfortunately, across the globe, the Covid pandemic has demonstrated just how fragile the rights disabled people have secured for themselves are; as such, these precarious times have illustrated how easily disabled individuals can become an afterthought, and/or even seen as expendable. So, whilst inclusion has no timeframe or limit, this period provides us with an explicit opportunity to expand our understanding of disabled people’s realities and what we can do to stop the discrimination and dehumanisation they currently face every day – we all have a responsibility to be self-aware, constantly check our unconscious biases, and actively challenge those preconceptions.
We are (or will be!) ‘the disabled population’
Currently, disabled people make up 22% of the UK’s general population: that is 1 in 5 of us. Yet research shows that nearly half of disabled people, and 87% of parents of disabled children, frequently feel judged by members of the public.
Despite making up such a large proportion of the population, disabled people and their needs are often neglected by society. Figures show they experience poorer health outcomes, have less access to work, travel and education opportunities and have a higher likelihood of struggling with poverty. Disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed, whilst 1 in 3 of us admit to seeing disabled people as less productive (and therefore less employable) than non-disabled people.
However, what many of us don’t realise is that, at some point in our lives, most of us will become disabled, whether temporarily or permanently. So, it’s time to shift our perspective and realise that disability is a direct result of the interaction between individuals with health conditions and non-inclusive environmental factors, such as lack of social support, negative attitudes, inaccessible public transport and buildings, etc. In other words, people are being disabled by the way society has designed our environments, not only by health conditions themselves. But if society created this inequality, there is hope it can be resolved.
What does disability look like?
It is important to remember that disabilities do not define a whole person and that not all disabled people look the same. For some of us, it may be challenging to shake the idea of ‘disabled’ just meaning wheelchair user – especially when the universal symbol for disability has been a blue circle with an outline of a person in a wheelchair for as long as most of us can remember. However, if you’re reading this, I hope this text and time serve as a reminder and nudge to challenge that incorrect societal stereotype.
Disabilities come in all shapes and forms. Some are visible, some are not. Some are permanent, some are not. Some are physical, some are related to mental health. Someone may have more than one disability, where one is visible and the other invisible, or their disability may fluctuate and be visible on some days but not others. Regardless of the type of disability, every single person has an equal right to thrive and we as the NHS (and human beings) have a responsibility to make sure that happens.
What can I do?
From an organisational point of view, research consistently shows us that a work culture that encourages staff to bring their whole selves to work is mutually beneficial to both the individual and the organisation. When people feel safe enough to bring their whole selves to work, they are more likely to have improved psychological well-being, which leads to better performance. Likewise, promoting people to bring their whole selves to work and celebrating differences leads to business innovation and diverse strategies and solutions. In fact, you may even find that disabled colleagues are so used to problem-solving and thinking outside the box to manage their condition and handle the problems society throws at them, that they are some of the most innovative individuals among us!
So, I hope you not only take this opportunity to reflect but also to learn, to ask questions, and to dare to have those uncomfortable conversations. It’s time to get serious about inclusion. Let’s celebrate our disabled colleagues, patients, neighbours, family, and friends. Let’s normalise talking about disability and how we can help each other thrive. Let’s shift our perspective from prejudice to celebration and appreciation.
Here are some resources to get you started on your learning journey:
- “But I didn’t mean to!” – The Royal Society – Understanding Unconscious Bias presents a short video to help “Understand self-awareness and awareness of differences in how candidates may present themselves, how to recognise bias in yourself and others, how to recognise inappropriate advocacy or unreasoned judgement”
- NHS GP Hanna Barham-Brown TEDx Talk- Disability and Work: Let’s Stop Wasting Talent – “Disability is still a barrier to employment for millions of people – but it doesn’t have to be this way. Drawing on her own experience in the medical profession, NHS GP Hannah Barham-Brown argues that people with disabilities are an asset more employers need to harness.”
- Five Awkward Things to Avoid Doing When You Meet a Disabled Person – End the Awkward and Warwick Davis Introduces Awkward Disability Stories – #EndTheAwkward – Scope– End the Awkward is a campaign by disability charity Scope, aiming to encourage us to find a way to get talking about disability and to break down some of the barriers that exist between disabled people and the general public.“
- Scope – Disability Facts and Figures – current statistics on the UK Population.
- Information on UK Disability History Month – UK Disability History Month 2021 – Joint themes in 2021 are: Disability and Hidden Impairments & Disability, Sex and Relationships
Thank you for reading!
The South West NHS Leadership Academy strives to empower under-represented communities and we are committed to creating a learning and working environment which is inclusive of all our participants. We aim to eliminate any disadvantage based on age, disability, marriage, civil partnership, race, culture, religion or belief, lack of religion or belief, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, maternity or any other minority characteristics. We also welcome any general comments on the inclusivity of our events. We will work with you to address your concerns in a respectful, dignified manner. If you have any questions or comments please get in touch.