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UK Disability History Month
What is UK Disability History Month, and why do we celebrate it?
UK Disability History Month (UKDHM) is an annual event focused on the history of disabled people’s fight for equality and human rights.
This year, UK Disability History Month is running from 16th November until 16th December, and will cover HIV/AIDS Day (1st December), International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3rd December) and International Human Rights Day (10th December). It also follows on directly from Anti-Bullying Week (14th to 18th November), which is important because young people identifying as disabled are recorded to have experienced 2.5 times the amount of bullying than non-disabled young people, with 70-80% of young disabled people stating they were/have been bullied in school and college.
In the UK, 1 in 5 people have a disability, 83 per cent of which are acquired during working life. The Covid Pandemic demonstrated just how fragile the Rights disabled people across the UK and around the world have, and how easily they can become expendable. Because of the obsession with a medical model approach to disability, the barriers that compromise the health of disabled people, now and in the past, are not identified and acted upon. They are often held responsible for their conditions rather than being provided with the support and health care they need.
UKDHM examines the history surrounding the years of austerity aimed at disabled people, and provides examples of how the denial of basic human rights can, and will be reversed. You can rewatch the online launch event here.
The theme for 2022 is: Disability, Health and Well Being
The NHS have created the infographic below, which provides an explanation of what a disability is, some of the associated health conditions and key statistics. It also includes a list of actions for organisations and managers, which can help address some of the barriers that disabled staff may experience in the workplace.
Disability Rights UK have also culminated many factsheets and guides which provide basic information about benefits, tax credits, social care and other disability related issues for claimants and advisers. You can find these here.
Disabilities within the arts
The arts are able to inspire people of all ages, from all walks of life. Through the arts, disabled people can acquire the freedom to express themselves, develop confidence, and gain communication & social interaction skills.
This is where you come in!
Here, Ruth Gould (DaDaFest) talks about Disability Arts – as a genre, how it challenges systemic barriers, and six actions organisations can take to lead to change. There are many opportunities to make positive change and remove the numerous barriers to participation in the arts, and some easy changes you can make as you develop as an artist are:
- Only use accessible venues
- Book support such as British Sign Language interpreters, trained and qualified audio describers, lip speakers and personal assistants
- Programme and commission disabled people
- Provide budgets with added access costs and employ staff knowledgeable about technical support
- Encourage more positive representation of disabled people and disability issues within mainstream media and popular culture.
- Actively prevent disability being represented from a non-disability point of view, which will continue to perpetuate the myths and stereotypes of the disabled experience.
Below are links to some charities and companies that focus on disability and the arts. Why not get involved with one of them for your next venture?
- Birds of Paradise Theatre Company – Creating theatre with diverse companies that embodies the principles of Creative Access; making shows that are popular, in demand and that receive critical acclaim; being decisive, fast and forthright in responding to opportunities to develop new work.
- Bloomin’ Arts – Providing performance arts opportunities for adults with learning disabilities.
- British Paraorchestra – A professional orchestra made up of musicians over the age of 16, living in the UK and having a disability.
- DAISY Arts – A membership organisation which promotes the work and inclusion of disabled artists in Surrey.
- Epic Arts – A disability arts charity founded in 2001.
- Graeae – Graeae is a force for change in world-class theatre, breaking down barriers, challenging preconceptions, championing diversity across the sector and boldly placing Deaf and disabled artists centre stage.
- International Youth Arts Festival (IYAF) – An inclusive arts festival that celebrates the talents of young people.
- Liquid Vibrations – Provides musical hydrotherapy training for carers and special schools staff for the well being of children and adults with special needs.
- NOYO – The National Open Youth Orchestra (NOYO) is a world first, an ambitious orchestra launched in September 2018 to give some of the UK’s most talented young disabled musicians a progression route. It promotes musical excellence, supporting 11-25 year-old disabled and non-disabled musicians to rehearse and perform together as members of a pioneering inclusive ensemble.
- Stagesight – Stage Sight’s vision is to create an off stage workforce that is more reflective of our society today, inclusive of ethnicity, class and disability.
- Stopgap Dance Company – Creates high standard dance productions. They also employ disabled and non-disabled artists who find innovative ways to collaborate.
- The Freewheelers Theatre Company – Based in Leatherhead, Surrey, brings disabled and non-disabled actors & supporters, production teams and the local community together.
- Unlimited – Unlimited shall commission extraordinary work from disabled artists until the whole of the cultural sector does. This work will change and challenge the world.
Research into disability and the arts has demonstrated the positive connection between the two. Two particularly relevant articles are below:
- The Tate have a dedicated space for Disability and Art. It gives an opportunity to explore how artists have portrayed the range of human ability through their art. It includes audio description films, videos, articles, profiles on artists who have/had disabilities and artwork.
- The Shape Open – An annual exhibition of artwork by disabled and non-disabled artists created in response to a disability-centred theme.
- Not Going Anywhere – an online disability arts exhibition giving prominence to artists from Yorkshire
- Disability Arts International – This is a list of professional Deaf and disabled artists, or disabled-led companies, from across the world who are actively seeking international partners and opportunities. Each artist or company currently has work ready to tour or for exhibition.
- Bad Blood – BBC Radio 4 series on the history the eugenics movement.
Eugenics: Science’s Greatest Scandal – Angela Saini and Adam Pearson explore the origins and legacy of eugenics in Britain.
- The Accessible Stall – Casual conversations and friendly arguments about both light and heavy everyday disability topics, with two good disabled friends who often have different takes on disability issues.
- The Disability Visibility Project – In-depth interviews and discussions with disability community leaders and creators, on disability identity, culture, activism and politics, with an emphasis on intersections of disability and race, gender, sexuality, and other marginalised identities.
- Barrier Free Futures Podcast – Interviews with disability activists and other disabled people in the disability community, on current disability issues, history and experiences.
- Down to the Struts – A look at accessible design, both physical and cultural, from a wide variety of angles and voices.
- Power Not Pity – Exploring the full range of disability experience, particularly through the stories and work of disabled people of colour.
- Included: The Disability Equity Podcast – Discussions and interviews aimed at fighting ableist stereotypes and more fully understanding trends in disability issues and policy.
- Disability After Dark – Frank discussions about sex, sexuality, relationships, and other aspects of the disability experience. Note: contains explicit language.
- Ouch! … The cabin fever podcast – The BBC’s “Ouch!” Podcast covers a wide range of disability issues, often more than one topic in each episode. Its scope is global, but with a focus on the United Kingdom.
- Two Disabled Dudes – An authentic and humorous podcast from Sean and Kyle, who are both affected by a rare disease called Friedreich’s ataxia (FA). FA affects their balance and coordination, significantly limiting their physical abilities. The podcast shares their disability experience and how they live beyond their circumstances.
- Undressing disability – Breaking down the taboos around sex and disability, this podcast from Enhance the UK is here for people who want to learn access to sexual health, disabled parenting or even dating with a disability.
- Abnormally Funny People – Are you looking for a laugh? Abnormally Funny People’s monthly podcast will be just what you need, from a mixed group of disabled and non-disabled comedians. They provide their take on life and disability through comedy.
- The Disability Download – From Leonard Cheshire, their regular podcasts cover all areas from campaigning for disability inclusion to the disability employment gaps and so much more.
The Irwin Mitchell Podcast – The podcast is a frank discussion between a panel of guests – ranging from people living with disabilities, to campaigners and experts.
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution – This Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary was produced by the Obamas. Camp Jened was a summer camp in New York in the ’70s that was described as a “loose, free-spirited camp designed for teens with disabilities”. For the teenagers, it was a place where they could really be themselves, away from the pressures of an ableist society. Beyond looking at the camp itself, the documentary shows the influence the camp had on people. Many of the attendees went on to become activists in the disability rights movement.
The Peanut Butter Falcon – This film has big Hollywood names like Dakota Johnson, but the standout performance is from Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome. The film came about when he met filmmakers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz and told them he wanted to become a film star. He plays Zak, who escapes from a state-run care facility to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler and changes the lives of Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) and Eleanor (Johnson) along the way. In 2020 Zack was the first person with Down syndrome to be a presenter at the Academy Awards.
Rising Phoenix – This follows nine Paralympians in the run-up to the Paralympics in Rio in 2016 and stars Tatyana McFadden, Bebe Vio and Jonnie Peacock. The documentary shows the history of the Paralympic Games as well as the frustration felt by athletes and organisers that it is still viewed as lesser than the Olympic Games.
A Quiet Place – In this clever horror film, blind creatures with hypersensitive hearing are on the attack and hunt out their prey via noise. The Abbott family communicate using American Sign Language, which they know because teenage daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf. Whilst this film is not about disability in itself, it is a great example of the advantages of hiring a disabled actor (Simmonds is deaf in real life) instead of a non-disabled actor pretending to be deaf. Director John Krasinski (who also plays Regan’s father, Lee Abbott) has said that Simmonds’ input was crucial to the making of the film.
Sex Education – This ground-breaking show is like the sex education class that you wish you had in school. Again, not a show specifically about disability, but it does feature one of the most well-rounded and thought-through disabled characters that has been seen in TV. Wheelchair user Isaac (George Robinson) was introduced in season two as a potential love interest for Maeve (Emma Mackey). The show acknowledges Isaac’s use of a wheelchair and the potential differences it may bring to a relationship, without making it his whole personality or purpose. It’s also just a really good show that covers so many ‘taboo’ topics!
Special – Ryan O’Connell is an extremely talented guy. He writes, stars in and produces this semi-autobiographical show based on his memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves. Ryan has cerebral palsy and is super comfortable about being gay but not super comfortable with being disabled. Ryan has said that getting the show made was a struggle because having a gay, disabled lead is not the norm. It’s a good thing he persevered because Special is, well, a really special show.
- Atypical – Atypical follows Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist) who is on the autistic spectrum and on a mission to get a girlfriend following the advice of his therapist. The show drew criticism after its first series for its lack of autistic actors and what people thought of as inaccuracies in its depiction of autism. The show listened to this criticism, and the second series featured autistic actors and writers who shared their experiences to make the show feel more authentic.
- My Name is Gennet – A narrative film based on the real life story of Gennet Corcuera. While traveling in Ethiopia, Carmen Corcuera decides to adopt Gennet, a seven year old child who is blind and deaf. The pair move back to Spain, where Gennet goes on to become the first deaf-blind woman to hold a university degree in Europe. Gennet Corcuera continues to specialise in the care of deaf-blind people all over the world and plays herself in the film.
- Vision Portraits – This documentary follows the creative process of blind and visually impaired artists, including a photographer, dancer, writer, and the film’s director, Rodney Evans. Exploring varying degrees of vision loss, Vision Portraits utilises archival footage and interviews to create an inspiring meditation on creativity.
- Unrest – While working on her PhD at Harvard, Jennifer Brea is suddenly struck by an illness that leaves her bedridden. Overlooked by medical professionals, Brea begins to document her experience and finds a community of people that are also affected by similar symptoms. This personal documentary focuses on how Brea’s illness has changed the way she sees the world and the importance of advocacy for a stigmatised illness.
- Imperfect (not currently streaming, but one to keep an eye out for!) – Imperfect follows a troupe of actors with a range of disabilities as they prepare for their version of the musical, Chicago. Chronicling the experiences of people with Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, autism, impaired vision, and multiple sclerosis, Imperfect challenges our notions of the actors we see on screen and stage, and encourages all viewers to let go of their inhibitions.
What can I do to support people with disabilities?
At work and in the community, the self-esteem, performance and job satisfaction of people with disabilities are profoundly impacted by the attitudes of co-workers and peers. Negative attitudes in the workplace or in social circles are often the greatest barriers to inclusion and career advancement for people with disabilities, even in an environment with a strong commitment to these policies.
Employing people with different abilities has many benefits that aren’t commonly known. For example, in a Forbes survey 56% of companies with more than $10 million in annual revenues strongly agree that diversity in your workforce drives innovation. Collaboration leads to success.
Disabled or not, everyone has both the power and the responsibility to make society more inclusive for everybody.
In order to truly understand diversity and embody inclusivity, we need to learn how to turn good intentions into proactive behaviors. Here are some ideas to help you behave inclusively toward people with disabilities:
1. Don’t Assume What Is or Isn’t Possible
Disabilities affect all different types of people. So, although those with disabilities may share some similar experiences or challenges, they represent a highly diverse group of individuals. They may come from different cultural, educational, or socioeconomic backgrounds, and they may live with a physical, cognitive, or other type of disability that has varying effects on their daily life. And, of course, a person’s disability may not necessarily be obvious to the outside observer.
All of that in mind, it’s often inaccurate—and offensive—to presume what someone’s capabilities are. For example, someone who has hearing loss may be perfectly adept at reading lips, so it may come across as condescending to speak very loudly or make broad gesticulations when speaking to them.
2. Use Appropriate Language
Part of the reason that people with disabilities face stigma is that many terms to describe them are demeaning or dehumanising. Using more inclusive language can help combat this stigma and make people with disabilities feel respected and valued.
Instead of using common descriptors, it’s often best to simply refer to someone’s disability for what it is. If someone wears a trach collar, call it a trach collar. If they have cerebral palsy, call it cerebral palsy.
Another problem is that language surrounding people with disabilities often focuses on the disability, rather than the person. A disability may be part of a person’s identity, but it’s not who they are entirely. Instead of describing someone as “wheelchair-bound,” you could simply say that they “use a wheelchair.”
3. Get Creative!
It’s pretty standard for employers to offer “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities, but what that entails may be highly variable depending upon the person and the position they fulfil.
Start with the job posting. Ask yourself what skills, behaviours or abilities are really necessary for the position, versus those with which you can dispense. Consider, for example, whether you can create opportunities for flexible hours or online work. It’s also a good idea to make sure that portals for online applications, as well as office computers and programs, are accessible for disabled users. For instance, you can make a point of ordering larger monitors for desktop computers so they are more accessible to those with partial sight.
4. Equal Opportunity Goes Beyond Hiring
Unfortunately, it’s more common for people with disabilities to get overlooked for promotions. Of course, this has negative repercussions for everyone because it makes people with disabilities feel less valued and included, which often also lowers engagement and productivity.
Make sure that people with disabilities are equitably promoted and given opportunities for growth. Reduce bias as much as possible by conferring with colleagues of diverse backgrounds and evaluating your reasoning for making decisions. In addition to cultivating diversity in leadership roles, this is a way to help spark motivation and create a model of inclusion for others.
5. Seek Input From People With Disabilities
It seems obvious, but it’s worth pointing out: The best way to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities, is to ask people with disabilities. Foster an environment of inclusivity by asking employees with disabilities how they would like their disability to be addressed (if at all), what accommodations or support they might need (if any), in addition to how well they feel the organisation promotes accessibility and inclusion.
When it comes to inclusion, implementation of policies is arguably more important than the policies themselves. It’s important to recognise the value of inclusion, yes. But without adopting inclusive behaviours and ensuring that people at all levels of an organisation are doing the same, it’s impossible to truly engage employees and therefore reap the benefits of diverse work teams.
Of course, in order to adopt these behaviours, we have to be willing to accept that our biases play a role in our perceptions and relationships. Remind yourself to take small steps every day, so you can begin to challenge these biases and reform any unhelpful habits.
From lived experiences to listening to the disability community, One Young World has come up with a 10 step process (similar to the above, but on a wider scale), we can support to make our world more accepting and inclusive of people with disabilities.
1. View the disability community as a valuable consumer
It’s still progressive to see the disability community as a targeted audience and consumer. Despite being the biggest minority population in the world, they are the most under represented when it comes to marketing products. Part of this stems from the fact that there is huge diversity within the disability community, however, those consumer segments (and their families) still have significant purchasing power. Models with disabilities are slowly being incorporated into fashion and marketing commercials, but this needs to become the norm, and not seen as future-forward thinking.
2. Employ people with disabilities – They are ambitious and want to work
According to NPR, “fewer than 1 in 5 disabled adults are employed.” CNN Money also stated that, “disabled workers earn about $9,000 less a year than non-disabled workers, according to Census data on median earnings. That gap was under $6,000 in the early 1990s.” The disability community is still discriminated against at work from being refused a job or denied a final interview. But when it comes down to it, employers need to see a person, including their disability, as an asset and not a potential liability.
3. Increase disability representation in political settings
Can you think of any politicians or government officials who live with a disability? If you look hard enough, you will begin to see the variety of disabilities many who work inside a political office live with. However, are we encouraging younger generations with disabilities to become politically involved? How many local to national political campaigns incorporate the disability voice?
People with disabilities still encounter architectural, attitudinal and technological barriers when exercising their right to vote, including, no automatic door openers, an absence of Sign Language interpreters, no Braille signs or ramps; narrow doorways and inaccessible voting booths. In addition, voter competency for people with intellectual disabilities has been challenged, and some people were turned away. This is not okay.
4. Integrate disability history in school curriculums
How can a person with a disability acknowledge and identify with their history if it’s not widely taught? And how can the community be embraced if their civic background is never taught? Disability history needs to be integrated within our school system for the community to be fully acknowledged. Whether this is at primary, secondary, or university level; push for your school to talk about disabilities and teach students about the history of disabilities.
5. Promote social inclusion in schools
Our overall cultural consciousness on how we treat and interact with disability needs to change. We need to celebrate our peers for their differences. If this is taught at a young age, less discrimination and more social inclusion will occur. Having kids with and without disabilities learning side-by-side helps everybody appreciate the talents and gifts all kids bring with them. As a society, we have the responsibility to promote the inclusion of our differences.
6. Employ more actors with disabilities in mainstream media
We need to see more actors with disabilities playing actual character roles of people who have disabilities. No more able-bodied actors playing a person with a disability when an actor living with a disability can be easily hired.
How could an able-bodied actor play a character with a disability better than a person living under those circumstances? Furthermore, the media needs to do a better job at accepting disability as a human condition, instead of a flaw and imperfection.
7. Provide university scholarships to people with disabilities
People with disabilities should be awarded places and scholarships based on their abilities by their chosen school, to help with additional support they may require. They should not however, be used as advertisement of the institution, but rather acknowledged as a hardworking person who brings valuable contribution to the course.
8. Campaign to make air travel universally accessible
Many people with disabilities are active business people with vibrant careers who are respected in their various fields. That is, until they get to the airport and become dependent on the Special Services Request or cannot use the washroom once in the air. The level of disrespect and invisibility a traveler with a disability endures can be astounding and frustrating. Many people with disabilities have to forgo traveling for long flights because they do not have access to a bathroom.
9. Acknowledge that police brutality occurs on people with disabilities
Did you know that there is still no substantial data pertaining to police brutality and people with disabilities? Isn’t it shocking that it’s never been recorded? According to the Hill, “there are no reliable figures on just how many people with disabilities were involved in altercations with police.” Although some law enforcement agencies have acknowledged that more disability training needs to occur, each case is different due to the variety of disabilities. As a society, we should feel ashamed that these statistics aren’t being tracked, and more importantly, we have to ask ourselves why we don’t see this as a major issue.
10. Realize that People with Disabilities are Humans too
It’s interesting how we can see a person in one dimension and forget that they are a human being, intricate with multiple angles. When we see a person outside of their element, we tend to forget that their life is a culmination of different sides and not just how we see them in an isolated environment.
Sometimes people can forget that a person with a disability is first and foremost a human being with desires, talents, skills, heartache and loss, just like everyone else. At the basis of every person are the similarities we all share for being human, and that includes people with disabilities.
We need to become the voices that challenge. If you never raise your voice, then nothing will occur and no change will happen. Raise your voice so we can see a fully inclusive society and celebrate each other for who we truly are – talented and incredible human beings.
Below are some online resources for support with various disabilities. You can also contact the School’s Learning Support Senior Adviser, Maggie Loxton, for specific support related to your studies at Guildhall.
- Diversity and ability – Useful for overviews on support e.g. DSA & Access to Work.
- British Dyslexia Association – More for SpLD support/info (rather than medical conditions, etc)
- Bectu – ‘Union for creative ambition’, so support when working, which might be useful to students in final year
- Disability Rights UK – Really good information and in depth help sheets, explaining anything from DSA and social support, to Equality Act and advocacy.
- Exceptional Individuals – Employment support, so a lot to do with CVs/interviews, and how to access support in the workplace. They also hold events on various topics surrounding neurodiversity.