Disability Newsroom 3 December 2020
Sarah Reilly & John Coster
The Women’s Research Centre held a virtual Newsroom to mark the International Day of People with Disabilities on 3 December 2020. The IDPwD (originally called the ‘International Day of Disabled Persons’ until 2007) was created by the UN in 1992 to promote a wider understanding of disability, advance the rights of disabled people and address the inequalities they face. It also aims to mobilise the support of wider society to achieve these aims and to enable disabled people to live with dignity. The theme for 2020 was split, with the IDPwD website concentrating on ‘not all disabilities are equal’, whilst UNESCO focused on ‘Building Back Better: towards a disability inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World’. These themes do overlap in many ways, which we highlighted in our interviews with Molly O’Brien, Hannah Webber and Dr Tiffany Webster.
Hannah Webber is the Disability Sport Officer at the University of Nottingham. She has been nominated for the BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) Unsung Hero Award, as well as the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Award. Hannah has been instrumental in developing and widening access for students of all abilities, and promoting wider equality and inclusion in the University’s 45 sports clubs and societies through initiatives such as the Rainbow Lacescampaign. We discussed how sport is not just about fitness, but has wider social and holistic benefits such as building confidence, improving mental health and providing social interaction and support. Hannah spoke about the supported fitness scheme she established at the University, which involves a student being assigned a fitness instructor ‘buddy’ to assist them. This can be tailored to suit the needs of the individual, such as meeting them at the door of the gym as well as helping them to use the equipment. We also had a broader discussion about disability sport, and how Hannah tries to encourage people of all abilities to try new forms of exercise, and not just have a focus on elite sport. The interview concluded with Hannah’s account of how COVID-19 has changed the way the University delivers these support services.
Full interview here
Molly O’Brien works for Deaf-initely Women in Derbyshire, and is passionate about disability rights and related issues. We spoke to Molly about how accessibility issues have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included the exclusion of disabled people, especially those with sensory impairments, from important COVID-19 information; for example, the Westminster daily briefings have had a British Sign Language Interpreter present and shielding letters have not being made available in accessible formats. The inaccessibility of wider society was also discussed, such as infrastructure and housing. We also talked about the depiction of disabled people in the media e.g. disabled characters being played by non-disabled actors, which we will explore further during a planned event later in the year.
Full interview here.
Dr Tiffany Webster
Dr Tiffany Webster is the Service Manager of the Autism Information and Advice service, which covers the county of Derbyshire. They provide a holistic service for individuals living with autism, as well as parents, carers, professionals, friends and relatives who support them. As they are based at Citizens’ Advice Mid Mercia they provide advice on all aspects of a person’s life including housing, neighbours, benefits, finances. They have delivered Autism Awareness Training to 300 people working in relevant organisations in 2020, covering issues such as the Autism Act changes due to come into force this year. We discussed how services and organisations are predominately ‘neuro typical’ and how important it was for service providers to become more autism aware. Key issues include the use of language, auditing facilities and space, and amending policies and procedures. However, it was agreed that the priority should be to respond to what each person with autism wants and requires and to recognise that every person had different needs. We also considered the portrayal of people with autism in popular culture and how there has been a movement towards better understanding and inclusion. Nevertheless, those living with autism are still incorrectly categorised as if they have other more commonly recognised learning difficulties, special educational needs and mental health conditions. We also discussed the importance of preventing a repeat of the shutdown of the respite and care services that people living with autism rely on.
Full interview here.
Throughout the day we acknowledged the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act, which put into law measures to combat the widespread discrimination experienced by disabled people, such as the requirement to make reasonable adjustments by making a building wheelchair accessible so a physically disabled person could visit, work or live there. However, although the DDA has been replaced by more comprehensive laws by the Equality Act 2010, many of the rights that disabled people were fighting for remain elusive. Indeed, in some cases, they have regressed due to the austerity measures introduced by the Coalition and Conservative governments since 2010; these drastically reduced many of the services that disabled people rely on to live independently and with dignity (such as the abolition of the Independent Living Fund and the changes in social welfare including replacing Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments). These are issues we will follow up on in future WRC events as we consider whether inclusion is an illusion– stay tuned!