Disability History Month — Can We Do More?

2020 marks 25 years since legislation was implemented to prevent disabled people being discriminated against. This is known as the Disability Discrimination Act — this change came after thousands of people took to the streets to protest. The legislation was later reformed into the Equality Act in 2010, this provides a framework to promote equity for people with disabilities. Since then, society has become more inclusive for disabled people but how far have we to go?

Representation is key and we should continue to push the argument of representation, however we must be careful that representation does not become a disabled person’s worth. We are so much more than that. People with disabilities should be employed and promoted on the basis of deserving the job. The opportunities provided to an able-bodied person should be exactly the same to a person with a disability, regardless of the challenges and barriers of their disability. Employers and businesses should provide equal opportunities for disabled people, it is apparent that this is not happening. An example of this, is The FA’s Football Leadership Diversity Code, agreed with nineteen out of twenty Premier League clubs. The code is there to widen the representation and opportunity of minorities, there is no mention of disability. Furthermore, Sia the artist has announced this month her film ‘Music’, the main character is autistic but is played by non-disabled actor Maddie Ziegler. Does this promote equal opportunity for people who are disabled? In today’s society, where inclusion is portrayed at the forefront, disabled opportunities continue to be left behind.

The Equality Act states “harmonising the thresholds for the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people”, this was enacted to prevent disabled people being discriminated against when applying to employment. “Duty” can be defined as a responsibility, in this circumstance businesses are obligated “to make reasonable adjustments”. Businesses are not doing this, it can be argued that this is because there is an absence of people with disabilities at an executive level — how can meaningful change occur, when it is not happening at the highest level. Inclusive Boards enquired over 1000 leaders, only 11% stated they would not be “apprehensive” about employing a disabled person at a senior level. 45% of business leaders felt their office might not be accessible for people with disabilities, shouldn’t they make it accessible? Many businesses hold the view that it is too costly and too much work to make their employment accessible for disabled people, COVID-19 has dismantled that argument. Since March, companies and businesses were forced to adapt in order to continue functionality. The pandemic constrained employees to work from home — this has shown that it is possible to adapt and give equal opportunity to people with disabilities; there are too many non-disabled individuals making decisions for disabled people. There are no excuses.

Disability is not discussed enough, people find it awkward to talk about disabilities and are afraid to ask questions. It should not be like this, to normalise — we must discuss. When issues are raised in mainstream media, it reaches a wider audience — we saw this with the Black Lives Matter movement. According to statistics provided by Scope , there are 13.9 million people in the UK who are disabled. Disabled people are over twice as likely to be unemployed and 1 in 3 disabled people believe there are still disability preconceptions. Change requires discussion and a collective pledge to increase inclusion for people with disabilities.

An example of an initiative striving to create change amongst issues surrounding disability is The Valuable 500, a campaign which is “putting disability on the business leadership agenda”. It was launched by Founder Caroline Casey in January 2019 at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. Their aim is to get “500 national and multinational, private sector corporations” to sign their pledges by January 2020.

With 359 CEO’s signatures, Campaigns Manager Carys Miller said “it’s around £4.5 trillion in combined revenue every year, over 12 million employees, 56 sectors and 31 countries; so really when you look at it like that — it’s like this campaign is taking over the world.”

Carys admitted that it was not easy when they first launched, she says, “we’ve built traction now and the thing with businesses is that they often want to do what other businesses are doing. The fact that we have so many on board really helps, because it’s strength in numbers at the end of the day — that’s why we wanted to build a community, so that it was easier for CEO’s to say that they would do this because others were doing the same thing.” Carys added further “having said that there are lots of leaders out there who already think this is important and who were really keen to get on board.” Some of the 359 businesses committed to the initiative are Microsoft, Bloomberg, Sky, Virgin Media, Fujitsu and BBC.

Carys stated “There is a disability inequality crisis in the world at the moment, there’s 1.3 billion people around the world with a disability of some kind and while 90% of companies say they’re inclusive, only 4% of those companies actually make offerings inclusive to people with disabilities… that is the problem we’re trying to solve.”

Society has come a long way since protesters took to the streets to increase equality for people with disabilities, there is no doubt attitudes towards disabled people has improved since the Disability Discrimination Act. However, it is clear that discussion in media, business and the general public desperately needs to be addressed because diversity without inclusion for disability, is not diversity.