One of Britain’s most influential disabled people shares his top tips and top issues.
Q: If a disabled person feels that they are being discriminated against, or ignored, unheard, or has fears about the future post-Brexit under the current government, what can they do?
Use their voice and express their opinion; don’t be afraid to engage for example local media in sharing your concerns. A friend of mine said that ‘if you’re not familiar with your rights, get familiar with them!’ I’m a great believer in ‘shared value partnerships’ underpinned by an authentic collaborative spirit – this means that working together is (for me) where it’s at ie. working with those in power, in positions of influence and responsibility. As someone with a disability and a voice (as a professional speaker), I take the responsibility of being a role-model very seriously especially when speaking with young people about how they see today’s world and how for example they process difference. My disability has become a passport in enabling me to influence attitudes and drive change; whatever happens in the post-Brexit environment, if you feel strongly enough about for example the impact on disability rights, use your voice, use your right to express your views and seek to be heard.
Q: What advice would you give to a young or young at heart disabled person who wants to get involved in disability rights for the first time?
Firstly, have some clearly defined goals; write them down, make sure they’re visible on your devices, speak them out loud, anchor them in your daily routine! Post-it notes on fridges, mirrors, wardrobes etc are great reminders! Secondly, don’t be afraid to talk about your disABILITY – I tend to apply the 80:20 rule, meaning finding a balance or switching from perhaps an educative message around for example muscular dystrophy to focusing on aspirations, opportunities, talents, skills and what someone can do. Earlier this week, I gave a couple of talks to four different year groups at a school in Hertfordshire and I shared with them my five guiding principles of self-belief, preparation, focus, personal accountability and authenticity (in other words showing people who you are). I cannot emphasise how important the platform that communication offers when starting the process of campaigning – observe how others communicate, watch, listen and then listen some more before responding; the recent TV presidential debates across the pond are an ‘interesting’ example of this … or maybe not!
Q: If there were one policy area that stuck out to you as needing reform most urgently, one change you could make right now; what would you change and why?
A tricky question! I’m pleased to see there’s more of an appetite to try and improve wheelchair services provided by the NHS. Sadly, the best efforts from wheelchair services and also from clinicians sometimes falls terribly short, something I’m aware of through the work of my charity The Muscle Help Foundation and the conversations we have with our beneficiary families. The Wheelchair Leadership Alliance (formed in January 2015) was set up to campaign on this subject; it’s ambitious aim is to ‘transform the quality and effectiveness of services across England’ – time will tell just how effective the ‘Right Chair, Right Time, Right Now’ campaign will be. I do wonder how many wheelchair users are aware of the new ‘Wheelchair Charter’ and its 10 principles? One other policy that stands out is Access to Work – depending on individual circumstances and whilst it’s enabling and practically supportive, I think more could be done in promoting its existence; you would be surprised how many professional working adults I know with a disability who have never heard of it.
CEO of The Muscle Help Foundation