International Day of People with Disabilities

3rd December is International Day of People with Disabilities; to mark this day I have invited the Disabled Colleagues Network at Bristol City Council to write today’s blog.

The Disabled Colleagues Network strives to drive change for disabled people within the council, working with colleagues from all service areas and departments to make Bristol City Council a great place for disabled people to work and feel valued.

International Day of People with Disabilities promotes equality for people with disabilities in all areas of society and brings to attention the benefits that disabled people contribute in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural society. This year’s theme is ‘Not all Disabilities are Visible’, aiming to spread awareness of invisible disabilities as well as the impact that Covid-19 has had on mental health.

This year’s theme highlights that many disabilities are not immediately apparent but can still have an impact on people’s lives, these include but are not limited to mental health problems, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing impairments, HIV, cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, brain injuries, neurological disorders, conditions on the autistic spectrum and learning difficulties.

In this blog we are celebrating our diversity, how we are all differently able and championing the rights to equality under the social model of disability.

Imagine a world where there are no barriers to education, housing, health and social care, buildings and facilities and where flexible policies, practices and procedures are in place for everyone. The social model of disability states that it is society which disables impaired people. If society was set up in a way that was accessible for people with disabilities then they would not be excluded or restricted and there would be no limits to what can be achieved.  

Disabled people are extremely resourceful, great problem solvers, creative thinkers and warriors in their determination to succeed. There are numerous examples of disabled people working doubly hard to overcome the barriers set by society and in their work places to achieve enormous feat’s and make the world a better place. Here are but a few:

  • Marsha de Cordova the Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, continues to expose deep-rooted structural inequalities in our society;
  • Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg states ‘I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower’;
  • Actor Daniel Radcliffe who is most famous for his role as Harry Potter declares “Go boldly and honestly through the world. Learn to love the fact that there is nobody else quite like you.”
  • Michael Phelps, American Swimmer noted “ You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the further you get.”
  • Dr Benjamin Zephaniah a nationally recognised poet and author points out “If someone can’t understand dyslexia it’s their problem. In the same way, if someone oppresses me because of my race I don’t sit down and think, “How can I become white?” It’s not my problem, it’s theirs and they are the ones who have to come to terms with it.”
  • Even the Royal Family live with disabilities, with Prince Harry revealing his struggles with mental health and advocating for more awareness and support for those with mental health problems.

Over a billion people, about 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability and rates of disability are increasing due to population ageing and increases in chronic health conditions, among other causes. Despite disabled people making up a large proportion of the world’s population we still face challenges in education and employment and disabled people are significantly more likely to be victims of crime than non-disabled people.

These structural inequalities in our society have been exposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving many disabled people isolated, disconnected, coping with disrupted routines and diminished services, greatly impacting on their lives and mental wellbeing.

Due to the stigma surrounding disability many people choose not to identify as disabled for fear of discrimination. This creates disproportionate data for disabled people and leaves many without the support they need to live their daily lives. This is why it is important we start a more inclusive conversation about disability to break the silence and realise the endless possibilities for disabled people and their value to society. 

On 21 September 2020 Councillor Asher Craig announced the launching of the Mayor’s Disability Equality Commission. The commission is being established in recognition of the inequalities faced by disabled people in the city, in addition the particularly negative impact Covid 19 pandemic is having on disabled people. It is important that the whole city is involved and that the commission is accessible to all social-demographics. This will feed into the experiences and position of Disabled people in Bristol and develop strategic plans to tackle inequality. The advertisement for the independent Chair of the Commission will be shared through Disabled networks in the city in December 2020. Following the appointment of an Independent Chair, they will then lead on the recruitment of Commissioners. It is hoped the commission will be officially launched by spring 2021, when it will be handed over to a Disability organisation in Bristol who will help to support and co-ordinate the Commissions work.

The Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Communities, Equalities and Public Health committed to taking positive action and that is what the Commission is doing. “You said We did“.

If you are a Disabled person, a Disabled staff network, an organisation of Disabled people or an organisation working on Disabled people’s issues and would like to be included in the consultation process please email mayor@bristol.gov.uk  

To all disabled people across the world we wish you a Happy International Day of People with Disabilities.