Who are disabled people?
Speaking as a lawyer, you might expect me to give you the definition of disability in the Equality Act or the percentage of people in the UK who are classed as disabled. While the definition in the law isn’t perfect, it certainly isn’t the worst I’ve seen.
But I must admit that I find the percentages rather more difficult to work with. I know that as a lawyer I should be good with numbers – but still I can’t picture the 13% or 19% of the UK population who are considered to be disabled, because I am unable to picture a group of 13.3 million disabled people.
What I can picture, however, are the people that I know. I can picture the elderly relatives who no longer want to visit us because with one of them having dementia changing trains is too difficult. I can picture the friend who asked me recently if it was normal to use the meeting room at work to cry. He’s working over sixty hours a week and doesn’t feel he can take a weekend off or even go off sick because that would be letting down his colleagues who would just have to pick up the work he wasn’t doing; not to mention his family. I can picture the dearly loved college friend who always makes time to see me when I’m in London but who I know is often exhausted after a week of navigating work, travel and just life with deteriorating vision (actually I’m more likely to cancel than her because travelling on the London Underground gives me migraines!)
There are bright spots. Going home after an exhausting day and asking Alexa (the Amazon Echo) to turn on the lights, read an audio book and set the alarm for tomorrow morning makes life just that little bit easier for someone with finds it difficult to see. The helpful and well trained railway employee who finds the right platform and takes passengers who need assistance to their booked seats on the train heading in the right direction is worth their weight in gold. A counsellor found through the employer’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) who confirms that working over sixty hours weeks and frequently breaking down into tears over small tasks is not “just part of the job” might just turn things round for a stressed out employee.
So I know a great many disabled people. Most of us probably do. What would make the future even brighter would be building a world that accepts that disabled people are us and not them – the faceless numbers. A world that is as frictionless as possible for us all. Disabled people don’t always describe themselves as such.
They/we just need the world to be a little more inclusive and thoughtful because we might be the disabled people we didn’t know we knew.
Business Disability Forum’s event ‘Looking beyond labels: visible and non-visible disabilities in the workplace and beyond’ will explore the same themes as this blog in detail, and give pointers for managers and HR Professionals on how to identify conditions and differences in their workforces and teams.