Today, 3rd December (2018), is the International Day of Disabled People. In 1981 the United Nations proclaimed today as a day of recognition and celebration of the achievements of disabled people across the world.
According the the UN (2018), the International Day of Disabled People ‘aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life’.
Here at Living Life to the Fullest, we fully support the idea of celebrating the contributions of disabled people – one of the key aims of our project is to explore and mark the contributions children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening impairments make to their families, schools, and communities, as well as the multiple other areas of their lives that are important and meaningful to them.
This year, the #PurpleLightUp movement has grown with verve. The campaign, a disabled employee led movement created by the organisation PurpleSpace to re-balance the narrative around disability, deficit and work, is a global celebration of the economic contributions of disabled people. Channel 4 is a big supporter of #PurpleLightUp, marking the International Day of Disabled People by launching a global #PurpleLightUp campaign across its network. Channel 4 will broadcast a range of initiatives that celebrate economic contributions made by disabled people, which is in line with the the International Day of Disabled People’s theme of inclusivity.
The first film, which was broadcast on Channel 4 on November 30, was funded by eight major organisations: BT, HSBC, Lloyds, Nationwide, Lloyd’s of London, Reed Smith, Scope and Virgin Media.
While it might be worth critically questioning why only the economic contributions of disabled people are worthy of such celebration, any campaign that highlights the significant discrimination of disabled people when finding and being in employment is, of course, a positive and necessary move. According to the Disabled Living Foundation, just 3.5 million of the 13.3 million disabled people in the UK are in employment. For autistic or learning disabled people finding employment is much harder. According to the National Autistic Society just 16% of people with autism are in full-time paid work, while less than 6% of learning disabled people are in full-time employment. In Living Life to the Fullest, we have been told routinely by young disabled people with life limiting and life threatening impairments of the relentless barriers they face within both education and access to meaningful employment.
Our Co-Researcher Emma Vogelmann, who works for Muscular Dystrophy UK (MDUK) on policy work and disabled employment, said “Recently, the Employability Project has been busy setting up new and exciting opportunities for young disabled people. Our Employability weekend was a huge success with great sessions to boost people’s confidence entering the work world. Our attendees really benefited from disability tailored advice which can be hard to find at colleges and universities. We’ve also set up an exciting new Mentoring Program to match people on the Moving Up project with a mentor to give them ongoing support. This is an incredibly important piece of work for MDUK as we see so many young disabled people who struggle to find work when they are very willing and more than able. We want to show young disabled people why they should be confident in their abilities.”
However, we should also ask critical questions of the big businesses promoting #PurpleLightUp. Virgin, for example, has been been strongly criticised as a key contributor to the privatisation of the NHS. Awarded almost £2 billion worth of NHS contracts over the past five years, Richard Branson’s company has become one of the UK’s leading healthcare providers. Shockingly, even the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) contractors Atos is supporting #PurpleLightUp. If we remember back just a few years, Atos led the disastrous and damaging Work Capability Assessment (WCA), as well as the fitness-to-work assessments for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which caused disabled people and their families significant devastation and distress in the name of austerity. Furthermore, Atos now supports Personal Independent Payment (PIP) assessments, and thus, according to Disabled People Against the Cuts (2018), are ‘in part responsible for the long delays declared unlawful in the courts that have left people without income, food and at risk of losing their homes’.
So let’s enjoy the International Day of Disabled People as a day to mark and celebrate the brilliant contributions of all disabled people across the UK and the world, as well as a time to mark the importance of disabled people’s access to rights and better wellbeing. But let’s remain cautious of the ways in which such celebration gets taken up, the new meanings it gets imbued with and why, and most importantly of all, its co-option by those companies and organisations that could do a lot more to employ, support and advocate for disabled people and their families.
Disabled People Against the Cuts (2018) Atos now recognising our ‘hardships and struggles. Online. Available from: https://dpac.uk.net/2015/06/atos-now-recognising-our-hardships-and-struggles/ [Accessed 2/12/2018]
UN (2018) International Day of Persons with Disabilities – 3 December. Online. Available from: http://www.un.org/en/events/disabilitiesday/ [Accessed 2/12/2018]