It’s fair to say that we at Disability Matters UK have set our stall out with a big ambition: to unite with others to create an inclusive society that recognises, supports, encourages and celebrates the contribution sick and disabled people make to society.
Quite how we get there will be an interesting journey. We know we want to be challenging, but in a way that makes people think, question and respond. We want to ask the questions – and work with others to seek the answers – that raise awareness, so things that matter to disabled people also matter to others. For instance, poor access to a building can also be a pain for parents with a buggy, or an easy-read version of a bus map can help out-of-town visitors or people who don’t speak English.
After all, everyone wants very similar things at the end of the day: to have a safe, warm space they call home, have enough money to live and enjoy themselves, have friends, maybe find the perfect partner and fall in love, make mistakes, have a say in how society works, get angry, have a job, be liked, and have the freedom to choose what’s important to them.
Massive strides have been made, though there is still a long way to go. We don’t yet live in a world where accessibility is a matter of course, or where policy-makers take disabled people into account, not as service-users but as people who can help them make better policies and therefore secure better outcomes. Where work is not a 9-5 concept, but instead employers actively seek out disabled people as talented individuals who add value to their company, but might work from home or for just a few hours a month.
We are a small group with big ideas; we want to use social media as a tool to bring people together in clever, fun, innovative and relevant ways. We aim to inform people about what’s out there, and help them navigate the maze of services, which can leave people frustrated and disillusioned.
We want to empower people to rock the boat and not be afraid to say, “I’m not happy about that,” while feeling confident that no-one is going to take away their support. It’s not just about challenging others; it’s about challenging ourselves, too.
Social media is a powerful tool, and has demonstrated that it can bring ordinary people together to do extraordinary things; it allows people who are isolated to find each other. We don’t have all the answers, but we want to support people to build a sense of community, one that creates a space to discuss and share ideas of what an inclusive society might be.
We have purposely not set out to be a campaign group; there are already brilliant people doing that. We want to create the tools that help people to take positive action, either for themselves or for someone else. That could be a “how-to” guide to getting the best from your MP, a short film that shows people a glimpse of what it’s like to be a disabled parent, or even a little game that uses humour to convey an important message.
We can’t do this alone – we want to work with people and groups so we can be part of a wider network, and have conversations that say very clearly: “We will not accept being demonised, demoralised and pushed back into the shadows because someone decided we were a convenient scapegoat.” The best way to break down barriers is to be visible in all sections of society, so it is no more unusual to see a disabled teacher in a classroom, or two disabled adults kissing in the street, as it is a non-disabled person.
If this sounds like something you want to be a part of, get in touch. Right now, anything is possible; it just needs you to help us make it happen.
Beth Gregson, Disability Matters UK