As a child, her parents fought successfully for her to be educated in mainstream education. Now Suzanne Bull’s own campaigning efforts for a more inclusive music industry have been recognised with an MBE.
Suzanne Bull – one of several leading disabled figures recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours list – said she burst into tears after opening the envelope and discovering that she was being recommended for the honour.
She said: “I was really overwhelmed. You don’t expect it at all. It comes out of the blue. It says ‘Urgent, open immediately, from the Cabinet Office,’ and you think, ‘What have I done wrong?’”
Bull founded Attitude is Everything (AiE) 13 years ago in a bid to push the music industry towards improving access for Deaf and disabled people.
Since then, AiE has signed up more than 70 venues and festivals to its best practice charter, trained thousands of people in disability equality, and seen a huge increase in the number of Deaf and disabled people enjoying live music events.
She said AiE was partly about making members of the music industry realise that the Disability Discrimination Act, and now the Equality Act, did apply to them, but also about “encouraging them to go beyond that”.
She added: “It is also saying to Deaf and disabled people: you can get into music, you have a right to get into music.”
Bull – who is given the MBE for services to music, the arts and disabled people – began working in disability arts at the age of 23, nearly 20 years ago.
She said: “I always wanted to push the work of Deaf and disabled artists, and to see Deaf and disabled people being employed in the arts.”
She said the MBE would be useful in lobbying the government. “It is saying, ‘Well, I have been awarded the MBE, now it’s time to start pushing AiE to a higher level and getting to those higher-level people, explaining why access is necessary.’”
And she said she hoped the MBE was “reinforcing the idea that we have done a lot in terms of access to live music”.
But she added: “There is still a lot more to do. It could open more doors for us to make it easier for Deaf and disabled people to take part in live music.”
Another leading disabled campaigner recognised with an MBE was Richard West, founder of Inspired Services, which provides accessible information services.
He also helped set up the National Forum of People with Learning Difficulties, served on the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee for 10 years, and is co-chair of the National Advisory Group on Learning Disability and Ethnicity.
West was awarded the MBE for services to the arts and disabled people. Through his involvement with Heart ‘n Soul, the user-led arts organisation, he helped set up Oska Bright, the first film festival run by and for people with learning difficulties.
He said he was “honoured” to be given the award, which came as a “huge shock and surprise”.
He said: “There is still so much that needs to be done and I hope my work to help empower people with learning disabilities will be recognised and help lead to increased support for those who need it most all over the world.”
Another disabled campaigner shocked to hear he was being recommended for an MBE was Andrew Dawson, secretary of Sutherland Access Panel, based in the northern Highlands of Scotland.
He said: “When I received the letter, I thought I had done something wrong. It had ‘Cabinet Office’ all over it. I had been writing to the government about the licensing laws [and access to pubs], and so I thought it was bad news.”
He said the achievement he was most proud of in his years of work with the access panel was setting up a programme that takes disabled people into schools to talk to students about disability equality.
He said: “That is my greatest achievement and the access panel’s greatest achievement. If they understand disability then in the future it will be a level playing-field for everybody.”
Dawson said he hoped the MBE would give added weight to the letters he writes on behalf of the panel.
He said: “I think they will take greater note. I hope so. Where they would normally just throw it aside, they will actually look. Our biggest problem is convincing people to listen to us.”
But he said the work was starting to bear fruit, with architects paying attention to access issues, and writing to the panel for advice at the beginning of their projects.
He said: “We had a big involvement in the building of the local hospital. They said we saved them thousands of pounds with our advice.”
Another grassroots disabled campaigner who receives an MBE is Stella Howarth, chair of Allerdale Disability Association, who was recognised for services to disabled people and disability rights.
The association provides an information service for disabled people – much of it around welfare rights – which she has been involved with for more than 20 years.
Howarth, who is also secretary of Headway Cumbria, said the service had seen a rise of 50-60 per cent in requests for help from disabled people as a result of the government’s welfare cuts and reforms, particularly around the new employment and support allowance.
She said: “I think it is the most appalling thing that has been done to disabled people. It is the same right across Cumbria.
“We have had people turned down for disability benefits who have terminal cancer.
“People are very frightened that their independence is being taken away again. It is extremely worrying. People are being left with no money.
“There are a lot of extremely angry people. Disabled people have been targeted because they can’t fight back, they are an easy target.”
Howarth insists that the MBE will not stop her speaking out. “I will still say what I think,” she said.
Asked if the MBE would help her voice to be heard, she added: “I would like to think so. I don’t think disabled people have a voice at the moment.”
20 June 2013