The founder of a high-profile access campaign has denied that it provides powerful corporations with an opportunity to parade their supposed commitment to disability equality without having to prove they are implementing the public promises they make.
This week saw the fourth annual Purple Tuesday, an event devised and run by the organisation Purple, led by its disabled chief executive Mike Adams.
The aim of Purple Tuesday is to “improve the disabled customer experience by engaging with organisations across all sectors and all sizes to make commitments to change their practice for disabled customers and their families”.
Adams said: “What we want is disabled people first and foremost to be seen as customers and have a quality experience.”
Purple was originally a community interest company, which replaced the former Essex Coalition of Disabled People, but since 2018 it has been part of a limited company that aims to operate at a profit.
Adams defended Purple Tuesday from the suggestion that it allows businesses to secure positive publicity by pledging their commitment to disability equality without having to prove in subsequent years that they have implemented the promises they make.
These long-term commitments have been made since the first Purple Tuesday event in 2018, but Adams admitted there had been no attempt to check on whether they have been kept.
But he added: “The evidence we have got is that organisations have made commitments, they have implemented those commitments.
“What we don’t do is follow up with every organisation and say ‘show us the evidence of what you have done’… [but] we know that commitments that have been made in previous years have been followed through and added to.
“We are a catalyst for change. I would claim that Purple Tuesday as a brand has galvanised people to take action.
“If you’re asking for a bit of paper that sets it out line by line, then we haven’t got that.
“We work hugely hard 365 days a year to make sure that people who sign up to Purple Tuesday deliver on their commitments and come on the journey with us, but we are not auditors.”
He told Disability News Service: “It’s not a greenwash, it’s not a purplewash, it’s not a whitewash.
“We actually believe that Purple Tuesday is making a significant difference in the lives of disabled customers.”
The event is set to make Purple an estimated £100,000 in revenue from partner organisations that have signed up as sponsors, with “sector sponsors” with more than 250 employees – such as high street retailer Boots, insurance giant Zurich and auction website eBay – paying £9,000 plus VAT to be associated with Purple Tuesday.
Asked if this suggested that Purple Tuesday was more about making money for Purple than anything else, Adams said: “That’s a fair question to ask.
“I would say like most organisations you need to generate revenue to make it bigger and better and that is exactly what we are doing.
“Our utter commitment is to make the lives of disabled customers better and better and better.
“We need to make it bigger and bigger to have as much impact as we can.
“I am not concerned that actually we are raising revenue in order to do that, and the money is going back in to make this bigger and bigger.”
He said that more than 5,000 organisations signed up to Purple Tuesday this year, making more than 7,000 commitments to improve the experience for their disabled customers.
Purple Tuesday has previously been criticised for its close links to the government, and particularly the Department for Work and Pensions.
This year, the minister for disabled people, Chloe Smith, was due to attend an event alongside business leaders who have sponsored Purple Tuesday, and carry out associated media interviews, but she pulled out just hours after concerns began to be raised internationally about access at the COP26 international climate change conference in Glasgow (see separate story), which her government is hosting.
Adams said Purple Tuesday had been told she had pulled out because of a “diary change”.
He said the access problems at COP26 were a “stark reminder about how far we have still got to go and why we do what we do”.
But he repeatedly declined to criticise the government directly, even though it produced a National Disability Strategy this summer that highlighted the “countless instances of unfairness that plague daily life” for disabled people, and then hosted a global climate change conference that itself has been plagued with access failings.
Asked about the government’s failure, Adams said it was “a stark reminder about how far we have still got to go and why we do what we do”.
But he declined to criticise its actions, saying only that he did not know the full details, although he said his message to the government was that “we have got to be doubly determined to make sure that when we think about accessibility and inclusion we think about all issues for all individuals with all impairments and we have got to double down and we have got to go faster”.
Asked again about the government’s apparent hypocrisy, Adams said: “I’m here to talk to you about Purple Tuesday.”
Asked if was concerned about whether Purple Tuesday would be seen as lacking in credibility if he refused to criticise the government for its COP26 access failures, he insisted he had already answered the question.
He said: “I have said to you every time that [if] access isn’t as it should be [it] is disappointing and which is why we are driving Purple Tuesday as hard and as fast into every sector.”
Asked again about the government’s apparent hypocrisy, he ended the interview without warning.
Picture: Mike Adams and supporters of Purple Tuesday in Piccadilly Circus, central London, for last year’s event
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…