Over the past two weeks I have used the Purple Tardis to look to the future and imagine the world in November 2020 – using the planned Purple Tuesday as the backdrop. I know no more than anyone who watches the news or reads what the journalists – from hugely different perspectives – think. The truth is, no-one knows what everyday life will resemble next month, let alone this November.
Writing these blogs has been an opportunity to reflect, to naval gaze. I think about the progress made in putting disability on the agenda over the last few years and the tangible differences I can see, touch, and feel. I really worry about the additional damage this pandemic will cause and I fear disability will go back to the end of the queue. But in quiet moments, I also see the positives this seismic pause could bring – if we get it right and everyone plays their part. My central reflection being everyone knows their lines, we simply need to deliver them with aplomb, in character and with impeccable timing in line with the well-known script.
My previous two blogs for the Purple Tardis, Part One and Part Two, set out what I think may happen. My reflections focus on some of the key issues that will determine whether this is anywhere close to reality for Purple Tuesday.
My first thought is an extremely selfish one, for which I apologise. I fear being forced to wear a mask on the train journey into London and in all public places (including Piccadilly Circus) where social distancing is not possible. This will disable me. I use my mouth for everything: holding a pen; using my mobile phone; paying for my ticket with a credit card and opening doors. Wearing a face mask will render me dependent and yes, vulnerable. I use this word with real hesitancy as it has been loosely banded about to describe disabled people as a generalised term. I don’t consider myself to be vulnerable and neither do many other disabled people, but in this context, it would make me just that and there is no easy reasonable adjustment.
I worry disability will return to a tick box exercise as decision makers decide in the grand scheme of things there are far too many other priorities.
I believe that putting more people in the society tent (19% of the population have rights under disability legislation) will make our society grow stronger with greater resilience. Using the principles of accessible design and an inclusive approach works for all. I have seen some great articles that argue remote working overnight has become the greatest reasonable adjustment and never again should this (not being able to provide appropriate adjustments) be used as an excuse to not employ disabled talent. And that many disabled people have lived in isolation for years, such as a BSL user in a hearing world. Will social impact sit alongside financials in organisations’ P&L on the balance sheet? Will a new order be established? Will the D be put in ESG or will it all fade away and evaporate as quickly as it has risen?
I believe a make do and mend mentality needs to be the driving force. In terms of the disabled customer, over 5,000 changes have been put in place over the last two years. No NIMBY’s needed here thank you! The greatest chance of retaining momentum is to establish inclusive recovery plans which incorporate elements of what has been proven to work. Accessibility of the built environment in a social distancing world; getting the basis of digital accessibility right; and incorporating disability language and etiquette in mainstream customer service training will be needed.
Some will say I am setting my bar too low and this will mean going backwards. I accept that argument. I am passionate for making changes yesterday – the economic and social narrative is overwhelming. I have waited 49 years but if we are too greedy our society could go back 25 years in a stroke. Better to consolidate and rebuild than roll the loaded dice.
It hurts, but in the here and now baby steps are needed. Purple Tuesday needs to be about promoting what already exists and helping others to adapt and adopt. No big gauntlet thrown down and not a media exciting story. Although of course it is if the lives of 13 million disabled people move forwards rather than backwards. Perhaps the second half of 2020 will be the story of social impact through implementing what others have done before.
A chink of light is if capital markets demand real social impact as a condition of investment. The disability metrics are already written and are easy to understand and apply.
Purple Tuesday 2020 – Make Do and Mend. I can see it now lit up in Piccadilly Circus lights.
19 May 2020