Waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat is not pleasant. Not just a bead of perspiration but a fully blown stream that stings the eyes which have been rudely opened. I didn’t have a fever. It wasn’t the radiators belting out heat. It was the simple realisation that I may have been found out.
Earlier that day I had been running a training webinar for one of our clients. There were over 50 participants online which is double the number that would have attended the traditional classroom based session. We were talking about those customer service approaches, which would make a difference to the disabled customer experience. One participant bravely came off mute and nicely, but bluntly, pointed out they had won awards for their customer service, and they simply needed to apply the same principles to all customers and job done; the trick is not to treat disabled customers differently.
To a large extent they are absolutely right. The Purple, and Purple Tuesday messages have always been very simple and straightforward, and hence being found out. It is us as a society, as businesses and as individuals who have made it so complex, and created a career for someone like me!
The following morning it made me think very hard about where I can add value to the changing disability conversation? The economic and social arguments are compelling and, I think, people in significant numbers get it. I landed on a couple of areas.
Firstly, my stories, my lived experience, can bring the theory to life. I can vividly explain how going into 27 shops and being utterly ignored and overlooked in 22 of them made me feel as a customer. And how this experience influenced the spending of my purple pound – five shops did very well that day. I can talk about my day out at a theme park for my son’s 6th birthday where I was banned on going on any ride – including the sedate Tea-cups – for health and safety reasons. Yet a few weeks later I was rattling around Thunder Mountain in Disneyland, Paris. I couldn’t explain to my son, why.
I can bring authenticity. I have lived with a physical disability all my life and can explain exactly what it means – all the positives and challenges.
I am able to talk eloquently about the 80% of disabled people who have hidden impairments and the rapid growth of people experiencing mental health. The 83% statistic of people acquiring a disability is a powerful one. But all of these points are overshadowed by hearing the lived experience, collectively, of those individuals with hidden disabilities.
Over the past few weeks I have co-delivered a Power of Choice training programme for senior individuals wishing to accelerate the growth of their career. All of the participants had a self-declared impairment and I think all had hidden disabilities including neurodiversity conditions. And all were utterly inspiring and provided insights I would never gain simply from books. For many their disability was a battle: I leave my disability at home when I go to work; I was so nervous about self-disclosing; I feel a fraud being on a disability participant training programme.
I have not yet seen the full evaluation but I do know they have all been on a journey. No longer living in darkness but in light, and I will bring my whole authentic self to work from now on, are two powerful statements that will remain printed in my mind.
Next week I will share their voices, their stories with you. Through vignettes and poetry. I have been inspired and so, I think, you will be too.
Perhaps I haven’t, after all, been found out. But better understand where I can add value to the changing conversation and when/where others should tell the story. And perhaps, knowing that, will lead to a better night’s sleep.
1 December 2020