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Why Disability Should Matter to Everyone!

August 17, 2020 4:24 PM
By Kirsty Stanley

I note that the RSVPs for Tuesday's husting is much lower than Sunday's was. Personally I think it should be higher and here is why.

As I once heard someone else say - "You may only be one moment away from joining the ranks of the disabled. You should care about disability because it may be your "equaliser"! Health, both physical and mental - as the two are so interlinked - is not static. Covid-19 has killed a large amount of people, however we are now beginning to see the true picture of how it is affecting its survivors too. Chronic fatigue, long lasting disability and the mental health impacts caused by lockdown and economic collapse. There are not many of us that can truly say we haven't felt the impact of this disease on our health and well-being. And before that people have always been disabled by specific conditions: from cancer to depression, multiple sclerosis to sensory impairments, and a range of neurodiversities. But, the main disabler for all of those individuals is our current societal structure.

The covid-19 pandemic has frustrated and delighted people with disabilities in equal measure. Moments of delight came through knowing that everyone perhaps now has some understanding of how disability can disrupt your life. But this was quickly followed by frustration, if not anger, that some of the reasonable adjustments we have been asking for for years were able to be brought in quickly when they were "necessary" for all. And it has been even more frustrating to see that lessons haven't been learned at all. Just take Parliament and the farcical scenes of socially distanced voting when they had put in place a virtual format that was accessible to, and safe for all. MPs effectively voted to take away the rights of a number of their own (who were shielding or otherwise unable to attend) to vote in a way that was worse for them all. Not only did our country look woefully incompetent but people were set to be unlawfully excluded from participating in their roles.

I am an occupational therapist and I have seen first hand the devastating effect of some of the Conservative policies on the most vulnerable in our society. The assessment processes for Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance are deeply flawed and cause unnecessary anxiety. I literally couldn't bring myself to take a job as an assessor because I felt it would be a conflict to my professional codes of practice.

And our institutions that look after people with disabilities - the NHS and social care, can't always get it right either when it comes to supporting their own staff with adjustments. I recently tried to request an adjustment and was persuaded by the occupational health person not to put it down in the report "because they wanted me to get the job." I have been told I can't "pick and choose" my working hours when asking for flexible start times to manage fatigue and a mental health condition and oh how I have come to despise the terms "for the needs of the service" and "resilience"- these are catch alls for organisations taking no responsibility for the flexibility they demand of their staff or the pressure they put on them.

I would love to hear the views of the Liberal Democrat leadership candidates on how they will look to embed accessible and inclusive working practices in the party, and how they will support disabled members to share their views and to get involved at all levels. A quick thank you to them for ensuring that all of your hustings have been attended by BSL interpreters when the current government couldn't manage it on the main televised daily press briefings.

If we really want to support people in our society to enter and remain in employment I'd like to know how our future leader might look to implement fairer employment practices, support flexible working and truly consider a Universal Basic Income, at the cost of living, that means that people don't have to choose between their health and putting food on the table. This virus spreads in part because those who get it can't afford to take time off sick. Our country's pandemic of presenteeism is the best friend of the covid-19 pandemic.

I urge all members to attend Tuesday's hustings, and to consider how they support others with disabilities in both their political and daily lives. If someone is off sick with work related stress, for example, explore your desire to moan that they went to the gym or out to coffee with a friend, and recognise that as a valid way of recovering. The real moan should be about why they have been disabled by work related stress in the first place.

The link to register for the hustings is https://www.libdems.org.uk/ldda-hustings

To submit a question, the link is https://digitallibdems.typeform.com/to/nlQPfrRl

Many of us live with a variety of visible and invisible disabilities that can affect us from the moment we wake up and even during sleep. You never know what struggles someone is facing so above all - be equally kind to everyone.

Kirsty Stanley