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Meet the Be #PeopleSmart Personas

We have created 5 personas from various backgrounds, with a wide range of experiences and requirements. We hope these personas can help drive human factors and enable disability inclusion and accessibility improvements in multiple sectors.

Over the coming week we will introduce each persona to you individually and then share more of their stories to support you on your journey to true inclusion.

I’m not an ally

I know many people and many organisations use the term ally, to encourage people who aren’t part of a certain demographic to show their support for diversity, equity and inclusion and I’m not suggesting that’s not the right thing to do.

However, I am not an ally. To me, “ally” suggest there’s a them and there’s a me. It doesn’t matter what makes someone who they are, I’m not their ally, I’m simply another human being who believes we’re all in this together.

I’ve never had a disability, but I’ve always felt very strongly about disability inclusion and experienced disbelief and frustration at how slowly the world is catching up. It may not impact me directly as an individual, but it does impact me directly as a human being and as a professional.

My proactive efforts to improve disability inclusion and accessibility span over a decade and I’m proud of my achievements in this space. Not because I’m supporting a minority group (who aren’t such a minority anyway), but because I want to make the world one where everyone can have access to opportunities, services, digital solutions, learning, employment, shopping, entertainment, the list could go on and on.

There’s also a selfish element to this. If my own situation were to ever change and I became disabled, right now the world isn’t set up to enable me.

Would my contributions be worth less?

Would my money, as a consumer, reduce in value?

Would my thoughts and opinions be less valuable?

Would my experience and competency no longer exist?

Of course not! But, if I couldn’t use those things then I wouldn’t be able to keep adding the same value that I can today.

So, no, I do not consider myself an ally. I consider myself a human being.

5 Minutes with Jodie

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Unlike our other personas, I am a real person, although I think I prefer my digital look.

I am British, born and bred in London and still living in a London suburb with my partner Neil and our house rabbit (or the real boss) Dobby.

I am the Founder of Be #PeopleSmart and loving being part of the journey to improved disability inclusion and accessibility for our clients.

I love to travel, which has of course taken a knock due to the pandemic, however it’s given me chance to look at areas of the UK I still need to visit.

Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?

I wasn’t sure about including myself in the persona images at first, however I’m representing someone who isn’t currently disabled.

I have a personal and professional passion for disability inclusion and have been noted for my tenacity (a nice way of saying I’m very vocal) in addressing the fact that, in many organisations, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is only diverse-ish, as so often there is little or no strategy or tangible action with regards disability inclusion.

With regards personal impact, accessibility also enables me. For example, poor contrast makes it difficult for me to read information, controlling my laptop with my voice give me flexibility to move around more and non-intuitive websites make it difficult for me to find the information I need.

If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?

Well, I do deliver workshops quite regularly and it’s always interesting when you start with a blank page to decide what content adds most value. However, I’d start with an overview of disabilities, including statistics and legislation, then move into inclusive behaviours and practices and finally I’d have an immersive exercise to give an idea of how it can feel to be excluded.

I would include how legislation is of course non-negotiable, however we shouldn’t limit ourselves to legislative obligations. People aren’t clauses in a document and therefore it should be about simply doing the right thing to give everyone an equitable experience, where I’d share the difference between equality and equity.

I’d be keen to also include a discussion on labels. Why do we need to put labels on people, simply to enable them to go about their day to day lives? Inclusion should simply be giving people access to the tools and services they need, to either be productive employees or to be able to do business with us. Many organisations have a room that can be used for prayers, a space for nursing mothers and usually ramps or a lift wherever there are stairs. However, beyond that, when it comes to accessibility people often want to know why they’re accommodating someone before action is taken. Does it really matter? People aren’t labels, they are human beings with skills, abilities, likes, dislikes and needs; it’s only when we aren’t accessible that barriers are created.

I am a real believer in sharing quick wins too, as they are things we can all do from today to make a difference and it helps people identify how simple inclusion can be, even if that means doing things a little differently to how we have in the past.

Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?

As I mentioned, I don’t currently have a disability, however I still find some things difficult to access. For example, high shelves in a supermarket (I’m 5’ 3” or 160cm), non-intuitive websites, any documents, labels or websites with poor contrast and videos or podcasts with background music and audible messaging playing at one time – my attention doesn’t know where to aim.

Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?

Just the high shelves again for me, although I have solutions built in for that; I have a set of steps that store away in a low cupboard which can be pulled out to access the higher shelves.

If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?

Just 2? Wow, this is tough.

I would have to choose all organisations to have an inclusive communications policy, which not only states all documents and channels must be fully accessible, but also shows those administering the information what that means and how to achieve it.

This really is tough, as I have about 12 different things going around my head right now.

Ok, my second choice will be fully accessible public transport everywhere.

As we don’t have a magic genie to grant my wishes, I guess I’d better get back to work.

5 Minutes with Sky

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, yes I’m Sky. I’m from Hong Kong, now living in LA (Los Angeles) in the United States. I’ve been in the States for 4 years now and I love it.

I’m 28 and a tattoo artist. In fact, it’s my boss who sponsored me to bring me to the States. I specialise in portrait tattoos, he saw my work on a visit to Hong Kong and although my parents weren’t happy about it, 3 weeks later I was on an airplane to LAX (LA’s International Airport).

I’m not dating anyone right now, but I’ve made some great friends and love hanging out in LA. I love the fact I can just be me. I have short purple hair right now and love to try out new looks. My friends in Hong Kong were great about my style choices too, but I love the fact people compliment me now rather than think I’m somehow rebelling against something.

In my free time I like to get to the beach, Venice is my favourite area, it just has such a great vibe. When I have more time, I love to see more of the States; this country is so much bigger than I’d even realised and there is so much to see. I’ve been to 9 states so far and my plan is to visit them all.

Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?

Up until a few years ago I would have struggled to answer this question, however now I have a diagnosis, or a label, and know I’m dyslexic and dyscalculic.

When I was still in school people always thought I wasn’t paying attention. You see, I could read aloud at the same speed as most of my friends, but just didn’t absorb anything I was reading. I couldn’t answer questions on a passage I, or someone else, had just read out in class. I couldn’t explain why I didn’t remember things so quickly, which is still the case, but after seeing a specialist here in the States it makes so much more sense. My working memory, that’s what they call it, just doesn’t work so well. Strangely though, I always found it easier to read in English than I did in Cantonese. I’m still not sure why that is, maybe it’s all linked to my memory.

Similarly, in math class, I just didn’t get equations and was always a few years behind my friends. Even now I avoid using cash, as I’m never sure how much change I should be getting.

Although, I was always talented at art. The only teacher that seemed to like me in high school was my art teacher. He always said I would go far, but my parents said I’d never get rich drawing pictures and they really wanted me to go to university and become a doctor or a lawyer. I don’t think they just wanted a daughter who had a great career, they also wanted me to be successful for myself; I just feel they and I have a different understanding of what success means.

All of this meant my grades suffered and although I graduated from high school, I didn’t get the grades my parents had hoped for and would have had to re-sit to have any hope in going to university, which wasn’t what I wanted anyway. I did however get top marks in my whole year group for art and won 2 national awards.

As an adult, with a career I love, in an amazing country, I’m really glad my brain is wired the way it is. I believe my love of art and my ability to recreate some amazing images as body art, are because of my wiring and not despite it.

If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?

For me I’d have to say not making assumptions. If someone can’t read or take in information as quickly as you can that doesn’t make them stupid or uneducated, it simply means we process information differently. It’s the same with numbers. I may not know how much change is due to me in a store, but could you recreate a replica of a deceased relative over someone’s heart? Because I can.

Oh, and I’ve joined some forums and I now understand neurodivergent people, those of us with non-typical wiring, are often asked whether they can be ‘fixed’. Dyslexia, Autism, Down Syndrome and so many other neurodiversity traits aren’t something that needs to be fixed, simply accepted and embraced. I have a few friends now who have shared the fact they’re autistic with their employers and they have all been asked to see occupational health or to provide a doctor’s note. It’s important people understand why these traits shouldn’t be medicalised, as it’s simply who we are and not a medical condition. I’d also really like to do more to show people the added value neurodiversity brings. Some of my autistic friends are just so great at not getting bogged down with unnecessary details, can just get the job done and they’re very analytical; I guess that’s why most of them work in engineering and data type jobs, as they play to their strengths.

Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?

There are three things I can think of. The first is moving words on websites, they’re always too fast for me and even when I can read them, I have to concentrate too hard and don’t actually compute what I’m reading. I don’t even bother trying now.

The next is how information or instructional videos are made. Most of the time I can pause, replay and navigate to specific sections to make sure I’m following, but sometimes I can’t and watching a whole video again doesn’t work for me. Oh and what is it with videos that have music playing and someone speaking at the same time? It’s really hard to take information in like that. I’ve found some videos that have the content also written out in a separate document, some of these have been great as they’re really structured so I can just search for the part I need and take in the information in my own time. Although if it’s all just plain text, these still don’t help me.

Finally, I’d say signs in airports. You know the ones, where you find your gate? Because the information flicks over every few seconds and the lines for each flight aren’t always clear, it takes me far too long to work out if I need to go to the gate and which one. Plus, if I ask a member of staff they tend to just point to the screen and politely tell me “the information is on the screen”; I don’t like to go into details with them, so I just go back to the screen and try to work it out for myself. I know they can’t see I’m dyslexic, but there is a reason I’m asking.

So, I guess I’m not just talking about screens in airports, it’s about service. Is your information accessible and do your staff understand one size doesn’t fit all?

Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?

The only thing that ever bothers me at home is labelling. Some bottles have some really cool letter styles on them, which I think look pretty good, but I can’t read a lot of them. I don’t see these funky styles used in so many other places, which is good for me, but it stops me buying some things as I’m not really sure what I’m getting.

If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?

That’s a really tough question. These may not be things that help me directly but are close to my heart.

My first would be people being respected and recognised for their experience and capabilities. So many companies prioritise university degrees and grade, when the best people for their jobs and their teams may not thrive in those environments and so both miss out. It’s the same with interviews and pre-employment tests, people aren’t check boxes and there has to be a better way.

For my second choice I’d say keeping written information to a minimum, or at least structuring documents for clarity. I often receive emails from companies I have an account with, and they are just full of so much text. There aren’t always any sub-headings to help with context either, having these in bold really helps me compartmentalise information. Also, images really help some of us take in information, just streams of text doesn’t do the same and even my neuro-typical friends tell me they tend not to read lengthy emails. Why is it we understand the need to include pictures for children to absorb information, but then it’s widely accepted that adults don’t need the same and a whole heap of plain text is fine?  

5 Minutes with Luci

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Absolutely. My name is Luci, I’m from South Africa but have been living in The Hague, in the Netherlands, for 7 years now.

I’m 42 years old and I’m married to Martijn, who I met in the Netherlands. We are expecting our first child, which will probably be our biggest life challenge.

I am a Senior Programme Developer for a global technology company. It was my company who gave me the opportunity to relocate to the Netherlands, so I guess they also enabled me to meet my husband.

I love the freedom in Europe and I now really enjoy walking. We’re very lucky to live so close to the sea and I love walking along just listening to the waves, people chattering and the bird call. I’m trying to convince Martijn to move to a nice seafront apartment, but he likes the very short cycle to the office and he does make a good point about the schools we have close by.

Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?

Yes, I guess my disability is usually quite visible. I have no useable sight, although I can see light and dark and so find good lighting extremely helpful.

I am also lucky to have my faithful sidekick, Bruce. Bruce is my first guide dog and has been with me for 5 years. In South Africa I hadn’t even considered getting a guide dog, however when I moved to the Netherlands and got a taste of outdoor life it seemed like a logical thing to do and so I started doing my research and after another 2.5 years I met my furry little friend. I had to have some training of my own to understand Bruce and make sure we are both safe and well, I hadn’t even thought of the human side to a guide dog partnership until then.

Bruce doesn’t feel like my seeing dog anymore, he’s more like my first child but with fur and four legs.

People often assume I can read braille, but I lost my sight due to an illness as a teenager so I’ve never learned how and just don’t feel the need to thanks to technology.

I use a screen reader on my laptop and voice over on my mobile telephone. I prefer a small laptop, as it’s so much easier to carry one handed and I don’t use the screen anyway. People are often curious how I’m working with my screen switched off, as I use a headset to stop the screen reader distracting anyone else. I don’t use a mouse either, as screen readers are very intuitive and work with keyboard shortcuts. Although, I can only access documents, websites and applications that are accessible.

If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?

The first thing that comes to mind is mindset. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me I’m “an inspiration”. Not because I have found a cure for a disease or because I’ve sailed solo around the world, no, simply because I go about my day-to-day life as most of us do. Since I’ve been pregnant, it’s been even more so, it’s like my eyesight is somehow connected to my ability to reproduce. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to inspire people for the right reasons, and I hope to inspire my child to work hard and be a good human being; but being disabled does not make me somehow inspirational by default.

If there was time, I’d also like to include some education on guide dogs. You may or may not be surprised by the number of adults who pet Bruce when he’s harnessed and working. Sometimes they ask and I have to politely ask them not to, other times they just go directly to Bruce. He’s a beautiful dog, with a beautiful nature, but distracting him could put one or both of us in danger.

Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?

Technology advances are really helping with accessibility for the blind, although I do often feel the world is still built for the sighted.

There are many websites that I can’t access and others that I technically can, but they just aren’t usable. No one wants a painful user experience accessing information or buying a new bathmat.

Similarly, there are still companies who send me hard copy documents or invoices even though I’ve told them I’m blind. Some people I speak to think they are helpful and suggest they can provide a larger font, getting them to understand it could be the size of my apartment block and I still couldn’t see it is quite a challenge.

At work, there are often communications I miss because they haven’t been created with accessibility in mind. Things like “refer to the above image”, with no alternative text on the image so I have no idea what I’m referring to. Not all images will be contextual, but it can be frustrating knowing there’s an image in use and not knowing what it is or why.

Many buildings aren’t what I would call blind friendly. Lighting levels are often quite low, particularly in lower use areas. Handrails on staircases don’t always start and end at the top and bottom, sometimes they stop too soon and others continue when there’s a landing space. Bruce is good, but he can’t tell me there’s a very wide step that I’m not expecting. And when it comes to accessible toilets I’ve seen it all, needing to ask for a key, having a very embarrassed employee tell me it’s being used as a storage cupboard, being lead about 150 metres around back of house corridors and being told the nearest ‘accessible’ facilities are on another floor of a large building.

Banks have really progressed though. I can use an ATM (cash machine) to do my banking without any assistance now, as my bank offers an audio option by just plugging in my headset.

Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?

Since living with Martijn I find I have far fewer challenges at home, as I can check with him. Although when he’s not around I do sometimes use an app to connect to a sighted community, for example if I need to check the colour of a scarf to make sure it matches my dress.

My main challenges at home would be packaging on food. So many bottles are remarkably similar and the packaging for readymade meals, Martijn and I don’t cook often, are often identical to touch. Some companies are becoming more accessible though, I can now tell the difference between shampoo and conditioner, as they have different tactile dots on the bottles.

Money can also be a challenge, but I don’t often carry cash so not something I personally have an issue with.

If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?

Right now, my main priority is finding a pushchair for my baby that I can pull along easily with one hand. I have tried at least a dozen so far and steering whilst pulling them just doesn’t work very well. We’ll still need Bruce with us and so I need to find the solution that lets us have some lovely walks around the city and along the coast without always relying on a carrier.

As I can only pick 2, I will say accessible communication. At work, as a customer and as a friend, with a bit of forethought it’s not difficult to include everyone.

5 Minutes with Brian

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Yep, hello there. My name’s Brian, I’m 58 and I’m from London in England. I live in Kent now, to be near the family, but I’ll always be a Londoner at heart.

I’m divorced, with 2 grown up sons of 26 and 21 and a granddaughter of 6 months, Millie. She’s a little cracker and loves her grandad.

I’m a Builder. I started out as a brick layer as a young man and then moved into multiple trades before I started running sites.

I don’t really have any hobbies, but I do like a beer in my local (pub) with my boys and sometimes a game of pool.

Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?

It feels a bit strange to be honest because I’m not disabled. But I agreed to share my story because I was diagnosed with depression a while ago now. I’m not really sure what I feel about that, because I don’t really know much about all this mental health stuff and it’s not really something us blokes talk about. It makes you feel a bit daft too, because my life’s really not so bad.

I haven’t told my boys or any of my other family about it yet, I’m not really sure how you even start or if they’d understand. Although, if they were struggling, I really hope they’d tell me.

I have told 1 bloke at work, although he kind of guessed to be honest. He asked me how I was, as you do you know, and I told him I was alright. But then, I was a bit surprised, he said to me “you just don’t seem yourself Brian, are you sure you’re ok?”. I didn’t really know what to say then, so I told him the truth, although I did kind of say it was what the doctor reckoned and I don’t really have a reason to be so fed up.

Give Winston his due, he wasn’t having any of it. He told me that even us fellas have bad times and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s just what makes up part of the human race. He did give me something to think about that’s for sure. Since then, Winston has been a rock really and dare say turned from workmate to just mate. Winston even says I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, although he’s tough on me when it comes to my football team losing.

On the upside, I’ve got another good mate now to have a pint with. He loves to give us a bit of Kingston Town on the karaoke as well which is always a good laugh.

Oh yeah and I do wear glasses. I didn’t need them in my 20s, but as I got older my eyes just got worse. I don’t think that’s a disability though, because as long as my glasses are on my face I’m sorted.

If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?

Well it’s not really something I’d know a lot about, but if I think of it a bit like a safety talk then I guess I’d go with something on mental health. I mean, I didn’t really understand that your mind can get ill just like the rest of your body and I still don’t really understand it but I’m learning.

I’d also do something about men and mental health. Not to say women don’t suffer of course, but my doctor told me some scary numbers about men suffering and also that we (men) aren’t so good at telling anyone. I suppose I am one of those numbers.

I knew a fella at work once who took his own life and none of us could understand it, you see, he had a lovely wife and 2 little kiddies. But that word, suicide, just isn’t something you talk about is it? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not been in that place myself, but I guess now I just think about how other people feel a bit more.

Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?

Not really. I guess my story’s a bit different to some people’s. Mind you, I do tell some porkies (lies) when people are having parties and all that. It’s not really that I can’t go, just that sometimes I really don’t want to and that’s something that people really don’t get; you end up being pegged as Boring Brian, which is what my sister calls me now, because all them people in one place are just too much sometimes.

Oh yeah, and some of these prints you find on packaging and that are so small that I can’t even read them with my glasses on.

Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?

I don’t really have any issues at home, except trying to read some of the labels on food so I know how to cook them. It’s not even just small writing, sometimes they use weird colours, so I can’t work out what it says.

Oh and all these new phones give too much away about you. If I’m just not feeling like talking and someone sends me a message, they can always tell I’ve read it even if I don’t reply. Then they end up getting the hump, thinking you’re ignoring them. I’m not really up with technology, but what is it with people all needing a reply within 5 minutes?

If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?

I think we need to educate young people, particularly boys, about things like depression. I know in my own head now that it’s not about being weak, although I do sometimes have to remind myself, but we still see all these expectations put on our kids. You know, boys should be tough and play with cars and girls should be sweet and play with dolls. I am a bit of an old dinosaur, but I’ve got with the programme here. My Millie can play with all the cars and dinosaurs she likes, mind you at the moment she only really likes her blanket and that horrible panda of hers that plays an annoying song, and if I’m blessed with a little grandson then he can come crying to grandad whenever he needs to.

My second thing would probably be for the building sites. I know we’re getting more women on there now, but it’s still a bit of a boy’s club most of the time. So, I reckon if we could somehow get people who know about depression and stuff to talk to the whole site then it just might help some people. It’s never easy, because we’ve got so many deadlines to meet and people breathing down our necks, but I still think it’d be a good one to target.

5 Minutes with Jacob

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, I’m Jacob. I’m 21 and currently studying Political Science at Toronto University. I am Canadian, although I consider myself Can-Asian, as my mother is Canadian but my father is from India.

I grew up in Vancouver, where my parents still live and love getting home whenever I can.

I love athletics and am currently training for a place in the Canadian Paralympic team, I’ve won 100m gold and silver twice in national competitions and so I’m hopeful I can represent my home country.

I have a partner, Luis, who I met at university. I’m very lucky because he’s great about the amount of my non-study time I spend training. When we do get time together, we like to get out exploring; Niagara is one of our favourite places for a day trip. It’s not all work and no play in Toronto either, I’m not much of a drinker, but I still enjoy a good party and so I tend to stick to soda and be the taxi for my friends.

Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?

No problem. I lost my right leg above the knee and some of my hearing when I was 13 years old. I wasn’t paying attention and walked out in front of a car. I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was at the time, in fact I really struggled to come to terms with some of the changes to start with, but when I look back now, I really do feel lucky to be alive and I’m determined to make the most of it.

To be honest, I don’t really think of myself as disabled, although I know I kind of tick the boxes to say I am. There aren’t many times I feel any different to my friends, in fact I often say my running leg performs much better than my left one.

The only difference I guess is the controls on my car. I drive with just my left foot and so I have my gas and brake pedals the opposite way round to most people. It’s cool though, as I have another gas pedal on the other side which means they can easily be swapped, you just flip one up and the other comes down, so we can share the driving on road trips.

If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?

The main thing that comes to my mind is making people aware of the assumptions they make and how patronising some comments can feel. I still get people approaching me from nowhere asking “what happened?” and saying things like “oh my god, I feel so sorry for you”. There’s nothing to feel sorry for, you didn’t push me in front of the car and actually my life’s really good. Ironically, I didn’t even get in to running until after my rehabilitation and I love it. I think people mean to be supportive, so I guess it’s a case of giving them some help on how to have the conversation.

It’s even worse when people try to avoid looking at my prosthetic or mentioning it at all. I mean, I don’t expect someone to say “Hi my name is, what happened to your leg?”, but I’m really cool once I get to know someone a little if they have any questions around what happened or the types of prosthetics I have. I’m really proud of my latest running leg, thanks to my sponsors, and I’m sure my mom and dad are also grateful that it wasn’t their credit card this time.

I’d also like to include something on not having everyone speak at the same time. My hearing isn’t so bad, but if more than one person is speaking close to me, I sometimes find it hard to follow a conversation. I have sometimes pretended I was following just to make life easier, which isn’t so great and can come back to bite you on the butt.

Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?

It’d be great if I could buy just one shoe from a store. Not just because of dollars wasted, but it’s not great for the environment just throwing out a shoe from each pair. I have seen some stories of people sharing shoes, but I’m yet to find someone with only a left foot who is the same size as me. Recently I had some single running shoes made for me, also thanks to my sponsor, which made me feel like a real pro (professional).

It would also be great to be able to hire an adapted car when travelling. I don’t think my controls are so unusual, yet when I took a trip to Europe in the summer I couldn’t find a hire car I could drive. I was offered hand controls by more than one company, but I have no idea how to use them.

Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?

I don’t really have any issues because of mobility at home. In fact, I tend to wear my leg a lot less when I’m just chilling in my room and I still do what I need to just fine.
It would probably be more difficult if I didn’t have a separate shower, I know some friends who have to climb into a bathtub to shower, but I don’t even have a bathtub so it works for me.

I’m not really a gamer, but Luis is, so if we play together online I use noise cancelling headphones as I find they help me hear everything going on. That’s it really.

If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?

I would love to make good prosthetics far more affordable. I know from some forums there are people who either can’t get a prosthetic at all or have one that gives them pain, just because they don’t have the money to buy what they need. It also limits sports and things, as you need specific types of legs to compete.

My second choice would have to be more global equality. In Canada we’re very lucky with the equipment we can buy and the specialists we have. I know from my family in India that it’s not so easy there and in some areas really restricted.  I’m sure there are a lot of countries where equipment, specialist doctors and companies who support different needs are hard to find and accessibility shouldn’t be based on your zip code or your bank balance.

5 Minutes with Clara

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name’s Clara, I’m 26 and I’m a freelance journalist from Australia. I was born in Sydney and now live just outside the city.
I absolutely love animals and would happily have an apartment full, however my lifestyle doesn’t really allow for it as I also really love to travel.
I’m currently happily single and don’t really see that changing any time soon, as I’m always so busy and I really don’t like dating apps.
Oh and I also love fashion, which can be a challenge.

Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?

Sure. Well firstly I’d say both disability inclusion and accessibility impact us all in one way or another, but for me personally the direct impact is due to having a form of dwarfism. I don’t really consider my height a disability as such, although my surroundings often make it so, although I do experience regular pain due to my condition and as well as causing discomfort, it can also cause me far more frustration than the highest of counters – although it’s a close call.

If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?

Wow that’s a tough question. As I only have an hour I’d concentrate on behavioural awareness. I’m not just talking about biases; I’m talking about the danger of assumptions and pointers for those who want to be inclusive and are nervous they’ll get it wrong.
When I meet new people they often speak to me the way they would to a child, which isn’t just condescending it’s infuriating.
When I was at uni (university), I must’ve been 20, I went to get on to my scooter seat and a guy I’d never even seen before jogged over and physically lifted me on to it and then smiled at me as if he was so proud he’d done his good deed. I was furious that he’d invaded my space and touched me without my permission. Fortunately, before I could tell him so, a friend noticed my mood change and said he seemed to be genuinely trying to help and just got it very wrong.

Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?

Sadly, there are quite a few. I use a mobility scooter, as I find walking further than short distances causes me pain, and it can be a real challenge to have a space to park my scooter near a restaurant table, office desk or meeting room.

Then there’s counter heights; simply making myself a coffee or being able to take a coffee from a café counter has its challenges in most places. If I can access a café or kitchen area on my scooter, people are often really helpful; and although I’d rather just be independent, it does restore faith in humanity. However, when I’m on foot I find people are far more hesitant to offer help. I strongly suspect it’s because people don’t want to feel rude or patronising and just don’t have the confidence to approach me. Luckily for me, I have no issue asking for help when I need it. Although there was a time when someone, who no doubt thought he was being helpful, asked if I’d like him to lift me up so I could reach; I politely said, “no thank you, but if you could pass me a spoon that would be great”.

Another thing is hotels. I specifically book accessible hotel rooms, however in some countries what they consider to be accessible actually includes assisting you by having staff carry you up a short flight of stairs – not very dignified. No idea how they’d manage if my scooter wasn’t foldable, as my old standard one weighed a ton. Some accessible rooms also still have high beds and so I have to query the height before booking, which means dealing with the hotels directly even if I want to book through a booking site. It’s not the end of the world but can take quite some time, and when you have to speak to several hotels before you find one that can accommodate you it can feel exhausting and quite frustrating.
It does seem easier to check sizes of rooms however, and therefore by ensuring I book a room above a minimum size, I haven’t yet found any issue with accommodating my scooter.

The final area I’ll mention is public transport. I guess I’m lucky living where I do as the train services in and around Sydney are fully accessible for me; but when I go elsewhere, I usually find it’s a very different story.
I mentioned I love travelling and I particularly love cities with a lot of history, well that often means more buildings I can’t access or travel around. I think the world is starting to catch up, however with the age of infrastructure in some areas I expect it’ll be a long time before we see full accessibility.

Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?

No, not at all. I bought an apartment that needed a lot of work and so I’ve made it really work for me. Among other things, I’ve fitted lowered counter tops, clothes rails, security locks and controls and I have a dedicated space for my scooter.

In my home office I use a height adjustable desk. I have found some so-called ergonomic chairs don’t have a low enough option to suit me and so I had to shop around for a chair that worked. I also use a short keyboard, without the number pad, so I can keep my mouse at less of a reach. Although I prefer using dictation and mainly control my laptop with my voice for research, creating articles, blogging and pretty much everything else.

If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?

Ah that is tough, but here goes. A personal bugbear of mine is having to ask for the key to an accessible toilet in a bar or restaurant. There must be better ways to encourage people who don’t need them to simply use the other facilities, without making someone who does need it to basically ask a member of staff for permission to pee.

I’d say my other priority would be clothing and shoes. I love fashion, but shopping for clothes has actually made me cry more than once. I have to try everything on and majority of what I like doesn’t come in a size to fit me. I can buy some things from the junior section of some stores, but I don’t want to wear clothes or shoes designed for children.  There are many people who can’t wear what you may consider standard clothing and yet we’re only just seeing brands catch on to it. I hope in a few years to be able to go to the women’s section of any department store and purchase a closet full of clothes, shoes and the matching accessories. Although my closet isn’t short of accessories I have to say.

Probably a good call limiting me to 2 things, as I’m sure I could give you a list.

New Real Life

I delivered some workshops this week on accessible ways of working and how to put these in to practice long term in a virtual and face to face setting.

It was interesting, as when scene setting I was asked to focus more on virtual ways of working; particularly as there’s no guarantee everyone will return to their place of work and if they will there’s certainly no set date.

The learnings and advice shared was very well received, however the interesting thing was that some people expressed concern with regards how they can ensure they are inclusive in a face to face setting, as they would have developed some “bad habits”. In fact they aren’t bad habit, just different ways of working which have been effective in a virtual world. For instance, being out of the habit of facing people when speaking to them, which will create barriers for anyone who relies on lip reading. Ultimately, being aware of this is the first step to ensuring continued inclusion.

There were also people in each workshop who joined the organisation during lockdown and so have never been on site or met their peers face to face. For some the thought of doing so was welcomed and for others it was daunting, as they wouldn’t know their way around or some ways of working and would effectively feel like day one all over again.

There were concerns raised with regards returning to site without sufficient seating or facilities. One attendee shared they had visited site and wasn’t sure how they would be able to hold their planned and advertised learning sessions as the rooms available no longer catered for the required numbers. They also shared that the equipment had changed and wasn’t consistent across all rooms, therefore as someone not confident with different technology, they were concerned this could reflect badly on them.
What a great point to raise! Even when we discuss accessibility, so many people only think about how they can do things differently to enable other people, we often forget that we also need to be enabled ourselves. In that instance, some proactive communication shared on room capacity and easy to use guidelines in each room (also available digitally) would remove the concerns and instil far more confidence in being back in the physical room.

I don’t really like to use the word normal, so to me when lockdown lifts there’s not a new normal, there’s a new real life. The past year has seemed pretty surreal and no doubt there will be legacy remaining, not all of it negative, and therefore as restrictions are lifted and people can be more confident about managing their health, I say we are going in to new real life. Let’s make it an enjoyable and productive place to be, by taking steps to include everyone and also remembering to consider and share our own needs.

I hope your current and new real lives treat you well.

Labels Suck

Ok, so suck may not be a very technical term, but it just feels very apt sometimes.

I see a lot of discussion about the language we should use when discussing disability. Some people regularly tell me there’s nothing wrong with the term “disabled person”, other people say they don’t associate with that term and prefer “person with a disability” and others tell me they are far more comfortable being considered “differently abled”. The differences are often cultural, with strong feelings for and against one or the other term. There are also language barriers to contend with as the word disabled doesn’t translate well in to some languages and in others there is no direct translation at all.

One of the biggest challenge I see in the big wide world is that people in general want to use the right language, they don’t want to offend anyone and want to come across as educated. So how do they know what to say? Far too often this results in the conversation not starting at all.

Well here’s the thing, labels suck! I mean if you have to distinguish someone in a group then I say it’s fine to say the white man with the beard, the woman with the red hair, the guy using a wheelchair or the black lady in heels – those people may wait even longer for the drink they ordered if we didn’t. However, the only reason we have to have any form of label for people with disabilities (yes that’s my preferred term, I’m going with the UN on this) in general is because in 2021 many people are only just starting to consider disability inclusion. Not because they don’t care, or because they’re ignorant (ok I’ll admit some are), but because through their lives they haven’t knowingly been personally associated with someone with a disability and such awareness or confidence has never even entered their minds. So how do they start?

My advice is that as long as you are polite and have positive intent just get involved. If someone doesn’t like a term you use, I hope you’ve shown your genuine intent to the point they will let you know. For instance I’ve seen a lot of articles lately showing that people with autism prefer to be called autistic. I can understand this for sure, however as I’m unsure how an individual would feel about this I would personally go with the person first language and if they corrected me then of course I would change track.

The only reason I am labelling anyone at all is because I use their stories, successes and barriers in order to educate others and enable inclusion and accessibility. The aim is to change cultures, to make our societies more inclusive and then these conversations wouldn’t be so relevant or even needed.

I had a wonderful conversation this week with a lady who is a force to be reckoned with and also happens to have Down Syndrome. The reason we were speaking is that I am looking for speakers to help us dispel many of the myths associated with neurodiversity and I know she’d be great, but that does mean I’m asking people to basically be a poster person for their particular disability or condition. So what am I really doing, I’m labelling them. Fortunately for me, and many of us, there are people willing to open up and put their whole selves out there in order to make a difference.

So, yes I believe labels suck. However for now they also serve a purpose. Don’t get hung up on whether you are using the right language and if in doubt make the point that if anyone has any feedback you’d love to hear it. The only term I personally really dislike being used is “special needs”. I appreciate this is often a term used by schools, certainly in the UK, however no one’s needs are special, they’re simply human and may be different to yours or mine. I also find it quite patronising when relating to adults. I have come across some nationalities where this term is used regularly and I always advise that it doesn’t translate so well to English.

Please do not be concerned if you ever feel you have got it wrong, just accept any feedback and use it to move forward. Believe me we have all been there, in fact I could fill a few blog posts with my past blunders (thankfully none in the past few years). I don’t believe you can be fully comfortable with disability inclusion, until you’ve been uncomfortable.

I don’t currently have a disability, so I will close out by labelling myself as a lady with unruly lockdown hair (roll on hairdressers reopening).

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