An exploration of the current status of people with impairments within British society, specifically those with significant impairments, as well as the psychological and sociological meaning of inclusion and how it can be practically achieved for real people in real situations from a lived experience perspective.
Good afternoon everybody, and as you should already know, my name is Simon Stevens, and I am going to talk to you about empowering people with impairments towards inclusion. Because I have a speech impairment, I have decided to pre-record my speech via my computer so you can fully grasp the concepts I am presenting.
I think before I begin it is important that I should properly introduce myself. I am an independent disability consultant who has been in the field for over 25 years, and I have worked with almost 200 organisations of all sizes in one way or another. I am very vocal about my views on a range of issues and with my articles in the Huffington Post and other publications, and I am not afraid to be controversial when my views differ from others.
Lets now start at the beginning by defining what I mean by inclusion in the context of this presentation. Inclusion can be seen as the process performed by individuals and society together to enable someone to be a fully contributing member of society. Empowerment can be seen as the activity of supporting individuals to have the skills and confidence to perform specific activities. Therefore I am discussing how people with impairments can be enabled to become fully contributing members of society.
I am coming to the issue as someone who feels they are fully included in society as far as possible, through my own determination and hard work. I am therefore assuming that with the right assistance from the state, and a desire from individuals, that inclusion is a real possibility for everyone, as opposed to a goal for the future designed to be unachievable.
I think it is also important that I explain why I believe inclusion is important when many people with impairments appear to be happy with their lives. For myself, history will show that the way society systematically excludes people with impairments is simply wrong in the way we understand that the slavery of black people was wrong, or that not giving women the vote was wrong. Society as a whole may find it impossible currently to imagine a world where all people with impairments are fully included but it will have enormous benefits for the rich fabric of society.
I believe that before 2010 the idea of inclusion as well as supporting people with impairments into employment was regarded as uncontroversial and mostly universal; among activists within the disability movement. Since 2010 and the Government’s welfare reforms, the disability movement has radically changed its membership and agenda to primarily focus on protecting welfare benefits, with the message that people should not be found wrongly fit for work, so leading to an implied support for exclusion. I do not believe attitudes have changed to become more negative, but that existing negative attitudes and prejudices towards people with impairments have been uncovered and brought to the surface, which we now need to deal with. This has undoubtedly made the process of empowering people with impairments towards inclusion more difficult because there is less encouragement from society.
The first element that is required to achieve inclusion is a willingness and desire from individuals with impairments. Like with anything, if someone does not want to be included in society, the process becomes much harder. It is also about being honest when someone shows resistance with phrases like I want to work but…. . This is where we should identify and challenge the barriers people have placed upon themselves. They may rightly not regard paid work as the primary purpose, but they may want the increased income that paid work could provide them.
The role of inclusion should be about empowering people to work towards their larger long-term goals. This can be achieved by breaking their journey into smaller achievable concrete goals that attempts to remove the barriers in their way. It is about their own specific journey as oppose to everyone else’s.
The short time we have here does not allow me to go into great detail about how to implement inclusion although my key point is that while society wide policies are important, the focus should be on supporting the journey of the individual, removing each barrier one brick at a time.
I now wish to spend the rest of the time we have by providing you with the opportunity to ask me questions on what I have discussed, or indeed any other disability related issue. I also invite you to visit my website at www.simon stevens.com . And you can also purchase a copy of my life story at www.balsy.me. This speech will also be online at 1pm today. Thank you for listening and who would like to start?