The Government’s long awaited National Disability Strategy has just been published.

Over 1 in 5 people in the UK are disabled. That is over 14 million of us. Whether a condition you are born with, an age-related condition that develops in later life, or something that happens along the way. It is not unusual, and it matters to all of us. It is worth considering that the biggest group of people who seem to have contracted long Covid are key workers — workers from health and social care, workers from education, workers who kept the country going during a pandemic.

When I was working on the London 2012 Games, one of the things I am most proud of is the incredible work we did with Channel 4 on the ‘Meet the Superhumans’ campaign.  Part of the campaign was a ninety second advert, soundtrack by Public Enemy, introducing Paralympic athletes. Showing people with disabilities whilst inverting stereotypes of weakness, the advert also showed short, shocking glimpses of a car crash, an IED, a neo-natal scan.  6 seconds, connecting us all to the experience and challenging assumptions of difference. It was the most controversial part of the film and it divided opinion, but I supported it and am glad it was kept. The connection is important.

National Ability Strategy

The other critical element, one that should underpin any national policy on disability and be a clear thread running through the national disability strategy, is an appreciation that disabled talent exists. The Prime Minister’s foreword to the National Disability Strategy states that:

this strategy is not about disability at all but about ability.

Foreword from the Prime Minister

As a country if we do not remove the barriers to disabled participation in society, in education, in the workforce, we are missing out on a significant resource that could benefit us all. As the PM again says

it’s our determination to level up the country so that whoever and wherever you are, the spark of your talent and potential can be connected with the kindling of opportunity.

Foreword from the Prime Minister

Progress but still much to be done

Some progress has been made since the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced more than 25 years ago but not nearly enough. The employment gap – although it has narrowed – persists. Levels of understanding and visibility have increased. There have been changes in public attitudes towards disability, captured and catalysed by national moments such as the 2012 Paralympic Games. However, there is still much to be done and I am hopeful that this strategy can be used to drive all of the progress made so far to the next level.

Strategy in 3 parts

There are positive elements of the strategy. In Part 1 the emphasis is on immediate commitments that can be made to improve lives “from the moment someone gets up to the moment they go to bed.” This holistic approach is absolutely right. Removing barriers to education and employment is one thing but all for nothing if not accompanied by accessible transport ensuring travel to work is possible.

Part 2 sets out changes to how the Government works with and for disabled people into the future. The stated commitment is “putting disabled people at the heart of government policy-making and service delivery – laying the foundations for longer term, transformative change.” This, again, is essential.  Nothing about us, without us or as Jenny Lay-Flurrie said at the Microsoft broadcast launch of the Strategy:

Don’t try to create things for people with disabilities without people with disabilities.

Part 3 summarises the actions each government department will take as part of this strategy to improve disabled people’s everyday lives. This section makes clear which department is responsible for which commitment. Each department commits to play their part, with ministerial champions setting out how they will personally drive progress.

Across Whitehall and across industries

Examples are the Health and Disability Green Paper Shaping Future Support, led by the Department for Work and Pensions, setting out proposals to make the disability benefits system easier to access and navigate, the Department for Education’s publication of the findings of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Review and DHSC’s refreshed Autism Strategy. These are complex areas but absolutely critical.  It is good to hear, throughout the strategy, from the various ministerial disability champions. Genuinely effective cross-Whitehall working is a rare, precious, and worthy goal. My sincere hope is that it will succeed in this case.

As part of the strategy the Government has also appointed 15 new disability and access ambassadors from different industries to serve as advocates. Kate Nicholls, who has led the trade body UK Hospitality since April 2018, was chosen to represent hospitality and Kathryn Townsend, UK Head of Customer Accessibility at Barclays will represent banking. Other sectors are advertising, airports, arts and culture, built environment, buses, countryside and heritage, creative industries, energy, housing, insurance, rail travel, retail and universities. I am also glad to hear, while not currently in the list, that we will be getting an ambassador for sport and look forward to hearing more on that – presumably post Paralympics?

Fairer, better lives for all

As we emerge from the long shadow of Covid-19 and the Government works to build back better, I cannot think of a more important part of that process than to level up for disabled people. To remove the barriers and enable the talent. Fairer, better lives for all.

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