Inclusion: why access and empowerment matter

Disabled people face many barriers to being included in all aspects of society. The International Day of Disabled People has been commemorated by the UN since 1992 to promote awareness and mobilise support for critical issues relating to the lives of disabled people.

The theme for this year’s International Day of Disabled People, which was celebrated on December 3, was “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities.”

I am proud of my disability. My identity is empowered when other people recognise I have the right to make my own decisions about my life, and that society is responsible for the barriers I face, rather than my cerebral palsy. It is important to realise that individual impairments can affect disabled people; inadequate social care, toxic attitudes and inaccessibility of spaces and leadership affect us more.

Disabled people are so much more than our impairments. We often rely upon the right support from governments and social care providers to enable us to live more independently, with real choice and control. Regardless of what our social care needs are, disabled people bring so much experience, humour and diversity to every platform.

My disability is by no means a defining factor, but it has helped to shape the way I view the world around me. Negative attitudes towards disabled people are based on stigma and discrimination as well as archaic ideas about abnormality, freakishness and the assumption that every person with an impairment experiences a sense of loss.

Many disabled people still face significant challenges to accessing transport, buildings and the countryside. However accessibility is about all spaces being created around the full range of public need. Accessibility is also about access to leadership, government and public appointments.

How can we have better representation if our governments, media, and companies are inaccessible and fail to represent disabled people or difference? By co-producing and designing services to be accessible to all we can empower people to strive for the opportunities available to them.

Why does inclusion matter?

It frustrates me that we live in a society that is so often prejudiced against anyone that falls outside a norm. The benefit of building an inclusive community, that embraces diversity, is immeasurable. While a community built around disability can be difficult to quantify, we can work together to create a better future by realising the power of empathy, compassion, understanding and sharing personal stories to create community.

A sense of identity within your own diversity is important. Individuals can uphold the mission of achieving equality for all by recognising that disability is created by society rather than individual impairments, and adopting the social model of disability. Society needs to adapt to disability, not the other way round.

The case for empowerment

The International Day of Disabled People draws upon the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UK ratified in 2009, and outlines what society can do to realise the rights of disabled people.

Human rights enable me, as a young disabled person, to live my life. Human rights could be used to create a more inclusive, empowered, accessible, society.

Disabled people are in a position to reinvigorate our own civil rights movement. Supporting and uniting the separate voices of charities, grass roots organisations, and influential disabled people is difficult but not impossible.

I look to a future that not only accepts difference but embraces it, uses it: giving disabled people equality of access, opportunity and respect.

Charlie is a young disabled campaigner that works for the UK based disability charity Independent Lives.