Tireless campaigning from disabled people has seen positive changes to legislation and everyday access, but we need more innovation to become truly inclusive. As he prepares to co-host the Disability Smart Awards, Simon Minty believes the next generation could hold the key.
Consultant and TV personality Simon Minty is no stranger to promoting inclusive practices and policies: for more than two decades now he has advised businesses on how to improve and now, as a Business Disability Forum ambassador, he is co-hosting the Disability Smart Awards. The 2023 awards will take place this Thursday, 27 April 2023, and can be watched via a live stream.
The awards showcase and celebrate the work of organisations that are improving the life experiences of disabled employees and consumers by removing barriers to inclusion. With 10 award categories along with a Lifetime Achievement Award, they are wide-ranging, covering all areas of society.
Along with celebrating companies’ achievements, the awards also provide a blueprint for other organisations who want to do more.
“You read what organisations are doing, what individuals are doing and then you go ‘oh wow’,” enthuses Simon. “The things companies are doing have gotten way more sophisticated and way more inclusive: before it might have been having a good reasonable adjustments policy, but now we are talking about processes, technology, recruitment. The quality of work needed to win the awards is continually going up.”
Meaningful work is at the centre of the awards, but it is also a way to say well done to organisations who are putting the effort into improving.
“We know an award is a still a snapshot and it’s a pat on the back for where you are right now,” offers Simon. “That moment to pause and reflect is really important because it encourages us and it inspires other places. I think it’s good to be competitive and want to win this, because it means you will work harder, that you will come up with better ideas and do better.
“Doing the basics isn’t enough anymore, these awards say well done for going the extra mile, for coming up with something different and amazing.”
This year, Simon will be presenting two awards, and both are suited to his experience and interests.
“I love all of the awards but they have chosen very well for me,” enthuses Simon. “The first is the Inclusive Recruitment Award, and working in this field I know there is still a level of unemployment of disabled people compared to what it should be, so I’m really glad to be presenting this because whatever you can do to recruit and retain more people is critical.
“The other one is the Inclusive Product Design Award for people who have created an accessible and aspirational product in the last 18 months. I love tech and I love gadgets, whenever I meet up with my friends, we spend the whole day talking about technology, so this is perfect for me.”
Diversity, equality and inclusion have improved and awards like this are a great step forward, but there’s still a long way to go before disabled people can stop advocating for equity.
“I think we’re in a really interesting period of flux right now, this is the first time I remember where disability can open doors rather than close them,” offers Simon. “The expectation is greater and that means organisations need to adjust: that looks very different if you are a technology company, a theatre or an environment agency, but the core principles of independence and inclusion should always be there.”
Simon has also seen organisations embracing these challenges and trying to do better, not because they have to but because they want to.
“People are asking what is our website like, how quick can we get these policies into place, do we have the right equipment,” offers Simon. “So it’s just getting better and better all of the time: the expectation is greater of organisations and their staff.”
Disability can no longer be treated as a blanket term: it’s time for organisations everywhere to pay attention to individual needs.
“Disability almost doesn’t seem to be a big enough word now, d/Deaf people may use the word deaf rather than disabled, people who are neurodivergent don’t always use the word disability even though they are under that umbrella,” advises Simon.
Improving can be complex, but now more than ever, there are ways to become informed on the different facets of disability.
“I would recommend looking at some books, some websites, and some podcasts, and the other thing I would advise doing is having a look online,” reveals Simon. “Go on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, find five interesting disabled people and follow them. They are going to talk about this stuff and that way you’re going to gradually get more informed.
“Social media is a light way to have it constantly dripping in. There’s a whole wealth of information that you can learn from and then you become an ally because you’re not just saying I care about this, you are being informed, you have learned this from disabled people.”
In Simon’s eyes, two of the greatest assets are the knowledge and progress made by the brilliant campaigners who have come before us, and the second is the new generation who are demanding more.
“We’ve changed so much and improved so many things which is amazing whether its access, legislation, visibility,” enthuses Simon. “If you are 21 and disabled, this is just the base level.
“Disability is so complex and we have a new generation whose expectations are greater than the previous one. They’re saying, great we’re here, but where do we want to go next?”
The next step is using this energy to influence practice and policy.
“We need to use the attention people are getting on social media and turn it into sophisticated campaigning, to get young people in the room with the right people,” offers Simon. “We need to continue to support each other because it’s really hard work, and I think the next generation have the energy to push.”
For businesses looking to push their boundaries, Simon would encourage them to watch this year’s awards and think about how they can change – they could even aim to enter next year’s awards.
“Watch them, see who wins and also see the people who are nominated, because even if they don’t win they still have great ideas,” emphasises Simon. “You have to have done something, you have to have innovated, and to do that I would be going to my colleagues who have disabilities and asking what needs to change to make us better.
“You do have to put work into your entry and that takes time, you will need evidence and proof to show you’ve actually done it, but it’s that little pat on the back and it can be encouraging to see you’re on the right path.”
Find out more about the Disability Smart Awards from Business Disability Forum now: www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk
Keep up with Simon on Twitter @simonminty