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Focusing on Ability

Following on from my previous ‘Lived Experience’ article and marking the International Day of Disabled Persons on Friday 3 December, I want to highlight the importance of focusing on abilities.

The common perception of people with a disability is that they are not going to be as capable. In reality, the prejudices and inflexibility of people, processes and equipment are often a greater barrier, rather than the health condition. With the right tools and support, people with disabilities can achieve as well as anyone else.

I’m going to start by looking at two inspirational women. One is a medal-winning Paralympian, Accountancy graduate and co-founder of a social enterprise. The second is already a company Director and author of two children’s books at just 26 years of age. Both are motivational speakers and consultants who are aiming to change attitudes towards people with disabilities.

Inspiring Athlete: Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson started swimming as a child to build her muscle strength. Her natural flair, commitment and determination soon led to participation in local and national galas, but she didn’t stop there. At 14, she was selected for Team GB and in 2004, she won a silver medal in 100m Breaststroke. In 2008, she competed in the Beijing Paralympics, returning with a gold medal. She gained a Bronze in London 2012 to complete the collection. Liz has Cerebral Palsy.

Having retired from her swimming, Liz has been a sports commentator, alongside co-founding The Ability People (TAP). TAP offers consultancy to businesses to build disability awareness. Liz is keen to help companies confidently employ people with disabilities and equip them with the tools to excel. The aim is to support businesses to enhance processes and adapt cultures so they can transform professional lives.

“My life experience taught me that just because you do things differently, doesn’t mean you can’t do them at all”. – Liz Johnson

Every TAP consultant has overcome barriers and gone on to achieve in their field. They bring a unique perspective to the businesses they work with.

Young Entrepreneur: Molly Watt

Molly Watt completed her A Levels in 2014, the same year that she was recruited as an Accessibility Specialist in her local Apple store. As a teenager, this role led her to deliver training at Apple’s flagship store in London and Apple HQ. She now works as the Accessibility and Usability Specialist for Tech Company, Nexer.

That would be an impressive CV on its own, however, she also set up Molly Watt Talks, a company offering keynote speeches and consultancy, particularly in assisted technology design. She enjoys writing and two of her children’s books have been published. In addition, she is an ambassador for Sense and the Molly Watts Trust. Molly has Usher Syndrome and is deafblind.

Ability Awareness

When we use the word disability, it is easy to make judgements. Biases come into play and assumptions are made about limitations. As the mother of a son with a rare condition, I want to challenge this thinking.

Yes, we need disability awareness, but we also need ability awareness.

Can I encourage you to realign your thinking to focus on an individual’s abilities? You might be recruiting talent for your team, designing products or services for customers, or providing customer service. Take an active interest in the tools and resources you can provide to increase accessibility and inclusivity. This can empower people, whilst helping your organisation to build a better brand.

Let’s look at it another way. I wonder how many of you would have been able to compete in an Olympic pool or confidently deliver training at Apple HQ as a teenager. I know either would have been beyond my abilities, yet judged on their condition alone, society might overlook the potential of these women.

They represent thousands of strong, competent, and skilled individuals who are registered disabled. Their lived experiences could provide valuable insight to help your organisation to embrace inclusivity for the benefit of colleagues and customers.

I know from experience, that with awareness and the right attitudes, opportunities, and resources (the design of websites, facilities, technology, and internal processes) people with disabilities can live independent, fulfilling lives.

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