Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Disability: To some it identifies what's wrong in the world, to others it represents what's wrong with themselves.

In the summer of 2017 I hosted an event for the Business Disability Forum in London. Below is the significantly modified speech I made there. It's a thought piece really, me trying to work something out. It got people talking and I'd love to hear what you think. 

Hello, my name is Simon Minty, I am your host this evening. If you don’t know me, I’ve been an associate to the Business Disability Forum for twenty years. 

Asda supermarket sign with three symbols of a man, woman and wheelchair user with the words Not every disability is visible and Accessible Toilet
Asda toilet sign - disability is very broad these days but
have those identifying as so, kept pace?
It’s great that you are here and great that you do the job you do. I suspect some of you came to this disability or diversity role by accident, or maybe it was on purpose as it looked interesting? Maybe some of you are directly affected so have a personal interest. Dare I suggest, maybe one or two of you are after an award from the Queen! I know most of us do this work because we want to see change. Working with the Forum, such change is about improving how organisations operate in the workplace and how they interact with their disabled customers. 

After several years in banking, I became professionally involved in disability equality. Luckily for me, the changes needed were pretty clear plus there was new equality legislation to help. Skilled, knowledgable and confident people, (many of whom had visible impairments and identified as disabled) advised on how things could improve. If you were around in the early noughties, you had legally enforceable rights and were part of the conversation and informed the plan.

It wasn't all rosey. Then as now, a lot of disabled people (legally at least) prefer to keep quiet, they're embarrassed and don't want to be treated differently. The law didn't even come in to it. More significantly, they didn't see themselves the same as those who used a wheelchair or a guide dog. They were something separate and different. 

A round street sign with a red edge, inside it has multiple stick people all the same. Underneath the sign is a notice saying May contain hidden disabilities
Many people have conditions that are a disability
under the law but the condition is not visible.
In the last few years, there has been an increased openness about non-visible conditions, be it mental health, neurological or long term health conditions. That's great! But many affected people don’t speak so they don't get the assistance that could make their life easier or them more effective. They remain fearful of the word 'disability' and use a lot of mental energy trying to avoid it. So it makes me wonder, does anything unite the visibly disabled and those with something invisibleit?  

It's hard to give a straight answer. I think there is but it's complex and nuanced. It might be a perception of the self, a feeling, noticing you might be treated differently. Or, you behave differently to fit in. It's knowing you think about something that no one else does (except for those with exactly the same thing who get it instinctively). I think the fear of a loss of independence is part of it. 

Why am I asking what do we have in common? Does it matter?

A man sits underneath a white horse shaped animal. He is half way through painting black stripes on it.
Is it a horse or a zebra?
As we focus more on non-visible disabilities, we don’t have an agreed unifying model across all disabilities. Plus ca change! That's not unique and other strands of equality don't all agree on everything. The differences might be greater than the commonality but there is commonality. If the plan for those who can, is to hide it, will that just re-enforce the stigma? How do we reduce the shame for those who actually need a little help? They don't have wear a t-shirt but surely in 2017 they should be able to speak for themselves.

In the past twenty years, for some the word 'disability' helped identify barriers. Now some reject it, it's not about them. In the 90s, the word 'handicapped' was replaced by 'disability'. We may move on to a new word but is the word is the main issue? To some it identifies what's wrong in the world, to others it represents what's wrong with themselves. Can Harry Potter save us here? In the books, characters say 'He Who Must Not Be Named' as they were scared. (Spoiler alert) Harry Potter was one of the few who did say the name 'Voldermort' and Harry was the one who defeated him. I think it's a state of mind more than a word. I worry we may be setting ourselves adrift in to individual units. We must allow for our individuality, but I think finding, celebrating a commonality is desirable too.     
A photo of Simon, who is short statured, talking to someone. Simon is in a brown suit and shirt and smiling.
Simon Minty, a disabled person
and many other things.

I hope amongst the many challenges facing us in this field of work, we continue with one of the aims of the Business Disability Forum, to allow people to be themselves at work or out living their lives, to reduce the stigma of disability, but not to run away from it. 

Business Disability Forum is unique, we’re unique, let’s not be nervous, let’s be proud. 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Complacency or the long game?

My local dentist is a five minute walk from my home. I use my mobility scooter when I visit as it's too far to walk and this way, I don't have to worry about parking. This week, I went for a check up and for the first time, there were three ramps in place on arrival. 

The back story: in 2010 I sent my dentist a strongly worded letter explaining their three steps meant access for people using wheels, i.e. me, wasn't good and I made some suggestions. They invested in a portable ramp so I could get in. I would call the dentist when I was approaching and they would come out and put the ramp down. I'd go up to the first platform and wait whilst they put the same ramp on the next step and so on. It was a bit of a palaver but just about worked. It took time but I'm rarely in a rush to climb in to the dentist's chair. This week, to have enough ramps for me to go straight in was the warmest welcome I've had there. My smile was bright before seeing the hygienist.  

I posted a photo of the new ramps in situ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and received numerous likes. There were a number of comments too, ranging from the pun filled 'glad they ramped up their service' to the somewhat missing the point 'nice tiles'. There was one from a colleague who asked 'is it 20 years since it became the law?'

Indeed it is, and it has been seven years since my strongly worded letter. This made me ponder, had I become complacent? I'm a disability consultant for goodness sake. Why didn't I push them further, or consider a case under the access to goods and services provisions of the Equality Act? Alternatively, why hadn't I taken my custom elsewhere and shown them the power of the disabled / purple pound? Should I have contacted some of my activist friends to ask them to hold a demo and embarrass the dentist in to action?

The reality is a combination of make do and mend but also playing the long game. The first ramp in 2010 was the minimum: adequate but legally arguable as less favourable treatment or a lower standard of service. If I'd gone to court I might have won and things changed but it would have been tough and maybe costly. If I'd taken my custom elsewhere, I suspect their single ramp would have gone in a cupboard and nothing would have changed. Instead, I just kept going back, calling them each time I was approaching, reminding them every time they needed another ramp. My continued presence was pressure. The problem was I only went once or twice a year, so they had long stretches of not being reminded.  

Today though, it's in place and it's great! It's not just me either, it will help plenty of other people including the gazillions of parents with buggies where I live. It shouldn't have taken so long. Some people won't wait that long, some can't wait that long. The long game came good this time but it won't always. 

(Scroll down below the pic for more)

It's a long narrow entrance with graduated steps with level platforms in-between. There are three ramps over the black and white tiles. At the bottom of the steps, so on the pavement, the receptionist doing a happy dance.
Above is a photo of the three ramps in place and the receptionist doing a happy dance. 
Finally, below two links to the recent BBC Ouch podcast which I co-host. There's the show I'm calling 'Life' in which we interview the chap who had booked a date with death in Switzerland but because of the kindest of a stranger, he postponed it. Yep, sometimes help is incredibly urgent. Or if you prefer, a quirky, and utterly enjoyable to make, interview with a comedian who is losing his sight so has made a show about it. 
BBC Ouch talk show  - Life
BBC Ouch talk show - Comedy

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Embolden travel and conversations


Simon in front of the Golden Buddha at the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok

Simon in front of the Golden Buddha
at the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok

I visited Thailand in March after years of hesitation assuming it would be too hard to get around with a mobility scooter, not to mention emotionality tiring if people overreacted to a short man wandering around. Although not easy, access was ok for me and people weren't especially interested. We spent a few days in Bangkok visiting Royal Palaces, street markets and a terrifying rooftop bar! Then we went to Khau Lak for sunshine and beach time. The world is smaller, difference is everywhere and thankfully most people were polite and helpful. A few couldn't resist taking out their phones to take a photo of me and for once, I decided not to try to control this and gradually I started to not even care. The photo to the right was taken with permission, and I don't think I could look more like a tourist if I'd tried.

Disability and comedy

A new book about disability and comedy has been published, featuring contributions from the Abnormally Funny People team. It's titled 'Seriously FunnyDisability and the Paradoxical Power of Humor'. The publishers notes say the book is 'Exploring a paradox, Shawn Bingham and Sara Green show how humor has been used both to challenge traditional views of disability and to reinforce negative stereotypes and social inequalities. Seriously Funny ranges from ancient Greek dramas to medieval courts jesters to contemporary comedy, from stage performances to the experiences of daily life. Rich with insights into issues of identity and social stratification, it offers an eye-opening perspective on attitudes toward disability across the ages.'

For your listening pleasure

Soon after coming back from Thailand, I was in the studio recording two podcasts. Maybe it was the holiday, maybe it was the guests or maybe the topics, but both shows are rather special in their own different ways. If you fancy a change from your current reading or want something to listen to in the car, whilst keeping fit or on the commute, why not give them a try?

BBC Ouch show discusses T4 in disability history, when the Nazi's killed disabled people. There's fantastic music from Holy Moly & The Crackers.

BBC Ouch talkshow  'Behind the Scenes'

L-R Nicola Werenowska, Stephen Unwin, Kate Monaghan, Simon Minty in the BBC Radio studio.

BBC Radio Studio L-R Nicola Werenowska, Stephen Unwin, Kate Monaghan, Simon  

The Phil & Simon Show talks identity politics, is there creep of the 'non-disableds' talking on behalf of disabled people? When should someone share? And if that's not enough, it ventures in to the minimum wage and learning disabled people debate. Inevitably, voices are raised and tables are thumped.

The Phil & Simon Show  'Where Angels Fear to Tread'

L - R Phil Friend and Simon Minty taken with a selfie stick with a bookshelf in the background.

L - R Phil Friend and Simon 

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Happy Talk

A brief update, promoting the two podcasts I co-host.

First up, BBC Ouch with my co-host Kate Monaghan. This month was a lot of fun to record, we were in a mischievous mood and our guests joined in. We talk serious stuff though, diets to 'cure' your impairment, ADHD, ADD, chimps with Down Syndrome. OK, that last one wasn't as serious.

Secondly, The Phil & Simon Show with my co-host and former business partner, now great friend, Phil Friend. We grapple with the latest disability and wider world issues with varying success. My favourite bit is Phil's reaction when I tell him I'm reading Andrew Neil's book, which finishes around 1997 when Tony Blair becomes Prime Minister. My mum's impartial and piercingly accurate review of this show was 'I see why you call it the PHIL & Simon Show as Phil talks a lot and you try and get a word in.'

You can subscribe to both via iTunes or Audioboom. And do leave a comment or get in contact as it's great to hear from listeners.

Next blog will report back on my trip to Thailand. Excited, what an amazing thing to do, apprehensive, will I be able to get around?

Pic of Natasha Lipman, Simon Minty and Kate Monaghan in BBC Studio
L-R Natasha Lipman, Simon Minty, Kate Monaghan

Friday, 9 December 2016

Walking on Sunshine

The hip is working well. I did trip over the other day... As I was walking, I felt my trousers slipping down a little. I reached behind to pull them up forgetting that my walking stick was in the same hand. The stick got caught between my shins and down I tumbled. There was a weird sensation in my new hip, just for a moment. Almost like a twang but much softer. As someone who has poor balance tripping is perfectly normal to me and my well honed skills of arms out, fall in to a press up position prevented any physical harm. I got up and thirty seconds later all was fine. This new walking lark is amazing and complicated.

Work is busy. I've run a lot of training events with media organisations such as All3Media, Endemol Shine and Warner Bros, some via Indie Training Fund. Really enjoyable courses, either discussing employment and adjustments or getting deep in to portrayal of disability on TV with people who make the shows. Those I met know how to do it, sometimes they just need more confidence or clarity. Had an enjoyable international afternoon with Facilities Managers from the British Council Estates team discussing how they can make their premises more accessible in very different countries.

In November, there was a big conference on branding, advertising, design and media at Kings Place and I was chuffed to be asked to speak at it. Soon after, I spent the day with Channel 4 execs as part of a talent day (thank you 104 Films and Laurence Clark). Great to hear about the different strands, marketing methods and eye opening too as to how it works and what they want - disability wise? Drama and comedy. We go back in January aiming to present some ideas.

Come December and I hosted an event for Purple Space for the launch of their Purple Stories guide, on how to tell your story. The event was packed which is a testament to Kate Nash and her success in bringing people to together and ongoing development of staff networks.

The podcasts come thick and fast. BBC Ouch every month of course and I'm now on their team page which is kinda cool. It was also a technological nightmare to do (thanks for perservering Beth). Plus there's the shooting from the hip, post expert, post truth, unscripted mutterings of me and good friend Phil Friend. One listener said the show should be re-titled Grumpy Old Men do Disability, fair point.

Links below and a pic of me getting ready for 'purple talk'.

Simon, sitting down, is wearing a back suit and purple shirt. His left hand is cupped as to mime talking.
Simon Minty at Purple Space event 8th Dec 2016

BBC Ouch   Sisters Together for Ever

This disability talk show was all about siblings of someone with a disability. What's is it like for the one without?

Phil & Simon Show   Everybody Knows

Phil and Simon, good friends, differing politics, a shared commitment to disability equality discuss Trump, Brexit, British judiciary, genetic screening and using a disability to cover up a character trait you don't want. There's a discussion of the already missed Leonard Cohen's lyrics.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Hip Hip Away....

On 18th July 2016, I had a total hip replacement operation. I had been avoiding surgery for ten years mostly as I knew anaesthetic for people with my form of dwarfism (SEDc) can have complications. I was lucky to find a fantastic surgeon, a top notch anaesthetist and awesome orthopaedic surgical care practitioner. That was nine weeks ago... I now have better mobility and the original pain has gone. It gets better each day.

During my rehabilitation I stopped working, however, I did record a couple of podcasts. Forgive my crowing but both shows are a treat! Maybe that's because I was the nice side of the operation and therefore euphoric....or maybe it's the medication. What happens is all sorts of half formed thoughts  fly from my mouth and the lovely people I do the shows with work their magic. I hope you enjoy them.

BBC Ouch (59 mins) 

- losing it with 'I live in a bucket' news story 
- when the little voice in your head is Louis Walsh
- that some wear a badge to say they need help whilst others (like me) are offered help all the time

BBC Ouch show link  (opens in a new window) 

BBC Ouch Disability Talk logo
BBC Ouch Disability Talk logo

Phil & Simon Show no. 5    (41 mins) 

- Olympics and the Daily Mail
- my surgery and recovery 
- Asda (supermarket) new toilet signage
- a dodgy joke at the end...it's not the BBC you see 

Phil and Simon Show link   (opens in a new window)

Black and white x-ray of Simon's hips, showing thin thigh bones

X-ray of Simon's hips. Sorry, you can't un-see this!

Simon is on the left, Phil on the right and a microphone is on the table in between them
Phil and Simon

If you've read this far, thank you. As well as the euphoria of being alive post op, I've also been a bit melancholy which I guess is natural. One way I 'enjoy' the downside is to listen to sappy music. I'm old enough to remember this when it came out and I still think it is a belter of a song. Surely we all can relate to the lyrics, about someone you once loved. So here it is, Air Supply's All Out of Love. Turn it up loud!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Winner Takes It All... Phil & Simon Show no. 4

The latest Phil and Simon Show is out.

We chat about post-Brexit UK, music to listen to when you're having an MRI scan, Chilcot and the Iraq Inquiry, accessible motor homes, Aspergers, the disabled employment gap, our next Prime Minister and hip surgery. In about 35 mins. We have no boundaries. 

Hope you like it and thank you for listening.

Friday, 8 July 2016

BBC Ouch talkshow July 16

The latest BBC Ouch show is out. It's about comedy, mental health, pony tales, doing activities that your impairment suggests you shouldn't and me and Kate Monaghan-Cocker making quips. 
Mighty fine guest include Laurence Clark Harriet Dyer and Jack Binstead who are fun and funny . Hope you like it.

BBC Ouch show in the studio L-R Laurence Clark, Kate Monaghan-Cocker, Jack Binstead, Harriet Dyer
In the studio BBC Ouch show L-R Laurence Clark, Kate Monaghan-Cocker, Jack Binstead, Harriet Dyer

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The new Phil and Simon Show

The third Phil and Simon Show is out now - and it's a corker. We chat about going to the Epsom Derby on an open top bus, the EU referendum, people with dementia and mythical creatures. It's fun, it's fast coming in at 32 mins.

Click on a link below to listen and I hope you enjoy it.


iTunes - show date 19th June 2016
A cream and red, double decker bus parked near the race course in Epsom
Open top bus at the 2016 Epsom Derby