Disability Discrimination – It’s Over Right?!

WOW…a year since my last blog! It’s been a busy time both personally and professionally but no excuse really; so why come out of blog stasis now?

Well, back in the day I was very involved in the Direct Action Network protesting for for greater rights and freedoms for Disabled People. Not as active as many in the Network – juggling work with bringing up a young family etc. but did my share at demos and some.

Debates were had about successes and failures wrapped around the “Rights Not Charity” and “Piss on Pity” battle cries!

Pressure built on the establishment to address the civil rights issues being fought for and in 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act was passed; now subsumed into the Equality Act 2010. At the time it was celebrated by many, however like a lot of activists I knew it was a sell-out, still inherently based on the Medical Model of Disability. Certainly, individual cases have been won around proven discrimination; the key word unfortunately being ‘individual’ – there’s still no collective responsibility being taken by society as espoused by the Social Model of Disability.

I work in public service believing, or justifying to myself, that change has to come from pressure within the system as well as from external forces. Yet recent events make me hanker for some long lost Direct Action!

What are these events? Well to name a few:

The list could go on and on; however, as a punk rock/indie music lover here’s one more to throw into the mix -“Disabled music fans are unable to buy tickets: Human Rights Commission report

Sadly all of the above rings true to me both in the work I do and in my social life; plus, I know it’s a similar story for other equality groups. When I go out I feel under greater scrutiny, having a very overt impairment the stares/the comments etc. have always been there but these days they seem a lot more threatening and menacing!
Stepping back from my anger at the current climate I think there are a number of factors in play, not least the issue of ‘scapegoating’.

Scapegoating is the practice of blaming an individual or group for a real or perceived failure of others. The origin of the term comes from the Bible. The high priest in Biblical times would place his hand upon a goat’s head and transfer the sins of the community to the goat, which was then released into the desert.

It is not uncommon to blame others for our own mistakes, and especially to affix blame on those who are unable or unwilling to defend themselves against the charges. Minorities are often the targets of scapegoating. First, minorities are often isolated within society and are thus an easy target. Those in the majority are more easily convinced about the negative characteristics of a minority with which they have no direct contact. Violence, persecution, and genocide directed against minorities often occur when a minority group is being blamed for some social ill. Unemployment, inflation, food shortages, the plague, austerity and crime in the streets are all examples of ills which have been blamed on minority groups.

Look at how the media, politicians, etc. are portraying the increasingly toxic debate around Asylum Seekers and immigration – so wonderfilly satirised (great excuse to listen to it again :-)) in the recent track and video “Burn the Witch” by my all time fave band Radiohead:

Where Next?

So where does all this leave me. Well, I stll feel legislation is important but it’s too blunt a tool to tackle all aspects of predujice and discrimination. No civil rights movement has progressed without an element of disobedience and Direct Action. For me, and may be others, it can be a source of empowerment. Thus, I think I need to get back in the game.

I’ll continue to work on the inside – yet not sure how, with who or when but I’ll be back out there in some form actively protesting; it’s not as though there’s a lack of issues to go at!

Just to end, here’s a cracking TED Talk entitled: “I’m not your inspiration – thank you very much”. Really encapsulating another aspect of the debate/agenda and illustrating that Disabled People simply want to be part of society and not marginalised, patronised or objectified.

Until the next time…

 

The Shift in the Responsibility for Change!

Every once in a while an article, a talk, a debate etc. comes along which helps crystallise nagging concerns/thoughts that I haven’t been able to pin down. Well, this has happened recently upon reading the recent thought provoking IPPR article and listening to debate on “The happiness industry: How the government and big business sold us wellbeing”.

Based on Will Davies’ book of the same name IPPR curate a fascinating discussion between the author and a representative from NEF on the growing medicalisation and how our emotions, psychology have become monetised. We can now apparently measure our happiness and wellbeing! By offering strategies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Mindfulness and the plethora of “self-help” techniques around we are now apparently far better equipped to take control and “heal thyself”.

As individuals we of course ideally need to be independent, healthy, fully-functioning beings. Yet a primary contention of Will Davies is that the focus on the individual focus for change somewhat negates the need for the populous to put pressure on or for organisations and political institutions themselves to make changes which address root causes and not simply focus on symptoms. To give this particular Wellbeing area justice take a look at the IPPR article with podcast or video.

It set me thinking about other matters and work I’m either directly/indirectly affected by or involved in. Yes, in public service austerity and budget cuts remain all-pervasive, yet does this mean our models of transformation are going in the right direction or supported from the ‘correct’ perspective?

We talk a lot about changing the relationship between citizen and state, partly to break the so-called “dependency-culture” and partly because we require greater collaboration to meet increasing community needs with diminishing resources. There is undoubtedly tremendous potential in areas such as collaborative consumption but unless public institutions take the lead we run the risk of leaving a space within which, what I term, a mythical “free market” will be filled by profiteering conglomerates.  Far from being anti-business, I’m more concerned how we as public bodies support communities to be engaged and involved on an equal footing. In order to achieve this structural barriers need to be tackled alongside empowerment strategies.  Ideas explored more fully in Chapter 4 of an insightful paper by NESTA.

A strange and possibly trite indirect link here – I’m hopefully about to move house and as you know the paperwork to be completed seems endless. Proof of ID etc. for a mortgage is essential yet all the necessary documentation is on line meaning all the cost of production and effort to coordinate is placed on us as customers. Now, anyone who knows me will testify my belief in the power of cyberspace to be a positive force for good, nonetheless my current experience got me thinking about the inexorable move to Digital by Default a bit more.

Certainly as a strategy it will save money for local councils and for many make services easier and more available. To me though we have to avoid a consumerist approach and as referenced in an article entitled: “The Role of The Individual in ‘Digital by Default’ Public Services” local government must, as the LGA have stated –

  • Put citizens at the forefront
  • Give citizens real reason to participate
  • Co-design services that are affordable, are built around needs and make a visible difference

Self-service either externally or internally in an organisation has to avoid issues such as disadvantaging the ‘user’ in respect of overly shifting the burden costs and compromising service standards and the like.

Again the point being that we organisationally need to design with a citizen-led focus ensuring we avoid potential systemic problems like digital exclusion. Cost savings cannot be the only principal driver, it surely has to be about enhanced and improved pubic services.

On a digital note it is why I’m very excited and proud to be part of the #notwestminster ‘posse’. The latest phase of our work being coordinated by colleagues such as Dave Mckenna and others, focusing on “local democracy design challenges”. Dave’s blog explains where the ideas emanated from, how they have been built on an event earlier this year and a are being pushed forwards by a quasi digitally based movement rooted in local democratic engagement with the purpose to improve all aspects of collectively-based local democracy via a digital lens and grass roots development, buy-in and now active implementation.

To conclude…

OK, I could go on but let me try and bring these ramblings to a summation. The endless refrain right now is that public services must transform and constantly evolve. Hard to disagree with this on many levels. My concern is that we transform without a “public service ethos”. For me it’s a belief system, an approach to society and why many of us “got in the game” in the first place.

Public services have always embraced change that is not up for debate for me; it’s more about the basis and nature of the change. Local government has always placed tackling inequality, democracy and serving communities at the heart of what it does. Certainly many failures as well as successes can be cited, however the right raison-d’etre and ethos is still running through and being fought for by the public sector family.

Going back to where this piece began, the current dominant thinking about Wellbeing strategies and interventions (as an example) purports a very individualistic model. Dangerously for me, we run the risk of moving people’s dependency from a social interventionist sphere to a psychological dependency reliant on mechanisms like CBT or counselling without improving people’s quality of life and long term self-sufficiency. Neither positions are ultimately desirable, however the latter seems to be moving us further and further away from a strong ideological basis for tackling the larger societal and structural injustices that no individual citizen could hope to affect by themselves.

A generalisation but do we really want a USA-style “I’m in therapy” dependency culture?!

It may be viewed as counter-culture right now, nevertheless my belief is more than ever public services should adopt a  fully democratically mandated quasi-collective bargaining role in collaboration with its citizens.

Diversity + Inclusion = Productivity!

The title of this blog encapsulates the approach I am taking on helping to modernise the Diversity strategy in the council I work for, more of that in a moment. It’s just over a year since Government Digital Service published an good blog on a checklist around digital inclusion and there have been many others since.

inclusion

Still enthused by our #notwestminster event at the start of the month I’m genuinely excited by the future. My excitement is slightly tempered by the nagging thought that Digital has the potential, if we’re not careful, to perpetuate inequalities in society, for example:

  • who gets access
  • who is digitally literate
  • does everyone know the rules of engagement
  • are organisations prepared to be truly open

Many other aspects exist, however for me this is where the on-line and off-line worlds collide in respect of encouraging Diversity and tackling Inequality. Back to my current thinking on this ‘off-line’. In the Einstein-ish equation Diversity + Inclusion = Productivity, the final element vis-à-vis public service is not about profit but focusses on improved services.

Beyond tokenism

Diversity has traditionally been thought of in terms of the ‘visible’ differences between people, such as gender, race, disability etc. with a focus on eliminating discrimination based on these differences.

Diversity is about those differences, but this narrow definition ultimately short-changes what it really means. Diversity is about what makes each of us unique and includes our backgrounds, personality, life experiences and beliefs. In fact, all of the things that make us who we are. It is a combination of the visible and invisible differences that shape our view of the world, our perspective and our approach.

This broader view of diversity is encapsulated by the idea that diversity is really about diversity of ‘thought’[i] – where different perspectives and capabilities are the point of difference, rather than our visible characteristics. Whether it be off-line or on-line I believe we need innovative ideas from anywhere and anyone to transform services, however this must be open to all!

So what does this mean for the business case for diversity? A lot. It offers a more inclusive and engaging discussion than one focused on visible diversity, which is often duality and therefore divisive. And it creates a new line of inquiry about the nature of the business case, shifting the question from ‘How can increasing gender, racial, LGBT, disability, age diversity etc. help us improve business outcomes?’ to ‘How rich is our knowledge bank?’, ‘Do we have the variety of perspectives necessary to deal with complex problems and create innovative solutions?’ and ‘Are we fully valuing and leveraging the potential of all our communities and employees?

These questions need to be answered in the ‘digital’ world as much as the ‘physical’ one.

Diversity is leveraged through inclusion

But more than just changing the business case conversation, focusing on diversity of thought enables us to see people as individuals rather than as representatives of a group and this helps us to find common ground when working together. It provides a focal point that is applicable across different cultural and national contexts. And while research on diversity and performance often focuses on visible diversity, the case connecting diversity of thought to engagement and innovation is growing and appears more solid than the causal link between gender, race, LGBT etc. and business success.

NB: recognition still needs to be given to the fact that certain groups have and continue to face greater discrimination than others in society.

Simply ‘having’ diversity is not enough

Diversity is leveraged through ‘inclusion’ – the extent to which individuals feel valued and included by an organisation, a process or way of working. This is achieved through inclusive leadership, namely by ensuring all communities and employees have the opportunity to fulfil their individual and combined potential. According to Miller and Katz (2002): “Inclusion increases the total human energy available to the organisation. People can bring far more of themselves to their jobs because they are required to suppress far less”[ii].

Diversity and inclusion are therefore related but different concepts. You can have a diverse workforce without inclusion; and inclusion without diversity[iii]. But one without the other is only half of the business performance equation. Again, put simply: diversity + inclusion = improved business outcomes.

It is therefore a reasonable inference to make that if organisations can see a more granular link between diversity and business outcomes through the lens of inclusion, and this link resonates with personal experiences, then the business case for diversity will be more tangible.

And this will help to close the perception gap between diversity and the bottom line.

Improved customer insight and service

Any organisation should be committed to providing high quality services through understanding and meeting individual customer needs and aspirations. We know that these differ from customer to customer, so we will adjust our services accordingly to ensure that they all have a fair and open chance to use and benefit from our services.

So, our commitment means understanding and meeting the needs of customers regardless of their diversity.

The diversity of a workforce can and should provide invaluable customer insight and lead to more effective and targeted services and/or provision to meet customer or the communities’ needs – again helping to deliver the ‘bottom line’.

To Conclude…

Whether it be internal to an organisation or external collaboration with communities we need to embrace Diversity as core to our business, whatever that may be. I believe if we adopt such an approach within public services via Digital greater creativity, ideas and solutions will emerge to address the challenges we face, resulting in benefits such as:

  • more citizen-led and shaped services
  • better informed and engaged communities
  • increased involvement, representation and engagement
  • greater involvement in the democratic process
  • community resilience and capacity building

The digital tools are out there and growing in numbers all the time, some good examples here in the Creating Digital Communities report by the Tinder Foundation and some excellent thoughts from John Popham’s in his recent piece ‘Making Digital Inclusion Mainstream’. It’s our responsibility to make digital tools and mechanisms accessible to all and maximise the assets/ideas that everyone possesses.

My enthusiasm has never been higher but we must avoid a ‘Digital Divide’; if not the potential of democracy and equity on-line will be undermined! Sentiments excellently outlined here in a presentation ‘Digital inclusion – by default or intervention?’ –

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[i] 2010 USA State of Workplace Diversity Management Society for Human Resource Management.

[ii] Miller, F.A. & Katz, J.H. (2002) The Inclusion Breakthrough Berrett-Koehler Publishers, CA USA.

[iii] Kandola, B. (2009) The Value of Difference – Eliminating bias in organisations Pearn Kandola Publishing, Oxford UK.