We’d love to keep sharing our exciting developments in the Global Good community with you, but you’ll need to ‘opt-in’ to our communications before 25th May, when GDPR takes effect. Read more about how we protect your data here >>
The GGA #PointlessPlastics campaign launched in November 2017, and so far it’s been a great success. As hoped, we have learned a lot from our work on the campaign, but some of the things we had to learn were not quite what we had expected at the outset…
Shortly after #PointlessPlastics launched we were alerted to ableist messages on social media from people supporting the campaign. Even though the campaign had a clear intention, it became obvious that some things which might seem ‘pointless’ to some, were really needed by many in the disabled community.
We realised that we needed to be more explicit about what “pointless” meant, and that we needed to educate ourselves, and others, about the differing needs at play, in order to make sure that the #PointlessPlastics campaign was inclusive.
We contacted Lorna Stewart after reading her excellent article in the Huffpost on pre-prepared food. We wanted to find out more about the needs and concerns of disabled people, around campaigns like #PointlessPlastics. Plus we wanted to use the GGA as another platform for voices from the disabled community, amongst the enormous noise that the plastics debate is creating.
Lorna kindly agreed to help us better understand the issues, and to produce content which we could learn from, and share.
This article is part of our journey to become more aware of ableism, and our wish to share what we are learning with the Global Good network.
What happened with #PointlessPlastics?
As the hashtag #PointlessPlastics started to trend on social media we found ourselves in an unexpected and uncomfortable situation… What some people were calling out as examples of ‘pointless plastics’, were products that meet the needs of people with certain disabilities. Whether or not that was the manufacturer’s’ original intention, that was certainly the reality.
Sadly, as can happen on social media, when it was pointed out that for some people these ‘convenience’ products were in fact a necessity, the conversation did not always become one of reflection. In a small number of cases, we were shocked by the vitriol in the online exchanges.
Even when discussions were civil, a suggestion that disabled people ‘…could carry their own straw, or take their own cup’, fails to recognise practical challenges, whilst assuming that the onus should be solely on disabled people themselves… We all can, and should, do better than that.
How should campaigns work to be more inclusive…
If supporters of the #PointlessPlastics campaign can be upset when informed that a product they criticise actually meets the needs of a disabled person, it’s equally understandable that a disabled person may feel that they are being criticised, or targeted, when certain products, and by extension anyone that uses them, are condemned for harming the environment.
Lorna explains the plurality…
LS: “People need to understand that the language we use is important, it influences and it excludes. Especially on social media, where people can interpret information in differing and problematic ways. There’s no problem being ‘plastic free’ but people are replacing ‘plastic straw free’ with ‘straw free’. That’s a different matter and that’s a problem for disabled people. Instead of ‘removal’ being the focal point, why can’t it be the ‘replacement’?”
LS: “I fully support this campaign, and any pro environment campaign. Further, I’m yet to meet a disabled person who doesn’t feel the same way. The only issue we have, is the wording used.”
At the most simple level, to avoid excluding people, we should be clear about our goals from the outset…
LS: “Plastics removed should be replaced beforehand, with a sustainable alternative. For example, before plastic straws are withdrawn ensure you provide a sustainable straw in its place. Make sure customers are aware – via visual signs and verbal exchange at point of purchase – that items are provided for those with needs upon request.”
… and always keep in mind what we set out to do in the first place.
LS: “We should remember our objective, and as far as I’m aware, it’s to reduce/end plastic waste, not disadvantage the disabled further.”
Replacement is not as easy as we might assume, as the campaign around plastic-straws has demonstrated…
Campaigners need to really understand whether the solutions they are proposing are appropriate for all people. As Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson also recently made public, many disabled people are unable to use the paper or metal straws that have been provided as alternatives.
LS: “… myself and other disabled people cannot use metal or paper straws. The paper decomposes in hot drinks, and many disabled people would chew, swallow and choke on them. I’m allergic to metal. Plus metal straws conduct heat. We know that metal straws have caused injuries both in the disabled community, but also with children and others.”
Simply, we need solutions that are accessible AND sustainable.
Joined up thinking is required from manufacturers on many levels. People buy packaged and pre-prepared food for several reasons; one of which is accessibility. People with accessibility needs must be reached and supported on our global journey to reduce our single-use plastics.
Improving #PointlessPlastics is one thing…
Clearly, the GGA #PointlessPlastics campaign needed to be more explicit in our communications from the outset, and to engage people outside of the sustainability movement. And that’s why we have taken steps to try to ensure that our campaign is now informed by, and inclusive of, the needs of people with accessibility needs. #PointlessPlastics can only be deemed to have had success if it leads to solutions that meet the needs of disabled people, and are better for the environment.
… But for the wider issues: we need a mindset change
The lack of awareness around the needs of disabled people, which was embodied in some responses to our campaign, reflects wider social issues.
When we started looking a little deeper into ableism, we were surprised by how little we really understood about the challenges facing disabled people in the UK, and the barriers to their campaigning for change. Why are so many of us unaware of the realities?
Lorna has already helped with our education around our campaign. But there’s a bigger story to be told… And more that we can learn, and need to understand, in order to create a more inclusive society. Whilst the GGA are a non-political organisation, we wanted to share the views of the people who are taking action to drive change, and to highlight their concerns around the experiences of disabled people.
What are the major challenges facing disabled people in the UK?
One issue that Lorna, Roo, and Anne highlight, counters the assumption that disabled people are receiving anything like the help and assistance that they require. Their experience and insight reveals huge challenges to meeting the most basic human needs, due to insufficient services and healthcare provision… How can any group make their voice heard when they are struggling day to day?
LS: “Many people believe we’re actually getting that help and assistance, completely unaware of how our current government has completely annihilated any area of support, services and advocacy we had. Whilst simultaneously removing funding support like the Independent Living Fund, Access to Work and Legal Aid, which helped us access such services and advocacy.”
AWS: “… You read all these horrible stories about things that happen to disabled people. Such as, they only get 15 minutes of care.”
LS: “Yes so basically, they often have to pick 3 care tasks out of their general daily needs, which can be met by care. So you’re often left with the choice of 3 from A) getting out of bed, B) being washed/bathed, C) being given your meds, D) being fed.”
The ‘flying’ care visit…
In 2015 the UK Government promised to put an end to 15 minute ‘flying’ care visits within a year… However, at least 18,875 people across Scotland, England, and Wales received personal care visits of 15 minutes or less for support with intimate care in 2016/17, based on data obtained from councils. The total figure is likely to be higher as many local authorities would not supply data following freedom of information requests.
LS: “If our basic care needs (the things we need to survive), are not being met, there’s no way our care can help with other areas such as campaigning or communicating. It’s a woefully inadequate system, under this government.”
What’s needed? Accessibility, tougher legislation and more complex conversations
RB: “I have yet to find an accessible meetup local to me and I have been searching for years… It’s illegal to not have compliant shops and public buildings so people assume that there mustn’t be any non compliant shops or public buildings – that is a fallacy.”
AWS: “Yes. Personally, I feel that I am more disadvantaged, by being disabled, than by being ‘black’. It’s different when fighting racism and fighting ableism. When someone calls me ‘Black….’ for example, I will look at them and think this person is really shallow, they’ve called me ‘Black…’ because of the colour of my skin.Yet, when I go to a venue, for a job interview and I cannot even get into the building – as its not disabled accessible, with a ramp – I don’t even know who to complain to. And when you do complain, there’s no outcome.
“Therefore, I look at the legislation, as it’s the legislation, that lets the disabled person down. That failure to legislate, leaves the disabled person, more marginalised.”
RB: “Whilst I feel that to ask if any minority is the most marginalised is to start comparing experiences, and we border into competing, when we should be working together. That being said, it would be remiss of me to not point out that as a white person, I have privilege even though I am trans, disabled and mentally ill. I for instance, don’t have to worry about being told to leave my home country because bigots think I’m an immigrant. I don’t have to worry about my house of worship being defaced with swastikas, like the mosque I live next to.
“But as a disabled person, I know that we are continually left out of public debate… We are told that it’s illegal to discriminate so there mustn’t be any discrimination.”
What’s needed? For the able bodied to listen
RB: “The straw debate is a prime example of abled society not listening to what disabled people are saying, that and the pre packaged fruit/food debate.”
LS … “The fight for disability equality often stagnates. Legislation is created (not necessarily implemented or supported or is even problematic in its creation i.e. often intentionally open to interpretation) and that’s seen as enough. As a group, we’re then forgotten about.”
AWS: “Disabled people are still struggling to find a voice… to be heard… Nobody really cares, and why does nobody care? Because the legislation has let us down.”
LS: “The public need to be given the facts. Most people would care, if they knew the truth/reality of our situation.”
One huge challenge facing disabled people when they need to force authorities to legislate properly, and then implement and enforce legislation, is the challenge of getting their voice heard.
And yet the facts and figures, and analysis of disability rights in the UK, are in the public domain and they are reported in our media. So how is it that many abled people remain so unaware of the issues, and changes in society, that particularly affect disabled people?
The general lack of understanding is especially surprising when you consider that approximately one fifth of the UK population is classed as disabled – and the likelihood is that this proportion will increase as we live longer lives.
9 million people, from a population of 64 million, are registered disabled in the UK
Life costs £570 more on average a month if you’re disabled
What’s needed? Greater representation, and able-bodied allies
Perhaps surprising when you think of how many of us are classified as disabled, but less surprising when you consider the severity of some conditions, combined with a lack of access to help and resources. If you’re struggling to get help to perform basic human functions, it leaves little time for things such as campaigning.
The challenge of campaigning
LS: “A distinct barrier, of note, would be as a group, in many ways we’re comparatively less able to advocate for ourselves. Often unable to effectively communicate for many reasons and obviously with more health restrictions than the other groups, it can be harder to ‘hear’ and ‘see’ us… we’re easier to ignore. Many of us, cannot even communicate for ourselves. Our campaigns are not heard, our voices are not heard.”
AWS: “Yes, I agree. Our campaigns are not heard, we don’t even have the capacity to promote them on the same level. When it comes to campaigning and protests, we cannot go to London and march. How do you mobilise this group, with no resources or government support? It’s difficult to mobilise disabled people, their carers etc.”
LS: “In order to advocate we often require an abled persons assistance. Unlike any other group, we don’t just need your support to gain equality, we need your support to even highlight our fight for equality… many of us cannot get out to march, so we need people who are not in our group to do it for us, not just ‘with us’ and that’s where I think it falls down.”
LS: “With any other minority group rights issue, you are always going to need people who are not of those minority groups to campaign and support those groups in order for them to gain equality – we know this… We know that in order for women, to be equal, we need men to join us, in our campaign/fight for equality, in order to ever achieve that objective… The difference is with disabilities, we not only need non-disabled people to fight for us to ensure our equality, we often need them to communicate for us. A very basic and essential need. That puts us at something of a disadvantage, when it comes to raising awareness. I believe that to be the one, fundamental difference. Most of us are just trying stay alive and survive. For the many, that’s a full time job in itself, at present.”
A call to action
So what can we do? One thing we can do, is to educate ourselves on ableism, and encourage others to do the same. We can make sure that we keep on learning, and work to apply our knowledge – for example by making our own campaigns more inclusive, so that they are designed to meet the needs of all people.
But there’s clearly a need for a much wider changes in our society… When we find out that people’s needs are not being met, or worse, their rights are being trampled on or taken away, we can stand up alongside them. We can join or start our own campaigns to help create the fairer, and better society that we want to see.
At the GGA, we certainly don’t have the answers, but we do know that there’s more for us to learn and more that we can do to be more inclusive. And by doing so, have a greater positive impact on society.
If you’d like to get involved with any existing campaigns, we’ve linked to a few below.
Proud, Strong and Visible – Promoting choice, control and participation of disabled people in Europe
The Hardest Hit campaign – brings together individuals and organisations to send a clear message to the Government: stop the cuts now.
Interesting in entering the Global Good Awards in 2019?
It’s not too early to register your interest in entering for 2019. Entries open on 1st December but if you’re registered with us, we can update you on categories, criteria and dates.
Anyone wishing to be part of the Global Good revolution and this unique awards programme can contact Founder, Karen Sutton: karen@GlobalGoodAwards.co.uk