Being manhandled into taxis, accused of being a fire hazard, treated like a child when you’ve got a PhD and told to clean your ears out are just some examples of the frustrating and inappropriate behaviour that disabled customers, employees and service users continue to experience. But if silly behaviour is the problem, then could laughter be the solution?
Founder member of the comedy collective Abnormally Funny People and leading disability consultant and trainer Simon Minty is a firm believer in the power of comedy when it comes to reminding people how to deal sensibly and sensitively with disabled people. The group of disabled comedians have been laughing at disability since 2005 and their stand-up acts, around disabilities as varied as Asperger syndrome, dwarfism, eating disorders, visual impairment and cerebral palsy, are helping to open up the subject of disability and get a proper dialogue going – particularly around the kind of silly behaviour that disabled people face on a daily basis.
“A lot of disability comedy is actually taking the mickey out of people who aren’t disabled and what they do when they come across disabled people. And it’s great because people say: ‘Oh yeah, that’s me – I’ve done that!’ And while they’re laughing at their own behaviour, at the same time, they’re learning from it as well.”
Negative attitudes to disability are the biggest obstacle
Despite years of disability training, media praise for disabled athletes and the enshrinement in law of disability as a protected characteristic, disabled people still face a range of out-dated attitudes and uninformed assumptions that have a huge impact on the quality of service that they receive and how they are treated in the workplace – and even the likelihood of their getting a job in the first place.
Abnormally Funny People’s resident hearing-impaired comedian Steve Day feels that disability has simply slipped off people’s agendas for a variety of reasons. “People’s attitudes to disability improved a lot around the Paralympics. People saw positive stories about disability and overcoming hardship and people were much more willing to take it on board. Since then, things have dropped off. Some of that’s to do with the economy and austerity – people simply haven’t got the money any more… but really, people have forgotten, and disabled people have had their moment in the sun.”
Laurence Clark, who has cerebral palsy (and a PhD in computers and biology) finds the widespread perception of disabled people as being incapable of participating in society particularly frustrating – as well as the common assumption that physical disability must go hand-in-hand with a cognitive impairment. “We’re not seen as potential boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives or parents…we’re perceived as children, childlike, benefit scroungers. People are often surprised that I work, and they’re even more surprised when I tell them what I do for a living!”
One in three: Why catering for disabled customers makes good business sense
Susan Scott Parker, OBE, CEO and Founder of Business Disability International believes that many organisations have yet to recognise the strong case for disability inclusion. “We’re often asked ‘Why bother?’ And, in fact, it must still be true that for too many organisations they have still to get this message. But the ‘Why bother?’ for me is pretty clear. You need to understand that one in three people are disabled, or close to someone who is.”
It’s not just the personal anecdotes that are depressing. Research provides some pretty sobering statistics as well – recent studies by Barclays Bank reveal that UK businesses could be missing out on the ‘purple pound’ by not providing basic services that meet the needs of disabled people – a market that’s been estimated at £212 billion.
The research found that nine out of ten (91 per cent) UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) do not currently have a lift if there is more than one floor, while four-fifths (83 per cent) say their products and services are not designed to be accessible to all customers, including those with sensory or mobility disabilities. A further 81 per cent of UK businesses lack car parking spaces for people with disabilities, while 74 per cent don’t have a ramp, and a further 74 per cent are without easily accessible toilets. When it comes to communicating with customers, the study found that only 10 per cent of UK businesses currently provide written communications in braille, with just 11 per cent providing audio communication and only a third having easy-to-read signs in high contrast and in large type.
Organisations continue to ignore the benefits of hiring disabled workers
There’s little to smile about in the workplace either. In spite of Government pledges to tackle the disability employment gap, disabled people in the UK are still more than twice as likely to be unemployed as their non-disabled counterparts and persistent misconceptions about the cost of making adjustments and providing support mean that disabled people still face an uphill struggle to get a fair chance at interview – and are far less likely to get appropriate support and opportunities for professional development once they’re in the workplace, all of which represents a huge waste of skills and talent.
Simon reserves some of his chief frustrations for the crass assumptions and negative attitudes to disability that present some of the biggest challenges for disabled people entering the workforce. ‘The truth is that the barriers that disabled people face are very rarely physical, they’re to do with people’s attitudes. Being open to employing lots of different people, including disabled people, means you get a greater choice of talent. Disabled people can be very inventive, and we can be very resourceful – and like most people, we don’t tend to apply for jobs that we don’t think we can do, so if we think we can do the job – let us show you.’
Guided by Simon, with contributions from the abnormally funny Tanyalee Davis, Steve Day, Don Biswas, Juliette Burton, Laurence Clark, Britain’s Got Talent 2018 winner Lee Ridley (aka Lost Voice Guy) and Georgie Morrell, Disabled adventures in customer service and Disabled adventures in work and recruitment take an engagingly humorous (and often irreverent) look at work and customer service through the eyes of disabled people and show how a combination of confidence, common sense and communication skills is the key to providing an appropriate and inclusive service and recruiting and supporting disabled talent.
Two new disability awareness courses from Skill Boosters
These two new courses take an engagingly humorous (and often irreverent) look at work and customer service through the eyes of disabled people and show how a combination of confidence, common sense and communication skills is the key to providing an appropriate and inclusive service and recruiting and supporting disabled talent.
Disabled adventures in customer service
- how uninformed attitudes and a lack of confidence result in poor service for many disabled people
- why it’s important not to make assumptions about the physical and mental abilities of people with disabilities
- the importance of listening and knowing the right questions to ask
- key steps to follow to ensure you are providing an inclusive service for your disabled customers and service users.
Disabled adventures in work and recruitment
- why outdated and uninformed opinions can make it hard for disabled people to enter the workforce and advance professionally
- key considerations when interviewing job applicants with a disability
- common mistakes that organisations make with regards to their disabled staff
- how to make reasonable adjustments and provide appropriate support for your disabled employees.
Our disability awareness training films come in these formats
About Skill Boosters
Used by leading organisations around the globe, Skill Boosters produce video-rich online courses that engage learners to bring about real and lasting behavioural change in the workplace.