International Day of Persons with Disabilities

IDPWD: Why are disabilities not more widely discussed?

3 December 2019

I suspect that many of you may not be aware that today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  This is a UN initiative that has been observed since 1992.

27 years on, the question is why this is still a subject that is not widely discussed. Thinking about it this morning, it seems to me there are many reasons and below I have given two of the most obvious.

1) The language of "otherness"

The creation of the language of “otherness” means that visible disabilities are, albeit inadvertently, objectified in a way that means people with disabilities that are obvious are seen as “them not us”.  This was brought into clear view recently for me when Yasmin Sheikh of Diverse Matters gave a thought provoking lecture at Kingsley Napley.  She talked about the language of disability and tackled some of the audience’s preconceptions about what is helpful, and what is not, for somebody with an overt disability. (For example seizing somebody’s wheelchair handles and offering to wheel them somewhere is not helpful!).  Yasmin’s TED talk is eloquent and informative and I would recommend it to you.  Another amazing TED talk is that of Stella Young who challenges people not to describe those with disabilities automatically as “inspirational”.

2) Hidden disabilities

The other reason is that those with hidden disabilities ( i.e. the vast majority of those with disability) do not talk about them. I suspect the simple fact is that many people with hidden disabilities are working very hard either to conceal them or do not even acknowledge that they have a disability.  Statistics provided by SCOPE show that there are 13.9 million disabled people in the UK. These include:

  • 8% of children are disabled
  • 19% of working aged adults are disabled
  • 45% of pension age adults are disabled

Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people and therefore it is hardly surprising that 1 in 3 disabled people feel there is a lot of disability prejudice, if you can hide your disability the statistics suggest it may be in your interest to do so – this must change.

How do we tackle these challenges

At Kingsley Napley, the (Dis)ability Network has been thinking about how we can tackle the challenges to ensure that this section of the population feel included in our work place.  Several initiatives have begun as a result:

  • We are in the process of signing up to the Valuable 500;
  • We have published, on our internal portal, stories from people within the firm describing their experiences of disability both personal and of those close to them;
  • We have a shared internal network of contacts to provide discreet support where people within the firm have “lived experience” of conditions; and perhaps, most importantly; and
  • We are starting to have a proper conversation about the issues

I would urge you to do the same, particularly today, but please beyond today too.

As an example of another way we are thinking about the issues, two members of the (Dis)ability Network put themselves in the shoes of a person with a (dis)ability on their commute to work:

Commuting with Crohn's disease - Shannett thompson

Shannett is a Senior Associate in the Regulatory Team. Here she describes her journey in the shoes of someone with Crohn's disease.


A close family member has Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s is a lifelong condition. It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. The symptoms include abdominal pain and diarrhoea. For my family member, especially just before her next cycle of treatment, the diarrhoea is particularly difficult to deal with. In all, this means she needs quick and easy access to a bathroom. 

In honour of International Day of People with Disabilities, I decided to do my journey to work through her eyes and note how much access there is to public facilities on the transport network. 

The journey

  • I left the house at 8am. The walk from the house to the bus stop takes 4 minutes and all is well so far. 
  • The bus ride to the station takes 11 minutes, clearly no access to facilities during this time.
  • I get to the station, there is a toilet, but on the door is the all too frequent sign saying it is shut for maintenance/cleaning.
  • I walk down to the tube station, no toilet here.
  • The tube ride, on a good day, into Kings Cross takes 18 minutes. There is no toilet access along the ride.
  • When I get off, I need to switch to the Hammersmith and City, Metropolitan or Circle line one stop to Farringdon. The conundrum is that there is no toilet along my way, and I have now been without access to a toilet for around 35 minutes.
  • If I need the toilet by this stage, I have to divert off my route to work and go into either St Pancras or Kings Cross main station. Neither of these options will be quick.
  • The one stop to Farringdon takes 3 minutes. 
  • The walk from Farringdon station to Kingsley Napley is also around 3 minutes, I’ve made it.

Now some of you will be thinking, is this a big deal, or you could ask a coffee shop etc along the way to use their toilet. Well, firstly it is a big deal. For anyone that has a health condition that means they need easy access to the toilet, the anxiety that can come from journey’s such as this cannot be underestimated. The fear of ‘not quite making it in time’ is very real and apparent, and if that happens, the embarrassment is awful.

Secondly, have you ever tried asking an establishment you use their toilet? I have; and the answer is often a firm no or ‘you have to buy something first’. 

It became patently clear to me that the transport network in London does not have enough public facilities. Notwithstanding, TfL does have a pretty helpful page with details about facilities which you can access here and a toilet map which you can access here.

In all, following this International Day of People with Disabilities, I am approaching to my journey to work with a slightly different perspective. 


Commuting with mobility issues - Michael Goggin

Michael works in the office services team. Here he describes his journey in the shoes of someone with mobility issues.


Having heard the brilliant talk, given at Kingsley Napley by Yasmin Sheikh of “Diverse Matters”, and, in anticipation of International Day for Persons with Disabilities, I wanted to understand more about the challenges my journey to work would pose if I was in a wheelchair. The following is what I discovered.

From house to the platform

Getting from my house to the station is OK for a person in a wheelchair, however the issues soon begin once I get to the station and the lift that I would normally take for granted is out of order. As an additional challenge, I cannot access the London-bound platform without getting in a car to get to the platform!

I decided therefore to call my local taxi company to see if they had a taxi that a wheelchair user could use. I was shocked by what I heard

we don't have a car that a wheelchair can go up in to and we cannot carry you to the car”

(I did not ask if carrying me was an option, it was just assumed), the firm then told me of a company that had a car that a disabled person could use. After taking their details I gave them a call. Thankfully I got a better response:

yes we do have a car with a ramp for wheelchair users”

Great news! then came the 'but', (here we go again I thought!)...

The driver doesn't start ‘till 9am”

I am supposed to start work at 8am… All this and I have not even managed to get to the platform for me to be able to get on the train! Not a great start to the day.

I can already see how it would cause a huge amount of unnecessary stress to someone having to do this every day.

Getting on the train

To board the train when in a wheelchair requires the assistance of a member of staff and a ramp, once aboard it's then a case of asking people to vacate the (dis)abled part of the train to securely park the chair.

I finally arrive in London, a ramp helps me get off and I am able to take the lift to street level before my 30 minute push to Farringdon.


This was just one example, but it made me consider what a huge effort it would take for me just to get to work.

Next time you are travelling on public transport, please give a thought to how a person with mobility issues might complete the journey. I would also recommend contacting your local taxi companies to see what, if any, (dis)abled cars they have available. You may be just as shocked as I was.


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