The Pagan Federation Disabilities Team is changing its name. In future, we will be known as the Accessibility Team.

I believe that this is a brilliant move, for it’s not just a change of name. There is a change in thinking behind it, and that will influence and guide what we do.

I am a firm believer in the thinking behind the social model of disability. I only relatively recently discovered this model but it was an absolute eye-opener. It holds that people have an ‘impairment’ which is an individual’s physical, sensory, or cognitive difference; for example being blind, experiencing bipolar disorder, or having MS or a learning difficulty.

It says that ‘disability’ is the name for the social consequence of having an impairment. People with impairments are disabled by the barriers operating in society that exclude and discriminate against them. If this is the case, disability becomes a social construct that be changed and ultimately removed.

When I first read this, I thought it pie in the sky thinking that would never happen. But then I started to think of the things that hinder me in getting on with life. In previous blogs I have muttered away about accessible toilets being out of order and with no signage to direct to the closest available facilities. Even the accessible toilets often don’t have the equipment needed for people with a higher degree of impairment. There is a definite lack of something as simple as seating in public areas.

These are things that would be easy to put right and would make a difference and enable people to be out and about in the community with less stress.

What would community inclusion look like? Being able to do things in ordinary places used by other members of the community that are impairment accessible, rather than having to stay in segregated areas because they are the only accessible places.

This would lead to easier participation, enabling easier development of connections and friendships and a sense of belonging.

Support is important, but the right level of support, not support imposed because that is what is thought appropriate by someone else.

Of course, crucial to all this is a change of awareness in the population as a whole. I find that, while many people relate fine to, and are accepting of, my disability, others are not. A few months ago, I made a presentation at a ward meeting on behalf of a group I volunteer with. I gave the prepared presentation, then the floor was open for questions. There were lots and lots of, to be honest, hostile questions. The thoughts in my head can become a bit chaotic when overwhelmed. A person asked a question to which I didn’t have a ready prepared answer. I had to gather my thoughts, and said politely, can you bear with me a moment, explaining my disability. Her response was to tell me I shouldn’t have being giving the presentation. It should have been left to someone else who could respond better.

We have a long way to go, but if we persist, we will get there. And yes, I am happy with now belonging to the Accessibility team, taking a step in the right direction.

Portland Jones
Accessibility Liaison for Pagan Federation Midlands