Today Capability Scotland and disabled people around the world will celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This observance day, promoted by the United Nations (UN), aims to raise awareness of disability and accessibility on a global scale.
The UN’s theme for today, which is “Break barriers, open doors: for an inclusive society for all” is just as relevant to disabled people living here in Scotland as it is to disabled people living elsewhere.
Capability Scotland is committed to tackling the barriers which prevent disabled people from playing a full part in society. We do this both through the provision of services, to ensure everyone has the right to live as independently as possible, and by working to influence the policy and legislation which affects the people who use those services.
However, we can’t do it on our own. Everyone, from the person on the street to the government ministers who run the country, has a role to play in creating a more inclusive Scotland.
When we think about the barriers affecting disabled people, we often think about physical barriers. While such barriers are an ongoing concern for disabled people, there are other problems which can seem equally insurmountable.
Financial hardship is an issue for many disabled Scots who have been hit hard by benefits changes introduced as part of the UK government’s Welfare Reform Act. At Capability Scotland, we have offered our staff training so they can support our customers with benefits issues. However, we will also continue campaigning with others to ensure both the UK and Scottish governments are aware of people’s concerns and to encourage them to do all they can to mitigate the impact of these changes. There can be significant barriers to finding employment. Capability Scotland has a strong track record of supporting disabled people into work. Every disabled person who is successfully employed helps to spread a positive message about the contribution disabled people can make to the workplace. This type of message is so important if we are to influence attitudes, which can be another barrier for disabled people.
We can also make a difference as individuals. Today is a great opportunity to reflect on what personal contribution we can make to a more inclusive society. Little things like not parking in disabled parking bays or across dropped kerbs; giving people with communication support needs time to have their say; or making sure we are not taking up the space on a bus that a wheelchair user needs, can all make a difference to ensuring disabled people have equal access to shops, leisure facilities, education and employment opportunities and health services.
Days like today give us a golden opportunity to challenge attitudes and shine a spotlight on disability issues. However, we must remember that today is not just a day for disabled people. It is a day for everyone, individuals and organisations, to reflect on what we can do to break down barriers and create a more inclusive society for all.
• Dana O’Dwyer is chief executive of Capability Scotland