My Twenty year connection to Scope
By Kay Allen
On Monday 24th November 2014 Scope organised an event to look back at their 20 year journey since they changed their name from the Spastic Society. I had not expected to attend the event and have my own 20 year journey plotted out before me quite so clearly.
The event prompted these recollections and thoughts.
In 1993 the disability rights movement landed square in my face when I worked in Liverpool for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. A building inaccessible and full of every barrier possible including being a listed building, disabled people were not at all happy that they could not access this public building and they were EXTREMELY vocal in telling me! The ‘lobby’ gave me a baptism by fire into the world of disability rights.
I was a reluctant newbie on the scene trying to figure out what disability rights meant. What did the RLPO need to do? It was my day job – not my calling, and a job I was unsure of. I was trying to get my head around access and inclusive rights, the law was not yet on my side and I was up against English Heritage!
But I launched myself into this whole issue to learn more. One of the first charities I approached for advice was the Spastic Society.
I clearly remember being engaged in their debate about their name change and the reasons why this was so important. I could understand the name change to Scope… The opportunity or possibility to do more.…This actually meant something to me. At the time however there was fierce debate and opposition to any name change and a reluctance to lose the plastic ‘crippled’ girl in calipers with a slot for money in a pity charity mode.
This new emerging language however sat much better with my values than the alien language of Invalid… handicapped and Spastic, which when I was at school Spastic was a bullying term.
I was invited to the big unveiling of Scopes new brand.
The worlds biggest flag was unfolded by soldiers abseiling down the building opposite Parliament.
Mr William Hague, Minster for disabled people, spoke passionately about the challenges of change and the spastic society was no more … Scope had arrived.
That event triggered a new found motivation in me. Disability Inclusion was no longer a difficult part of my job description, it was an issue I felt strongly about. I now wanted this to be the sole focus of my job not that bit on the periphery I had to do.
For me this became an issue of customer service, employment opportunity and inclusion. I was relieved at Scopes new positive language. A language I could make sense of in my business world away from charity and medical conditions. The question I had was how could a business capitalise on this undeserved customer base?
By 1995 the next step in my career journey was to B&Q where Disability and Equality was my job, I had an enlighten MD, I discovered the Employers Forum on Disability and I met a whole bunch of people that would challenge and shape my thinking for the next 14 years. Names that include Kate Nash, Phil Friend, Alice Maynard, Liz Sayce, Susan Scott-Parker, Simon Minty, Mary-Anne Rankin and many more. Shifting attitudes to the social model of disability and setting out a business case is a far more rewarding job.
Over the next 5 years The Disability Rights Act was taking shape and the voice of disabled people was loud and being heard.
In 1997 Scope was leading the charge again with its report called Polls Apart. I can remember receiving my copy which I still have. I was actively involved in promoting the report whilst at B&Q.
In 2000 I was privileged to be appointed as a Commissioner on the Disability Rights Commission. Working along side people who had a clarity of vision on what an inclusive world could offer.
When I look back to 2001 I really believed the DRC was a powerful innovative organisation. Totally energised that we could and would make a difference. I and a fellow Commissioner, the wonderful Jenny White had a double act explaining the new concept of Reasonable Adjustment at work.
By 2004 I was working for BSkyB and again Scope was there to advise and guide my ideas on inclusive customer service. BSkyB sponsored the Time to Get Equal campaign and if you look real close you can spot my signature on the poster.
In 2010 I was working at Royal Mail when Lord Morris asked if we could organise an event to mark the very first passing the Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act. providing the occasion to reflect on progress made and the role of Ministers.
We have seen a lot of parliamentarians take up the role of Minister since Alf Morris was appointed the worlds first Minister for Disabled People back in 1974, Including, John Major, Tony Newton, William Hague along with Anne McGuire and Maria Eagle, Jonathan Shaw and now Mark Harper. It was great so many attended the event.
In my quick personal reflections triggered by Scopes event at the House of Commons I think the voices of disabled people and the campaigns were loudest from 1995 to 2005. in my job roles my feet were constantly held to the fire, campaigns were constantly landing on my desk to support.
In some ways it feels to me that disabled people are less vocal now, less mobilised than in 1994. And yet, young people I meet now refreshingly just expect to have rights, they have high expectations and ambitions, it’s a given they will have access. I consult now for corporates where human difference is desired, celebrated and a positive influencer on reputation, profits and employee engagement.
And yet I also see on Facebook and Twitter the fear and hardship of the changes to the welfare system. The appalling delivery of assessments and the uncertainty being created around financial independence. When the DLA was first introduced it was referred to as the most enabling benefit to be introduced. Access to Work is also a fantastic passport to work. These new financial streams created a freedom to work, they were designed to cover the cost associated with disability that would remove barriers and open the way to greater independence.
It’s 2014 and Scope are still championing great campaigns tackling real issues with its brilliant End the Awkward Campaign.
Scope are also providing the secretariat for Extra Cost Commission which is looking at the extra cost of living associated with disability. I am delighted to be a part of the Extra Costs Commission and hope to continue to play a role in insisting on a inclusive society for as long as is needed.
For my part – my journey now sees me creating Really Useful Stuff building a new marketplace for great product design.
What I do know is Britain has achieved a great deal for disability rights – We must not let the next 20 years be a backward step.
Scope still has an important role to play in galvanising a collective voice, There are still campaigns yet to be delivered to ensure disabled people are not trapped in poverty, that the welfare system is fair and delivers independence and choice. No pressure then Scope!