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COMMENT: ‘Building back better’ at the Business Disability Forum

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Following a turbulent year, Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the Business Disability Forum shared a reflection on what has happened to the disability community throughout.

Hoping to ‘build back better,’ here’s what Lightfoot had to say:

“We had such high hopes for 2020. A Paralympic year (and I suppose I should mention its sister event, the Olympics, too). And there was such a nice, well, ring about 2020 wasn’t there? It looked so good as a number. Auspicious even.

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The year 2020 also marks milestone anniversaries for not one, not two, but three pieces of seminal disability rights legislation: 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act (1970), the first legislation to recognise disabled people’s rights in areas as diverse as access, education, employment and mobility; the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), a major and important piece of legislation to provide equal opportunities for disabled people in all spheres of life and to make it unlawful to discriminate against anyone who has a disability or to give them less favourable treatment in a diverse range of areas like employment, gaining access to facilities or buildings and also the provision of goods or services; and the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act (2010) which legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society and replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act.

We’d planned to celebrate those anniversaries and to look to the future of disability inclusion. We began well – we even managed to have an actual annual conference at RBS (now Natwest Group) in Scotland in January and our first ever global conference, sponsored by Shell, at EY in February. We started a conversation about whether the Equality Act was fit for purpose and what else was needed. A conversation we’d planned to continue at events and get togethers throughout the year.

But COVID-19 had other ideas. At first, we thought that all we’d planned would have to go on hold. But then we rapidly realized that there were other ways of reaching people, other ways of continuing the conversation and that arguably, disability inclusion was now more important than ever. That was certainly the message that came through loud and clear at our annual conference in mid-October: as our panelist Wendy Irwin put it, “We need to build back better with inclusion and equality as a necessary default”.

And, whilst it’s fair to say that none of us could have imagined quite how 2020 would have panned out – with news of another national lockdown in England – there is still much to celebrate in terms of disability inclusion as 2020 draws towards its close. Just over a week ago, it was my honour and privilege to present the Shaw Trust Power 100 and count down the top 10 disabled people of 2020. All are powerful. All are incredible influencers. And all are doing amazing things – and not letting the strange world that we are currently live in get in their way.

If this were a normal year – whatever that is – we’d now be gearing up for our own Disability Smart Awards as an annual celebration of best practice and brilliant achievement in disability inclusion. Those of you who were able to join us at last year’s ceremony, sponsored by Barclays and taking place in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s beautiful Locarno Suite will remember not only the buzz – thanks in no small part to my co-host, Paralympian Stef Reid – but the incredible range of stories and successes from organisations and brands as diverse as MI5, Herbal Essences, Shell and Dubai Police.

Of course, we can’t have the awards this year. But we are celebrating with “Disability Smart Stories” on 3 December when we will share with you a virtual Christmas card and gallery to showcase just some of the amazing things that our Members and Partners have been doing with and for their disabled employees and customers throughout the pandemic. I do hope you can join us to celebrate with us. And I look forward to seeing you in real life someday soon.”

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Alex Douglas

The author Alex Douglas

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