It seems like a strange statement, to say you’re proud of something that is inherently ‘wrong’ with you. As a society, disabled people are looked on with pity- there is nothing worse than being disabled. Or we’re looked on as inspirations- there is nothing more courageous than getting up to face the day when you’re disabled. Or we’re charity cases- let’s all raise money doing sponsored runs to make this disabled person’s life a little less sad.
1 out of 5 people are disabled in the UK, with a spending power of over 2 billion pounds a month. SIC was founded in 2021 to help take action- in the UK you are as likely to be unemployed than you are in work, if you’re disabled and/or chronically ill. We help organisations easily and affordably start to create inclusive and accessible working environments, and have created a learning space for disabled people to get career advice that’s actually tailored to us.
When I first became disabled, I was 12 years old. Facing my teenage years as an undiagnosed person with multiple chronic illnesses that disabled me. I battled with two very real fears. The first was that I was too sick, too disabled, to ever study, get a job, be loved, and live a ‘normal’ life. The second was that I wasn’t sick ‘enough’ to get taken seriously with a diagnosis, offered the care I needed, and access to the medications that would change my life.
My chronic illnesses are invisible, and if you see me out and about or online, it’s because I am having a good day. I get around 1 good day for every 4 bad days. I was 23 before I claimed disabled as part of my identity. It took me so long, because I felt like it was an identity I couldn’t claim as my own. I was both disabled… and not disabled.
I didn’t hate my life. I wasn’t inspirational. I didn’t need or want people’s pity or charity.
And therein was the problem- the narrative of disabled, of being disabled, didn’t look like me.
I faced barriers in school, university, work, socialising, accessing spaces, travelling- and was constantly being asked to prove I needed the support. I never had the courage to say it out loud, but in my head, I would scream- “Why would you fake being disabled? Don’t you know how hard it is? How horrible it is?”
“I faced barriers in school, university, work, socialising, accessing spaces, travelling- and was constantly being asked to prove I needed the support.”
We don’t teach disability in school, college, or even most universities in the way we are starting to learn about gender, race and sexuality. I was never taught that I could separate disability into the social model of disability- the inherent impairment and the disablement by society, separating myself from the blame and failure society shouldered me with by simply existing. We are never taught about the incredible activists, social movements and communities that went beyond the emotionally draining support groups of people desperately trying to find answers and connection in a society that, for disabled people, provides neither.
Over the past few years I’ve been learning, challenging myself to rewrite the narrative of ‘the disabled person’ that the movies and books had taught me- the sick girl who dies at the end to give their male love hope to go into the world a better person. The oddity to be looked at, laughed at. The unloveable, to show just how desirable the main lead really is. The burden, whose family has an obligation to pay for and care for leading to tension and broken homes. The lazy one, jobless and scrounging by still living at home and being taken care of.
The first positive representation of disability on my TV that I remember was Walter ‘flynn’ white Junior III, in the TV series Breaking Bad. Like his character, the actor RJ Mitte has cerebral palsy. One of the first real representations of disability by a disabled actor I had seen. They didn’t make it a ‘thing.’ And here was a character with a disability, just… existing. Played by a disabled actor who was just… an actor.
Learning has taken me to a new level of understanding of my body, my ability, my rights and my identity.
We need to see positive representations of disability, played and executed by the disabled community. We need to see disabled people in control of our narrative. We have a right to take up space. But it starts from the top. The decision to hire disabled people, fund disabled led communities and provide support to bridge the barriers that a disabling society has created.
“We need to see positive representations of disability, played and executed by the disabled community.”
It isn’t an act of charity to employ disabled people, and we aren’t going to cost you loads of money, or be a liability– the inclusive and accessible best practices needed to accommodate disabled employees have also been shown to give organisations who truly lean into this change of culture incredible growth- with Meta reporting, years ahead of schedule, a huge jump in their oranisational diversity and access to bigger candidate pools.
Over 15 years since I became sick, and started on the path to self-discovery, I can say that not only am I disabled, but being disabled is an identity I am so proud of.
About the Author
Rachael Mole is the founder of SIC, a Community Interest Company bringing together her passion for mentoring, disability access and workplace inclusion to help to close the disability employment gap in the UK. Rachael is shaking up what it means to have an inclusive workplace. Disabled since 12 years old, she faced barriers to education and the workforce. After doing an Open Degree with the Open University from her bed and co-building a national women’s network over four years, ending her time there as Chief Operating Officer, she founded SIC. Rachael is participating in the Sounddelivery Spokesperson Network programme