Disability History Month – Have things changed enough?

We are currently celebrating three anniversaries.  At the time of writing it’s UK Disability History Month, where we reflect upon access and the extent to which disabled people can get access to all aspects of life.  It’s 25 years since the Disability Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their disability.  This year, it’s also 65 years since Sense began: a result of a conversation between two mums who had given birth to deafblind children. Fast forward to 2020 and we have come along way. However, still there is so much to do and Covid-19 has exacerbated the inequality disabled people face.  Have things changed enough?

Catching up

Traditionally, disability rights have always lagged behind other rights. People viewed arguments about disability differently from those about sex and race, two areas in which discrimination was better understood. It was all about unfortunate disabled people who of course couldn’t work, didn’t have to use transport or needed to enjoy the same access to cultural venues in their local communities.  Disability rights legislation has made a real difference to people’s lives and gave many disabled people a greater sense of self-belief and equality.  But we still need to see more progress.

Tackling loneliness

Today, about half of disabled people in the UK are in employment, compared with about 80% of non-disabled people. 4 million disabled people live in poverty.  Too many disabled people remain on the fringes of society. Disabled people are less likely to participate in cultural activities because of negative attitudes and prejudice, inflexible ways of working and lack of transport. We share the National Heritage’s Fund ambition to address this as part of its Strategic Funding Framework.  Sense’s own research shows that 53% of disabled adults and 77% of disabled young people feel lonely every day, and nearly 1 in 3 non-disabled people avoided talking to a disabled person.  In terms of improving access, it appears that changing attitudes is the hardest battle of all. 

Image: a man taking part in an inclusive yoga class. His arms are outstretched as he smiles to the camera.
Image: a man taking part in a yoga class. His arms are outstretched as he smiles.

No one left out of life

Sense is a service provider that offers housing and community services across the country. We are committed to providing high-quality support. We want to go further and help people achieve their basic rights to friendships, accessing their community and to feel included.  Sense’s buddying programmes bring together disabled and non-disabled people based on mutual interests.  Benefits for disabled people and volunteers are reciprocal and equal: for example, a disabled person takes part in new activities and volunteers learn new skills (e.g. British Sign Language). Both parties benefit from new connections and reduced isolation.  Similarly, our inclusive art and cultural programmes draw on disabled people’s unique contributions and creativity, give them the chance to connect with professional artists and bring disabled people and non-disabled people together based on a shared love of culture

Forgotten people and families

Fast forward to the events of this year: we know that disabled people have fallen through the cracks in government during this pandemic. There is a real risk that attitudes towards disabled people and equal access to opportunities will be permanently set back.  We have learned a lot over the last period about how our society neglects disabled people and their families. There is a feeling of disbelief, dismay and growing anger that disabled people are at the bottom of the priority list and when the public hears about the growing number of deaths of disabled people due to Covid-19. 

Two women dancing back to back, holding hands. The woman on the left wears a Sense t-shirt while the one on the right has a long-sleeved green floral top.

Opportunity for change

More than ever, we need a much more comprehensive plan to support disabled people and their families, and the front-line staff supporting them.  In 2020, we have a unique and once in a generation opportunity to address this as the Cabinet Office is charged with delivering a National Strategy for Disabled People.  Tackling inequalities and access to the same opportunities, including heritage, with a true commitment to ‘levelling up’ people’s lives, must become the new reality after Covid-19. That would be something worth celebrating.


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CEO Diaries – Are you a fierce competitor or a generous collaborator?

Four hands each holding a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. All of the pieces are joined together. Are you a fierce competitor or a generous collaborator?

Sense Chief Executive, Richard Kramer, reflects on collaboration in the sector.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Chief Executives across the sector have been spending more time together, courtesy of video conferencing. We are much more curious about our fellow CEO’s leadership and how other organisations are responding to the challenges of Covid-19. We are more willing to talk openly and freely, share ideas and learn from each other. It is clear that we need each other more than ever, and I wonder whether Covid-19 permanently shifted the way we engage, collaborate and relate with one another?

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Ensuring nobody is left out of life #CommunitiesCan

Two women on a Zoom call. Sense Connect was set up to ensure no one was left out of life during lockdown.

Lockdown showed us how lonely life can be when the people and places we love are taken away. But, what if life was already lonely before the isolation of the pandemic?  Sadly, that’s the case for thousands of disabled people in the UK. A study by Sense, before the pandemic, revealed that one in two disabled people (53%) feel lonely every day, rising to 77% for young disabled people. And lockdown has only made things worse.

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What is the plan for social care?

Two men sitting outside talking. What is the plan for social care?

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on social care and the people who rely on it. At Sense, our Forgotten Families campaign has revealed that a third (34%) of families with a disabled loved one still have not had any care or support reinstated since lockdown has been lifted. The Government has received considerable criticism from the press and Parliament for how it has handled support for social care. As a result, Government has released a new plan for the winter which sets out how social care will get the funding and resources it needs. What does this mean for Sense and the people we support?

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Disabled adults and their families remain forgotten in government’s plan to get society back to normal

A man and a woman sitting at a kitchen table looking at the camera. Disabled adults and their families remain forgotten in plan to get society back to normal

Through our Forgotten Families campaign we’ve been highlighting the experience of Jane’s family, who’ve been struggling to support their 20-year-old daughter Faith throughout the pandemic without support. But we know Jane and Faith aren’t the only family dealing with the devastating impact of having their support withdrawn overnight. Our recent research, showed that 75% of those who had support withdrawn didn’t receive any warning before this happened, and a third of families are still waiting for any support to be reinstated.

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Claire’s Story: Virtual London Marathon

Claire standing in a field with her five children. Claire is running the virtual London Marathon.

The changes to the London Marathon this year have been incredible for me. This is my first time running it and, having only been running for three years, this would be a huge achievement for me. My only concern would be not having my son, Hugo, there to cheer me on.

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Toileting: Sue and James’ story

A hand on wood. Toileting: Sue and James' story.

James is 13 and loves life but really doesn’t care about using the toilet. Sound familiar? So many families say the same. If their child has complex needs and a multisensory impairment, how should they teach them the skills of toileting? With very little help, James’s mum Sue kept on going even when professionals told her to give up. It hasn’t been easy, but this summer, James made a breakthrough. Read Sue and James’ story and get some tips on toileting.

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Pass on something wonderful

Pass on something wonderful this Remember a Charity Week in your Will Week.

Gifts in Wills are vital for our work, helping to provide specialist support for children who are deafblind or have complex disabilities, and services that allow children and adults to communicate, experience the world and live happier lives. Find out how you can pass on something wonderful.

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Friendship trumps lockdown

Two young men talking. Friendship trumps lockdown.

We knew that Coronavirus, and the ways it has restricted all our lives, would also have a major impact on the people we support at Sense. It would be difficult for some of the people we support to understand why they were no longer able to see their friends, attend their usual centres, or go about life in their usual way.

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