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Hidden disabilities

Diversity and Inclusion By Jo Lacy, Consultant, Acoustics – 19 July 2021

A single silhouetted hand raised against a blurred background, possibly at a presentation or concert


Jo stood with his arms crossed behind his back in front of an exposed brick wall

Jo Lacy

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As we enter July, I would like to highlight a second pride month of sorts. This, however, is not a celebration of members of the LGBTQ+ community in particular, but a celebration of disability pride. I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best. This second pride month of 2021 is a celebration of all forms of disability, physical and/or mental, rare or common, visible or invisible, permanent or temporary, chronic or acute.

We need to appreciate how important this is and talk to each other. Whether you require glasses, a cane, an ostomy bag, or you’re autistic, diagnosed with asthma, depression or anxiety. Maybe it’s a broken leg, or bell’s palsy; disabilities don’t have to be permanent to be disabilities but more importantly, they don’t have to be debilitating either! Disability Pride Month encourages us to share our disabilities with each other and try to open up conversations about the things we all sometimes struggle with in our private and/or professional lives.

I joined Cundall in mid-March and have been thoroughly impressed with the openness and inclusivity of the culture, even though we’ve all been working from home. So I’m going to take this moment to tell you all something that I’ve never said before, to anybody. Not even to myself. So lean in, I need to whisper this secret. Closer… I’M DISABLED! Sorry, maybe a bit loud. But there’s such a stigma around “disabled” and “disability” that it’s difficult for most people to talk about it. But it’s not a “bad” word, it’s a descriptive one. Like “tall”, or “blonde”, or “diabetic” for that matter.

Often times people will say “But you don’t look disabled”, if you’re autistic, colour-blind or experience any other hidden disabilities putting you outside of the so called (but non-existent) “normal”. However, if you were heavily burned as a child and have visible scar tissue, or born without legs, people will make assumptions about the help you need even if you consider yourself perfectly able. Disability is often seen as a cruel word and the associated stigma brings negative connotations to mind.

To look at this a different way, it can be useful to think of disability in terms of the social model of disability, which describes people as being disabled by barriers in society, not by our impairment or difference. If modern life was set up in a way that was inclusive and accessible, then disabled people would not be excluded or restricted for failing to meet the expected physical or cognitive ‘norm’. Why shouldn’t we have wide, wheelchair accessible doors? What about using simple, bold fonts and texts for those with dyslexia or Irlen Syndrome? Isn’t this easier to read than this tiny script?

So, this Disability Pride Month, lets continue our progress towards equality, acceptance and away from exclusion and discrimination. In many ways, Disability Pride Month is comparable to June's LGBTQ+ Pride Month, or Octobers’ Black History Month – these celebrations are about reflection, education, and bringing about positive change.

If you’re not disabled, somebody you know is. If you’re not LGBTQ+, somebody you know is. Lets start this conversation and work on the stigma together. I’ll begin. My name is Jo. I’m disabled, and I’m proud of who I am. Lets be proud together.