Thursday 3 December 2020 is International Day of People with Disabilities. This annual event aims to celebrate disabled people.
This year, the theme of the day is “Not all Disabilities are Visible”. It seeks to raise awareness that not all disabilities are immediately apparent. This may include mental illnesses, chronic pain or fatigue, sight or hearing loss, brain injuries, neurological disorders and learning disabilities.
North Yorkshire County Council supports several groups to ensure that disabled people’s voices are heard, including groups for people with physical and sensory disabilities, people with a learning disability and autism, and people with mental health needs.
Richard Webb, Corporate Director for Health and Social Care, said: “International Day of People with Disabilities represents an important chance to celebrate disabled people and to listen to their experiences.
“At North Yorkshire County Council we are pleased to support and work with a number of forums and groups across the county including North Yorkshire Disability Forum, North Yorkshire Learning Disability Partnership Board, groups which provide a voice for people with mental health difficulties, and those involving older people.
“Their members work hard all year round to provide a collective voice for disabled people and help shape the services that we and others deliver.
“During the pandemic they have shown enormous leadership. I am hugely grateful for the insights and experiences they have shared with me. They have helped make practical changes for many people.”
Richard added that local disability forum members played a vital role in the care home visiting task group. This has helped the council to understand how people living in care homes can keep in touch with family and friends during the pandemic. You can read the task group’s recommendation here https://www.northyorks.gov.uk/visiting-care-homes-during-coronavirus-covid-19
Phil Dodson, chair of the North Yorkshire Disability Forum, said: "For many, disability is only about what they can see and they can have a ‘fear of the unknown’. This international day is important because it is an opportunity to raise awareness of a whole spectrum of disabilities, especially the hidden disabilities.
“I would like to thank North Yorkshire County Council for their commitment to people with disabilities through their work and support of Physical and Sensory forums and Learning Disability groups both at local and county level".
To mark the day, people have been sharing their experiences of living with a disability in a number of ways. We hope you enjoy reading, watching and listening to their stories and messages.
Harrogate District Disability Forum
Harrogate District Disability forum is a volunteer-led group of disabled people and others who work to improve the lives of people who have a physical or sensory disability.
As one member of the group said: “It’s been great to be able to have face-to-face (or now screen-to-screen) discussions with those responsible for services and policy development in Harrogate and the district, and the wider North Yorkshire.
“We have been able to feed into strategies and to speak directly to staff who can make changes for example, on very local issues which might affect access for an individual or group of people with disabilities.”
Members of the forum have added their stories and messages to a video sharing their personal experiences of living with a disability.
(Photograph courtesy of Photosymbols)
Staying in Touch
Tony, a member of Yorkshire Coast and Ryedale Disability Forum, has been working hard to help people with sight loss and hearing loss stay connected during the pandemic.
With help from Stronger Communities grants, Tony has been sharing smart speakers to help people stay in touch. He has also been distributing face masks which have a clear section to enable deaf people to lip read. You can read more about Tony’s efforts here https://www.northyorks.gov.uk/everyone-together-and-no-one-left-behind
(Photograph courtesy of Photosymbols)
Tony has also been giving out sunflower lanyards. These lanyards let others know that the person wearing them has a hidden disability. They can also be attached to a card explaining that the wearer is exempt from wearing a mask.
Lindy from Ripon Disability Forum has shared her experiences of using a sunflower lanyard in her role as a volunteer at Ripon Workhouse.
“This is me being a Volunteer at Ripon Museum Trust. Where having a disability makes no difference to my being a Volunteer.
“I am able to be part of the Ripon Museum Trust ‘family of Volunteers’ without any problems. I love what I do and enjoy being able to help our visitors to learn about the history of the Ripon Workhouse.
“I find that wearing a Sunflower lanyard makes many visitors feel that they are able to chat to me about their own experiences of having a hidden disability.”
Hidden Disabilities Podcast
Sam, Stewart and Mark are self-advocates, and Mark is the self-advocate co-chair of North Yorkshire Learning Disability Partnership Board. Self-advocates speak up about things that are important to them and other people with a learning disability and autism. Working with the Keyring self-advocacy support team, they have created a podcast about hidden disabilities.
They talk about the Sunflower Scheme as well Safe Places. A Safe Place is where anyone who might need a little more help and support when they are out and about in the community can call in to get assistance. You can find out more about safe places here https://www.northyorks.gov.uk/news/article/safe-places-scheme-continues-north-yorkshire
You can listen to the podcast here https://anchor.fm/nyselfadvocates/episodes/Hidden-Disabilities-ekuejr
The Many Faces of Hidden Disabilities
Self-advocate Natasha has written a blogpost about the many faces of hidden disabilities. Natasha explains how shopping can be a stressful experience for people with hidden disabilities. You can read it here: https://www.keyring.org/news/blog-the-many-faces-of-hidden-disabilities.aspx.
Natasha has also just been awarded a place on the Dimensions Coronavirus Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List. The list celebrates inspirational people who have overcome their own challenges during the pandemic, and helped make things better for other people too. Well done Natasha! You can read Natasha’s story here https://dimensions-uk.org/get-involved/campaign/leaders_list/autism-superpower/.
Melissa Wuidart Phillip’s film, Unbroken, addresses preconceived ideas of Asperger’s in a woman, looking at the inner dialogue and sensory overwhelm which is often hidden from the outside world.
Melissa said: “Asperger’s is greatly misunderstood. The everyday challenges individuals face are vast: one of the greatest challenges is discrimination due to ignorance.
“Asperger’s is often grouped together with mental health, even though it is not, but rather a natural variation of the human condition.
“I feel neurodiversity should be celebrated and embraced for all that it has to offer; there is so much going on in the heads of people with ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition), but rarely are they able to communicate it in a way that neurotypical people can understand.
“As a writer, I have a rare privilege to convey some of our experiences and hoped by writing Unbroken to help further understanding in the wider world. Also to give other Aspies a feeling that, although we are each unique, we have shared experiences of the world and that we are not alone.
“During this past year many people have experienced what it is like to have constant anxiety and to feel uncertain about their future, to not be able to go out anywhere and meet with other people.
“If they did go out then some felt on edge, wary of others, constantly alert to how close other people were getting, every point of contact, every touch.
“These are shared experiences for many people with ASC, long pre-dating this pandemic, often felt since childhood. I hope many people will take this opportunity for empathic growth and as a chance to see the courage and strength often overlooked when ASC people step out into the world.”