I’m Penny Melville-Brown and have been trying to push the disability boulder up the mountain of public attitudes for years.
It all started over 20 years ago when I was still serving in the Royal Navy and my eye sight started to go. They were very good: after being off-sick for a year and with just sight in one eye, I went back to work, got a promotion and carried on even while the other eye was failing. The Navy helped me with flexible hours, getting to work and magnification on my computer even though, like other parts of the military, they weren’t covered by the equality legislation. When I was finally medically discharged, those years with all sorts of health difficulties gave me the confidence that being blind didn’t stop me working.
But trying to persuade future employers seemed a slim chance until I was lucky enough to link up with others equally passionate about making work a real prospect for disabled people. So I launched Disability Dynamics: working on employment programmes, equality schemes and trying to change some of our public services. Over the last few years, I’ve been heavily involved in self-employment as it can be ideal when employers are still reluctant and we may need to keep control of where, when and how we work. There are some wonderful stories of how people have changed their lives – feeling better and happier. We were just on the brink of more inclusive support for business start-ups when the recession hit and the Government changed.
Over the years, I’ve heard from lots of people who are hugely frustrated, depressed and isolated because their efforts to get a job just result in repeated rejections. I’m convinced that there are millions of disabled people who would work if they could but haven’t had the help they need or the opportunities they deserve. Just pushing them through programmes designed for other long-term unemployed people can seem more about a target-driven process than getting the best from this national resource. There are still lots of questions as to whether the forthcoming Work and Health programme will deliver the radically different approach we need – and demolish the ultimate barrier: employers’ attitudes.
With lots of help from those with specialist knowledge about disability and employment, we put together our Steps to Success and Sustainable work models that show that just one organisation will rarely have all the skills and capacity to provide every variation of support. Our Help to Work partnership showed that multiple organisations embedded in the local community working together can succeed where parachuted national providers may not.
Along the way, there have been many more topics to debate from the disability perspective:
- Why is the level of disabled people in prison so high? Is society simply locking us up or disabling people behind bars?
- Why are those of us who are blind or have hearing difficulties more likely to get dementia or Alzheimer’s disease? Is it partly because the health sector simply hasn’t communicated well enough with us? Will the new NHS Standard on Accessible Information make a difference?
- Is there any point pushing people to work without first improving their health?
You can see my blogs with lots of images of my flower arrangements and some recipes. The last gives a clue to my latest venture: Baking Blind. The cooking videos and recipes are just another way of trying to show that having a disability isn’t the end of the world and that blindness or any other impairment doesn’t stop us doing most things. I’ve rather optimistically entered an international competition to take the idea around the world. And I’ll be blogging more recipes over coming months – and about how I’m bashing bowls out of pewter! One of my taxi drivers has been teaching me some of his dishes and we have a whole range of great bakes for Comic Relief coming next.
Penny Melville-Brown OBE
Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk
Helping disabled people to work since 2000