There is often much in the press about those fighting for change, whether it is launching a new app or service, or those continue to evolve systems that are already in place and adapt them with accessibility in mind.

Despite the coverage these innovators receive, you can quickly be swamped with fads and miss those making a difference. Differences come in all shapes and sizes, from altering perceptions to influencing legislation. Though some people may feel the UK is on uncertain footing of late, these individuals are doing their utmost to be the change they want to see in the world.

Nearly one in five people struggle with disabilities in the UK, whether they require dropped curbs and folding mobility scooters or induction loops and closed captions, there are those who are fighting for a better version of equality and they should be celebrated.

Suzanne Bull

Suzanne is the CEO and founder of Attitude is Everything, a charity dedicated to improving the accessibility of live music venues and festivals across the UK. Initially funded by the Arts Council of England, Suzanne established the initiative following a bad experience at a music festival, where it became evident the music industry did not understand their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act (now the Equality Act).

The charity works to make live music events available to everyone, starting with sharing information on their facilities online, to including ramps, offering smaller venues for those with hearing and visual impairments and generally making the industry accessible.  The website describes the success they have achieved thus far:

“Their many successes to date include working with Festival Republic on all of their UK Festivals, supporting Academy Music Group and National Arena Association venues to sign to our Charter, and using the Charter of Best Practice as an event standard for all festivals taking place on Victoria Park. Attitude is Everything wrote the ISAN Access Toolkit: Making Outdoor Arts Events Accessible to All, which was awarded the London 2012 Inspire Mark.  Over 130 music venues and festivals are signed to the Charter.”

“We have over 600 deaf and disabled fans who act as our “mystery shoppers”, driving forward our strategy on making access improvements and changing policies.  Every 2 years, we release our State of Access Report – the report provides a biennial snap-shot of the live music industry when it comes to accessibility and inclusion for deaf and disabled people.  Our aim is to highlight areas of good practice and progression, both in terms of those venues and festivals that have benefited directly from our assistance, but also across the wider industry.  At the same time, the report is an opportunity to reflect upon the barriers that our community continue to face, and consider best practice solutions.”

Suzanne has since been appointed disability champion for the music sector, working as a public advocate for accessibility. In 2013, Suzanne’s dedication was recognised as she was awarded an MBE in the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to music, the arts and disabled people.

Her ultimate goal? For deaf and disabled people to be able to attend, work or perform at any event – and to help make live music truly inclusive.

Phil Friend

Phil friend

As it stands currently, half of the disabled population that are of working age are unemployed, and Phil Friend is on a mission to resolve this. His business, Phil and Friends is a consultancy that looks to encourage equal opportunity in the work place and has informed some of the most well-known British establishments in its 25 years of trading.

Beyond his professional life, Phil is an advocate for many different charities and organisations, currently acting as the Director of Dining with a Difference and the former chair of Royal Association of Disabilities and Rights (RADAR), to name a few.  Catching up with Phil Friend was enlightening:

“I have been working as a disabled consultant/trainer for over 25 years. My primary aim has been to ensure that employers and those who provide services to disabled people are able to recruit the best talent and ensure that they are meeting the needs of all of their customers. It has been a very rewarding career and I believe that Britain is much more accessible and more tolerant as a result of the work that I and many others have been doing over this time.

“As part of my work I have been running personal development programmes for disabled employees and the book “Why are you pretending to be normal?” was written as a result of those courses.

“It basically takes the premise that for disabled people to be as effective as possible both in the workplace and in their local communities they need to manage their impairments better. They need to become the supreme expert on what they need to lead full and inclusive lives. I encourage them to do everything they can to understand what is available both in terms of equipment and other forms of support. The book has been very well received and is available to everyone in all formats.”

In addition to his professional ventures, Phil has also championed equal opportunities and diversity by delivering speeches internationally, where his combination of passion and quick wit have won him admirers from around the globe.

Martyn Sibley

Martyn Sibley is a modest man with a remarkable aim; “to inspire, inform, and change the world around disability issues”. Born with Spinular Muscular Atrophy, Martyn has made it his mission to live his life unbarred, and despite the odds he lives and travels independently, all the while campaigning passionately for disability rights, accessibility and inclusion.

Martyn has been a prominent blogger for many years, documenting his personal experiences of navigating through life with a disability and providing an online community for others. In 2011, he created Disability Horizons, the UK’s fastest-growing disability lifestyle publication.

The website has become a staple to many in the disabled community and shares diverse coverage on anything from travel to employment support and even dating advice. It’s a positive platform working to raise the profile of the disabled community, while giving them an opportunity to engage in content they can relate to.

When asked for the inspiration behind Disability Horizons, Martin responded:

“My friend and I felt the image of disability was too negative. After the success of my blog and its positive vibe, we wanted a platform for other people’s successes. We felt work, leisure, travel and relationships represented an optimistic aim for all people.

“People simply say how the awareness we raise has helped them. Both disabled people to achieve more. And non-disabled people to understand disability. “

When asked the most important thing Martyn feels he has done to date, his reply was heart-warming: “Just staying true to my intuition and beliefs. It started a momentum for others to contribute and grow.”

Francesca Martinez

Francesca Martinez

Francesca Martinez is doing her utmost to mobilise everybody, whether it’s from a political standpoint, or merely to question prejudices, this self-titled “wobbly comedian” makes sure her voice is heard. Francesca, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, has worked to raise the profile of disabilities from a young age, starting with her role in Grange Hill aged 14, which made her the first disabled person to get a major part in a children’s television series.

Since this early debut, Francesca has spent her career on the comedy circuit, making people question what “normal” really is, and forcing her audience to reconsider the stereotypes attached to disabilities. Using humour to champion non-conformity, Martinez has gained traction worldwide from people who support her rejection of “normality”, and find her views on self-acceptance refreshing and progressive, resulting in critical acclaim and sell-out world tours.

Despite notable success as a comic, Francesca has not shied away from engaging in more weighty political conversations. Instead, she has harnessed her visibility and created a platform to promote her views on the importance of the welfare system, better integration in early education, as well as forcing others to acknowledge political inequalities for minority groups, which are too often overlooked. Speaking out in various debates, she has become a trusted voice, campaigning for issues that affect the disabled community. Through humour, she is working to bring these inequalities to the forefront all the while establishing her name as a speaker/ writer/ actress extraordinaire.

Image Credit: Phil and Friends, Francesca Martinez

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