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  • Writer's picturePhilip J Connolly

Cut through thinking on disability policy

Do you know the game called rock, paper, scissors? If you do you will recognise that a surprise is always possible. Rock breaks scissors but is covered by paper. Scissors cuts paper. The seemingly strong is vulnerable, the seemingly weak often prevails. Yesterday we sent an aircraft carrier to the China seas but 100 million TV viewers will remember our standing in the world not from the Ark Royal but from us scoring null points in Eurovision. Billy no mates or what. Politics too can surprise but how do we plan upsets? How do we cut through when we often seem caught between a mountain of paper or a mountain of rock? Certainly not by orthodoxy alone. Think purple.

I remember the combination of thoughts that gave rise to purple. I was sitting at my desk when our welfare rights team announced that they had just dealt with the millionth caller to our help lines. Great work but how were we ever going to sustain it. I remember at the same time receiving an email about yet another EU funded study into the barriers faced by disabled job seekers and thinking where was the study into how the barriers had been overcome. There is of course a bigger issue with research, it tends to research problems not solutions and it delves into what has happened already and seldom what is going to happen. Then I thought about why being disabled led to dependency and mused on the issue of the wisdom of the crowd. It was only a short leap of imagination to the football crowd that recognised its own community, mutalism was a plus for them - perhaps they shared lifts to away fixtures. They were a collective of supporters; they knew each other because they shared a colour. Could disabled people similarly have a colour, benefit from mutual aid and begin to assert their needs and self-organise to meet these needs. Yes why not but we needed to get the colour right. I wanted disabled people to be uplifted by the colour so it had to be purple, the colour of kings, emperors and royalty. The message had to be that we could tap into the power of thinking we are royal people. Whilst the royal family practises being ordinary we could practise being royal. It quickly caught on. Whilst disability activists formed “Purple space” or “We are purple” the Minister began commissioning research into the “Purple pound” and organising “Purple Tuesday” so commerce could capitalise on £ 250 billion spending power. It was a cut through policy. Scissors won.

So how far can we go with purple? Almost all the way. Our next step ought to be to change the Paralympics. The Japanese certainly need someone to help them do this. Here’s how. The problem with the Paralympics is that it is too elite, too transitory and too remote. It is interesting only when it is happening. Some of the events finish in seconds and then that’s it for another four years. Suppose the Paralympics had a maker element. An international competition of disabled people making things that you could subsequently buy. Suppose the profits and proceeds were used to help non-digitally connected disabled people get on line and become trained. Suppose the creativity was on the TV schedules and suppose the products were for both disabled and non-disabled people. Suppose us disabled people defined the categories and developed the rules and were the judges too. Suppose someone started it. There is no need to ask anyone instead there is only a need to invite someone. Imagine it was you who was invited, suppose it was you who did the inviting to the “Purple Games.” Keep purple going and subvert everything with it.

So what other game changers exist? That’s easy! If we found an advantage to being disabled I think that would be a game changer. If disabled people were to supply the tipping point factor such as the bus services that are economic to run because older people use them, that would be another game changer. Disabled people have been waiting for a bus called social model. The horrible truth is that’s stalled in the garage and been dismantled by Government policy. However there are other buses. We need to make progress. There are buses without destination but routes like social value. We need to appropriate these routes. As Spike Lee put it, it is time to get on the bus.

One such advantage is resilience. I believe just as gay people have pride, black people have consciousness and women have empathy and team working attributes disabled people need to own a positive quality that is in widespread demand. There is plenty in Siebert’s “Resiliency Advantage” book that’s about us we just need to own it. The need to be resilient already owns many of us. In education you learn and then sit a test but for us disabled people we are tested, sometimes daily, and then we learn. We are learning every day.

The Disability Resilience Network is also focused upon proving innovation and disruption as being valuable attributes owned at least in part by disabled people. I was able to support Innovate UK to research this and in July 2020 they published a report substantiating it. They are currently producing a positive action strategy with the University of Chester. One valuable spin off was the work of Professor Helen Lawton-Smith of Birbeck College who mapped the provision of support to self- employed disabled people or those running micro-businesses and found the provision patchy and inadequate. I hope all this research and its accompanying recommendations find their way into the national disability strategy currently being prepared by Government Policy Specialists. Thank you to them for reading my work.

In conclusion I offer the following wit (W= Whatever, I = It and T = takes) and instructions for those looking to be a little more purple. It is possible to co-produce services and products so why not (if you work in HR) co-produce new jobs too. Many of my readers are business or marketing strategists, could I ask you to direct a strand of your marketing policy and budget to your disabled customers. Finally I have a large readership amongst founders and executive directors so please may I ask you to champion this agenda at board level and make it part of your business plans. Could I be invited to learn what you have learnt from doing so and in addition be invited to meet some of your new customers? Being purple doesn’t mean being marooned. I can work with you, invite me.


I am working with Linkedin collaborators on defining what these advantages might be, for example the optimum business model that offers the best employment prospects for disabled people or the upmost influence on the accessibility of new products and services. I hope to bring you the fruits of that collaboration in a future blog.

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