Q. What do Disabled People and Jedi have in Common?

A: we might not be ticking the right boxes!

Leading up to the 2021 census, I was interested to read a plea from Andrew Copson, Humanists UK, in the news. (Not to be confused with our PR Director, Richard Copson, although they could be related!).

Mr Copson was urging those who declare themselves as Jedi – the UK’s 7th largest ‘religion’ – to tick the ‘no religion’ box instead. But why?

It’s suggested that many state ‘Jedi’ as a form of protest on being asked about their beliefs, or on the lack of non-religious representation in society.

However, the Humanists UK CE points out that by stating ‘Jedi’, they are adding to the percentage of the population who state that they have a religion. And in so doing, he suggests they may be negatively impacting funding for wider non-religious provision.

“Fascinating, Mark”, you might say, “but what on earth has this to do with disability?”

Joining the Wider Ranks of Disability Equality

Well, statistically, I see similarities between ourselves and this sabre-wielding minority in terms of what is happening within disability circles.

For these galactic knights, the most effective thing to do would be to join the ranks of those who share common ground – and think of the bigger picture.

And I would suggest it’s a similar situation for our disability groups, as we work towards inclusion for all.

However, too often, these groups are compelled to focus their energies inwards due to a lack of resources.

In turn, like our Jedi warriors, the impact of focusing solely on our own interests is that attention is skewed, split, and diluted on a national scale – further hindering the already slow-moving engines of equality and inclusion.

To be blunt, we need to get better at reaching out to one another if we are to strengthen the movement towards a more equitable society for all disabled people.

This is not an easy thing to ask of many smaller disability organisations; their primary aim is to support those whom they exist to serve. And whilst they are counting the dwindling coppers, it seems unfair to ask that they share their efforts with wider groups. But ask, we must.

Thinking Beyond our own Disability Circles

However, it’s not just cohesion between groups that is diluting our influence. We need to be better at working together within groups, too.

Here’s a small example to illustrate my point: At a disability equality conference held a few years ago, disabled people had been asked to attend and contribute to a ‘disability speak’ session for employers.

The term ‘wheelchair-bound’ was raised, and being on the trainer’s ‘no-no’ list, she replaced it with the term ‘wheelchair user’.

A heated discussion then broke out as some wheelchair users voiced their concern that tabooing the term ‘wheelchair-bound’ denied them the right to be counted as separate from those who used wheelchairs infrequently. Their concern was that access to their specific needs might be weakened with a broader term. And this is the point, again. It’s hard to think beyond your own situation when it’s not a given that your basic needs will be met.

So, we have disability organisations with too few resources to focus on the bigger picture.

And we have disabled people thrown into dissension due to a fear of losing support.

It’s not how things should be.

Cohesion is our Greatest Asset!

In my mind, at this point, a gallant Jedi Knight on a silver wheelchair (with rocket boost, naturally – this is my story) makes a bold entrance and imparts the necessity of cohesion.

Because, unlike the Jedi, we are the largest minority group in the UK …

…but, arguably, the least empowered.

And we have no light sabres. (Though let’s be real, neither do our census Jedi:)

Our greatest asset is cohesion, as that gives us the clout to speak to, act for, and influence, the wider agenda of disability equality.

There are over 11 million disabled people in the UK, and a whopping 25% of the entire population either directly or indirectly affected by a disability (Source: UN and World Bank).

That’s a lot of people.

I’m not suggesting we all come together on one giant Zoom call. To be effective, we need, of course, to ensure that the specific needs of disabled people are met, through the hard work of our many organisations.

However, we could be better at engaging with others as we do so – and it needn’t be a drain on the purses. In fact, better cohesion and engagement can reduce costs, inspire more joined-up thinking, and gain a stronger voice for more of us in the long-term.

Ticking the Box for Equality

Within our social enterprise, we work a lot on wheelchair accessibility. However, our aim is to promote inclusion for all, and we proactively seek to connect with others, wherever we can.

But whilst we all – organisations and individuals alike – champion the broader aims of an accessible and inclusive society, there just aren’t enough of us around the same table.

Now I have no notable opinions on the Jedi stance, but I understand Copson’s statistical argument. Thinking beyond our inner circles can open many more doors, than if we keep our own door shut.

Ultimately, box-ticking exercises have always been the enemy of the unique, the minorities and the creative thinkers. And as disabled people, we are used to having to ‘think outside the box’ to overcome daily hurdles. But, regardless of our disability or organisational focus, we should all be ticking the box for global disability equality.

Of this, certain, I am:)