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Elisabeth Ward: What disability pride means to me

By
Elisabeth Ward
Scope's Lead Accessibility Specialist, Elisabeth Ward, shares what Disability Pride Month means to her.

Elisabeth is an upper body amputee from birth and she lives with chronic migraines. Elisabeth created Scope’s content accessibility training which she delivers to a range of external organisations. For Disability Pride Month, we asked Elisabeth a few questions. We want to understand what disability pride means to her, personally and professionally.

What does Disability Pride Month mean to you?

Well, disability and pride aren’t two words you would’ve seen me use together when I was younger. I wasn’t proud, I was ashamed. I thought having a missing hand was ugly and weird.

I felt like I needed to hide an entire side of my body. I hid it so I wouldn’t be stared at on the street. I hid it so people would meet me and judge me on who I was. And not focus on my hand, and what they expected I would be like. I hid it to disassociate with disability and pretend I was normal.

I feel sad that that’s how I felt. I feel so, so very different now. I am very proud to be a congenital (from birth) amputee. To be limb different.

And Disability Pride month is a time where I get to celebrate that. To celebrate the challenges I’ve had. How far I’ve come. And how much more we can do as a collective. To tell our stories. To have our voices heard. To be a community.

Disability Pride is a time where we can show the world that disability isn’t ugly. Or weird. Or something to be ashamed of. It’s just us. This is how we look. This is how we live. This is who we are.

I feel very sad there wasn’t something like disability pride when I was growing up. I desperately needed the world to open its arms and tell me I was included. To tell me that being different can be awesome. That you may experience challenges and hard times. But they will shape you and bring you pride in who you are. What you overcame, what you’ve achieved, and even what you still find hard.

I hope young disabled adults today find their pride. Find their community. Share their stories and have their voices heard.

What makes you proud to be a disabled employee at Scope?

Scope is fighting for societal change for disabled people. We support disabled people and parents of disabled children with our services. I work with organisations to be more accessible to disabled people.

Everything we’re about is making society better for disabled people. And working for an organisation that does that, as a disabled person, is amazing. I am able to help my community.

I’ll never forget my first week at the Scope offices and seeing other disabled people there. It was a weird reality for me. Every office, everywhere I would go, I was the only disabled person. It was so nice to see others like me.

We need more organisations to hire more disabled people. More disabled people deserve to feel like they have a community at work.

Scope isn’t perfect, no organisation is. But we’re working very hard to be the change that we want to see in the world. And a big part of that is a diverse workforce which includes disabled people.

How does your Disability Pride come through in your work?

I’m incredibly passionate about accessibility. It affects me. It affects my colleagues. It affects the millions of other disabled people out there.

I’m an upper body amputee from birth, so I’ve spent my life looking for ways around doing things. I’ve had to make the world accessible to me. I’ve discarded so many prosthetics, gadgets, and equipment that just have not done that. It’s incredibly frustrating.

So when I discovered the world of accessibility, something clicked. I knew that I could fight for the world to make those changes. To consider us. It was something I could do to help make life better. Not just for me, but people with a range of conditions and impairments.

I have lived experience, and this helps me in my work. But I also have empathy for the barriers that others have that I haven’t experienced. I want to make sure everyone has equal access.

We’d have a much more accessible world if:

  • products were designed inclusively with disabled people
  • organisations thought about the different people using their products and services
  • designers considered how disabled people might need to use products in different ways

We have an endless frustration with products, websites, buildings and even services. Disabled people shouldn’t have to keep working hard to find ways around. Over and over throughout the day, every day.

I also developed chronic migraines over 4 years ago. This impacted my ability to read online. It made me realise how some conditions and impairments get overlooked in accessibility.

I want to change all of this. We have the right to be able to do everything society has to offer without barriers. Without exclusion. Without negative, ableist, or hostile attitudes. We should be part of how our world is created, not an afterthought.

I know that we can change how society views disability and accessibility. The training I create is a way to fight. To change attitudes. To have a voice. To get people to see and do things differently. To show society’s responsibility to disabled people. It starts conversations. And it raises awareness in large organisations. It reshapes how non-disabled people see disabled people.

This I guess is how my disability pride comes through in my work. I’ll shamelessly promote my training here too if anyone is interested in learning more:

Content accessibility training

What has been your personal journey of bringing Disability Pride into your work life?

I mentioned earlier I avoided being part of the disabled community when I was younger. So I didn’t really start to bring disability into my work life until my mid to late twenties. I developed my specialism in accessibility when working in the Parliamentary Digital Service.

I was a content designer, but I was surprised to find a whole area of content that I’d been completely unaware of. An area that affected me as a disabled person, and yet I was completely ignorant of it.

I suddenly discovered a whole community working to improve access and inclusion. Disability wasn’t being seen as a negative. And it was the responsibility of these practitioners to make their digital content more accessible. Not the disabled person.

And that was something I wanted to be a part of. Something I wanted to advocate for. I’d finally found something that I was really interested in and passionate about. Something that could make life better for people like me. It was amazing.

I started attending meet-ups and Government accessibility events. I educated myself on best practices. I was aware of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and I tried to use them the best I could. But I found them confusing and the website difficult to use.

I learned more from other resources:

These helped me understand the best practices and how to meet the criteria.

I also learned how to use a screen reader to help test my content. I completed level 1 and 2 qualifications in British Sign Language (BSL). This helped me learn more about Deaf culture. I also have basic communication skills when I meet BSL users.

I worked with teams across Parliament to help them start improving their accessibility. I did a lot of content training and some accessibility training. Sharing your knowledge helps you to expand your own. People ask questions that you might not know the answer to. So you have to go and research it. You’re constantly learning and developing.

Moving to Scope

I then joined Scope as a Content Designer. I was able to learn more about the lived experiences of other disabled people.

The insight from testing was so valuable. I learned a lot more about how people read and understand content. Particularly with different conditions and impairments, or using different technology.

I also learned from Scope’s The Big Hack survey results. This shared disabled people’s experiences with the accessibility of products, and organisations. Again helping me learn more about some of the challenges people were experiencing. Particularly with commercial organisations.

I started delivering accessibility training again. I wanted to share my knowledge and the experiences of other disabled people. This led me to become an accessibility specialist in our Partnerships team.

This is where I really developed my disability pride. I use my lived experiences and accessibility expertise alongside research to influence people. To train them. To raise awareness.

I wanted people to understand why you should be accessible. To have empathy. To understand their responsibility. To see our value. To be allies and advocates. And then I show them how they can do that. And in a way that you can understand it, even if you’re completely new to accessibility.

I also wanted to give people the tools and knowledge to start using best practices in their own work. But also to help others to start doing it too.

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