D&I at The Lab : Disability

type - features
category - gender
category - society
category - workplace
sector - diversity & inclusion
category - d&i at the lab
In the third edition of our Diversity & Inclusion at The Lab series, the team here at The Future Laboratory explore how disabled people are represented by media and brands

Media often acts as the catalyst that educates us about groups we are not a part of and this extends to depictions of those with varying disabilities. Like all marginalised communities, it’s important not to view the disabled as a monolithic group.

By reading the entries shared below we hope you will broaden your perception of what it means to live with a disability.

This is the third in the D&I at The Lab series. Stay tuned for upcoming articles. You can also read more on our post-urgency approach to diversity and inclusion, our approaches to Trans Inclusion and how we’re transforming the way we recruit.

Published by:

17 June 2021

Author: Chris Sanderson and Gursharan Panesar

Image: Slick Chicks in partnership with Aerie



Fiona, people director:
Diversity DAM

This month, as we examine disability, accessibility and inclusion, we looked at the medical model of disability versus the social model. The former places the issue with the person who is disabled, while the latter looks more at society’s understanding of, and overall attitude to, people who have different or more complex needs. The social model pays attention to the design of our environment that caters predominantly for able-bodied and neurotypical people – sometimes creating a ‘disabling world’. While it would be impossible to cater for all people, if we are to be truly inclusive we need to look at innovative and creative ways to make our environment as accessible as possible. How do you start to make those changes? Ask the individual: do you have any additional access requirements? We mustn’t try to ‘cure’ or ‘solve’ the person, but instead work with individuals to remove barriers so that everyone can feel included and considered. As David Miles at our WECIL disability equality training session said: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.’

‘If we are to be truly inclusive we need to look at innovative and creative ways to make our environment as accessible as possible.’
Fiona Anderson, people director, The Future Laboratory
Left: Squirmy and Grubs. Right: The Intouchables

Gursharan, graduate trainee:
Interabled Vloggers

Shane Burcaw and Hannah Aylward use their YouTube channel, Squirmy and Grubs, as a way to show what a relationship looks like when one partner has a physical disability and one does not. Shane has spinal muscular atrophy and has used a wheelchair since he was two years old. The couple willingly invite questions on how their interabled relationship works, with videos covering controversial topics like care-giving. It’s the nonchalant way they approach these subjects that I find so entertaining; applying a mundane lens to how disability affects their lives breaks down the barriers for the abled members of their audience.

Philip, senior events manager:
The Intouchables

I’d like to tell you about the 2012 film, The Intouchablesan uplifting comedy about the friendship that develops between a wealthy man with quadriplegia, Philippe, and his carer, Driss, an ex-convict. Adapted from Philippe Pozzo di Borgo’s autobiographical tale, Le Second Souffle, it is based on a true story. The film is both very funny and heartbreaking. It tackles two stereotypes and the differences between rich and poor, and finds common ground between them. Both characters discover they have disadvantages in life – one a physical disability and the other socio-economic. 

The main character, Philippe, chooses Driss as his carer partly because he doesn’t see him as disabled or pity him. He just sees another person, showing how everyone should be treated equally with a balance of respect and empathy. Despite what we may perceive to be correct, this isn’t necessarily the same as a person’s situation or internal dialogue. 

For me, the film also supports the notion of never giving up and always challenging the status quo. The directors, Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, struggled to finance the film because of a ‘nervousness about disability’ and I’m very glad to say the investors couldn’t have been more wrong. It has been a huge success globally and Toledano has received more than 3,000 thank you messages from wheelchair users all over the world.

‘He just sees another person, showing how everyone should be treated equally with a balance of respect and empathy.’

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Madeleine Ryan, by Hector H MacKenzi

Gursharan, graduate trainee:
Oversharing is caring for @wheelieerin

Erin Novakowski, otherwise known as @wheelieerin, is a hilarious TikTok creator who just happens to have spinal muscular atrophy. Her dark humour, combined with an ‘oversharing is caring’ mantra, is the reason that she has 12.8m likes and almost 300,000 followers. Creating videos that cover tips on how to get free drinks if you use a wheelchair to exposing her own Tinder DMs, she is truly a force to be reckoned with. Erin’s content is a refreshing response to the often negative portrayals of young people with disabilities.

Victoria, futures director:
Is autism precisely what feminism has been waiting for?

Last summer, Madeleine Ryan wrote this incredible piece for The New York Times, headlined: Dear Parents: Your Child with Autism is Perfect. She flipped the damaged narrative that has often framed neurodiverse kids as difficult and disordered. I have just finished reading her new book, A Room Called Earth, which makes a crisp case for those on the autism spectrum as essential truth-tellers and joy-seekers capable of putting us all in touch with our real feelings. The Independent interview with the author, which can be found here, is a great piece too.

‘Erin’s content is a refreshing response to the often negative portrayals of young people with disabilities.’
Gursharan Panesar, graduate trainee, The Future Laboratory
Human-centred Workplace by Wilkhahn in collaboration with 1zu33

Gursharan, graduate trainee:
Improving office spaces for neurodivergent employees

Neurodivergent people are those with varying brain functions, including individuals on the autism spectrum, and individuals with ADHD or dyslexia, as well as those with anxiety, depression, OCD and PTSD. The office can prove to be an unproductive space for the neurodiverse community, with many feeling overwhelmed with excessive noise resulting in panic attacks. Rob Austin, professor of information systems at Ivey Business School suggests that environmental changes such as softer colours, natural lighting, more greenery and creating quiet zones or even giving employees noise-cancelling headphones, will make a huge difference in productivity and comfortability for those who are sensorially sensitive. Such modifications will benefit the entire workforce as it encourages a larger conversation about one’s needs.


Want to read more?

This article is part of our Diversity & Inclusion work at The Future Laboratory. Explore our work on D&I on our blog and discover what steps we are taking to make a better tomorrow happen.

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