We need to see more women of colour with disabilities presenting on scree

This woman’s viral tweet about missing a train exposes a massive problem in society

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Paralympian and co-founder of The Ability People Liz Johnson explains to Stylist why a recent tweet about disability in the UK is a wakeup call for all of us.

Watching a train leave the platform without you being on it is very, very annoying. We’ve all been there, running to the door only for it to close in front of your red, sweaty face. But imagine how frustrated you’d be if you were five minutes early for the train and it still went without you.

That’s what recently happened to campaigner and wheelchair user Katie Pennick, who shared the infuriating experience on Twitter.

“I’m watching my train leave in five mins and I’m not on it because I apparently didn’t arrive early enough for staff to get the ramp,” she said.

“I’m late because the bus I was on let everyone (20+ people – full bus) off before deploying the ramp for me. Everyone on that bus made their train.”

She continued to explain how this kind of inaccessibility is a daily occurrence for many people living with a disability.

“The hold ups and delays I experience due to the inaccessible/unequal transport system have a knock-on effect, and very quickly accumulate,” she said.

“I now have to wait over half an hour for the next train. It’s not much, but it adds up.”

Pennick concluded: “And after a long and stressful day, having to spend this half hour waiting in a freezing station rather than at home taking care of myself really takes its toll.”

The thread has since gone viral, with over 11,000 people retweeting it to point out how unacceptable the situation was. 

Former Paralympian Liz Johnson was one of these people.

Johnson is a gold-medallist Paralympian swimmer who lives with cerebral palsy. She is also the woman behind The Ability People, which is a disability inclusion and recruitment organisation that aims to close the employment gap for people with disabilities in the UK.

Speaking about why viral tweets like Katie’s are actually really important, Johnson tells Stylist: “People shouldn’t have to tweet about these things and highlight every time they have a grievance. But people with disabilities are still ignored so many times.

Liz Johnson
Liz Johnson set up The Ability People to help close the disability gap in employment.

“What I’ve realised is that, by not doing anything, nothing’s going to ever change – and a lot of these situations are avoidable, like the one about not being able to board to train.

“These kind of social media posts should be collated – because there are hundreds of them, probably thousands. I mean, she [Katie] can probably come up with a hundred by herself because she gets the train a lot and, more often than not, she has an issue but them.

“Something like that is completely avoidable and it’s not a comfortable experience for a person who requires assistance.”

“The majority of times, people aren’t incapable, they just need assistance. But actually, the bigger issue is that if the trains were designed to be level with the platform, then they wouldn’t even need the ramp.

“And if we look deeper, this is part of the reason why we don’t have people with disabilities in high powered jobs – because what happens if they have to go to a really important meeting or interview?”

It’s reasons like this why Johnson set up The Ability People in the first place. Over 80% of people without a disability are in employment, while only 51% of people with a disability are in employment, and Johnson wants to address why. 

Sadly, bad transport systems is only part of the problem.

“It isn’t a problem of quality of people or recruitment that’s the issue,” she explains. ”It’s the processes and people’s expectation and understanding of what differently abled people can do. 

“For example, we’ve got various disabilities or illnesses that often mean people can’t function optimally in a conventional 9-5 office environment: that ranges from people who can’t work past lunchtime, to those who are the opposite and function best through the night.

“Well obviously it’s hard to find organisations and offices that are open at that time! Then there’s the fatigue elements, which people feel like they can’t be honest about because they don’t want their colleague to feel like they’re shirking responsibilities or not putting their 100% effort in.

“This actually probably goes for me, like I can work really hard but then I’ll literally crash and burn.”

There’s clearly work to be done by government and big organisations. But what can we do as individuals to make sure there is more accessibility at work and in public places for people living with a disability?

“We could try and find out more by speaking to people and educating ourselves on differences. The biggest thing that we do that we probably shouldn’t is assume things – you should never assume anything.

“And also, always – I mean it’s something your parents tell you when you’re young – but always’, always treat everybody with respect.”

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For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.

Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:

1. We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.

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4. We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.

5. Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.

Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.

Images: Getty, Amy Mace

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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