Why we should educate people about disability to create a more accessible world

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Sara in action

Sarah Bowdidge

Having watched Star Wars recently, I’ve noticed that the films have quite a few disabled characters. For example, Chewbacca is nonverbal to humans, but still communicates and forms strong bonds. Yoda uses a walking stick but can still fight. As Ada Hoffman, author of space opera novels The Outside and The Fallen, says on her blog, “Darth Vader is cool—and Darth Vader is severely disabled. He is a quadruple amputee and burn survivor.”

While more representation is needed, there are so many different species in Star Wars and they are treated differently based on their morality, not their looks. In Star Wars, characters with disabilities are treated no differently and often face adversity even in “a galaxy far, far away.”

Imagine that in the future disability would be spoken about openly and recognized, whereas disability representation would be commonplace today. What if there was more education about disability, ableism, and how you can actively support the disability community instead of simply asking, “What’s wrong with you?”

I know firsthand what it’s like to deal with ableism and prejudice. I’m used to being stared at and even followed down the street.

I have TAR Syndrome, a rare condition characterized by low blood platelet counts and the absence of radial bones in my forearms, meaning my arms are noticeably short.


My own experiences with ableism inspired me to star in and produce my own documentary called Speak Don’t Stare. I did it to encourage others to ask questions about disabilities instead of just stare, and to explore how others perceive disabilities and how those reactions can affect everyday life.

By 2052, I want history and education to be taught to people with disabilities of all ages. This would help develop an understanding of what it’s like to not be able to shower unaided, to stand up without fainting, or the myriad of issues that come with a disability that non-disabled people may never have experienced thought.

A new program in Germany gave nursing students a first-hand experience of meeting accessibility barriers through the use of special glasses and role-playing games.

The exercise was part of a four-hour training session called SENSE, which used a fake supermarket to show how everyday tasks like shopping can be very challenging for people with disabilities. Since 2016, SENSE has trained 3,200 students coming from different professions that interact with the public.

Patrick Dohmen, the founder and chairman of the European Accessibility Competence Center, designed the program to create a better world for his stepson, who suffers from cerebral palsy. One of the participants said after the training: “It is one thing to hear something and another thing to see and feel it yourself.”

Integration. Image by HANSUAN FABREGAS from Pixabay

If we take the work Patrick Dohman did in Germany, could we use a similar method in Wales? Perhaps virtual reality could be used to simulate how someone with short arms would struggle to reach objects or even put on a coat.

I spoke to Kat Watkins who works with schools in Wales to increase knowledge of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “The purpose of the project is to support practitioners and educational institutions in meeting their obligations to promote the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRDP) to learners within the curriculum for Wales.

The project is funded by the Welsh Government and the material has been co-produced from the lived experience of disabled people by a former disabled teacher. It is hoped that educating young people and learners about the UNCRDP will help Wales in the future become less discriminatory and more tolerant and ultimately forge an equal society.”


So why is disability education so important? A staggering two-thirds of the British public (67%) admit they feel uncomfortable speaking to people with disabilities, according to a 2014 study by Scope. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents said they felt uncomfortable would be concerned about speaking about disability in front of a disabled person, with many fearing saying something inappropriate or accidentally using an offensive term. Many people said that getting to know someone with a disability (33%) or getting advice from people with disabilities (28%) gave them more confidence.

Bethany Handley, communications officer at Diverse Cymru, agreed, saying, “We need to hear the voices and experiences of people with disabilities in the public eye.” This would allow people without disabilities to better understand the day-to-day issues faced by people with disabilities, such as For example, not being able to reach the top shelf, having to rely on help when using public transport and not being able to use disabled toilets because they have been out of order for weeks.

Imagine you are on a train and cannot get off because there is no ramp. People with disabilities need to constantly think ahead. Is this cafe handicapped accessible? What medications or aids do I need to take with me if I’m on the go all day?


One in three (30%) of disabled people in Wales are faced with assumptions and judgments about their disability or what they can do and 1 in 3 (29%) of disabled people in Wales have experienced people being rushed or impatient with them became a Scope survey in 2022.

Disability Wales said: “In education, people tell us that their child is being bullied at school because of their disability, which is often due to a lack of understanding from able-bodied students. You may feel that a disabled student is being given an unfair advantage, such as B. Additional time for exams. We believe that by increasing the conversations about disability in schools, understanding will increase, leading to fewer negative experiences for disabled children.”

I truly believe that by educating all ages about disability rights and inclusion, we can improve attitudes towards disabled people and create a more accessible world. With such fantastic advances in technology, perhaps Wales could incorporate the work being done in Germany to enable able bodied members of society to empathize with people with disabilities and hear their stories and struggles.

However, it is not a requirement that you have to share your story as a disabled person, and for those without disabilities I strongly encourage you to do your own research using reputable sources. People with disabilities are constantly under scrutiny, now more than ever. As Disability Rights UK’s Bethany Bale said: “It is everyone’s responsibility to break down these barriers so that we can all participate equally in society.”

Sarah Bowdidge is a contributor to GALWAD’s People’s Newsroom.

GALWAD is part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, co-commissioned with Creative Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the UK Government galwad.cymru

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