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Interview With Dr Stephen Duckworth OBE, Trustee, Leonard Cheshire Disability

December 15, 2020

Following our recent coverage of Leonard Cheshire Disability’s new TV advertising campaign, Possibility With Disability, our editor was honoured to be asked to interview their Trustee, Dr Stephen Duckworth OBE.

Dr Duckworth very kindly spoke to Same Difference about how the campaign came to be what it is today, as well as the general work of Leonard Cheshire Disability, in the UK and internationally.

First of all, we asked Dr Duckworth about the inspiration behind the Possibility With Disability campaign.

Leonard Cheshire Disability have been working with disabled people for 70 years. This year, the organisation felt that they needed a refresh. Dr Duckworth explained how the organisation’s disabled Trustees wanted to “achieve more outcomes for more people.” They carried out some research with disabled people, to find out the key messages they wanted to put across. They came up with Live, Learn, Earn which has become the main slogan for the campaign.

The advert has three disabled people in it. One is shown living, one learning and one earning.

We also asked Dr Duckworth about his own life. A wheelchair user since 1981, he is about to enter his 40th year as a disabled person. He believes that disabled people are fighting against a “howling gale” of low expectations which “limits opportunity and makes us dependent.” He humorously told us how, when he started needing to use a wheelchair, “I was the first disabled person I met.”

We hope that few disabled people today, at least in Western countries, will be able to make such a statement in 40 years’ time, precisely because of the great improvements over the last 40 years for disabled people in education, employment and life in general.

Dr Duckworth briefly explained Leonard Cheshire Disability’s other three main campaigns.

‘Can Do’ provides activities for disabled people in schools which allow them to focus on what they can do, rather than what they can’t.

‘Digital Inclusion’ empowers disabled people through technology.

‘Change 100’ matches talented disabled people with employers and paid jobs for a year, and funds employment support so that those disabled people can keep paid jobs.

Of course, no interview in 2020 would be complete without discussing Covid-19. Dr Duckworth said that as a result of the pandemic, “severely able bodied people” are getting a taste of negative attitudes and low expectations that disabled people have experienced for years.

Leonard Cheshire Disability runs what Dr Duckworth described as “traditional” care homes, providing accomodation for 2500 disabled people. Their care homes, he said, have had 15 deaths. Human tragedies, of course, but a lower toll than many other care homes in the UK.

Like most care homes, they have faced a large extra cost this year- £5 million on personal protective equipment. Sadly, like all charities, they have also lost fundraising revenue because of cancelled events.

Dr Duckworth said Leonard Cheshire Disability recognises the need to provide all service users with their own front door, and the need to open that front door to opportunity. He believes there is nothing disabled people can’t achieve if we are determined.

Dr Duckworth also spoke about Leonard Cheshire Disability’s international work, particularly in Africa and Asia. The organisation has been supporting disabled people internationally through Covid-19. However, internationally, education for disabled people is very limited. Internationally, things have to be done as cheaply as possible. Leonard Cheshire Disability are learning from this for their work in the UK too.

Finally, Dr Duckworth made clear that any international work carried out by Leonard Cheshire Disability was being done “not as imperial masters” but to support and empower local disabled people.

Clearly, both Leonard Cheshire Disability and Dr Duckworth have done great work for the Disability Rights Movement. Same Difference wishes them continued success.

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