International Day of People with Disabilities

3rd December marks the International Day of People with Disabilities, an annual celebration of people with disabilities and the theme for 2020 is ‘Not all disabilities are visible’. The focus of the day is to spread awareness and understanding that not all disabilities are immediately apparent. According to the WHO World Report on Disability, 15% of the world’s population are living with a disability.1

According to, around 11 million people in the UK have a disability; a 2018 report by the Papworth Trust shows that in the UK, 23% of women have a disability compared to 19% of men.

The WI is a place for all women and our aim is for members, staff and visitors with disabilities to receive the same services and opportunities as those who do not have disabilities. For International Day of People with Disabilities, we want to provide information about disabilities, explain what we are doing to make the WI accessible for everyone, and inspire WIs to look at what they can do.

What is a disability?

A person has a disability if they have:

  • a physical or mental impairment; and
  • the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Some impairments are automatically treated as a disability, such as cancer and HIV. ‘Long-term’ means the impairment lasts or is likely to last, for 12 months or more. If you are receiving treatment or taking medication for the impairment, you ignore the effect of this when deciding whether the impairment has a substantial, adverse effect on your daily activities.

What do we mean by ‘hidden disabilities’?

Hidden disabilities are disabilities that are not immediately apparent or obvious. These may not have physical signs and include mental health conditions, learning difficulties and hearing impairments.

Without physical signs of a disability, people with hidden disabilities are often challenged and judged by others. It is important that we do not make assumptions about people based on how they look, and that we listen with an open mind and offer support.

For more information, see Hidden Disabilities Sunflower who aim to make the invisible visible.

What happens if someone is treated differently because of their disability?

Having a disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and if someone is being treated less favourably or being denied access to opportunities because of their disability, this may be discrimination.

Did you know some people are exempt from wearing face coverings?

The following people do not need to wear a face covering:

  • People who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, or impairment or disability.
  • People who would be caused severe distress by putting on, wearing or removing a face covering.
  • People who are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip-reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate.

For example, a woman who has been physically silenced during a sexual assault may have flashbacks when something is placed over her mouth. She, therefore, does not have to wear a mask as this would cause her severe distress.

It is therefore important that we do not comment on or judge people who do not wear face coverings.

How is the NFWI working on this?

  • Creating a new Inclusion, Equality and Diversity Policy and Glossary of Terms to make sure everyone understands our organisation’s position.
  • Offering an audio version of WI Life for members who are registered as blind or partially sighted. For more information, call 020 7371 9300.
  • Focusing on how we can use education to create awareness and lead important conversations.
  • Investigating complaints or concerns raised by members about inclusion and accessibility, and making sure these are resolved effectively by facilitating change where needed.
  • Reviewing how we offer training, resources and information to ensure this is accessible.
  • Ensuring national events are arranged with disabled members, staff, and visitors in mind.
  • Using imagery, publications, and wording that represents and celebrates the diversity of our membership and staff.
  • Listening to feedback and adapting to ensure we meet the needs of our current and future members.

The Triple Cripples

As part of our work with the Centenary Action Group, we are highlighting the brilliant work of activists in residence, The Triple Cripples. A dynamic duo, Kym Oliver & Jumoke Abdullahi have created a platform to increase visibility & highlight the narratives of people living with disabilities with topical videos, spotlight interviews, workshops, talks & lectures on topics ranging from relationships to travel. The loveable duo has gained steady recognition for their insight & charisma.

Find out more about their brilliant work here and you can check out their interview with Marsha Cordova MP here.

The NFWI is planning lots of work on inclusion, so watch this space for more exciting projects!

What can my WI do?

Research by Scope in 2018-19 found that 1 in 3 people with a disability feel there’s a lot of disability prejudice. There are many areas in society that are more difficult to access when you have a disability, including social and community opportunities. This is where the WI can have the most immediate impact – how accessible is your WI?

  • Appoint a WI Welcoming Team to ensure members with disabilities have everything they need and someone to ask questions to. Guidance on this is available on My WI here.
  • Familiarise yourself with the section on My WI on inclusion, equality and diversity here.
  • Make sure your programme includes speakers and activities for all abilities. For ideas on planning a programme please see My WI here.
  • Think about the language and imagery you use at your meetings, online, and in your printed publications.
  • Think about whether there are any barriers to women with disabilities being involved in your WI.
  • Appoint an inclusion officer.
  • Openly talk to your members about their abilities, accessibility requirements and needs.
  • Consider your members’ needs when arranging meetings and events at both physical venues and on online platforms.
  • Ensure members who have carers know their carer can attend meetings and events for free where possible. For more information see the NFWI Access of Carers to Members with Disabilities to Meetings and Events on My WI here.
  • Create a culture where complaints and concerns can be raised, and there is confidence that these will be followed up and investigated where necessary.
  • Check out the resources below and get meeting ideas and inspiration.

British Sign Language

A great area to start looking at is British Sign Language (BSL). Roughly 11 million people are deaf or hard of hearing in the UK, making it the second most common disability in the UK. However, there are only around 150,000 BSL users. BSL is fun and easy to learn, and there are many online courses to choose from. It’s a great life skill to learn from the comfort of your home and a great way to communicate with more people!

Check out the below video by Commanding Hands of ‘100 Basic Signs in British Sign Language’ to get started:

Where can I find out more information?

Autism Autistic UK
Deafness British Deaf Association
Dementia At Dementia Friends you can sign up your WI to be a Dementia Friend.
Disability equality Scope
Face coverings Government guidance on face coverings: when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own.
Hidden disabilities Hidden Disabilities Sunflower
The law and your rights

Disability discrimination information by Mind

Disability Rights UK

Disability Wales


Disability Law Service

Learning disabilities Mencap
Mental health Mind
NHS Every Mind Matters
The Samaritans 


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