It was great speaking to John Dickinson-Lilley, former elite athlete, Stonewall Sporting Champion and Director of Communications at the British Museum, for Disability Pride Month.
I started by asking John about the importance of Disability Pride Month.
Disability is still broadly regarded as a bad thing. People have an emotional response to disability. Quite often that instinctive response is, ‘Poor you!’ I think there’s a big piece of work in terms of celebrating being disabled, really owning it and enjoying it. This isn’t a bad thing – it’s just different. How people perceive disability – on the one hand you’ve got people who think disability is a fundamentally bad thing and then you have people at the other end of the spectrum who keep saying you’re so inspirational. Lots of people think disability is so bad that managing to do anything in a day is a significant achievement, let alone having a career or being a ski racer as I have been.
Tell us more?
It’s a concept in the disability community known as “inspiration porn”. That’s very much using disability as a crutch for abled people to get on with their own lives. It’s not actually celebrating disabled people. It’s a form of objectification of disabled people. I think Disability Pride Month is really important because it’s an opportunity for people to share their stories and experiences and shift that narrative.
Can you tell us a little about your journey?
I retired five years ago now as Great Britain’s Number One visually impaired male ski racer, I was in the world Top 10, double British champion and I had also won the Europa Cup in slalom. I retired on a high, having had a year of injury. It felt like the right time to retire and focus on my career. I am now Director of Communications at the British Museum, which is a job that I love in a place that I love. I fell into campaigning when I was a student – dashing down to Parliament and going on demonstrations. I’ve worked in the sports sector – I was Head of Public Affairs of Sport England and one of the things I’m really passionate is inclusive communications.
How can Pride events be more inclusive?
The community is making strides to do better, but one of the groups that are still not included are disabled LGBTQ+ people. There are lots of experiences that I’ve had. One venue called me a “fire hazard” so there are some real fundamental issues out there and that’s not just Pride Month – that’s all year. There’s a big piece of education that needs to go on within the LGBTQ+ community both in terms of individuals, but also venues thinking about how they can create a space that is as inclusive as possible.
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