Access – a recipe for excellence

Tonight is one of my favourite nights of the year, the Stelios Foundation Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs. I’ve been to this ceremony for the last three years, not least because the first time I was there I actually won the award, the top prize of £30 000, for my mental health diary app, Mental Snapp. What I think is brilliant about Sir Stelios championing disabled entrepreneurs is that his ethos, which runs through easyJet and all the easyGroup companies is all about democracy and accessibility. As the social model of disability shows us, it isn’t the individual with the disability who should change to accommodate society, it is society that is at fault when design choices, systems and methodologies routinely exclude people with a disability. Does this same argument work for mental health? Yes it most certainly does.

People with a mental health condition can be excluded in so many ways by unthinking systems design. The workplace is a classic environment for this to happen, where lack of accommodation and personalisation can exclude for example, the person whose medication makes it difficult for them to concentrate for long periods, or the person for whom anxiety means that they sometimes can, and sometimes cannot, present in public. The kind of flexibility that bosses can display in these circumstances would benefit all workers, and not just those for whom mental health is an issue. The fact is that accessible design benefits everyone. It doesn’t lead to a lowering of standards, in fact, standards are raised by increased accessibility. A good example of this is the GoodGrips brand, who design kitchen implements to be easy to use for people with arthritis. Their democratic approach to design has led to mass market adoption for kitchen tools that are a pleasure for anyone to use.

In our mental health app, we have a community, designed so that peer support is easy for anyone to access. We are building confidence and skills. Just knowing someone is there can make all the difference. Just yesterday someone posted to explain how they had made it into work that day all through the skills they had picked up in the group about appreciating and looking forward to ordinary little moments. Without the skills they had picked up in the group, they wouldn’t have been sitting at their desk that day. It was great to celebrate that achievement together in the group. It boosted our sense that what we are doing as a group makes a real difference, as we learn not to be ashamed, to accept and champion ourselves, and to prioritise our mental health. Societal barriers can come down through stating of the importance of our need. To make that happen, we need to acknowledge the legitimacy of the need and the fact that not to meet it is detrimental, not just to the individual, but to the whole of society.

Building confidence, building a flat and accessible society in which it is ok to prioritise need, means that we can all succeed. The Stelios Foundation Award recognises excellence in disabled entrepreneurs. And by doing so it celebrates and champions accessibility. This twin powers, excellence and accessibility, make for a truly democratic movement that has real power to change mass markets and society. Good mental health, like dignity, freedom of movement, and equal access, is for everybody. Can’t wait for the ceremony tonight.