Angel Dixon, Advocacy Manager and Ambassador

One of the really special talks at Spark the Change will be delivered by Angel Dixon, who describes herself as an activist and a disabled model.

Angel will be telling us about how design and diversity and inclusion come together through Universal Design. Her talk is not centered around her own lived experience of disability, for her it is simply a part of her diversity as a human being.

Angel wants us to understand that as human beings, we all learn and grow through shared experiences. Universal Design is about removing the barriers that stop all people being able to equally share in experiences.

I was incredibly impressed by Angel and believe there are some incredible lessons we can learn from her. I think it will help you think about how you approach work, collaboration, self management and the environments you create around you for you, your team and the people in your life.

So, how does your personal story tie into this? You seem very passionate about what you do, where does this resolve come from?

My personal story isn’t what this talk is about. In fact, the notion that disability lies with the individual is exactly what I’m trying to steer the conversation away from.

Disability is irrelevant in the criteria of difference. I prefer not to buy into the stereotype that “I’m making the best out of a bad situation”, what I’m doing is living my life to the best of my ability. I’m trying to encourage people to remove that stigma as it is really inaccurate and damaging on a human rights level.

So tell me more about universal design?

Design for all, inclusive design and universal design all fall under a similar bracket. Universal design is the concept of designing our products and environments and experiences to be accessible for all without need for adaptation.

Right now for accessibility we have a lot of band aid fixes, I always talk about the built environment first because it’s an easy way for people to identify what exclusion looks like and to see the potential for innovation.

It’s about creating an equal human experience for all. The main idea behind my talk, presentation and passion comes from feeling that as human beings we learn and grow through shared experiences, so if we don’t remove those barriers that stop all people sharing experiences equally we will continue to be divided.

You’ve said that your talk is relevant for the workforce because it’s about raising consciousness about the full diversity of people within an organisation, can you unpack what you mean here?

I guess this ties into what I want people to take away when they go back to their lives and career. I want people to think about diversity and inclusion in a different light and to see how important it is for society to be inclusive to all.

There’s a thing called the Social Model of disability, I speak a lot about it in my talk but very basically it says that disability is caused by the way society is organised rather than people’s impairment or diagnosis.

This is something I will break down, I’ll be explaining how this comes to play in the workforce and the importance of addressing it in the correct way.

Can you please explain what diversity and inclusion actually means in the workforce, and your view of why should it be so important ?

From an organisation’s perspective the importance sits with sustainability. This takes shape in a couple of ways:

  • We’re an ageing population and people are in the workforce for longer. At some point, everyone will have a lived experience of disability and it’s important that we are inherently organised to open up experiences for all.
  • It’s also important outwardly with your brand in the market, as much as it is inwardly in terms of effectiveness. It’s of increasing importance for organisations to value diversity and inclusion to even be considered an employer of choice, and in a world where more creativity is needed than ever, diversity of perspectives is essential.

Is Diversity and Inclusion becoming something that just gets paid lip service, how do you know when it’s being taken seriously vs someone is trying to fulfil quota’s?

There’s a difference between tokenism and authentic representation and incidental inclusion. I find there’s a fine line to dance to get to move along the spectrum without going too far in either direction, however the fact that people are even having the conversation is important.

Despite their rep, quotas do have a place. They’re good for collecting data and in the early stages of trying to create diversity. The overall hope is that we pass tokenism and we get to the point where people are inherently inclusive because they see the value and importance in creating environments that all people can equally interact with.

What do you think an audience with their professional hats on are able to take out of your story? What is it that you think is really valuable for them to understand?

My story is one of activism, I want to address the fact that we are all fundamentally human and by treating people in your organisation with this viewpoint you will empower everyone to feel like whole versions of themselves and they will subsequently be more productive and loyal to their employer.

What I want everyone to take away is an awareness of  their own human experience. Disability is just a layer that we put on top of that.

By understanding this people can begin to open their minds to what’s required to give everyone equal opportunity to experience and contribute the options they, their organisations and their societies have available to them.

Interview by Ringo Thomas