Friday, 2 May 2014

Choosing Speakers - Regardless.....

There’s loads of tweets and posts out there on conferences only having white male keynote speakers.

Do I support this campaign? Absolutely I do! 
I am blessed to know many gifted female speakers and speakers of a different ethnicity, and I am happily cheering them on from the sidelines. The conferences who don’t use them are missing out on a huge blessing.

But along side the cheerleading of these speakers, I’m also a bit of a disability terrorist - a gentle one, but still a terrorist. If you have followed my blog you will already know this ;o)

You rarely see a speaker who is disabled do you? 
Yes, I do realise there may be those with hidden disabilities, and I also know that on a person to person ratio there will be less folk with a current disability*. But I find it disturbing that out of the many speakers out there who have a disability, few are given a voice.

*during our life time, over 90% of us will experience disability

In fact many conferences are inaccessible to those who just want to attend.. let alone speak…

(Please note: I am not drawing attention to any particular conference - I’m being general in my comments)

There is a joke that to tick all the politically correct boxes on government things, I need to be a female, with a disability, and of a different ethnic origin. (In reality this isn’t the case - believe me, I know!)
But I’m not talking about being politically correct here. I’m talking about honouring people.

I would also like to add that if I am asked to speak or lead anywhere, I would rather it be because I have a gift and not because I am the token female ‘cripple’! 

I have many comical, scary and sad stories of being asked to speak where venues were less than accessible -  feel free to ask me about them!

Many Christian organisations intentionally have a balanced male to female leadership, but very few have intentionally sought good leaders who have or understand disability - and when you think that over 90% of our population will have a disability at some point in their lives (YES - over 90%!) - this is worrying.

I don’t believe most of the conferences deliberately only ask white able bodied men to speak - they just don’t think! (There may be one or two who are intentional on only having men, but not all)

And I don’t think speakers who are disabled are deliberately excluded - it’s just not on the radar…. but it should be.

Policies on equality/inclusion for churches, Christian conferences and organisations should include disability.

But for conferences and festivals, this is how it usually goes:

Many conferences like their speakers to be sponsored by either their organisation or their publishers - this means good speakers whose organisation has no money, or who don’t have a publisher are overlooked; Unless they use their own meagre savings to sponsor themselves. If you are disabled this can cost even more - especially if the conference is in London.

Many conferences will go for “crowd puller” speakers - this means great speakers who are lesser known miss out - and so do the hearers. 

We are still suffering with a hangover from a male dominated world when it comes to speakers, and so, in some circles the male speakers are better known.
Add the disability issue and we are even further back than the women speakers issue. In our church history those with disabilities were either hidden or at best “looked after” with the assumption they wouldn’t lead, speak or even contribute. Hence - most platforms and pulpits are inaccessible, the worship is often inaccessible, and the language we use is excluding (at best!)

The thing is - I’m not good at badgering people about this - I’m too polite and worry about upsetting people. I could do with a few more people….. who are ‘not disabled’, speaking out on my behalf.

Why ‘Not disabled’? Because people assume I am fighting for myself - and I’m not. I was fighting for disability rights BEFORE I became disabled.

I thought those with disabilities had a raw deal in church and at conferences BEFORE I became disabled.

It is pure coincidence that I am, myself, now disabled.

Will you speak, shout and metaphorically stamp your foot with me? Please? Thankyou.
(I'll also be at CRE on Tues/Weds, in the 'Churches for All' zone if you want to say hello!)

Those who know me well will probably be thinking “But you regularly serve a well known Christian conference/festival thingy”
Yes I do  - and they are fantastic in the way they support me. They are intentional in finding accessible locations for meetings, and they make allowances for my expenses being a little higher due to not being able to use some public transport. I also know that the disability word is high in their consideration on all things…..and… there are folk with disabilities on the speaking team.
I advise them on making this particular conference as accessible as possible for guests -  with the resources we have. Plus, I am supported and cheered on by all involved in making that event happen. And they are also intentionally diverse with their speaking teams - Yay!


  1. I will stamp my foot with you Kay! I feel really strongly about this too...and can't wait to meet you at CfA conference :-) - we can chat some more about it? Lynn

  2. Thanks Lynn! It would be good to beet you face to face at last!!
    K x

  3. Great post and thanks for all that you have done to make festival / conferences accessible. I know for one that some of the language used has been adopted to other churches (Mine specifically!!)


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