Why equity is just as crucial as equality

Press play above to listen to the audio version of this blog by its author, Lauren Coulson

When we discuss issues surrounding disability, the word ‘equality’ is used a lot. Equality ensures that every person has an equal opportunity to make the most of their life, regardless of circumstance.

To look at equality vs equity in the UK, we first need to know some background: those with disabilities are protected against discrimination thanks to the Equality Act (2010). We have equal rights to work, education and the right to use goods and services without the fear of being judged or refused access. This act also allows us to pursue legal action if we feel we have been mistreated because of our disability.

The Equality Act does much more than allow us rights to exist in a space safely, it also includes measures to allow ‘equity’ to be practised. I feel that equity is just as crucial as equality; however, it’s talked about far less frequently.

What is equity?

If equality for all is a society’s true goal, then equity is how we achieve that goal. Being treated equally may grant those of us with disabilities access to spaces and facilities. But equity ensures that we can utilise those spaces.

Equity is all about levelling the playing field by adapting it to every individual’s needs. One of its definitions is simply the ‘quality of being fair and impartial.’

There are those in the disabled community, myself included, that hate the idea of being treated differently. In society, being different is other and to be other is bad. However, in the case of equity, being treated differently, as long as it is for positive and fair gain, means we reach equality. Practising equity does not mean one person gains an advantage. It simply means that a person is able to have similar experiences to those around them.

Equity with visuals

The lack of discussion around equity leads to a misunderstanding of its purpose. So, when I talk about equity to a person, I have a couple of allegories I like to use to foster the discussion.

Imagine you’re in a butterfly field with rolling hills of different heights. You and your friends each get a net. However, you’re all standing on different hills, so your distance to the butterflies varies, impacting your ability to catch them.

The hills and nets represent everybody’s natural starting point. It factors in a person’s ability, the resources they have, and the opportunities available to them. Many factors can influence these elements. Some of them can include access to education, financial status, race and ethnicity, and disability.

The height of the hill determines the length of the net. Imagine that every person in the group gets a longer net, like in the second image. Everyone can catch butterflies now, regardless of the individual starting point.

This is equality in action. It allows everyone the opportunity to be treated the same.

However, you’ll notice that the longer the net is, the harder it is to use, which will impact a person’s ability to catch butterflies. Equality allows everybody to do things, such as work and receive an education, but it doesn’t make it automatically easy to do so. This is because background and circumstance can still affect a person’s progress.  

The solution to this problem is to practise equity. In the final image, a bridge has been built. The supports for the bridge are all different heights, factoring in the sizes of each hill, which truly levels out the bridge. So, no matter which hill each friend started on, they can all catch butterflies without struggling.

Everyone’s way of using equity will be different, but the outcome will always be the same. Using equity means a person can overcome any other barriers that equality may be unable to reduce, which means that everyone will have as equal experience as possible.

Disability equity in the workplace

Equity can be hard to notice sometimes because if it’s done right, its integration into a system should be near seamless. That way, it’s less likely that a person benefiting from equity will feel like they’re being treated differently.

Having disabled representation in the workspace is a natural starting point, as it allows for those with different experiences and viewpoints to shape the way people can approach work. Once that is established then companies can practise equity. For example, the environment should be accessible and where possible, it should also be adapted to suit the need of an individual.

I’ve seen companies that have started using accessible job applications. The ones I’ve seen are available in different colours and fonts. I’ve even seen one example of a company offering to provide an audio file for a candidate if needed.

One thing I wish employers would do more, especially for disabled candidates, is to hire based on their skills. Many disabled and neurodiverse people struggle to get job interviews. Not everyone can build up the years of experience to do a job due to intrinsic bias or inequalities, but they know they have the skills to do it.

Carers in the work environment are also a fantastic example of equity. If a disabled person can bring a carer to work with them, they don’t have to worry about their needs. If the obstacle of navigating care is removed, that person can get on with their workday.

Final thoughts on equity

Whilst I’m always grateful for the practice of equality, I know true equality will never be reached without equity. Equality and equity should always be mentioned together. The difference between the two may seem subtle, but the impact that both have when used in tandem has the potential to be immeasurable.

Remember, chances to use equity don’t just reside in the workplace. They’re everywhere. Make sure you’re always looking out for ways to level those butterfly hills, even if it’s just in a small way.

Equity doesn’t just benefit those of us with disabilities, but everyone that chooses to use it. It can be trickier to implement sometimes, as it requires people to start discussions about the lack of equity and then decide to do something about it actively. However, anyone can start those discussions.

I think it’s also important to say that the path to equity isn’t a straight line. As equity starts being used more, mistakes will happen. Just make sure to keep communicating with everyone involved in the process.

Special thanks to Olivia Wright for drawing the pictures used in this article. To see more of her work, find her on Instagram @basket_of_mushrooms.

How is Bua working to embrace equity?

Bua was founded with equity in mind, with its aim to increase disabled and neurodiverse employment and inclusion in the workspace. Bua offers disability and neurodiversity workshops for organisations seeking to change their culture. Get in touch to book yours.

About the author

Lauren is a freelance writer from Falmouth. After graduating from university, she took a keen interest in writing about disability, so her story and others like it could be told with passion and conviction.

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