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TEDxOpenUniversity: Diversity and Inclusion

TEDxOpenUniversity: Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion aims to advance groups and individuals that are traditionally under-represented due to their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability. Increasingly, industries and businesses are identifying the need to better represent wider society within their workforces, from entry-level to executive positions.

At TEDxOpenUniversity, we were fortunate to hear from a range of speakers who spoke honestly and passionately about their own lived experiences, including the challenges they faced in order to be heard. Here are some key takeaways on how to build a better, more diverse and inclusive world to benefit future generations. 

So, how can we ensure our world and workplaces are set up to accommodate each and every individual?
 

Assistive technologies are life-changing

The UK faces an ageing population. People are retiring later, and as a result, there is a greater need for social support and independent living. Similarly, disabled people make up 22%* of the UK population and many require assistance. But, do we have the infrastructure required to support these numbers? 

Dr. Julie McElroy is one of 11 million people in the UK who have a hearing impairment. She also lives with mild cerebral palsy. Julie is fighting to end discrimination in our workplaces, and fiercely believes that underrepresented groups in society should be given equal opportunities.

During her talk, she drew our attention to Assistive Technologies (ATs). Assistive technologies, Julie explains, vary from hearing aids and mobility scooters, to electronic pill boxes that remind people with Alzheimer’s to take medication.

She thinks that a user-led perspective is vital: “Assisted technologies are far more practical and allow users to lead independent and fulfilling lives.” 

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has indicated that more than one billion people are currently in need of assistive technology products or will be in the near future.” This figure is expected to rise to two billion by 2050, which highlights the fact that effective and reliable infrastructure – in the form of ATs – is not just necessary, but fundamental.

*according to government data (2018)
 

Education provides the pathway

The prison population in the UK currently stands at approximately 93,000, and combined, England and Wales have the largest prison population in western Europe. Despite these staggering figures, education opportunities in prison are scarce and this poses a huge challenge for ex-detainees entering the labour market.    

Former prisoner David Breakspear has made it his life’s work to campaign for prison reformation. He shared his own experience of life behind bars and why he believes the current system needs rethinking. 

Excluded from the education system at the age of fourteen, David spent a considerable amount of his youth in secure units and prisons. He stressed that the complete lack of opportunity for young offenders needs addressing:

“It is in society's own interest to embrace those who have served their time by understanding the importance of education, lived experience, and of course redemption.”

He explained that investment in prisoner education is needed for a better and more integrated society: 

“By combining the power of education with the skills and knowledge of lived experience, and a better-informed, empathetic society, we will create a modern prison system.”
 

Challenge the stigma, resist the labels

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience mental health issues every year. In general, the services offered to those with anxiety and depression have vastly improved, yet the stigma remains. 

OU student and author, Jeremiah Osei-Tutu, addressed the need to see beyond labels and stereotypes, explaining they’re not just limiting, but damaging:

“We trust labels and stereotypes to make sense of ourselves and others. But labels and stereotypes actually limit us to interpreting social messages, rather than appraising individuals on their own merits.”

He explained how being diagnosed with schizophrenia was worsened by the existing labels and stereotypes associated with the condition. The diagnosis was, he said, the single most difficult thing he’s had to face: 

“But little did I know that I was about to experience the greatest weight a label or stereotype holds. The burden of being labeled with a mental illness.”

Perhaps the most powerful takeaway came from Jeremiah’s talk, and it’s one that is rooted in the importance of diversity and inclusion for a better future:

“My hope is that in the future we can just see people as people, ask questions and take an active interest, so we can learn more about each other in order to think about individuals not stereotypes.”
 

You can catch up on the comments and discussions from the day via #TEDxOpenUniversity. 

If you missed the live event ­– it’s not too late! We’ll soon be sharing the talks on the TEDx YouTube channel! 

By Natalie Baker

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