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Disability Advocacy – International Day Of Friendship Should Be Every Day!

Posted by Martin Hewitt on July 30, 2020

A man and a woman are walking along a beach, holding hands. The sun is just setting and a wave can be seen lapping onto the sand

Photo by Arthur Ogleznev from Pexels

Thursday 30 July is the United Nations’ International Day of Friendship. As with all advocacy days and observances, the idea is to reflect on issues associated with the specific theme and celebrate those striving to make positive change possible, improving lives and overcoming difficulties in the process. The fact this particular day has so much relevance to disability advocacy makes it understandably close to our hearts.

We’ve all been hit by a freewheeling freight train in the last six months. The outbreak and subsequent COVID-19 pandemic have cast livelihoods aside, placed a strain on relationships and accentuated feelings of isolation that already felt intrinsic to an increasingly individualistic and digitised planet.

But the health crisis also serves to highlight the universality of human experience. It may not be the great leveller some claim, as the disease disproportionately impacts some groups and leaves others relatively unthreatened. Nevertheless, the fallout, if not illness itself, has directly affected every one of us and will continue to do so for some time. Despite our differences, we have been taught some major challenges cannot be siloed on community lines.

This backdrop paints International Day of Friendship in a much more significant light than before. The overall idea is to encourage a greater understanding of the different people, societies and cultures that make up the world. It’s not just about respecting differences, but celebrating them as essential threads making the planet’s fabric that bit more colourful, vivid and arresting.

These are principles we consider to be of paramount importance to ability and mobility issues, disability advocacy and accessibility campaigning. Until we fully appreciate and grasp the ties that don’t bind, we’ll find it hard — if not impossible — to create a genuinely fair, just and equal society. With this in mind, we wholeheartedly welcome International Friendship Day as a concept. We encourage others to embrace the core message, even if the date itself is open to some debate.

Since 2011 the UN has promoted International Day of Friendship as 30 July, one of the organisation’s many official advocacy days. But some countries have recognised the idea for much longer, and have their own thoughts on where it should stand on the calendar. Argentina, for example, opts for 20 July, while in the United States it lands on 15 February. Good news for anyone feeling low following Valentine’s Day and its proposition of hot date or heartbreak!

In many ways, this disagreement on dates fits how we see advocacy, and what it means to be truly aware of the world around you. Much as we understand the benefit of focusing energies, campaigns and promotions on an exact point in time, real advocacy and awareness are year-round responsibilities. They require consistency and dedication, so having several different ‘friendship days’ on different dates in different countries means you’re never far from a place that’s publicly recognising the importance of universal empathy.

The list of activities people take part in to mark International Day of Friendship is long and far-reaching. It could be a charity organising letter or email writing to vulnerable people, open forums on how to make communities more inclusive or something visual and creative like a book of ideas on what friendship means, or simply a new line in friendship bracelets. Whatever the end product, the process is aimed at making us stop and think about how the world is and how it could be. Thankfully, by harnessing digital forces such as social media, getting ideas like these off the ground has never been easier.

A great starting point on an individual level can simply be trying to understand what another person sees and learn how their experiences directly impact their attitude and likelihood of embracing opportunities. We recently published a blog, ‘The Highs And Lows Of Retail Therapy’, which gives a personal insight into what it’s like to hit the high street with reduced mobility. Author Lesley Greenwood allows us the privilege of looking at the world from her perspective, and this helps our understanding of where we might be going wrong and how we can help others.

Lesley’s thoughts also sadly betray just how easy accessibility problems can lead to exclusion, and in turn, isolation and loneliness. While her resilience shines through with warmth and wit, for some people, a shopping trip might feel like such a huge challenge that they prefer to stay at home. When this happens, the impact on quality of life and mental health can be severe.

We all recently had to learn the hard way just how important and meaningful our connections are, meaning the International Day of Friendship 2020 might be the most personally symbolic for everyone. With that in mind, why not use this as a catalyst to start reaching out and get involved in positive initiatives that will last beyond the date itself?