By Tristan Parker
Co-founder and co-editor of the online disability lifestyle magazine Disability Horizons, Martyn Sibley has become an influential voice in the disability community. A keen technology user and advocate, Martyn has run his own social media consultancy, is a frequent blogger, and has developed a number of e-learning and e- campaigning projects alongside his journalism. Here, he talks to E-Access Bulletin about the opportunities new technologies have given him over the years.
E-Access Bulletin: Please give us some background on yourself:
Martyn Sibley: Without getting too hung-up on medical conditions, I have spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Therefore, since day one I’ve relied on a wheelchair, personal care assistants and other adaptations. Despite the physical limitations and external barriers such as stairs and stereotypes, I went to the local school, played football with friends, gained a masters degree and travelled to Australia before starting work and have enjoyed six years of various work.
My first role was at the disability charity Scope. I worked in HR administration and gained valuable skills and experience. I then completed my dream move to London and began working in their fundraising team. After working my way to a strategic role it was time for a change. Compounded with bad health in winter and a desire to work for myself, I started my own business.
From my blog ( www.martynsibley.com ), I’ve built a vibrant online community of people interested in changing the world for disabled people. I co-founded the Disability Horizons website ( www.disabilityhorizons.com ), run e-learning projects (webinars, e-courses and e-conferences on a host of independent living tips), speak frequently in the media and meet with politicians.
EAB: How have the internet and online tools benefited you over the years?
Martyn: First and foremost, online tools helped me personally. Google has become my best friend in searching for information and contact details for general and disability-specific information. More recently, social and new media tools underpin my projects on disability issues. Not only does this enable the projects, but it also suits my health. Working online means I can be in warmer climates during the tougher winter time.
EAB: How have you used social media and e-campaigning over the years? And how easy is it for people who are new to the internet to use these tools?
Martyn: My blog is free on WordPress with a cool design “skinned” to it. I used Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to connect with people and share my posts. I now have 5,000 people on my accounts. Disability Horizons used the same strategy and receives 20,000 monthly visits.
I’ve also used webinars to bring together professionals and people with direct experience of disability. They log in, as do the delegates, deliver their PowerPoint presentation and answer questions. I chair the sessions, create the interactive polls and also promote them to ensure high attendance.
More recently, I’ve launched an e-course on employment and an e-conference on use of the internet. You can find all of these at: www.martynsibley.com/get-involved . I’ve also written an e-campaigning guide for the DisLib project. Online campaigning is simple and effective. With free tools and the right approach, anything is possible.
EAB: Tell us about Disability Horizons, and why you set up the website:
Martyn: Having blogged for two years, seen the power of sharing positive stories and engaging with cool people, I was being asked to guest-post articles. Chatting with my good friend Srin on an LA beach for our California road trip, as you do, we discussed a platform for others to write about themselves. After a basic WordPress theme and a cool name, we launched it on a shoestring. Using social media we launched with a bang.
We were inundated with requests from writers. Covering travel, relationships and business, we are the publication for the progress of disabled people. We know we have to maintain equipment and social care funding and support campaigns to do so. However, we are the lifestyle magazine for disabled people in the modern world.
EAB: You’ve recently finished your ‘European disability road trip’. What was the aim behind the trip, and how did it go?
Martyn: I’ve travelled a lot already to Australia, the US, Mexico, Singapore and some of western Europe. I’ve also worked a lot on disability issues. So I decided to combine my two passions and raise awareness. By taking my adapted car, personal care assistant and a lot of courage; we took the boat to Amsterdam, Leipzig, Gdansk, Vilnius (my grandfather’s birth place), Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Saarbrucken, Luxembourg and Brussels.
I blogged about transport and access, interviewed disabled people and disability organisations to understand attitudes and government policy, met media and politicians too. Despite great coverage, I am writing a book to share it all properly – stay tuned!
EAB: What kinds of barriers do people with disabilities face in accessing and using technology and getting online? What can be done to remove these barriers?
Martyn: The main barriers are cost and education. Firstly, if a person, their family or school can’t afford specific equipment and software, access is denied. Sometimes, simple information from government and charitable funding can unlock this problem. Scope Response can provide great information on this.
Secondly, disabled people need to be taught how technology can enable them. My Dconference [disability e-conference] addresses some of this, but larger-scale work is needed with disability professionals.
EAB: And what kinds of benefits can this kind of technology access and getting online bring to people with disabilities?
Martyn: With the right support, from wheelchairs to personal care assistants to technology, disabled people can achieve so much. My work began by sharing my very personal learning and successes. Whilst no-one should copy another’s goal, Disability Horizons instils a belief and a guide to how much disabled people can do.
To access transport, buildings, work, leisure and relationships is everyone’s right. Technology is a huge game-changer in making this all possible.