Ants can lift 100 times their bodyweight. Ant Lewis’s strength of will is comparable. In his new role as the government’s Disability Inclusion Officer, he’s looking to leverage that power to help the island’s disabled community.
When I arrive at Beresford Street Kitchen to meet Ant Lewis, I’m struck by how clean-cut and businesslike he looks. Suited, hair almost military-grade smart, iPad ready and a beaming smile, as always. He’s three weeks into his new role and looks excited, keen to share his vision with me.
Ant has always had an intent stare. It’s the journalist in him, holding his subject in his gaze, measuring a response. As he begins to tell me about his plans, it’s clear that his passion and motivation have been channelled and concentrated into an extreme sense of purpose for his new role. If this is a dog with a bone, it’s going to get gnawed.
Coffees ordered, playing card in hand, I sit down and Ant begins to unfold a large sheet of paper. It’s like a First World War general rolling out a map as he begins to tell you his plan to advance and conquer. But this isn’t a map, it’s a wheel – a diagram of all the projects that he’s conceived as important to attack in his new role.
Since his stroke in 2007, Ant’s verbal communication is hampered by aphasia but his ability to communicate certainly isn’t. His focus is tight as he explains and shows me through the plans, and one word keeps recurring; ‘progress’. His mission to help those that have, like him, found themselves having to live with a disability and a society with inadequate means with which to support them is certainly the most noble of crusades.
The last thirteen years have been a series of battles for Ant, all of which he has approached with tenacity and determination. So much so, it makes me well-up writing this. It’s his approach to every challenge, whether it’s those that his stroke has placed in his way or those he’s placed there himself, in spite of conventional attitudes and his physical limitations; completing the Jersey marathon, cycling to Paris, running a senatorial campaign. All are achievable.
Whilst his campaign to run for a position in the states wasn’t successful in 2018, it was a good practice run for this new, focused role. He tells me he ‘loved it’ campaigning but this role is perfect; ‘Politics, purpose, why not try?!’ Ant isn’t a one-man army in this new role, however. He’ll be sharing the position with Steph de la Tour, who started in November alongside him, and a manager who will be assisting in the implementation of their plans.
There are 14,000 registered disabled people in Jersey, a huge number and one that I’d not fully appreciated. He’s keen to point out that many disabilities are hidden. It’s those people that Ant is setting out to recognise and include. ‘Inclusion’ is the core.
Ant’s ‘wheel’ of inclusion sets out 11 areas he hopes that he and his team will be able to work on as part of their role. The focus will be the implementation of new policies across a broad range of specific tactical areas. From a new initiative at grass roots level, to identify and celebrate inclusion in the classroom with the establishment of a ‘Disabled Champion’ in each school, to partnerships with Move More and Visit Jersey to highlight and promote inclusion in their activities. His team will also be partnering with Liberate in order to audit venues for inclusion policies and disabled access.
Another initiative involves the design and installation of a Community Garden that would allow everyone, regardless of disability, to contribute to its growth and benefit from a habitat that is fulfilling and relaxing for all. It sounds like quite a challenging project and just one of the 11, but I have a feeling it will come to fruition.
It’s a lot to accomplish. Ant describes how the biggest challenge is the slow pace of change. It will change, as Ant puts it, ‘bit by bit’.
“Changes – bit by bit!
Changing perceptions is difficult.
There are no easy answers.
But attitudes are changing.
Many young people especially see disability as normal.
I want everyone, disabled and able bodied.
As we met, budgets are getting allocated for next year so Ant is conscious of making recommendations. Ideas include beach matting to assist Beachability users enjoy the beach and improve access. He’s also planning some film-making and storytelling activity to highlight examples of how we can be more aware of issues around inclusivity, utilising the skills of disabled drone pilot James Bedding.
“The Disability Discrimination Law is positive, but it is the start of a journey.
With a magic wand, I’d end the discrimination and stigma around disability, gender issues, mental health, sexuality, age and race”.
So how can you help? Look out for the new initiatives and help where you can. Make considerations, get in touch with Ant and his team and simply try to do your bit.
“Change. An opportunity.
We all have something to give. Listen”.