Kate Nash is the founder and CEO of PurpleSpace, a UK-based organisation devoted to fostering greater inclusion of people with disability in employment.
I met Kate in 2018 when she was the key-note speaker at the Australian Network on Disability’s (AND) annual national conference in Sydney and ran a workshop on Networkology the next day. At the time I was Chair of the Department of Family and Community Services’ Disability Employee Network.
As I listened to Kate’s key-note address, it dawned on me that I was wasting time and squandering opportunity. I received a lot of accolades for my time as DEN Chair, which ended in March 2020. While there are many people who were critical to the successes that were achieved, I remain intensely grateful for that wakeup call that came from Kate as perhaps the most important influence.
Positively Purple is the best book on disability inclusion I have read. It is a book that executives must read if their organisation has expressed any commitment to disability inclusion, and they want to be an effective participant.
It is also a book leaders and members of Disability Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) must read. In an ideal world executives and ERG members would also join Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) leads in conversations about the book’s contents.
The insider perspective
Positively Purple is my top disability inclusion book for several reasons:
- It is written by an insider with long lived experience of very significant disability and a career in disability advocacy, working with senior political and corporate figures.
- It speaks directly to organisations at all levels – executives, D&I teams, and ERGs.
I am particular about saying “very significant disability” to denote the reality that for some people with disability, the lived experience is intense and relentless and lifelong. At age of 15 Kate began developing symptoms of Stills disease (juvenile idiopathic arthritis). The condition shaped her life in every respect – and in profoundly consequential ways.
This ‘insider’ perspective isn’t shared all that often. There are some great books about the lived experience of a specific type of disability that can be confronting but rewarding to read. This book is different. It uses stages of Kate’s personal story to trigger deeper exploration of themes by employers and employees.
The book is built on the foundation of a biographical story. But it’s not just an insider’s account of living with a disability. It provides a powerful narrative thread that creates opportunities to reflect on the lived experience, on the formation of personal identity and character – and on the development of disability inclusion practice principles that can guide organisations.
In part, the book traces Kate’s journey through employment at a time when disability inclusion was becoming a public and political issue (mainly the 1990s). Kate has worked in disability inclusion advocacy from the outset of her career. In fact, her career is an account of one facet of the history of the struggle for inclusion for people with disability in the UK. It is a remarkable story. The perspective of a person with skin in the game makes the personal angle potent. Kate’s story, as she evolves in experience and skill, is compelling in its own right.
The Networkologist is born
Kate’s career seems woven from threads of bold positive determination, an extraordinary ability to build and sustain alliances, and a clear-eyed awareness that what she wanted to achieve required strategic discipline.
This is not a book written by an objective researcher who has gathered, assessed, and reported on good things to do. Yes, Kate’s first book, Secrets & Big News: Enabling people to be themselves as work, might fit that description. Positively Purple is, in a sense, the story of a personal evolution – and that’s its value.
The personal evolution is toward being more effective as an advocate for, and worker toward, disability inclusion. Kate’s personal story is a subtle guide on how to build and preserve networks as an intentionally acquired skill.
In 2018 I was excited by the idea of Networkology because it filled in a gaping hole in my ability to be a good DEN Chair. There was method born of experience. There was a pathway to success that wasn’t hit or miss.
As I read Positively Purple, I was finding insights I wish I had known about back in 2018, and others that have obliged me to reflect hard on my present perspective. It is harder to consider you might be wrong when you think you know.
I read the book on the Kindle app on my Mac. This enabled me to get the font size up enough so that I could read on the big screen while sitting back and exercising my dysfunctional ankles. It also meant I could take screenshots of passages or headings that merited deeper reflection. I gave each screenshot a brief name. Here are some examples:
- ‘Share’, not disclose
- Be prepared to invest
- Adopt a zero-tolerance approach
- Disability confidence concepts
- Share your strengths
- Eradicating shame
- Behavioural change starts with a ‘have to’
- Build adjustments into org DNA
- A story of transition of identity
This last one was a theme Kate discussed several times. It is one that resonates with me strongly. Disability is often acquired. We had a sense of who we are before the disability (BD), and we must often adjust that sense after acquiring a disability (AD). For some this might mean owning the fact that you can’t see or hear as well as you used to – BD and AD are distinguished only by what can seem to be irritating and embarrassing sensory deficits. One of my former colleagues went from hearing perfectly well to being deaf. I went from walking freely to needing walkers and crutches. For us the BD and AD states were radically different. Either way – embarrassing or catastrophic – we must adjust our sense of identity. It helps when others are inclusive of our need to change.
Kate’s personal story is essentially a transition of identity – from being a carefree 15-year-old to a tirelessly positive advocate for disability inclusion. It’s a story we will all benefit from reading. People with disability will be strengthened. Others will gain insight that will clarify what they can do in support of disability inclusion.
As usual I include a link to Amazon so that those preferring an ebook of Positively Purplewill have ready access, but do please support your local independent bookseller if that is possible.