We need to improve how people with disabilities are treated - founder of Artizan International

More progress is still needed on the way British society treats people with disabilities, according to the founder of an international charity.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 30th December 2019, 5:00 pm

Harrogate-based Artizan International helps launch craft-based social enterprises in the developing world as well as running therapeutic workshops with the aim of reducing social isolation for disbaled people in Yorkshire.

The charity was established by Susie Hart MBE in 2013. It has so far helped launch two social enterprises in Peru and one in Ecuador.

Artizan International trains skilled volunteers, usually design graduates, sends them out to developing countries to work with people in those countries to set up social enterprises.

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Susie Hart MBE, right, established Artizan International in 2013. The charity runs craft workshops in the UK and helps set up social enterprises overseas. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Hart said that attitudes towards disabled people are improving but “not as fast as they should be”.

Ms Hart, whose daughter Rosie suffers from Down’s syndrome, has seen experienced discrimination first-hand.

She said: “We took her to the Royal Hall for a concert recently and we had to leave halfway through the second piece of music because the ladies sitting in front of us were saying that you shouldn’t bring a child like that to a place like this.

“They anticipated that she was going to be disruptive before she was even disruptive.”

A craft workshop held by Artizan in Harrogate before Christmas. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Last month, Ms Hart’s daughter went missing, when she walked out of the house after the front door was left unlocked.

Ms Hart said: “We had to call the police. She was gone for about 40 minutes in the dark on her own.

“When we eventually found her we asked her ‘why did you go out on your own?’ and she said ‘I was looking for friends’. That just broke my heart.

“It’s so hard for children with special needs to have any social life because other children from school often don’t invite them home, so they get very lonely.”

Susie Hart MBE herself suffered from a disability when she was younger. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Her advice on seeing someone with a disability is to not ignore them but to make eye contact and say hello.

“Don’t treat the person like they’re invisible and definitely don’t move away,” Ms Hart says. “Don’t treat that person like they are any different.”

She added: “If you have an opportunity to engage that person in conversation, you’ll probably be surprised by their sense of humour and the great stories that they have to share. Above all, just be kind and tolerant. It’s that simple.”

Artizan International runs 193 craft workshops a year in Harrogate, Ripon and Leeds. As well as hosting craft sessions for adults with disabilities, the charity also runs after school clubs for disabled children.

Artizan also goes into hospitals to give those with disabilities an opportunity to take part in craft.

Items that are made at the sessions are then sold to the public and that money is used to help disabled people the charity works with overseas.

Ms Hart herself suffered from a disability when she was younger and it was that that led to her interest in craft. She said: “I was born with no left hip joint at all so there was no ball and socket in my left hip. It was very unusual.

“I spent the whole of my childhood in hospital, in a wheelchair and in hospital schools, having a hip gradually built. I understand what it is like to be different from other people and not be able to do the things that you want to do.”

However, she turned her disability to her advantage and found solace in arts and crafts.

Being able to create something can be an “empowering experience” for people with disabilities, Ms Hart says.

She added: “You can take pride in it. Your own sense of self-worth increases, especially when you create something that other people value.

“We all have a creative spirit within us but we’re not always given the opportunity to express that. It’s part of being a human being. It’s important to have opportunities to explore that part of ourselves.”

Spending a decade in Tanzania

Prior to setting up Artizan International, Susie Hart MBE lived and worked in Tanzania for 10 years.

She said: “I set up a social enterprise there to give training and employment to people with disabilities because disabled people in the developing world are amongst the poorest of the poor.

“They long for the opportunity to have employment but they usually end up on street corners or hidden at home.

“The enterprise that I set up in Tanzania started with three young deaf men, teaching them to make paper. I had £400 and by the time I left we were employing 120 people with a range of disabilities.”