For the latest talk in our lunchtime speaker series we welcomed Phyllida Swift, the CEO of Facial Equality International, a UK charity whose mission is to ensure the global facial difference community can live without discrimination.
Facial disfigurement can cover anything from a congenital condition such as a cleft lip to scars, burns, hair loss, psoriasis or acne. Phyllida explained how a scar she sustained in a car accident in 2015 was her entry point into the face equality space. She developed an understanding of how facial disfigurement can lead to discrimination and stigma through personally experiencing “a big identity crisis, suddenly being associated with something society sees as ugly or the trademark of a villain”.
Facial Equality International (FEI) was formed as an alliance of NGOs, charities and support groups in 2018 by the late Dr James Partridge, who was a burns survivor. The organisation exists to build solidarity to position face equality as a social justice issue rather than just a global health issue. It aims to raise awareness about how facial disfigurement is a neglected human rights issue, which is misunderstood and significantly underreported, leading to discrimination.
I found it very interesting when Phyllida discussed how facial disfigurement fits into the different models of disability and how the social model is very inclusive of disfigurement. With disfigurement, the usual disability barriers exist when it comes to both education and employment: assumptions are made about a person’s abilities, and attitudinal barriers then hold back members of the community from opportunities. There can also be issues with accessing legal protection, which generally focuses on the medical model.