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Isn’t Equality Just Treating Everyone the Same?

Talking about equality, as we often do, this is something we hear often, and on the face of it sounds reasonable and sensible. Our partners and supporters will often agree with our ethos of equality whilst telling us that they believe everyone should be treated the same. We know that their intentions are good, and while it might seem like semantic quibbling, there is an important distinction between treating everyone the same, and treating everyone equally.

Even when thinking about it at a basic level, treating everyone the same is not at all practical. When booking a conference, we would not insist that a ramp be installed for gay attendees, nor would we provide a prayer space for pregnant women. Whilst this is a slightly absurd demonstration of the subject, you can see easily how same is not equal.

The best way to illustrate it is this cartoon which has been widely shared around the internet:

A cartoon showing three figures trying to see over a fence. In the first panel they are each standing on a box meaning one figure cannot see. In the second panel, they are given boxes according to their height and can all see the same.

In the first image the people are being treated the same, whilst in the second they are being treated equally.

When treating someone equally we should be focusing on the outcome or opportunity, and not the actions required. The reason we provide a ramp to a wheelchair user is to ensure they can gain access to a building and thereby be able to attend the same meeting as a non-wheelchair user. Whilst we have made no extra effort to accommodate our non-disabled attendee, we have treated them equally by giving them the same opportunity to participate.

These adjustments are usually small and not difficult to implement. It is important that you are comfortable to ask if adjustments are needed, but being wary not to be ‘overly helpful’ which can come across as patronising.

It’s a small mindset change, but one worth bearing in mind when talking about equality.