Dr Amy Kavanagh, Founder of The Staying Inn, on our recent forum meeting on disability inclusion within the equality sector.
Equally Ours is committed to being a network which represents the diversity of our membership and the people they support. So we are taking steps to make sure that our work reflects and includes the perspectives of marginalised people.
At our September 2021 policy forum meeting we were joined by a panel of disabled experts who shared their lived experience and advice on how we can improve on engagement with disabled people.
This blog shares some of the key tips and themes that emerged from our discussion.
Inequalities faced by D/deaf and disabled people
Fazilet Hadi of Disability Rights UK (DRUK) set Equally Ours members this challenge: how can equality sector organisations achieve a truly inclusive agenda without really thinking about how disabled people are part of what you do?
There are 14 million disabled people in the UK. Over half of all people in poverty are either disabled or have a disabled person in the household. People with the most significant impairments are five times more likely to be in food poverty. Many thousands of disabled people aren’t getting the social care they need to live life to the full and some aren’t getting any at all.
These inequalities have resulted in a disproportionate impact during the pandemic, with 6 out of 10 Covid-related deaths being disabled people. So it is more important than ever that as a sector we make sure disabled people have a seat at the policy table.
Disability inclusion: Involving D/deaf and disabled people
As Abigail Gorman, of Sign Health, explained “we are always constantly having to remind organisations can you remember us, can you try and make it accessible for D/deaf people, and other people as well”. It was felt that too often disabled people are not directly engaged by decision makers, or even by organisations that represent them.
Amy Walker, from Neurodiversity Works, agreed: “A lot more resource needs to go to outreach, co-operation, collaboration and accessibility, there needs to be lots of different options”. This includes ensuring that disabled people who are part of other marginalised communities, like those who identify as LGBTQ+ or disabled people of colour, are well represented in policy discussions.
The panellists urged colleagues to include D/deaf and disabled people as part of their policy and campaigns strategic planning. Too often consultations and surveys are inaccessible. Whether it’s the rigid structure of a meeting, a survey in an inaccessible format or the digital divide preventing access to essential information, disabled people often feel excluded from decision making spaces.
The panel recommended that organisations set aside budget and expertise to consult on providing accessible formats and inclusive processes to engage with disabled people.
There was particular emphasis on the value of a hybrid approach, as online events have opened up more opportunities to engage disabled audiences, but they have excluded others.
Dr Amy Kavanagh, disability activist and Landlady of The Staying Inn, placed emphasis on building self-sustaining communities of disabled people who are engaged with policy issues.
Organisations have a vital role in resourcing and supporting disabled people-led groups. This includes paid opportunities and investing in upskilling disabled people to become policy specialists. As Mike Wordingham, RNIB, stated: “More has to be done to improve people’s social capital so they are linked to local decision makers”.
Collaborating across the sector
However, it is vital that disabled people can trust in these processes and opportunities.
Andrew Lee, of People First, expressed the importance of feeling heard: “We need to be listened to and that we have the confidence, the action and the advice that we give will actually be taken seriously, will be acted on.”
Panellists and members agreed that networking across the Equally Ours community is a crucial part of building this trust.
Through collaborative approaches, members can share resources, campaign collectively and be allies for each other’s work. Angela Matthews, from the Disability Business Forum, concluded “I think we can be louder, we can have more volume”.
In the final reflections of our discussion, the group felt that too often disabled people are doing the majority of the labour to raise these issues.
Equally Ours is making a commitment to spread the load. We want the work of disabled stakeholders to be recognised, remunerated and celebrated.
The panel encouraged organisations to embrace creative solutions, and see working with disabled people as an opportunity and not a challenge.
We will ensure that our network strives towards inclusive and accessible policy making, research and campaigns, and we hope you’ll join us.