Tag Archives: accessibility

Participation is key to challenging discrimination

At the All Wales Participation Network this year, Joe Powell set the tone with a powerful opening speech about the importance of full participation in society for people with learning disabilities. Joe was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1996 and has spent 11 years in social care. He is now National Director of All Wales People First; a group uniting the voices of self-advocacy groups in Wales. Joe drew on his first hand experience of fighting to leave a system that was determined to see him purely as a service-user, someone needing assistance, and not as someone who also had a lot to offer to his community.

Joe began his talk by outlining ‘The good life model’; values that are important to the people with learning disabilities Joe has spoken to. These values included ‘loving and caring relationships’, the choice that is derived from having some wealth (implicitly this includes control over one’s financial assets), a ‘contributing place in the World’ and ‘a home of my own’. The first thing that struck me was how similar they are to what a non-learning disabled person wants from their own life – these values seemed universal, as opposed to learning-disability specific. All of the values were, to my mind, underpinned by a balance between personal safety and security on one hand and on the other a sense of being able to take agency over one’s own life and further, contribute something to the lives of others. Isn’t this what everyone wants form their lives?

Picture of Joe Powell presenting at Participation Cymru event.

Many people with learning disabilities also have a visual impairment and some of these people were not taught to read at school. Simple measures such as offering easy-read information and audio format can make it possible for people with learning disabilities to access information without having to rely on a friend or carer to read it to them. This allows people to maintain a sense of independence and dignity, rather than become institutionalised, especially where the information concerned is of a private nature.

Given that what people with learning disabilities want is so similar to what the wider population aspire to, one could be forgiven for assuming that these desires are readily accommodated in learning-disability care and are empathised with by society. However, Joe explained that in reality people with learning disabilities are effectively ‘retired at the age of eighteen years’; rarely in employment and often even excluded from volunteering. The mentality behind such sidelining appears to be that anyone with a learning disability is a ‘service user’ and therefore in need of assistance. Whilst many people with learning disabilities are indeed users of services, this does not mean that they are not capable and eager to give assistance in their communities and contribute meaningfully not only to their own lives, but also to the lives of others.

History of people learning disabilities

This restriction in participation is not only a massive loss in terms of potential volunteering and employment opportunities but also completely contrary to the principles of the All Wales Strategy 1983. The strategy stipulates that people with learning disabilities have the right to choose their own patterns of life within their communities and to access to professional services where additional help is necessary for them to achieve this.

People with learning disabilities largely DO want to work and to volunteer, said Joe, and we need to make more of an effort to accommodate their needs in theses capacities. Prejudice stems from ignorance and when people with learning disabilities are visible in useful roles, this will make it harder to stereotype them as a burden and give credibility to their voices.

Joe’s closing remark, before inviting questions from the floor, was that participation for people with learning disabilities must be realistic and never tokenistic. We must make it possible for people with learning disabilities to enter the workforce with reasonable adjustments made if necessary only when they are capable of fulfilling that role.

If you would like to hear more from Joe Powell, you can keep up with Joe’s Soapbox.

The ‘Storify’ for the day, including Joe’s presentation, other resources from the event as well as delegate’s contributions via social media is available here.

– Non

Advertisements

October regional participation networks: Accessible information and technology

Should we endeavour to achieve optimum results or should we simply try our best?

We’ve just held the Regional Network Events and the theme this time round was ‘Accessible information and technology’.

BookWe started each session with an ice-breaker exercise to introduce the theme, half of the participants were given a ‘jargon card’ and the other half given an ‘easy-read card’. Each card contained just one word and the aim of the game was to walk around the room and find the person with the word card which had the same meaning as yours. For example if you had a jargon card which said ‘participate’ then you would be partnered with the person who had an easy-read card saying ‘take part’ and then introduce each other. Other examples of words we used in this icebreaker were endeavour (try), discontinued (finished) and collaborate (work together). We took some of these words from the Plain English Campaign website.

This icebreaker worked well to get people chatting to each other and the feedback we had was positive. No one had used this icebreaker before but some participants had previously played Buzzword Bingo at jargon-heavy meetings.

In South East Wales the event was held in Ystrad Mynach. Barod CIC gave a presentation which outlined why it is important to provide clear information in an accessible format. They introduced the group to the services that Barod provide such as translating documents into Easy Read and/or Everyday English,  they also offer training packages to organisations with the aim to train staff to produce easy-read documents. All of Barod’s work is checked and proofread by people with learning disabilities. Sam from Learning Disability Wales also gave an introduction to the Clear and Easy Guide which is a comprehensive guide for organisations who want to make their information more accessible. The guide comes with an interactive DVD and is free for the voluntary and public sectors (limited to one per organisation). Contact Learning Disability Wales for more information.

In South West Wales we held the event in Felinfoel, Llanelli. Andrew Hubbard from the pilot Citizen Panel for Social Services and the Swansea Association of Independent Living focussed his session on Accessible Technology, making participants aware of how screen-reader software works for visually impaired people. Andrew ran a group exercise which explored a range of different scenarios that disabled people face when accessing everyday information such as job vacancies, bus/train times and advertisements. The exercise was then followed up by a group discussion. Barod CIC were also kind enough to give an introduction to the Clear & Easy guide again (for the second day in a row!)

person reading

After a short break, our training and development officer Siobhan demonstrated a tried and tested participative technique that we’ve used before and has always been very successful – the Hot Air Balloon from Dynamix’s book Spice it Up! This exercise encouraged participants to think about the way their own organisations provided information and how they could make it more accessible. Participants had to think of what was holding them back, who needed to be ‘on board’ and what was needed in order to really ‘make it fly’.

Funding and time constraints were often mentioned as something which was holding them back. One participant came up with the idea that a universal culture change was needed for more accessible information to be regularly available.

We then broke up into small groups to hear from participants about work that they are undertaking, good practice they have encountered or issues they are having. We heard about work happening in TPAS Cymru who are holding an event coming up in November on Public Engagement. We also heard that Communities First Cluster in Barry are holding IT drop-in sessions and delivering basic IT training on how to use the internet. There is also some excellent work being done by South Wales Police who have been doing engagement work with young people – finding out what they think of their local neighbourhood and which areas they feel safe or unsafe in. Carmarthenshire County Council have recently held a budget consultation and used a budget simulator which sounds like a great way to get people involved in budgeting.

Our North Wales event was in Llandudno Junction on a windy and rainy day that we’re so familiar with in Wales! We heard from two members of the pilot Citizen Panel for Social Services; Jennie and Beth Lewis. Beth started by telling the group about her life; she is 24 years old and has a learning disability, she lives in her own flat and has a job, she likes cooking and wants to do more things by herself. She can read very well but doesn’t always understand what the words mean so prefers shorter sentences with pictures. Beth and her mum, Jennie showed us lots of examples of information that were sent to her by post.  The participants were set  a task to translate a letter that had been sent to Beth into an easy-read format in small groups (which everyone found very difficult – ironically the letter is actually about a scheme specifically for disabled people, including people with learning disabilities) Beth walked around the room to read and check what people had written.

jennie-bethWe asked the groups to discuss how they would put Jennie and Beth’s thought provoking presentation into practice by thinking about how they could make the information their own organisations’ produce more accessible. There was certainly a lot to think about and some really interesting discussions were taking place. In particular someone said a big barrier is ‘legal speak’ and certain documents or contracts have to use particular wording and a way to overcome this is to put an easy read explanation alongside or underneath a statement, explaining what it says with a picture if necessary.

Overall this round of events were successful with a very interesting theme and all of our guests in the three areas did an excellent job at presenting. We’re very grateful to Barod, Andrew Hubbard and his assistant Bev, Jennie and Beth for helping us with these networks. Thanks to everyone for coming!

Our next round of network events will be held in February 2014, more details can be found on our website here. Booking early is essential as spaces are limited to 20 per event and they do fill up quickly! Don’t miss out!

–          Sarah