As more and more policy makers understand the importance of listening to the lived experiences of disabled people, we will feel more confident that our needs are going to be considered and, perhaps more importantly, met. In addition, more disabled people will feel encouraged to get involved in consultations and surveys because they genuinely believe that, in the long-term, change will happen and life could be much more fulfilling.
Participation is so important. Without the participation of those who are most affected by things in the world each day, nothing will change. We can’t continue to complain about nothing changing, if we persuade ourselves that it won’t and don’t continue to try to influence change. What the result of participation in research and surveys would do, is provide a further insight into the key areas for development in policy making and commissioning.
The journey to participation should always start from a young age. If this was the case, then young people from the age of 16 would feel more involved in the creation of further opportunities post-16. The post-16 stage of a young person’s life can be particularly difficult to navigate, and even more so if you have a disability.
From my personal experience, the support available to me post-16 so that I could remain at the school I wanted to stay at was not there, and I faced the prospect of having to go to a college, where I had no connection. I also had no real idea what I could do in terms of vocational courses that would be linked to my strongest results at GCSE level, which were English Language and French. At the time, I had no idea of what to do, or any advice from people within the school I was attending at the time.
This is why I think there needs to be some sort of student participation group. Because I am sure I will not be alone when I say that I had no idea of the available options beyond GCSEs that would allow me to focus on a specific area of learning. One huge issue, was the fact that one key area of study in which I was interested, that being creative writing, was no longer available at my chosen college, due to it no longer being funded.
Young people sharing their voices is something I think would prove to be beneficial not just to them and their future but to the group that follows them in that age range. But of course, the drive to gain more participation in key topics from disabled individuals goes much further than childhood, as disability affects individuals differently at whatever age it is experienced.
At Enrych, we have recently conducted a survey amongst our clients, to gather their thoughts on how a range of topics affect their daily lives. The majority of people who have responded are between the age of 25 and 44. These are people, who would be classed as of working age- but that is too much of a simple assumption. The majority of our survey respondents also have developmental disabilities, which can also mean they need further support or advocacy when it comes to participation. Via our excellent network of support workers at Enrych, we have achieved a great level of meaningful participation and hopefully, this can be seen by those who can influence change even more.
We worked hard to adapt surveys already defined to increase our level of participation, by re-wording otherwise complex questions, so that we can gather feedback on the areas of most pressing need. Inclusivity is always at the top of our agenda. Nobody should miss out on sharing ideas they think should be considered in terms of improving the provision for not just young people with disabilities, but those as they get older as well.
Our ultimate goal is to help provide a more prosperous future for a group of people, who, once upon a time, might have had limited options in terms of social infrastructure, employment support and even support in healthcare settings. We want to contribute to seeing a substantial shift so that those who are most vulnerable in society and who need that extra support in order to get to the destination they want to in life, are heard and their opinions valued. I was therefore delighted to hear from the Disability Unit at the Cabinet Office that they were sharing some of my thoughts and the feedback I have collected. Watch this space as this research continues to make its way to people who could help us on our mission!