Just ask disabled people what they need.
Now more than ever, organisations are talking about how to be more inclusive, but while they may be asking the right questions, many aren't listening to the feedback, or they aren’t consulting those most affected to see if their solutions will work.
I'm pleased that the National Federation of WIs isn't doing this; eighteen months ago, they established a Equality, Diversity and Inclusion focus group and I was asked to join. I was pleased to be able to draw on my experiences as a disabled person and WI member to help make the organisation more inclusive to all.
I’m already seeing progress: over the past year the WI has supported Pride and Black History Month and for the first time, they are turning their attention to UK Disability History Month (UKDHM) which runs from 18th November to 20th December.
The aim of UKDHM is to celebrate the lives of disabled people, now and in the past, challenge disabilism and achieve equality. This year the focus is on hidden impairments which effect more than half of the 13.5 million disabled people in the UK.
Hidden means it's easy to overlook or ignore people with these conditions, so it’s important to ask disabled people what they need. These important conversations have to take place in large organisations like the WI, as well as individual workplaces, social groups and even with your disabled friends and family.
The best questions you can ask are:
- “what do you need?
- “How can we make this better?”
- "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Then really listen to what they tell you, because when it comes to their disability, they truly are the expert.
If you have an idea, check if it’s an appropriate solution by asking “would this be useful?”
The impairment might be invisible but the person should never be. By working together you will not only increase inclusivity and equal access for disabled people, you will also find new ways of working and living that help everyone, because equality benefits all.
This piece first appeared in the EDP for the WI Week column on Saturday 5th December 2021.