April 12th, 2012 by Guernsey Disability Alliance
Disability isn’t just wheelchairs and white sticks
It’s natural to think of people with mobility problems when you hear the word “disabled”. But the term is much broader than that. A disabled islander could be someone with a mental health problem, a learning difficulty, a visual or hearing impairment or a long-term illness like cancer.
Disability impacts the entire family
Right across the Bailiwick of Guernsey, an unsung army of family members are providing constant care and support for disabled relatives, day in, day out. They may be the parents of a young child with autism. The wife of a man who has had a stroke. The elderly mum of an adult with a learning disability. The young son of a dad with severe depression.
Disabled islanders could contribute more to island life with better support
Senior States of Guernsey members, from an ex-Chief Minister to the current Health Minister, have stated publicly that Guernsey has neglected the needs of disabled islanders. Support is patchy at best and there is no equivalent in Guernsey of the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act.
As a result many disabled islanders are much more reliant on their families and the States than they need to be. They are isolated and aren’t able play their full part in island life. With better support, more disabled people could gain employment, live more independently, buy more goods and services and contribute to the economy and the richness of island life.
Guernsey’s Disability Officer is writing a Disability Strategy
Historically, individual States of Guernsey Departments provided some services to some disabled people, but no-one within the States of Guernsey was looking at the issues for disabled islanders as a whole. That changed in 2009 when the States voted to employ a Disability Officer (currently Emilie Yerby).
Through an initiative called the “Disability Forum”, the Disability Officer is working with States Departments, healthcare professionals, disability organisations and disabled people to draw together and prioritise the local issues that impact on disabled islanders independence and quality of life. The Disability and Inclusion Strategy will come to the States for approval and funding in the 2012-16 States term.
Limited statistics available currently, but survey in progress
Currently there is very little systematic data gathered about disabled people in Guernsey, which makes it difficult to plan services and monitor their effectiveness. We don’t know how many disabled islanders there are in total, what age they are, or the severity of their impairment.
This lack of robust information is being addressed through the States Health, Wellbeing and Inclusion Survey, which has just been sent to over 6500 households.
Society’s barriers are the problem, not medical conditions
It is the barriers that society creates that make people disabled, not their impairments. With the right equipment, support and attitudes of others, someone’s impairment doesn’t have to stop them leading an independent life. With glasses, someone with a visual impairment can read. With a ramp, a wheelchair user can get into a building. With the right support from colleagues, someone with a mental health problem can return to work.
Fear of employing disabled people
Many disabled islanders are keen to work but they struggle to find an employer willing to take them on, regardless of their skills. They find themselves facing a dilemma. If they mention their impairment on their application form they risk not being interviewed. If they don’t mention it, they risk not getting the support they need to do the job successfully.
Lack of respite care
Because of the complexity of supporting a disabled child, parents cannot generally use the services of a sitter or rely on other family members or friends. A trained team of qualified staff is needed, delivering a specialist respite care service. Without this service, parents can’t take a break and their own health and ability to cope long term is threatened. The situation for single or elderly parents is particularly complex and restrictive.
The States of Guernsey has a Disability Champion
In 2009, Deputy Jane Stephens was elected as the first States Disability Champion. The Disability Champion ensures that the views of disabled islanders are represented in debate in the Assembly and provides a focal point for disabled islanders wishing to raise issues with States Departments. The Champion also chairs the States Disability Forum.
Guernsey Disability Alliance members work together to raise issues that are important to disabled islanders.
We engage positively in the political process. We are often seen in the States of Deliberation visitors’ gallery for the debates that affect our members.
Membership is made up of representatives of over 30 local disability charities, plus more than 40 individual disabled islanders and their families.
Please email: info @ disabilityalliance.org.gg or call 07781 467316 to contact the GDA.