Making our community inclusive

May 4th, 2012 by Emilie Yerby

In our community, we all work together.

When your dream job comes up, you know you will be able to get into the office to take that interview.

When you start your job, you know your employer will value your skills and ideas, and will work with you to overcome any practical barriers that might stop you sharing them.

When you go to work, you know that you and your co-workers will be in an environment that supports your physical and mental well-being.

When you look for work, you know you will be given a chance to showcase your best and most relevant skills, through an interview or assessment tailored to the requirements of the job.

When you employ or work beside others, you too will treat them with dignity and respect. You will value the wide range of skills and experience they can offer. You will promote positive attitudes and take imaginative steps to overcome the barriers that stop some people reaching their potential.

In our community, we all live together.

When you go to school, you know you will be able to learn things that interest or excite you, with a peer group that suits you. You know you will be nurtured and valued, and given the skills and the strength to do well in the world once you leave.

When you choose where you live, and who you live with, you know you will be able to choose freely, and you will have the support to make your choice a success.

When you choose to use short break (respite) or day services, you know you will have a positive and meaningful experience that enhances your own health or wellbeing, and gives you a kind of social contact you enjoy.

When you go shopping, or for a drink with friends, you know you will be welcomed in and treated like a valued customer.

When you look for useful information, you know you will find it in a format that you can understand. You know you will easily be able to find out about the support you are entitled to, from well-informed and confident staff and volunteers.

When you want to get out and about, you know there will be suitable and affordable transport. And when you go on holiday, you know that only fog will stop you getting on that plane.

In our community, we all value each other.

When you spend days and nights caring for your partner, your child, your parent, you know you will have the support you need, when you need it, so that you can rest and recharge. You know that you can still make choices about going to work, or about going on holiday.

When people make decisions about things that affect you, you know you will be included in that process from the very start. Your views will matter. Your ideas will be valued. You will have a real part to play in shaping the world that you live in.

This is our community. Not quite. Not YET.

It’s the community you have described to me, time and again, over the last six months. The community which many of you have been calling for, for much longer than that.

Tonight we are launching the Disability and Inclusion Strategy.

It’s not a normal launch. We don’t have a finished product for you to admire. Over the past six months, you have made it clear exactly where we need to get to. I am here with some clear goals we now need to achieve. If we get them right, I hope we will take a massive step towards becoming the kind of community that you want.

Let me give you a very short history of the life of the Disability and Inclusion Strategy:

In 2002, there was a study known as the Townsend Report, which looked at poverty in Guernsey.

This report was among the first to point out that disabled people in Guernsey were more likely to be poor and disadvantaged than non-disabled people.

In response to this, the States decided that we needed to do something to improve the life chances of disabled people. But work on the Townsend Report died out quickly, because a lot of States members at the time thought it was not based on enough evidence to be accurate.

Ever since that time, the States has recognised that some kind of Disability Strategy is needed. It has appeared in every States Strategic Plan so far.

In 2008, a Disability Forum was set up for staff, volunteers, disabled people and carers.

The Forum decided to elect a Disability Champion – a States Member, chosen by disabled people, to represent their views and concerns.

Not long after Jane Stephens became the first Disability Champion in 2009, the States voted on Deputy Hunter Adam’s amendment to its 2009 Strategic Plan. As a result, they set a sum of money aside for the creation of a full Disability Strategy.

Emma Jones was first appointed as Disability and Equalities Officer in 2010.

She helped to launch some fantastic projects, including the DisabledGo Access Guide to Guernsey, which was launched in early March 2012.

I took over from her in 2011.

We are now exactly ten years on from the time the States first noticed that disabled people were at a major disadvantage in Guernsey, compared to non-disabled people, and we are finally ready to launch a Disability and Inclusion Strategy.

At the start of April 2012, I held open consultations with disabled people and carers.

I also consulted with the staff who run services which are important to you: including schools, health services, community care, employment support and housing services, among others.

We focused on two things:

Who is this Strategy for? and What will it do?

We talked about how to define who is a disabled person.

You all accepted this definition, which is from the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities:

Persons with disabilities, or disabled people, include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

A disabled person, you said, is someone with a mental health condition, or a mobility impairment, or a communication or behavioural difficulty, or a hearing or sight impairment, or a chronic illness, fatigue or pain, or a learning disability, or a dementia, or any other long-term health condition.

BUT, you said, we are disabled by the artificial barriers that society puts up which stop us being able to take part in school or work; which damage our health and wellbeing; which make us wonder if we are seen as useful or valuable citizens.

If we could remove those barriers, we would just be a society of people with differences: some physical, some mental, some cognitive. We would all have good life chances; good opportunities for health, happiness and financial security; control over what we choose to do and where we choose to live.

So what can we do to remove those barriers?

You told me that you needed access to opportunities. You might need some support to get into work. Employers may need to know how to support you in work.

You told me that you needed fair access to services which meet YOUR specific needs, and support during transitions – so you don’t fall through the cracks between services.

You told me you needed to be able to live independently, with whatever personal support you need to do this. You need access to equipment and adaptations that make it easier for you to live in your own home and to get out and about. You need an environment that makes it possible for you to take part in island life.

As carers, you need access to short break services, so that you can take breaks from caring, knowing that the person you care for will still be supported appropriately. You need the time to rest and recharge; to maintain your own health and wellbeing.

You told me you need access to good quality information that you can understand. You need staff to know what other support you are entitled to, and to help you find out about it.

You also challenged us, during the consultations, to prove it. Prove that we really think disabled people are valuable employees, valuable customers and valuable service users. So that’s it. The States have to lead by example. Working practices and policies, recruitment and training – all of these must benefit disabled people and non-disabled people equally. The Strategy will support this, and I am sure that the politicians in the room will also spur their future Departments on to achieve this.

Above all, you told me, you need all this to be underlined by a strong anti-discrimination framework.

You said that, if the government is serious about valuing disabled people as equal citizens; about giving everyone fair access to opportunities, to be independent, responsible and secure; about protecting the health and wellbeing of all its citizens – if it is serious about all these things, you said, then it should not be afraid to confirm that commitment in Law.

So what are we doing now?

We are looking at the key areas I outlined above: independent living; health and wellbeing; access to opportunities, especially for work; access to information; and protection against discrimination. We are also looking at how the States can lead by example in all these areas.

  • We want to find a solution to the complicated funding system for equipment and adaptations.
  • We want to ensure that good short break services are available for the carers of disabled adults.
  • We want to work with employers and disabled people to promote access to sustainable and meaningful employment for all people.
  • We want to equip the States to be a leading employer of disabled staff, and a leading provider of services to disabled islanders.
  • We want to develop an anti-discrimination framework that ensures disabled people are treated as equal citizens.
  • We need to do all this in a way that is appropriate for Guernsey – we cannot lift off-the-shelf solutions from anywhere else.
  • We need to do this in a way that respects the financial constraints the States has set down.
  • We need to do this in a way that involves disabled people and carers in designing solutions that really meet their needs. Without your involvement, we will not make changes that are meaningful, respectful and appropriate.

Over the next few months, task groups will focus in on the priority areas I have outlined. Some of you have agreed to help lead those groups. Others will be involved in panel discussions. Yet others will be welcome to join focus groups to review our ideas and check if they work. I will keep you well informed about developments as they happen.

The changes which you have identified, and the kind of community you want, align beautifully with the aims of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

If it is possible, then signing the Convention would be a very public recognition that disabled people are equal and valued citizens. Ratifying the Convention, in several years time, would mark a point where the States could say – “we have achieved what we set out to do. Disabled people and their carers have meaningful choices and equal access to the same breadth of opportunities as other islanders.”

At the GDA Speed Hustings, we faced two recurrent questions.

One was – “Will your proposals have costings?”

The other was – “Why has nothing been done already?”

The answer is, perhaps, “because we have never known the scale of the problem.”

We have pieces of information about disabled people and carers in Guernsey, but we don’t have the big picture. We don’t know about the people who aren’t in contact with services – perhaps because there are no services to support them – and we don’t really have any information that will allow us to predict what people will need in the future.

So I’ll finish with the promise of an answer. Side by side with our in-depth research, we are doing an island-wide survey, that will tell us about the types of disability and the degrees of disadvantage islanders face.

This comes in two stages: a paper survey sent to one in four households at random, and an interview.

We may be looking for volunteers to be interviewed, so please speak to me afterwards, or contact me later, if you would be interested in finding out more.

In the small pilot survey that we did, one in every five people reported a long-term health condition or impairment. These included mental ill health, learning difficulties and disabilities, chronic fatigue, Parkinson’s, tinnitus, arthritis and osteoporosis.

Linked to these, people reported all manner different barriers faced in daily life, around the home and out in the wider world.

We anticipate having the results to the full survey by the end of the summer.

We will use these to develop our plans and to prioritise our resources.

So, by the end of this year, we will have at least a minimum figure for the number of disabled people in the community. We will have demonstrated the barriers that disadvantage them.

We will have a plan – that you will have been involved in creating – for tackling some of the most fundamental barriers.

Your support – and, just as importantly, your challenges – are vital in getting the right solution.

And, with your involvement, I hope that, by the end of this year, we will be a significant step closer to creating that fair and equal community we talked about at the start.

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Emilie Yerby is States of Guernsey Disability and Equalities Officer.  She can be contacted on eyerby @ health.gov.gg or by telephone on 725241 ext. 4157

 

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