Well-organised disability networks can be a great platform for:
– Raising awareness of the complexities and challenges having a disability can bring
– Accessing support and advice from other people who have their own experience of disability
This might be a disability network at work – sometimes called Disabled Employee Networks or ‘DENs’ – or it might be joining the Student Disability Network at your university.
Here are 5 reasons to get involved:
1. Share your story and hear from others. Whenever I run disability-related workshops in universities, I am taken aback by how much people get from talking to others about their experience of disability. At the same time, I am always struck by how infrequently people have the space and time to do so. Networks can be a great way to learn about how disability affects other people and can be a place to develop your own confidence when talking about disability.
2. It’s a good idea for networks to establish a point of difference in terms of their output. Other groups and forums may well also exist so by using one or more of: Coffee mornings, webinars, podcasts, newsletters, social media presence or simply circulating thought-provoking slides, you can reach people beyond those in your network. It might be helpful to look at what disability networks elsewhere are doing to identify which of these methods would work best.
3. Input into the agenda. Typically, DENs have an agenda and purpose but that doesn’t mean you can’t add something that you may feel particularly passionate about. This might be the objective of increasing understanding of non-visible disabilities, mental health awareness or helping people to get to grips with the range of workplace adjustments available to colleagues.
4. Build skills. Some networks may have designated positions of responsibility such as chairperson or committee members. Taking on an active role could enhance your leadership and collaboration credentials and mean you could make a real difference to how disability is thought about at your university or workplace.
5. Help others now and in the future. Many people develop a disability after they start university or at some point during their career; roughly 15%-20% of the workforce are disabled. Yet we don’t always know about the experience others have had, be that a positive or negative one. Disability networks can be influential in determining how inclusive and proactive organisations truly are. Why not look in to whether your university or workplace has a disability network and get involved.
Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Westminster