In June I went to a conference, “Joined up city; joined up services” put on by The Fed, a user led organisation for the disabled that promotes independent living for all (www.thefedonline.org.uk) The conference was held at The Corn Exchange in Brighton and the venue was deliciously accessible, which you would expect from a disability charity! I easily whizzed about on my scooter and was made to feel welcome by everyone.
The afternoon began with speakers introducing the conference and what’s new with The Fed and disability in Brighton & Hove. This included a talk from Richard Tuset, head of policy and communities at Brighton & Hove Council, introducing a proposal to undertake the first ever strategical assessment of need for disabled people in the city.
Next were the workshops and I didn’t know what to expect. I’d chosen “personalisation: real lives, my story” and gathered round with the other delegates to hear from 3 people with disabilities. When you live with a disability like I do it’s easy to assume you know all about it and stop listening to the experience of others but this workshop opened my eyes to how wrong I was! It was fascinating to hear about the barriers and challenges other people face and it made me realise what an inspirational bunch disabled people can be.
After the break I went to another workshop called “Accessible city: disability awareness training” where I learned all about the Social Model of Disability. Again, my assumption that I knew it all was challenged by this workshop. The Social Model says that disability is caused by the way our society is organised rather than the physical impairment experienced by the disabled person. If a person uses a wheelchair, for example, the fact that there are stairs everywhere causes the disability, not the fact the person can’t walk. This was so interesting to me and I enjoyed the discussion around how society is built with able bodied, young, fit people in mind when actually there are hundreds of reasons why people might find the environment challenging. Interestingly, the trainer who was meant to be delivering the workshop was confined to his house as his electric wheelchair had broken down. Illustrating the point of this workshop beautifully!
Other workshop choices included welfare benefits, personal budgets and accessible volunteering among other interesting topics.
I was impressed with how inclusive the afternoon was. Interpreters were signing so deaf people could contribute equally and there wasn’t a step in sight.
I went home with a glossy brochure of the event and lots of information and hand outs included.
I was born and bred in this wonderful city and it makes me proud there is so much going on to improve the lives of disabled people. Well done The Fed!