More must be done to meet the needs of disabled members of the Gypsy Roma Traveller (GRT) community and to hear their voices, according to ground-breaking, user-led research.
The report concludes that disabled people from the GRT community are put off from trying to access the health and social care services they need by past experiences of discrimination.
This lack of services puts pressure on relatives and other community members to fill the gap in support themselves.
The research, which included surveys, interviews and focus groups across the UK, also found that service-providers were frequently reluctant to visit GRT sites, and that disabled people’s organisations often failed to “reach out pro-actively” to GRT communities.
And it highlighted the stigma felt about disability, particularly relating to men with physical impairments or experiencing mental distress.
Jason Smith, who is deaf, said: “There is a stigma around speaking out about disability.
“We’re a marginalised group within an already marginalised group. This can make it hard to get information or access to the support and things that can help.”
Among the report’s recommendations is for increased outreach by disabled people’s organisations to ensure people from GRT communities are involved in service and policy development.
The report concludes: “The present research project was innovative in that new ground was broken in opening up the discussion about disability within GRT communities, a discussion that now needs to be furthered within those communities and with outside health, housing and social care agencies.”
The project was led by the University of Worcester and the disabled people’s organisation Shaping Our Lives.
Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives and a co-author of the report, said: “This research provides a breakthrough in terms of directly hearing from disabled people and their living in GRT communities.
“It’s important we build on this work so they continue to have a voice on the issues that affect them.”
The report is the latest piece of research to come out of the five-year, £5 million Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) research programme, which is led by disabled people and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.
Disability Wales marked the international day of disabled people by releasing a new disabled people’s manifesto, ahead of next spring’s elections to the Welsh Senedd.
Among its calls are for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) to be incorporated into Welsh law, and for disabled people’s history and discussion of the social model of disability to be included in the school curriculum.
Disability Wales also wants there to be mandatory disability equality training at all levels of government and other public bodies, and a disabled people’s organisation in every local authority area in Wales.
Other demands include action on disabled people’s participation in political life, on independent living, and on the disability employment gap, and to improve access to advice for those experiencing disability discrimination in the workplace.
The manifesto also calls for new accessibility standards for social housing in Wales to be developed in co-production with disabled people and their organisations.
Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, said: “Disability Wales has been calling for the incorporation of the UNCRPD for a long time now and these findings show why.
“Many disabled people in Wales don’t feel that they are being listened to by those in power and are concerned that their rights are not on the agenda, let alone being protected.”
She said the process of drawing up the manifesto had “brought together disabled people from across Wales to give their views and talk about their priorities.
“It provides a vital tool for the next Welsh government to help influence and inform their programme and ensure that the rights of 22 per cent of the population are upheld.”
The government marked last Thursday’s international day of disabled people by confirming that it will increase spending on the disabled facilities grant (DFG) by £68 million next year.
The announcement of £573 million spending on DFG in 2021-22 – an increase of more than 13 per cent on 2020-21 and a huge increase from the £220 million provided in 2015-16 – was included in last month’s spending review.
DFGs are used to help disabled people fund adaptations to their homes, such as installing stair-lifts, wet rooms and ramps.
Kelly Tolhurst, the minister for rough sleeping and housing, said: “This grant can be literally life changing and lengthening, helping more people to live independently in their own homes.”
Helen Whately, the social care minister, said: “This grant will help hundreds of thousands of disabled people across England to live more independently in their own homes and improve their quality of life.
“I know this year has been incredibly difficult for disabled people in particular and I’m pleased that, on the International Day of People with Disabilities, we’re able to provide this additional funding.
“The disabled facilities grant is a really important part of our ambition to reduce health inequalities and support more people to live healthy, independent lives for as long as possible.”
The Unlimited disability arts programme has announced its first digital festival, which will take place next month.
The five-day festival, between 13 and 17 January, will feature dance, performance, comedy, film, talks, workshops and visual art, most of which has been commissioned by Unlimited.
Of 33 online events, 32 will be free, with another 16 events available on demand.
Alongside the digital programme, Unseen, logic-defying images on the subject of mental distress by artist Suzie Larke, will be exhibited outdoors at London’s Southbank Centre between 13 January and 28 February.
Among the highlights of the digital programme will be a broadcast of Artificial Things, which was filmed in a derelict suburban shopping centre, features disabled and non-disabled dancers, and explores the themes of human interdependence, strength, and vulnerability.
Among those who appear in the film is disabled dancer and actor David Toole, who died in October.
Another highlight is likely to be Here/Not Here, a film by the award-winning Deaf film-maker Bim Ajadi, which explores British Sign Language, Krump street dance, football and Visual Vernacular, a choreographed, poetic form of sign language.
Justin Edgar’s online exhibition, Reasonable Adjustment – The Disabled Armed Resistance Movement, a re-imagining of the disabled people’s direct action protests of the late 1980s, is one of the events most likely to provoke debate.
It features “artefacts” from the fictional Reasonable Adjustment movement, whose members are said to have bombed inaccessible train stations and laid siege to a benefits office.
The biennial festival was last held at the Southbank Centre in 2018, and was delayed this year because of the pandemic.
Unlimited was originally built on a successful disability arts programme which saw 29 pieces by disabled artists showcased during the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
A disabled people’s organisation has launched a new regional register of personal assistants (PAs) that it hopes will make it easier for disabled people to find PAs quickly during the COVID-19 crisis.
The register, run by Disability North, will be free to employers and PAs during the pandemic, and should help PAs who are currently not able to work because their existing employer is shielding work temporarily for other disabled people.
Disability North is based in Newcastle and covers the area from York to the Scottish Borders and across to Cumbria.
The disabled-led charity Wheels for Wellbeing has launched an updated edition of its Guide to Inclusive Cycling.
The policy document includes key recommendations for inclusive cycling, many of which have been included in new Department for Transport cycle infrastructure guidance.
It is the fourth edition of the guide, which was first published in 2017 and was the first policy document of its kind.
It includes case studies, technical recommendations, policy suggestions and links to relevant parts of the government guidance.
Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing, said: “Just over three years since releasing the first ever Guide to Inclusive Cycling, it’s amazing to me that we’re already onto our fourth edition.
“The reason for this is that the world of cycling has been changing as people take note of and act on our recommendations.”
Cycling minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “We will continue to support the delivery of cycle infrastructure which is safe and inclusive for disabled cyclists and pedestrians, and our work with accessibility groups such as Wheels for Wellbeing ensures we’re making use of expert knowledge to inform accurate and inclusive cycle design guidance for all.”
The disabled-led theatre company Vital Xposure has announced that actor, writer, director and activist Simon Startin will take over as its new artistic director in March.
He will replace the company’s founder, award-winning writer, director and activist Julie McNamara, who will be leaving to join the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, in Australia.
Startin, who has campaigned to increase the representation of disabled people on stage and screen, will join Vital Xposure as the company celebrates its 10th anniversary, and said he hoped to build on McNamara’s “outstanding” work.
He said: “There has never been a more important time for society to hear the voice of disabled artists, who have been living at the sharp end of human fragility and resilience long before the rest of the world woke up to it.
“There is an urgent need for disabled theatre-makers to proudly communicate not just the disabled experience but to take that perspective to universally question the times we live in.
“Under my leadership, the Vital Xposure commitment to hidden voices and social justice will continue to drive our work, but we will also begin to interrogate what participatory political theatre, led by disabled people, for the benefit of all, can achieve in the 21st century.”
Jonathan Meth, chair of the company’s trustees, said McNamara “uses her voice to speak for all those whose voices are unheard and whose stories are too often untold.
“That she can talk to anyone, as well as enable others to find their voices, belies the complexity and richness of her creative working processes – as theatre-maker, as a disabled artist and as advocate, activist and leader.”
Picture: An image from the Reasonable Adjustment Unlimited exhibition
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