With backing from Radian, one of the south’s leading housing, care and support providers, Disability is Our Ability (DIOA) has provided jobs, raised awareness of disability and been showcased to a UK-wide audience at the National Housing Federation conference.
Based in Windsor and Maidenhead, DIOA is made up of people living with various disabilities who use their first-hand experience to deliver disability awareness training. They also undertake peer audits to improve supported living services by interviewing clients about their quality of life and support they receive.
With its team of 10 Disability Experience Advisors, who all have disabilities themselves, DIOA has already completed 26 peer audits across 18 different services since January.
Behind the scenes, the project has had a massive impact on its members too. Sam Richardson (24) is one of those helping to lead the group. He is an admin assistant at Radian Support and is also one of DIOA’s named directors.
Sam’s participation has given him a massive confidence boost, as he deals with the daily challenges of cerebral palsy and dyslexia.
“I love the fact that I am down as a director because it is one of my life’s ambitions,” explained Sam, who lives in Windsor. “Years ago I had a thought that the only person who would hire me was me. Even though Radian and everyone here has helped with the process, it’s still nice to be called a director of something I have been a part of setting up.
“I know from personal experience, even though I see myself as a confident person, my actual confidence from working here and working as part of the group has grown from strength to strength.”
DIOA has grown from a small group connected by the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead’s employment service for residents with disabilities, Ways into Work.
But with funding from SDL Foundation, a global communications organisation also based in Maidenhead, the group was able to obtain training qualifications and finance for a part-time administrative post for someone with a disability. They were joined by people from Radian’s Have Your Say Committee – and DIOA was born.
It’s not just Sam who’s flourished at DIOA, as he explains: “I’ve learned a lot about others’ strengths over time. Through time and practice they have learnt to do the presentations.
“Some of the other’s strengths are good at staying calm and relaxed when things go wrong. Some are very natural readers and are quite capable of jumping in on the spot when needed. Some are very happy-go-lucky kind of characters with a good sense of humour – which I think you need when you start a company, or anything.”
Sam’s personal high-point was joining the DIOA team in Birmingham where it was showcased at the National Housing Federation’s conference in which the housing minister himself, Brandon Lewis, gave a keynote speech.
Sam said: “It was the first time that I have stayed away from my parents. To be able to stand up in front of so many people was a big thing.”
Sam was also part of the team which successfully convinced local councillors to agree £18,500 of funding for DIOA. But the group’s biggest challenge, he said, has been getting the paperwork together to register as a Community Interest Company.
“My personal goal is to come off my jobseeker allowance, but a team goal would be to get more clients and more work and expand the services we can provide,” he said.
“A few years ago, before Radian got involved, we talked about providing peer mentoring but didn’t have the manpower or resources for this. I think it would be good to look at this again too. We aren’t there yet but one day in the future maybe.”
Gabby Flavell, Radian Support’s Inclusion and Involvement Lead, said: “Sam’s experience shows how Disability is Our Ability is working both for clients as well as the people who are running the organisation and delivering its goals.
“I think it is a fantastic example of how people with disabilities can focus their experience as an asset to deliver a service that improves the lives of others and raises awareness of some of the challenges people face. There is a lot we can all learn from this project.”
The training provided by DIOA draws on the lived experience of people with disability, is highly interactive and focuses on experiential learning to increase participants’ awareness and understanding of disability.