Sheffield’s Partners for Inclusion has created a bridge between disabled people and service providers. It’s success led to its scooping Community Care’s disability category at December’s awards. Mary Garboden reports
With the continuous need to improve and develop services for disabled people, it seems unfair for decisions in these areas to be made without input from those for whom such facilities are created. How are health authorities and social services to know the real requirements and wishes of disabled people without consulting them?
It was this reasoning that led Dr Christine Barton to start up Partners for Inclusion (PfI), a group led by disabled people that has formed a joint initiative between Inclusive Living Sheffield, Sheffield Council, and health and social care providers in the area.
PfI has established communication between the disabled community in Sheffield and the authorities in charge of implementing initiatives that affect their lives. “It’s achieved an equal voice for disabled people, which is why I’m very proud of the project,” says Barton, who is herself disabled.
“For the first time, we’re having a say about our own health and social services.”
Barton says the programme is fulfilling a much-needed role. “In Sheffield, we had partnerships for everything under the sun except physical impairment and physical disability,” she says. “Some people from the health authority wanted to try and close that gap, and when they asked me to do that, I was pleased to do so.”
PfI won the Community Care Award disability category in part for its efforts to promote independent living. The group plans to use a portion of its £5,000 prize money for this work. “We’re going to spend some on holding an event that allows disabled people to tell us what they want from services in order to let them live independent lives,” says Barton. “The right to independent living is important, and services aren’t accomplishing much in that direction.”
PfI also wants to improve its publicity and communication. Part of the prize money will be used to enhance talks not only between the group and disabled people, but also between disabled people and the social services and health authorities upon whom so many rely. The group hopes to accomplish this goal by setting up staff and community newsletters, poster campaigns, exhibitions, and networking events such as one held this past December.
The event, held in Sheffield Town Hall, featured guest speakers from the statutory services who outlined their new disability quality schemes for attendees. A reception afterwards provided networking opportunities. The user-led group provides disabled people with reliable sources of information as well as acting as an official advocate.
Evidence from events held by PfI shows that there is a clear difference between disabled people’s priorities and those of service providers; PfI represents a voice that disabled people can trust to have their best interests at heart, representing them fairly.
“We’ve held three events now that give disabled people an opportunity to say what they think should happen with services,” says Barton. “We’ve had an initiative that’s being carried out by disabled people, funded by social services, to take a look at home care, since the contracts are due for renewal. We’ve carried out research to find out what disabled people would want.”
Barton sees the project as more than just a means of improving health and social services – PfI is enhancing the role of disabled people in general. She says that, since the group was set up, the community and councils “are now more willing to listen to us. They don’t just plunge in and do it anyway – they recognise that we’re an important part of the system. They think we matter enough to say that any initiative has to come to us before it is implemented”.
● For more information e-mail Christine Barton
KEYS TO SUCCESS
● The project provides networking
opportunities for disabled people.
● It has taken the trouble to
research what disabled people want
● It has ensured dialogue takes place
between disabled people and social
and health services.