As I put my out of office on and send my last email of 2023, I thought I would write a blog in an attempt to sum up what a busy and fulfilling year this has been. I confess taking on my new job role: ‘Engagement and Inclusion Lead’ at Disability North was quite daunting, but it has been a brilliant whirlwind of exciting opportunities.

Never forgetting Disability North’s mission ‘To promote Inclusion, independence and choice for disabled people and their families’, the focus of my role is to make the world more accessible and inclusive for everyone. Taking on ‘the world’ in the first twelve months was a little ambitious, so I focussed on breaking down barriers in the north of England, ensuring people with disabilities will be able to have equal access to opportunities and services.

There have been so many highlights, I hardly know where to start! Funding from Skills for Care has enabled over 200 people (so far) to receive training, which raises awareness of the Personal Assistant (PA) role. The course gives information on why disabled people wanted more control over who supports them and how this support needs to look, so they can live the life they choose. Also offering top tips for the recruitment process and developing a professional relationship with their employer, this course has increased the number of people on our vacancy bulletin and applying for PA vacancies advertised by Disability North and beyond. The feedback has been 100% positive and the biggest message has been before this course, people did not know this profession existed… but they do now!

As an employer of Personal Assistants myself, I know having a PA gives you choice, control, dignity, independence, self-determination, empowerment and simply enables you to live a very ordinary life, the way you choose. Managing people can be challenging and stressful at times, which is why in 2024 we are launching our new workshop for individual employers, thanks to support from Skills for Care. It requires a great deal of patience, empathy, and communication skills to employ PAs and ensure everything runs smoothly. Both the employer and PA will have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is important to find the right balance between being a supportive employer and maintaining your own boundaries. This and the development of peer support is the focus for the new workshop in January. You can find out more and reserve your place here…

I now have a tape measure, spirit level and camera tucked into my work bag alongside my laptop! Something I never thought I would hear myself say! A huge thank you to Ian Streets from who guided me every step of the way through my training to become a qualified Access Audit Consultant 😊. I have been putting my new skills to the test with the aim of making places more accessible for everyone. Inclusivity is important for people with all kinds of disabilities, and it’s important to make the world a more welcoming place for everyone. The Spire Hospital in Washington has been my largest audit so far. I created a report for them to make improvements and make the hospital more accessible. Many of the recommendations costed very little, but they make such a huge positive difference. I have some audits in the diary for next year already and watch out for a large project where we will work alongside more disabled people, to advise what can be done to improve accessibility when using the hospital sites in Newcastle. There has been lots of work going on behind the scenes to make this happen with Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust… It is going to be a fantastic collaboration!

There has been so much more activity over the last twelve months that I could mention here, but there is a risk of this turning into a novel rather than a blog! Just to mention a few more things… There has been lots of action to develop employability initiatives. This has involved engaging with other organisations to develop opportunities for disabled people to find employment they will love. I have also met with several organisations who do amazing work improving inclusivity for neurodivergent people.

I love getting up every morning knowing that whatever I am doing that day will involve promoting the vision of Disability North:- ‘To be the best resource for disability in the North’. It is truly wonderful when you are employed by an organisation whose values, align with your own. I am confident that Disability North is my perfect match.

Our new five-year strategy will take us to 2028 and will guide us towards many new projects and partnerships to look forward to. There are new people to meet and engage with. Together we will make lasting change.

In the second paragraph of this blog, I said that “taking on the world” felt a little too ambitious… but with the dedication of the Disability North team and connections with likeminded people and organisations, anything is possible. Achieving Inclusivity for everyone needs us to come together with the passion to make this happen. By educating ourselves, creating opportunities, and promoting diversity, we can create a world where everyone feels valued and respected. A huge thankyou to everyone I have met this year. Let’s make sure we continue to make Inclusivity a reality in 2024 and beyond.