Diversity and inclusion are often tricky subjects. Sometimes the fear of saying the wrong thing leads to people not saying anything at all, which is counter productive in every way.
Last week we joined up with AGEUK and had some all important training on diversity and inclusion here at The Joinery. It was great to discuss these complex topics in a safe space. The training was pretty much all day and participants were fueled with lovely sandwiches and delicious cakes to keep up energy until the end.
On the whole, it seemed everyone wanted to do what they could to move towards a more inclusive community. Pete Bates, who has worked in human services for over 30 years, offered up some insightful ideas and models and in his own words “put these ideas on the shelf, for participants to take them or not.”
In an unfair society some characteristics are devalued and these people are often treated poorly compared to others.
Some of the examples we came up with for this were:
People with physical disabilities
People with learning disabilities
People with mental health issues
People with hidden disabilities
People with addictions
Ethnic minority groups
Discrimination based on sexual orientation
Pete’s argument was that separate does not mean equal. He believed that separating people reinforced the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and that we all benefit from having a completely inclusive society.
When some members of the community are shut out, everyone is poorer for it.
Why are people isolated?
Issues to do with person or family
Issues to do with the community
Issues to do with the service system
Our discussion focused heavily on people with disabilities, be that physical disabilities, learning disabilities or severe mental health issues. Pete discussed how vulnerable people are most at risk when they lose connections with people from other aspects of their lives. Whilst they may form connections and bonds with people with similar issues to themselves (which is in no way a negative thing) the connections they have with people from other walks of life, or from outside the place that they are living, are vital.
Promoting inclusion = Reduces Risk
This prompted a discussion on common ground. Participants discussed how friends they knew people from school had struggled with mental health issues and stayed in hospitals for a period of time, but when they went to visit they could still discuss old memories, or favourite TV shows, or “have you seen what so-an-so is doing now?!” These levels of commonality are a necessity for people not to loose links with the outside world, whilst also being a much needed break from tiresome medical care questions.
As a lot of attendee’s worked with older people in the community, Pete wanted to emphasis the importance of getting to know the individual rather than just acting as a carer for their basic needs. He gave many examples of people feeling happier and healthier once they felt listened to and noticed. Listening to people's stories also allows for individuals to find common ground, and genuine friendships to be made. Pete stressed the importance of a relationship feeling informal and based on mutual respect, rather than one person's need and another's job.
One way he recommended in starting these discussions, was the inclusion web. The inclusion web touches on 8 different aspects of life which people may identify with. These key areas were:
Neighbourhood, Education, Arts, Employment, Identity, Volunteering, Sports, Online.
The web is much more complex than it looks, and needs proper training and guidance before using it, otherwise it can have potentially harmful and negative effects. His top tip was: Get someone to use it on you first.
You can find out about how to properly use this sensitive but insightful tool here: https://www.ndti.org.uk/resources/useful-tools-top/the-inclusion-web/
The biggest takeaway from the training was that stories are the most effective way of dealing with stigma and discrimination. That the best way of including people, whether that be the elderly or people with a disability, is to listen to their individual needs and to learn about each person. Once you know more about them, you can plug into community groups and opportunities where they might prosper and therefore strengthen their connections with wider society, which makes us all better off for it.