Disability Allies – why they matter and why you should be one

We need to talk about allies. But before I say anymore let me be clear about what I mean by the term allies (or ally).

An ally is someone who doesn’t fall into a diversity category -in this case disability but more popularly in the LGBT and Gender agendas- but who is actively engaged and does something to support the agenda. Whilst they may not actually have a disability themselves, they may have a family member with a disability. Or they may not – they could just want to help create more disability confidence in their workplace.

I also want to mention that I’m an ally. I don’t have a disability myself but my dad has bipolar and he’s been my driver to be a disability and mental health ally for over 10 years. In this, hopefully short, blog I want to not only encourage you to become a disability ally but give you some of the things I’ve learnt over the last few years as an ally.

OK, so why be an ally? For me, one of the most important reason for needing allies is that by their very nature ‘minority groups’ like people with disabilities are in the minority and so, to really make progress, we need to have more than just those with a disability to be part of the conversation and part of the driving force for change. It also gives me huge motivation and energy to keep doing my day job and empowers me to take action – things I know other allies also feel.

So, I promised some tips and here’s mine. I’ll probably add to these as I go but I’ll make sure I add the date to any additional tips that I add :

  1. Assume you know nothing (or at least very little) – a key part of being an ally is learning from those within the agenda. Being an ally with no perceptions about disability is really important as you’ll learn direct from those with disabilities
  2. Keep learning – whilst it’s important to do point i you should also think about other sources you can learn from. There are some great videos on TedTalks (my favourite is ‘Im not your inspiration, thank you very much‘ by Stella Young) and plenty more on YouTube. There’s also #AXSChat every Tuesday on Twitter at 8pm- more details at http://www.axschat.com
  3. Read up on some guidance about being an ally – a few examples include http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/09/ally-people-invisible-disabilities/ and http://www.daa.org.uk/index.php?page=how-to-be-an-ally 
  4. Remember that everyone’s experience of disability is different and that whilst someone with a disability maybe an expert in their disability they are unlikely to be an expert in anyone else’s.  As the saying goes ‘if you’ve met one person withe Autism then you’ve met one person withe Autism!’
  5. Be vocal and engaged – get involved in your disability network. Volunteer to do something and show up to events. Tell people – including your management – that you’re an ally so they can become one too.
  6. Don’t be a bystander – if you see or hear something that isn’t right then challenge it. Don’t wait for or assume someone with a disability will do it if you don’t because they may not feel able or comfortable to.
  7. Be yourself – you’ll get found out if you’re not being genuine so, from the start, be yourself.

Got any tips you’d add? Let me know in the comments box below!

Before I end, I have to say that bring an ally is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. You should do it too!

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