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Today marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the theme this year is innovation and transformative solutions for inclusive development (UN).

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown that disabled people report lower wellbeing levels than non-disabled people, as well as finding that a higher percentage of disabled people feel lonely compared with non-disabled people.

Through our mental health text support service Shout, we are able to offer support that can break down barriers to reaching out for help for some groups with disabilities, for example, for autistic people, D/deaf people and people who are dyslexic. As a digital service, Shout can provide in-the-moment mental health support that is accessible, easy and text-based for anyone that struggles with verbal or in-person communication.

From our own research conducted through our post-conversation survey with Shout, we know that two thirds (67%) of texters report experiencing a long-term physical or mental health condition or illness. This compares with 22% of the UK who report experiencing a mental or physical disability.

Around half of texters (54%) that experience dyslexia said that they contact Shout because they feel more comfortable texting than talking. This might be because computers and speech-recognition software can often be helpful for people with dyslexia to learn with and articulate themselves (NHS). Features on phones such as auto-correct or speech-to-text recognition can make text conversations easier, as well as making it more likely that a person will understand the content of their text conversation (Cardiff University), making Shout an ideal source of help if they’re struggling to cope.

Around a fifth of D/deaf Shout texters told us that the reason they use our service is because they do not have access to alternative mental health services. Shout gives them a place to turn to where they don’t need to use spoken language: over 40% of D/deaf texters say they felt more comfortable texting than talking.

As part of our work as an organisation to better support and understand our texters, volunteer community and staff, we recently worked with Scope who gave our staff team bespoke disability training to enhance our awareness and understanding of disabilities.

In this interview, our Chair of Diversity and Inclusion, Dr Amanda Brown-Bennett talks about why training such as this is important at Mental Health Innovations and dispels some of the biggest misconceptions around disabilities.

Why is disability training important at Mental Health Innovations and how does it benefit our staff, volunteers and texters?

Disability awareness training enables us as an organisation to gain greater insight into what disability is, the various types of disability, and gives us the opportunity to explore and enhance our approach to people living with disabilities.

The benefits of training helps us to learn how disabilities can affect someone’s working life and to ensure that we are making reasonable adjustments for our employees at work.

The training also increases our awareness of the accessibility of our service for volunteering opportunities, and encourages us to learn and develop as an organisation, from those with lived experiences.

Through training such as disability awareness, we can better understand and support people who text the Shout service with issues surrounding their own disability, be mindful of the ways in which disabilities may affect help seeking behaviours, and of our methods of communication and the support provided.

As the Chair of our Diversity and Inclusion working group, why is it personally important to you that training such as this is on the agenda?

Personally I am very passionate about people. As a Counselling Psychologist I am continually curious about human behaviour, relational dynamics, life experiences and research; and as Chair of DE&I, I desire to keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront of all that we do.

Putting those together places me in the privileged position of being able to share and steer conversations and actions that endeavour to keep the welfare of people as our main priority, as well as continually reflecting on the challenges posed by unconscious biases, marginalised populations and the like.

Through training such as this we can learn about experiences outside of our own, and hopefully have a safe forum to educate others. Inward exploration better prepares us to make any adjustments needed so that the service is fit for anyone who needs our support.

What can be some of the biggest misconceptions around disabilities?

There are many misconceptions around disabilities that people may not realise they have. Some of these misconceptions include:

What three things did you take away from the training?

  1. Highlighting ordinary day to day activities as ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’ is not a compliment for disabled people. Disabled people want the opportunity to carry out daily tasks just as anybody else would, and reasonable adjustments may make this more manageable.
  2. Shout is a wide- reaching service with many benefits for people looking for volunteering opportunities, or service users directly needing support; however it is important to reassess and continually evaluate any barriers to accessing Shout, including those presented by disabilities.
  3. The disability awareness training encouraged us to consider situations or conversations that might feel a bit ‘awkward’ for us, reminding us that being open to learning, being challenged, sharing experiences is the starting point of ending the ‘awkward’ and empowering ourselves and each other.

“There are so many issues that people with autism experience, like eating disorders, generalised anxiety disorder, depression. And it's not the autism causing that. It's trying to cope with the world that's not set up for you. And sometimes really small adjustments make all the difference.”

Shout Volunteer