News Opinion

A journey around Self Advocacy

John Hersov, Freelance Consultant and Facilitator in Advocacy Work

“Without good transport we can’t go anywhere and do what we want to do.”

Transport is a key factor in improving life.  From 2003 – 2011 when I facilitated the Valuing People Big Days for London, early on transport became a priority issue for the 70-80 self-advocates who worked together to highlight the importance of the Valuing People principles of Rights, Independent Living, Control and Inclusion.  In the words of one self-advocate, “because without good transport we can’t go anywhere and do what we want to do.”

This led to action.  A Big Day on Transport met in May 2005 where a relationship was formed with Transport for London (TfL).  This resulted in the first TfL Valuing People Big Day Network Meeting in February 2007.

Now in its 12th year, the TfL Network Meeting is held 3 times a year and offers people with learning disabilities the opportunity to meet with TfL managers and staff and tell them about their experiences of using public transport in London. Dean Beach, a TfL Network representative from the borough of Hillingdon, speaks of the success of these meetings when he explains, “The people with learning disabilities are actually involved because we’re able to take part and influence the way TfL works. Without us, they would not know our views and experiences which enable them to shape the services they provide. I’m very proud to be involved.”

Two out of three London Boroughs are represented at each Network Meeting which are attended by up to 50 members and supporters of local self-advocacy groups. Over the 12 years of the Network there has been a healthy balance of attracting new people to the Network while also retaining the experience of people who have been involved since the start.

Achieving greater accessibility across the transport network is our current focus.   Towards this aim we have identified 3 main areas that need attention:  Box out

  • Information – including Easy Read
  • Communication – including staff attitudes
  • Physical Access – including Step Free stations.

Another key aspect of the Network has been developing a programme of events in local Bus Garages around London.  Members of the Network meet “inside a bus” and talk with bus company managers and bus drivers.  In this unusual learning setting, there is a real exchange of ideas and exploration of our respective roles as passengers and drivers.  Adding to the discussion is the practical advantage of being in situ.  For instance, we can point to some part of the bus and ask, “Driver, when I press this button, what do you hear in your cab?”

In terms of self-advocacy, this TfL Network has moved on from the concept of speaking up, speaking out, or speaking at people.   Now we are speaking to and with others; providing a real opportunity for talking together and learning from each another.

The Network meetings are extremely lively occasions and many members have become confident speakers. As a facilitator of this large group I try to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute whether by speaking, echoing or active listening. In the words of Dean Beach, “It takes guts to speak up in a meeting if you are not used to it”.

The representatives from local groups have the chance to share their ideas and experiences on this larger stage and then take them back to their home bases. They are reminded that self advocacy work is still going on across London and remains so important to people’s lives,   now more than ever. 

Edel Harris





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