‘The Hotseat’ at a Worcestershire People’s Parliament meeting can be a nerve-wracking place for commissioners or managers. The 9 members of People’s Parliament, all with learning disabilities, are well practiced, having held 10 public debates on issues that affect them and their peers.
The People’s Parliament is part of SpeakEasy NOW, a charity run by people with learning disabilities. SpeakEasy NOW run self-advocacy groups across Worcestershire and other successful projects such as the Health Checkers, who are employed by NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups to inspect health services and suggest reasonable adjustments. The People’s Parliament use expertise from the other groups and projects to find out what is important to people with learning disabilities.
Twice a year the Parliament go into the community to find out about issues like health, transport, housing or relationships. They write a White Paper in Easy Read, full of case studies and information, which they share far and wide. They make suggestions about how to make services fairer, better quality and easier to use.
They invite heads of service and commissioners to a Public Debate, among a mixed audience of people with learning disabilities, family carers and professionals. This is where the bosses take on the hotseat and make pledges for how they will improve their services. Parliament are tough about making sure these pledges get done, but they also know that working in partnership with organisations is the best way to get meaningful change to happen.
The Parliament project is funded by Worcestershire County Council, who have made several pledges over the 5 years of the project. Recently they pledged to create a Worcestershire Travel Wallet, a bright pink wallet for your bus pass that comes with contacts for the local Safe Places scheme and the British Transport Police, as well as communication cards to help people ask for help on public transport.
The Parliament have a close working relationship with housing association Fortis Living. After being impressed by the group’s insights into the challenges facing tenants with learning disabilities, Fortis asked the group to help them create an Easy Read guide to Tenancy Agreements, and to deliver learning disability awareness training to staff.
Sam Sinderberry of the Parliament has taken a special interest in trains after London Midland pledged to include people with learning disabilities in their access advisory group. London Midland have now become West Midlands Trains, but Sam continues working with them, recently helping them to create an Easy Read guide to disabled passenger assistance.
Pat Roberts from the group now reports to Worcestershire’s End of Life and Palliative Care Forum, after Parliament held a debate on Growing Older with a Learning Disability. She stands up for good quality care for people with learning disabilities at the end of their lives.
Other members bring their outside interests to the group too. Kate Brackley, who works for the British Institute of Learning Disabilities shares her commitment to disability rights between her paid job and her role as a Parliament member. Jess Hiles, co-chair of the group, speaks up at MacIntyre and volunteers for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Chair Laura Gill has been recognised nationally for her award-winning night club for people with learning disabilities, The Monday Nite Club, including winning a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service this year!
All the members work outstandingly hard to raise the voices of people with learning disabilities. Next year they hope to employ a second member of staff to help keep up with their big plans for the future.
You can find out more about the Parliament on www.speakeasynow.org.uk on Facebook speakeasynow22 or on Twitter @Speakeasynow22