Covid-19 Action Fund winners: disability inclusion
The Covid-19 Action Fund provides grants for Churchill Fellows to run projects combatting the effects of Covid-19 in all areas of society. Hundreds of pandemic projects nationwide are being run or assisted by Churchill Fellows, using the international expertise they gained during their Fellowships overseas. Here are the Action Fund recipients working on disability issues.
December 2020 awards
Jeff McWhinney: assisting deaf people to connect with public services
Deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL) as their main form of communication are often unable to access public services. The pandemic has widened these existing inequalities, as many public services such as medical appointments have moved online without the provision of a BSL interpreter. In particular the more elderly and isolated deaf community have been unable to keep up with the latest developments in video technology in order to access these services.
Jeff McWhinney from Blackheath in London, is a disability rights activist and a leader in the British Deaf community.
He will use his grant to produce a video that clearly demonstrates in British Sign Language how to use a webcam, live video calling applications such as Zoom, and static video messaging applications on a variety of devices. Jeffrey himself found that using a webcam to access BSL interpreters (known as a Video Relay Service - VRS) has enabled him to overcome communication barriers, access more services and stay connected. He hopes the video will enable Deaf people to use this VRS technology, and plans to raise awareness about it amongst public services and organisations across the UK. Jeffrey's Churchill Fellowship to Australia, New Zealand and the USA in 2007 explored video technology apps and practices to enable sign language interpreting.
Jonathan Vincent: supporting graduates with autism into employment
The Covid-19 pandemic has had hugely negative impacts on recent graduates entering the labour market. This is all the more pronounced for those with an autism diagnosis, who already have the worst postgraduate employability outcomes of any disabled group in higher education. Little research has been undertaken into the specific effects of the pandemic on the employability of this group and what their needs are in order to help them into employment.
Jonathan Vincent from York is a Senior Lecturer at York St John University and has spent the last four years researching and addressing the gaps in employment for autistic graduates in the UK, including establishing a participatory training group, PRO Autism, that includes autistic people in the training of employers.
He will use his grant to undertake further research to identify the specific employment needs and experiences of a small but representative cohort of autistic graduates in the UK, in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, and subsequently develop free e-learning materials to support these graduates as they move into the labour market. Depending on needs identified, these might include job-readiness support, guidance for disclosure of diagnosis, or identification of reasonable adjustments. He will then evaluate how the cohort have used the materials and share learnings and resources with the sector across the UK. Jonathan's Churchill Fellowship to Canada and the USA in 2017 explored how to support autistic graduates into employment.
June 2020 awards
Edward Rogers: teaching isolated blind adults and children
Blind people are statistically far more likely to struggle with technology and to be poor, elderly or alone. The current social distancing measures therefore put them at particular risk of being isolated. Additionally, only 25% of blind people are employed and this may be worsened if there is a recession and rise in unemployment as a result of the pandemic. Whilst those who learn Braille are twice as likely to be employed, the provision of Braille - already inadequate - is even more limited during the lockdown.
Edward Rogers from Bristol is a Trustee of The Braillists Foundation, a grass-roots community group that has adapted swiftly during the pandemic to provide support requested by their 650-strong community across the UK, the majority of whom are blind. They are providing three webinars each week to keep people connected, are distributing Braille equipment, and have even provided advice on accessible cooking from a professional chef, since many blind people have never learnt to cook but are now at home on their own.
Edward will use his grant to expand this provision, additionally developing remote learning courses teaching Braille and providing accessible conference-call training for hundreds of blind people, so that they can increase their chances of employment and operate within the current environment of remote working. Edward's Churchill Fellowship to China and India explored ways of making blind literacy affordable worldwide.
William Case: advising and training disabled people and their carers
The current public health crisis and social distancing restrictions are having an acute impact on those with care and support needs, carers and staff. Many disabled people who rely on support from a carer or personal assistant are facing increased stress.
Disability consultant William Case, from Bury in Greater Manchester, is the founder of Your Support Matters, a social enterprise set up as a result of his Churchill Fellowship, which provides support for disabled people. Due to the lockdown, they have started offering support online via informal Zoom calls, with advice on how to problem-solve during a time of crisis.
William will use his grant to expand this online work to provide virtual advice, guidance, practical support and digital support groups - a virtual space where disabled people feel listened to. A key area of his work is in the training of personal assistants to help people with disabilities lead independent lives. This training will be adapted to be done virtually. William will also use the opportunity to promote the role of the personal assistant and its important contribution to society at this time. He will gather experience and stories from the people they work with, to inform key decision-makers about the impact on the disabled community and to influence the wider national response to Covid-19 post lockdown. William's Churchill Fellowship to the USA explored best practice in disability support to enable independent living.