Sometimes disability is visible, and other times less so. But whether you can see it or not, disability is a subject that should be more broadly spoken about. In fact, there are over 14 million people in the UK living with a disability, myself included. So why do we feel the need to shy away from something that’s a part of so many people’s lives?
Why we need to talk about disability
We live in a world that systemically leaves disabled people behind. I was born with cerebral palsy and for a large chunk of my life, I’ve felt pressured to dismiss my disability and try my best to appear ‘normal’. On many occasions, I’ve felt obliged to keep quiet about needing support and often belittled myself in order to fit in.
Coupled with poor accessibility on the high street, increased living costs and the overall lack of opportunities for disabled people, there’s a wealth of evidence to prove we need to talk about disability. And that includes inequality at all levels: at school, in the media and at work.
I continued to experience further barriers after having my son – both physically and in relation to people’s attitude towards me – so I decided it was time for positive change. When I returned to work, I set about creating a colleague network for disabled people and their allies, which would help others by offering support and guidance. And so, Represent was born.
What is Represent?
Like everything at Co-op, community is at the heart of what we do. Represent is a people-first network designed to celebrate differences and offer support to those who need it. We know that living with a disability can sometimes be a difficult and isolating experience, and we’re here to connect colleagues and talk about the things that are important to us.
As well as bringing people together, our goal is to influence policy and processes by encouraging conversation around disability. It’s important that we incorporate real-life experiences into our decision-making, to help drive inclusion and build a culture of acceptance among colleagues.
Finally, the fact that Represent has grown from an idea to a fully functioning support network in just a year is astounding to me, and proves its importance within the workplace.
What’s next for Represent?
It’s been fantastic to receive so much support for Represent across all areas of Co-op. For that reason, I feel positive and excited about our future. While we continue to grow our community, we also encourage people to look at the beliefs they hold about disabled people and to better understand their privilege.
As a network, we attend huddles, celebrate awareness days, host events and chair discussions across Co-op. We also invite new opportunities to strengthen the relationship between disabled and non-disabled people, as well as our allies.
Diversity and inclusion should be integral to any organisation, and I’m incredibly proud to chair a network that provides a voice to a largely marginalised community. Together, we can make positive change.
Find out more about how Co-op is working to create an inclusive work environment for our diverse community of colleagues.