Independent approach to vital support

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Living with a disability can often be tough, especially in the current climate of cuts.

As well as practical problems such as access, there is often the need for advice and aid on many matters, preferably from those who may have been in similar situations themselves.

For the last 10 years the lives of many people in this region have been made a bit easier by the help provided by Sheffield Centre For Independent Living, which has offered information and advocacy for those with a variety of physical, sensory, learning difficulties and mental health problems.

Now the organisation, a grass roots charity based at The Circle on Rockingham Lane in the city centre and both run and controlled by disabled people, has marked its move into a second decade of operations by relaunching itself under the new name of Disability Sheffield: The Centre For Independent Living.

However, the change of name does not mean a change of aim, rather it has been done to let more people find out about the organisation’s existence. As chief executive Anastasia Kelly explains: “Centres for Independent Living do not always connect with disabled people but the word ‘disability’ does,’’ adding that: “It became apparent that sticking with the unique brand that is a ‘Centre for Independent Living’ and attaching the keyword ‘disability’ to the name will make it clear that we are here to support disabled people in Sheffield.

“Retaining the geographic association with Sheffield and the city region was also important. We also took the opportunity to redesign our logos and colours and we have opted for blues and greens, introducing a creative design which will be easily recognisable.”

Although it is now generally accepted – in part due to the example set by centres for independent living which first started surfacing in the USA in the 1960s before the concept crossed the ocean in the 1980s – that disabled people should be free to live in the community like anyone else nowadays and not be institutionalised, there has been a worrying rise in ‘hate crime’ in which vulnerable people are being targeted for victimisation and violence. This is shown by the recent case in which three members of a Sheffield family were jailed for treating a man with learning disabilities as a ‘slave’ and another story reported in this paper this week in which a blind man has found his home targeted by thieves and vandals.

“Because of incidents like this, and the coalition Government’s cuts to services and benefits for disabled people, Anastasia feels that there is a need for unity among those with differing impairments and hopes that Disability Sheffield can provide this.

“It is not a good time for disabled people,’’ she says. “They are increasingly portrayed as benefits scroungers and that leads to ill feeling and general mistrust of all disabled people. We have disabled volunteers who have experienced aggressive behaviour towards them whilst travelling on public transport or in public areas.”

This call is echoed by centre user Neil Simpson, who says: “There is still a lot of prejudice against people on the grounds of disability, which wouldn’t be allowed nowadays if it was based on someone’s skin colour or sexuality.

“It’s not just individuals who do this, but those in authority and even large organisations .We are still a long way from equality and hopefully the more people hear about and use Disability Sheffield, the more we can try and stop this happening.”

The Disability Sheffield relaunch took place at St Mary’s Conference Centre on Bramall Lane with guests and speakers including broadcaster and journalist Mik Scarlet and Martin Austin, head of CredAbility, a Derby-based, quality assurance scheme, which was designed and developed by disabled people.

The partnership plans to work with businesses to ensure that they are not only legally compliant with disability related legislation but that they also have improved outcomes and relationships with their disabled customers and staff.

Looking back on the last decade Anastasia said: “We are very proud of the work we have undertaken over the last 10 years. I suppose our biggest achievements would be supporting the Right to Control. Sheffield and Barnsley secured trailblazer status where the Right to Control is being tested. The Right to Control is essentially a legal right for disabled people. It gives disabled people more choice and control over the support they need to go about their daily lives. She adds that this was helped by Sheffield City Council’s helpful attitude and working partnership with them but says that any other support would be gratefully received.

“Many disabled people are fearful and rightly so of what the future holds for them personally and we as an organisation are no different. Like many voluntary sector organisations we struggle from day to day to manage demand for our services and to stretch our resources to provide support to disabled people through our advocacy and information services. People of all ages who experience impairment and/or illness are at a disadvantage in a society and we will carry on supporting disabled people to have a voice.”

Disability Sheffield: The Centre For Independent Living is based at The Circle, 33 Rockingham Lane, Sheffield S1 4FW, 0114 2536750. It is open 10am-5pm on weekdays. You can find it on Twitter under @DisabilitySheff.