March 25th, 2010
The equipment, support materials, internal communications and other resources which your staff and service users need should be:
- Easily readable. Printed materials should be large type and have good contrast. Braille or audiotape translations may be needed (many libraries and colleges offer a Braille translation service);
- Easily seen and reached. Don’t keep important files on high shelves, never place notices seven feet up a wall or store stationery in the cellar;
- Easily used. Obviously it may not be possible to have all your studio equipment redesigned and rebuilt to allow perfect access, but be prepared to make whatever efforts you can or whatever changes become necessary due to the needs of a disabled volunteer. Some changes – such as adjustable computer desks for wheelchair users – are relatively straightforward but make a huge difference to your usability.
Adapting to individual needs
The money and effort which can be spent on improving access and usability is endless. However much you might want to, you will not be able to do everything. There are some issues, such as wheelchair access, which are almost certain to arise sooner or later and should be considered as absolutely fundamental to your function as a community radio station. Others – for example translating learning materials into Braille or onto audiotape – may arise but you will probably want to wait until they do so before investing in them, otherwise you may find they are out of date and need changing before you have used them. Often the changes needed might be less predictable. We know of a community group who once needed to black out windows to allow access to a user with the light-sensitive skin condition porphyria, which is not something you can reasonably plan for. What is crucial is that you are prepared to make whatever changes are necessary to make your station accessible to anyone.
Communication and personal support
There is no point in having the most accessible facilities if the human touch is not there. Treating people with respect, understanding and compassion is an essential component of your access policies. The way station staff and volunteers talk and relate to each other, regardless of their health or impairment, will go a long way to establishing how welcoming and attractive your station will be for people with disabilities. There are no hard and fast rules as to the language you use – tone of voice is often a bigger factor than the words used – but here are some guiding principles:
- People are described by their disabilities, not defined by them. So it is more respectful to talk about ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘disabled people’ than it is to talk about ‘the disabled.’ And you don’t provide access to wheelchairs and guide dogs, you provide access to wheelchair users and blind people.
- Avoid pity or excessive admiration. The phrase ‘aren’t you brave?’ won’t go down too well.
- Don’t go to extremes. Many disabled people find nothing more annoying than being told they’re ‘just differently abled’ or talking to someone who delicately skips around the issue or refuses to acknowledge that they have disabilities at all. Impairments are a fact of life and should be treated as such.
- Clarify the preferred means of communication. If someone has problems with hearing or speech, find out if they’d prefer to use a notepad or a sign interpreter, for example.
- Avoid disempowering terms. Words such as ‘cripple’, ‘handicapped,’ and ‘spastic’ have hopefully been consigned to history, but at a more subtle level, phrases like ‘confined to a wheelchair’ should be avoided.
- Don’t avoid talking altogether. It is better to risk saying the wrong thing than to say nothing at all.
If people have mobility impairments:
- Sit down before talking to a wheelchair user so you are at eye level;
- Never touch a wheelchair without asking the user first;
- Never tidy or move crutches, frames or sticks.
If people have visual impairments:
- Introduce yourself when you speak;
- Say when you are ending a conversation or leaving a room;
- Be prepared to offer a guiding arm (not hand) when walking;
- Never interact with a guide dog without asking the owner first.
If people have hearing or speech impairments:
- Find quiet places to talk;
- Look the person straight in the face and talk clearly;
- If a sign interpreter is involved, talk to the person not the signer.
In most cases a disabled volunteer will want to do as much as possible himself, but there will be times when this is simply not practical and a helping or guiding hand is required. In some cases the volunteer will have their own support worker (either a personal assistant or a professional case-worker such as a community nurse) in which case there should be no problem. However, it may be necessary for the station to provide such personal assistance whenever the volunteer is at the station. It is the role of this support worker to provide as much or as little input as is needed or wanted to allow the volunteer to achieve as much as he wants to. Let’s take the example of a blind volunteer hosting a show. He may want to plan the programme, invite guests, and speak on air – a worthwhile challenge in itself. A support worker or team would be needed to prepare the show, change records, drive the desk etc. Or he may want to learn how to operate the desk by touch, use a voice activated computer to create his own jingles and pre-records, and have total autonomy over the creation and delivery of the show. Be prepared to go as far as you need to if you are going to help your volunteers meet their ambitions and fulfil their potential.
Fair employment practices
As we noted earlier if you employ people you are bound by the DDA and must not discriminate against employees or potential employees on the grounds of disability. And as we said above, this should be considered the absolute bare minimum requirement of a community radio station. Your station should:
- Consider disability in every aspect of employment. Your equal opportunities policy should commit you to fair practice in recruitment, retention, training, appraisals, grievance procedures and career development.
- Offer disability awareness training to staff (see below).
- Involve staff with disabilities in all staff activities, professional or social.
- Be aware of schemes and programmes providing funding and assistance for workers with disabilities such as the Government’s ‘Access to Work’ scheme.
- Bear in mind that employees may develop disabilities after they begin working for you. Stations may have to adapt their practices or facilities when needed.
- Have Health and Safety procedures that take account of staff with disabilities.
- Remember that addressing the access and usability issues mentioned above should also ease the day-to-day workload of staff members in supporting people with disabilities.
External support and advice
Disability awareness training
There are many agencies, voluntary groups and other organisations who will offer disability awareness training, either on general issues or on specific disabilities. These are often free or offered at discount rates to not-for-profit organisations. Your local voluntary services umbrella group should be able to put you in touch. Ideally all members of staff and senior volunteers should be offered (and in some cases instructed to take) such courses, but as a bare minimum there should be at least one person at each level of management who is fully trained and aware of all the issues.
Since the ‘reasonable adjustments’ section of the DDA came into effect there has been a rapid expansion of commercial firms offering access audits to businesses. These identify shortfalls and problems with your access policies and offer advice for improvements, which can be extremely useful, but also rather costly. As with disability awareness training, if you look around you may find agencies and organisations that can provide a similar service at minimal or no cost. Either way it can be useful to get an external assessment of your facilities and policies since this may spot potential problems and solutions that you have missed.
Other local groups and partner organisations Within your community there will be disability charities, rights and awareness campaigns, support groups and other organisations that should already be involved to some extent at your station. These groups can offer you valuable feedback on the services you offer, ways in which you could help local people with disabilities, and other help and advice. Make sure groups with involvement in disability issues are at the heart of your station and then use them as a resource once they are.
There are usually grants available for statutory adjustments and improvements to your levels of access from the local government, national government and charitable sectors. There is also a lot of funding available for projects involving people with disabilities, some of which may include money for equipment and resources. If your access is not as good as it might be, make extra efforts to seek out such funding.
“I think of my show as being about real people, giving a voice to people who haven’t got one – sometimes quite literally. I’ve done shows with people using Liberator machines – the kind of thing Stephen Hawking uses – giving them the chance to make their opinions heard on the radio, which they would never get otherwise. I’ve done shows with sign translators. You have to explain what’s going on because it’s a bit like ventriloquism on the radio, you get these long pauses, but that’s OK. It was really inspiring stuff.” Vicky Richardson, presenter ‘Access All Areas’, ALL FM, Manchester
A community radio station has two responsibilities towards people with disabilities in your community:
- To involve them in making programmes
- To make programmes which serve their interests The two should not be considered interchangeable.
Don’t assume that because someone uses a wheelchair or has a visual impairment they will only be interested in making programmes about disability. They may well want to play hip hop or act in a drama. Equally someone who has no impairments may wish to be involved in making a disabilities action show – although it is always advisable to have at least partial input from people with disabilities into such shows.
The extent of your programming which is targeted at members of your community with disabilities is obviously up to you. We would suggest that one show per week is the bare minimum. At the opposite extreme is Glasgow’s VIP On Air, an on-line station which has won a five year licence. This is made by and for people who are blind or partially-sighted, and all programming is aimed specifically at them (see Voxbox 11.02). Most community radio stations find a balance between those poles. The content of your disability community shows might include:
- Welfare and services advice and news
- Listings and previews of special events and social occasions
- Feature programming about particular disabilities, campaigns, current affairs etc.
- Real stories from real people (see Box **)
- Issues surrounding caring and disabilities in the family
- Humour and comedy created by people with disabilities
- Involvement of special guests and celebrities with relevant experiences
- Talking newspapers and books for the visually impaired
Above all, your programming should be led by disabled people themselves. They know better than you what their needs and wishes are and where you can best help.
“Our station has had a huge impact in ways that we maybe didn’t think about in the beginning. Just simple things like blind people being able to access the daily newspapers at more or less the same time as everyone else means a huge amount to our listeners. Blind and visually impaired people have real problems finding employment – across the UK about 80% of adults of working age are unemployed. In a relatively short period of time we have helped 15 different people move on from the station into full-time employment or training which for us is a phenomenal achievement. We have broadcast from the Vision 2005 conference, which is the world’s leading conference on blind issues. We brought that conference directly to our listeners who could never have accessed that any other way. We even had a reporter accredited at the Gleneagles G8 Conference this year. Gill was the only blind reporter in the whole of the world’s press pack.” Kerryn Krige, Station Manager, VIP On Air
Further reading and links