How I'm raising disability awareness in my units
2 to 7 May is Deaf Awareness Week
We caught up with Tash, deaf unit leader and assistant division commissioner, on how she’s raising awareness of disability in her units and putting disability inclusion at the heart of everything she does.
Please introduce yourself and what you do within Girlguiding.
My name’s Tash. I’m a doctor in London and a unit leader of two fabulous Rainbow and Guide units. I’m also assistant division commissioner, and I’m really interested in events and disability inclusion. I love running adventurous events with my amazing girls and creating inclusive opportunities for all!
How do you raise disability awareness in your unit?
I’m deaf and I’m very open about it with my girls - I identify as disabled and want them to see a positive disabled role model! We regularly learn about deaf awareness to not only benefit myself and other deaf members in my units, but all other deaf people that our girls will meet throughout their lives.
We have proactive disability-inclusive recruitment in our units, and strong relationships with local specialist schools. This means that disability inclusion policy is at the heart of recruitment, and our units are very diverse as a result.
With Rainbows, we do lots of activities about celebrating and understanding each other’s differences. We make sure all activities are disability-inclusive, to promote play and relationship-building between the girls.
With Guides, our specific disability inclusion activities are targeted around different groups such as deaf people or those with invisible disabilities. We always use resources created by those with lived experience. These particularly focus on how our non-disabled girls can be allies.
We also have a principle that if an activity doesn’t work for one of us, it doesn’t work for any of us. We involve our girls in understanding this, and they often think about it before going on trips. For example, knowing if we go swimming and I’m not wearing my hearing aids, that they should make sure they talk to me clearly in a space where I can lipread them.
Involving leaders is very important too, to promote a disability-inclusive unit. I am lucky to co-lead my units with an amazing leader Amy. She’s a teacher who’s previously had deaf awareness trainings and has a strong understanding of the deaf community. We share resources and learnings with our teams - a great place to start is the Girlguiding disability and inclusion e-learning.
How do you break down barriers and challenge stigma with your unit?
Our units have an open and honest atmosphere, and we always reiterate that our spaces are safe and a place to ask questions. Girls know they can ask frank questions, always take the opportunity to challenge any stereotypes these may reveal and share with the group so we can all learn together. We also have lots of opportunities for smaller group questions and an anonymous question box too.
I personally feel very comfortable and happy talking to the girls about my deafness. I teach them about the history of deaf culture, use resources made by deaf people and show them how being deaf is a positive aspect of my own identity. I love to hear girls engaging with deaf young people at their school and coming back and telling stories about how they supported their communication or advocated with them. I’ve even been invited back by some of our Brownies to deliver deaf awareness teaching in their school assembly so more of their friends understand.
How can other volunteers and young members support deaf people within their own units?
Remember that all deaf people are different: have different views of deafness and relationships to its culture, use different communication strategies and assistive technologies. Ask the person what they need and don’t make assumptions.
There are lots of different terms used around deafness and all mean different things. Take the time to understand the language around deafness as written by a deaf person and learn the language the person themselves prefer.
When running a session about deaf awareness, use resources created by deaf people themselves and amplify their voices. There are many resources made by hearing people but often they miss out on the understanding of deaf culture and community.
If you’re a commissioner visiting units, make sure that disability inclusion is part of what you’re looking for and supporting them with. Make sure your leaders understand how to use adjustment plans – you could try using them as a basis for a short training in a local meeting. Locally, we offer division level grants for disability inclusion which may be possible in some areas. You can also promote all the amazing resources Girlguiding has to offer, such as e-learnings and the national accessibility grant.
If you’re not sure, just ask. Girlguiding’s national inclusion team are here to help!