Lived experience of impairment and its value

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A lot of my conversations, both personal and professional of late, have revolved around the importance and value of lived experience of impairment.  Growing up, I learned about the importance of being able to articulate the impact my impairment had.  If I couldn’t explain it, then I couldn’t help other to begin to understand what it was like to be me, and the kind of extra support I did (and, equally significantly, did not) need.

As I got older, I became aware that my impairment effectively gave me a ‘way of seeing’ that wasn’t familiar to lots of other people.  The things that were obvious to me because of living with my impairment and working around things just weren’t obvious to other people.  A good example of this was when I looked around universities.  I was often asked to go around with university staff to point out access issues that they could address to help ensure that the campus environment was accessible.

These days, I am lucky enough to sit on a couple of boards as a (voluntary) director and trustee.  A combination of my personal and professional experience means I am in the fortunate position to be able to add a different point of view, to constructively challenge and be a good critical friend to enhance the work of the organisations I am involved with.  This poses a really interesting dynamic to me, because one of my worries is that I should not be in roles like this for tick box or tokenistic reasons, but because of my blend of experiences and what I can bring.

I am aware though that there are lots of people out there who have a great deal to offer, for whom the nature of being on a board isn’t accessible.  I think much more work is needed to give people the knowledge, skills and tools in order to be able to make a difference using their own experiences.  The best things I am and have been a part of are those which are able to use a blend of knowledge and perspectives to give a thorough and holistic assessment of the decisions to be made at a boardroom level.

It is also really important to acknowledge the diversity of impairment and the impact that it has for people.  To take my own impairment of cerebral palsy as an example, there are different types of CP and the degree to which it can impact on the lives of people who have it can vary enormously.  This means that I always try to speak with care when talking about impairment, as I can only speak with authenticity about my own lived experience, and there will be many other different takes on things out there.

I really enjoy being able to use my own lived experience to help add value to the things I am involved with, and would encourage ways to make it possible for more people with a contribution to make to do the same.  Having a holistic and inclusive approach to decision making will improve the quality of decisions made and the way organisations function in society.


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About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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