Supported conversation

It was a pleasure to work with Thrive by Design. I was approached by the MD, Roz Davies, to guide a conversation about disability equality.  I’ve worked for 3 decades in this area, so I was delighted to take the team through their paces. 

Supported conversation is a mode of facilitation that requires a deep understanding of the subject. The onus is on the conversation leader to pick up and run with thoughts, ideas and questions as they arise. While there is a plan, the content emerges as a collaboration* – even if feedback can be somewhat minimal.

This blog charts the topics we covered. Roz asked me to give the team a number of questions to think about, these guided the final document, this is a summary of my side of our conversation. 

I started by setting the scene from a professional and academic perspective, by introducing a few facts. I explained that contrary to common assumption, the disabled population is large  [2 in10]. While some people identify as d/Disabled, as a group disabled people are often ignored by many. In terms of the Equality & Diversity characteristics, disability is often viewed as least important – last in line. Because disability is equated to illness, and often viewed as a personal problem, rather than understood as systemic discrimination or societal disadvantage – alongside sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, religious intolerance etc.  I spoke about acknowledging this weighty inequality – the ableism – a form of institutional and cultural rejection where disabled people are silenced.  

We soon got on to language, voicing a fear of saying the wrong thing or offending and upsetting people.  Years of familiarity has led me to think that the language we use to describe ‘disability’, not as the position disabled people face, but as illness or difference, encourages a belief that it is a tricky, difficult, embarrassing and fearful topic for many. We all may need to help build a more nuanced way of speaking. Strengthening our confidence in articulating the barriers, discrimination, disadvantage and inequality weighing on disabled individuals. 

Without more definition there is no way of identifying the characteristic oppression imposed on disabled people – ableism. If we don’t speak about this layered toxicity, it will not exist in our thinking. It will not be something we give time to – or that we acknowledge as important. I work to two definitions based on what I’ve read:

Ableism: a specific type of oppression, akin to homophobia, racism, classism, ageism, and sexism, held in the culture and language that inform society’s debates.

Anti-ableist: a defined position against ableism, the characteristic oppression that disabled people face – as in feminist or anti-racist.  Theorising, for example, with an anti-ableist legitimacy involves explicit reference to disabled people as tellers in a storytelling that holds their interests at their heart.

When we equate ableism to sexism and racism, for example, as the discrimination, disadvantage and prejudice that disabled people face, we acknowledge a shared imperative to voice its existence. 

It is important to talk about individuals, groups and populations in different terms:

            Disabled people… individuals, named and unique

            Groups, communities and/or networks of disabled people 

            The disabled population… reference, evidence, numbers, inferred understanding. 

We spoke about the different ways of speaking about personal preference, group identify/affiliation, and globe-local impact and debate. It is about thinking in context of each conversation, in order to express a different narrative between a personal story [predicament / impairment/ condition/difference] and the public storytelling  [prejudice, discrimination, and disadvantage]. I spoke about the link between bias, prejudice, discrimination and inequality.  In a cycle where stereotypes lead action that is oppressive and therefore needs interrupting. 

We spoke about the search for authority on the subject of disability – the voice of disabled people, The Disabled people’s movement, and D/deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations. The difference between personal experience, group knowledge / discipline / activism, and professional know-how and skill. In order to ensure our organisational storytelling aptly articulated the interests of the disabled population more widely

We spoke about planning, the distinction between aims and goals (the operational), short term action and reflection cycles, and vision (the strategic intent). We spoke about the importance of resilience in the short term, the alignment with vision to avoid message drift. And the importance of voicing what we have no control over: government policy, toothless legitimacy, consumerism and capitalism.

Thank you Thrive by Design!!!!!!!!!

Please find document here:

* collaboration is not coproduction,  because the guide frames the outcomes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *