WECIL Disability Support Service: An interview with Alex Johnston

Published: Aug 9th, 2016

WECIL charity logo West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL) are a support service for those with disabilities in the local area. The charity aims to improve the lives of disabled people, including those in the deaf community. Here, we interviewed Alex Johnston from WECIL to find out more about the organisation and the difference they make to disabled lives.

Hi Alex, what understanding does WECIL have of the challenges the deaf community faces in everyday life?

As for all disabled people, those who are deaf and hard of hearing face lots of everyday challenges. From environmental and physical barriers, to organisational difficulties, and the attitudes of others.

The most difficult of these is the attitude of others. Many people don’t understand the implications of hearing loss for independent living, so deaf and hard of hearing people often face discrimination, from hearing people and organisations, due to ignorance.

What themes do you notice when working with deaf people?

The main themes we notice are:

  • There’s little understanding of the principles of clear communication, and a reluctancy to change or adapt e.g. making meetings accessible.
  • There’s a lack of understanding and support around early deafness affecting English literacy skills.
  • There is a widespread reluctancy to learn and use British Sign Language.
  • Deaf and hard of hearing people, and BSL users, face discrimination in the workplace, particularly around promotion and career opportunities.

How does WECIL help deaf people overcome these difficulties? What support do you provide?

WECIL provides Advocacy, Information, Youth Groups, Social Groups, Employment Support and Direct Payment Services.  We are committed to making all of our services for disabled people inclusive for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Is WECIL’s helpline accessible to the deaf and HoH? How do you recommend people with deafness get in touch?

Deaf and hard of hearing people can contact our helplines (Disability Helpline and the Employment Advice Service) through Skype or email, or in person if they live locally. One of our Work Club Assistants is deaf and a native BSL user. We also have a member of staff who uses BSL.  All of our staff understand the importance of clear communication and have received deaf equality training, as well as basic BSL.

Can you explain the Social Model of Disability and how it influences the work WECIL does?

A volunteer giving employment support to a deaf personPeople often think about disability as “What’s wrong with you and how can we fix it?” or “If you can’t be fixed, then you can’t take part in activities until a solution is found to your ‘problem”. This is called the Medical Model of Disability.

Disabled people’s organisations think about disability in a different way.

We see a disabled person as someone with an impairment or long-term health condition that affects how they carry out tasks in daily life.

We believe disabled people have the right to take part fully in activities along with everyone else. Sadly, the way society is organised means things can often prevent them from doing so (what we call barriers). We think society can be designed better so that it does not dis-able people. This is called the Social Model of Disability.

This Social Model underpins everything we do at WECIL. We want to create an inclusive society where everyone’s access requirements are met, including those of deaf and hard of hearing people.

What employment support does WECIL offer people with hearing difficulties?

Our Work Club offers employment support and advice to disabled people. It’s fully accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. We have a range of assistive technology, as well as staff and volunteers who can provide 1-2-1 support and BSL. 

We have a peer-support ethos, which means we aim to create an atmosphere where Work Club users support each other and solve problems together.

We also run a national employment advice service to support disabled people into employment, as well as job retention and career progression. Our staff can also support Access to Work claims and provide customised training for employers.

To find out more about the support services WECIL offer, visit their website. For their disability helpline email disabledpeopleshelpline@wecil.co.uk or call 0117 947 9922. For employment support email employability@wecil.co.uk or phone 0117 947 9911.

One Response to “WECIL Disability Support Service: An interview with Alex Johnston”

  1. mark says:

    I’m a bsl level 2 qualified male with back injury looking for part time sign language jobs I live in Yate area.yours faithfully mark

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