Improving the lives of disabled people for over 25 years

Story Shared 08.07.2021

The Disability Resource Centre (DRC) is a charity run by disabled people, for disabled people. Working across the West Midlands and South Staffordshire, they offer a variety of services to help improve the lives of disabled people; including those with physical disability, learning disability, sensory impairment, long-term health conditions and mental ill-health. Since inception in 1992, they have empowered over 80,000 disabled people, their carers and families.

What difference has the pandemic made to the communities you serve?

The communities we support have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and many of the already present disadvantages and inequalities disabled people face were exacerbated by the pandemic.

For example, as most services moved online, it clearly highlighted what we already knew that disabled people were much more likely to be digitally excluded and less likely to have access to an internet enabled device. The pandemic has also increased loneliness and isolation for the disabled people we support with many of the services they relied on (including our own) having been closed for face to face delivery.

We also saw an increase in disabled people requesting our support who previously were coping and managing but the pandemic caused their situation to deteriorate to a point where they needed support.

We also found that particularly during the first lockdown, many family members and friends became carers overnight as day services and home support was stopped putting a lot of stress and strain on family units. This seemed particularly acute in families where a member had a learning disability and they relied on routines and face to face interactions to understand information.

What impact did you see on your services as a result?

Initially our service closed however our staff team were very quick to adapt their delivery models to move services online and over the phone so we could continue to support disabled people in our local community.

We did find that, particularly for advice and guidance services, a greater amount of time was needed for each case as we could not deliver face to face services which together with increased demand put a strain on our services.

As mentioned above, the pandemic highlighted digital exclusion in the disabled community which made reaching some people a challenge although on the converse of this, where disabled people did have digital skills, we found greater engagement as they did not have to travel to our centre to receive support or attend events. In the first lockdown, with agreement from our funders, we had to re-purpose our employment and training services to provide more general support as there were very few suitable employment or volunteering opportunities available. 

What has the NET funding enabled you to do for those people you help?

The NET funding has helped us to increase capacity within our advice services.

These services have been vital during the pandemic when things were so uncertain for people and where many people were turning to the benefit system for support. As mentioned above, due to not being able to provide face to face services, advice and guidance cases were taking longer to complete so the increased capacity really helped us support everyone who needed our help.

What challenges/opportunities do you see ahead?

We see a number of short and longer term challenges that the pandemic might cause. In the short term, we know that some of the disabled people we support are scared to start living their lives as they did before the pandemic due to fear of catching it and becoming ill and potentially dying. We are also seeing people whose friendships and support networks have been broken by lockdowns and social restrictions and we will need to support them to rebuild these and re-build their confidence.

In the longer term we are concerned that disability might lose it priority with groups such as employers while they concentrate on re-building their businesses and that disabled people will further be excluded from the employment market.

We are also concerned that Government borrowing over the pandemic will lead to reductions in funding in the future and this will impact disabled people more than other groups as with previous funding reductions.

In terms of opportunities, we are positive that the pandemic has led to a greater sense of community and community spirit on the whole and we hope we can capitalise on this to recruit more volunteers to support our work. We have also experienced that our funders seem to have a greater level of trust in the work that we do and we have stronger relationships with them than we did prior to COVID-19.

The future of DPO’s - Why DPOs are important and why we need to invest in them and protect them in the future?

DPOs are important as they not only provide essential and vital services for disabled people but they also advocate and provide a voice for disabled people.

Whilst disability organisations can do this, they often lack the credibility and lived experience that DPOs bring.

DPOs also work to the social model of disability and promote and champion this in the work that we do and we need to keep doing this if we are to drive the changes that need to happen in society in bring about genuine equality for disabled people.

Read more about the Birmingham Disability Resource Centre