An Interview with Tom from Camden Disability Action

Unannounced changes to the spaces we move in can be disorientating for Disabled people, particularly when their voices aren’t part of the decision-making process. This past year, we’ve been working with the team at Camden Disability Action to develop and train a community reporter network of Disabled people in the borough.

The project set out to increase the capacity, confidence, and conviction of this group, training them in principles of journalism – including interviewing – and supporting them to use their mobile phones to document their own stories. 

Together with Camden, we converted all of our citizen journalism training material into an Easy Read format and worked on creating an accessible website that would be the home for their stories. Having this space is important. It provides a platform for their authentic reports and highlights the challenges and barriers faced by Disabled people as well as the solutions they want to see.

As a tool to start conversations with service providers, celebrate success and push for positive change, the reports are a response to Covid-19 and the changing streetscapes in Camden. As the project grows, this focus will diversify to meet the interests of the network. 

Our work with the Camden team has been an incredible learning curve for Radar, and as we celebrate this network and new website, we invited Tom – the project lead at Camden – to reflect on how he found the collaboration and why this work is so important now.

What is your background and how did you come to join Camden Disability Action?

I have worked in the non-profit sector now for 17 years, focusing primarily on supporting Disabled people and Vietnamese refugees. In that time, I have worked as a fundraiser, a case-work advocate, a project manager, and a community engagement worker. What has driven me forwards in each of these roles has been my strong belief in fairness.

For more than 20 years now I have also written freelance journalism stories on a part-time basis and I count journalism and story-telling among my passions. Another key passion is Vietnam, where I lived and worked for seven years before returning to England and embarking on my charity career. I class myself as Disabled on account of society’s failure to make adaptions for my chronic pain condition and, especially, my life-long obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How have you found working on this project with On Our Radar?

Working with On Our Radar has been a mind-blowingly positive experience for me. Their excellent team has worked in a very democratic and sensitive way with me and Disabled trainees to get our community journalism project off the ground here at Camden Disability Action.

On Our Radar has really walked the walk in terms of passing on skills, knowledge, and confidence to all of us but especially to me as the project lead. They have been pleasant to talk to and work with and have made me feel comfortable about checking information and asking questions. I know that our CEO, Colin Brummage, has also been bowled over by On Our Radar and particularly impressed with the hand-over of skills and knowledge.

Why is this work so important now?

The work is important now because Disabled people still do not have a strong voice in society and are not involved in the key decisions that affect them. Local authorities and other organisations all too often feel they can cover off their duty to include Disabled people in their planning and policies by carrying out largely meaningless consultations that require no real sharing of power.

At Camden Disability Action we are determined to change this culture by setting up partnership (also called co-production) work with decision-makers, like the local council. This community journalism work fits into and supports this mission by enabling us to gather Disabled people’s views in a way that is raw, direct, and untarnished by the influence of professionals. With these reports, Disabled people in Camden can shoot from the hip and tell people exactly what they think in their own words. Camden Disability Action will use these stories to push for greater equality in decision-making.

Orange, blue and pink icons each representing capacity, confidence and conviction.

Showcasing the experiences – both good and bad – of Disabled people in the borough, The Camden Disabled People’s Voices project is an important step in reporting on the issues that matter to this network. We’re so proud to have been part of this process and want to say a massive thank you to everyone at Camden Disability Action and, particularly, Tom for both this interview and all his work with us.