The Disability Expo, launched in 2023, stands as a global event uniting stakeholders in the disability world, fostering collaboration, awareness, and change. In this interview, Alan Wallace and Jade Godier, Co-Directors and Founders of the Disability Expo, share their extensive backgrounds and experiences within the healthcare and disability communities. Their unique perspectives converge to drive the initiative behind the Disability Expo.
Inspired by their own challenges and a shared commitment to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities, Jade and Alan discuss the mission and vision behind the Disability Expo. They emphasize the importance of early intervention, access to suitable products and services, and challenging societal stigmas surrounding disability.
The Disability Expo aims to provide a platform for diverse voices, focusing on capabilities, equality, and fostering a more inclusive world. Through collaboration with like-minded stakeholders, the Disability Expo seeks to address pressing issues faced by the disability community, promoting understanding, consultation, and consideration.
Can you please introduce yourselves and share a bit about your background and experiences in the disability community?
Jade Godier: I have worked in the healthcare sector for 15 years. I started my journey at a manufacturing company that offered products to support independent living and postural management. My passion for this industry blossomed as I started advising health professionals and the community on what services were available. I started to attend events, which then led to home visits alongside Occupational therapists and physios.
I would quite often come up with new approaches and solutions as I would approach the need from the client’s perspective, Environmental factors, as well as the financial and clinical objectives that needed to be met. This opened the door of consultancy, where I would advise both public and health professionals about suitable solutions and did this on an individual approach as not one size fits all. I then met my partner (Co-Director) Alan and decided to set up an online consultancy service for disability-related services and equipment. This then led to product showcases, and here we are today.
Alan Wallace: I have been working within and part of the disability community for the past ten years. By trade, I’m a software engineer and created a search engine called “Made2aid” to help those with disabilities and healthcare professionals find suitable equipment via a product search. Jade and I used to do product assessments with healthcare professionals nationwide, so we have seen first-hand the impact of care and services across the UK and the challenges we all face. I’ve been neurodiverse all my life with OCD or since I can remember, which has caused me many challenges and shaped the person I am today.
About three years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition called Relapsing Polychondritis. My mother has been registered disabled for many years, and I’ve seen the different challenges she experienced when growing up. I believe this has shaped my nature to help others. Lastly, without Jade, none of this would be possible, as she has had a massive impact on my life and brought me closer to the community.
What inspired you to start the Disability Expo? Was there a specific moment or personal experience that catalysed this initiative?
Alan Wallace: Our journey and the challenges we faced, both personally and through our work in product assessments, have led to an understanding of the importance of early intervention, access to suitable products and services, and the impact they can have on the lives of individuals with disabilities.
With our own health conditions, and both being neurodiverse, we have both lived and experienced disability.
The birth of the Disability Expo was driven by our own experiences and a desire to provide direction and resources to those in need. We are strongly committed to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities by connecting them with the information, services, and products that can make a meaningful difference.
Could you tell us more about your own lived experiences with disability? How has this shaped your perspective and approach to creating this event?
Jade Godier: My life experience started on a professional front with a background in postural management and assistive technologies. From travelling the country, I would quite often have burnout periods where I would experience a lot of joint and back pain, fatigue, and migraines. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2015, and then in 2020, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I am also on the Autistic pathway for a diagnosis, which led me to re-review some of my physical symptoms when discussing these with friends within the disability community.
I took their advice to see a rheumatologist and have also been diagnosed with HEDS at the beginning of this year. This goes to show the importance of sharing our lived experiences as it can give a better understanding of our own conditions and there is no better advice and understanding with those that you can relate to.
In your opinion, what are some of the most pressing challenges facing the disability community in the UK?
Jade Godier: There are many complex issues that are affecting the disability community, each very personal. The reason for this is that disability is about life; we face many ups and downs in life without being disabled. Being disabled makes it tougher, and that I feel is the ultimate issue: how can you make someone understand those issues without them personally experiencing them? We are not looking for people to feel sorry for us, but to treat us equally and look at every situation and have someone who is disabled in mind when making a decision.
Generally, we need to think more about other people’s experiences. That’s the start. To be consulted and to be considered – then many challenges would start taking care of themselves.
What is the overarching mission and vision behind Disability Expo? How do you envision it making a positive impact on the disability world in the UK and beyond?
Alan Wallace: The overall mission of the Disability Expo is to provide options to allow those to make their own decision and live independently. No one in the world likes to be told how to live their lives. Yet, being disabled has this stigma of being broken; you are unable to make decisions on your own.
When I do a presentation, I use this paraphrase: “Because one part of me isn’t working as biologically expected doesn’t mean the rest of me isn’t.” Now, yes, there are groups of people who are disabled that can’t make decisions, and others make it for them for safeguarding, but that doesn’t mean everyone who is disabled has that same issue.
Collaboration is a key theme for the Disability Expo. How do you plan to bring together various stakeholders in the disability community, and what outcomes are you hoping to achieve through this collaborative effort?
Jade Godier: The message of accessibility and inclusion is stronger in numbers. We want to collaborate with those with aligned values and missions. Integration in the approach to deliver the best outcomes and finding more efficient solutions is key. Therefore, bringing the community together with local authorities and suppliers and incorporating them delivers a greater opportunity for us to share experiences, network, and create successful campaigns and positive projects.
The disability community is a diverse group with different deliverables and campaigns. However, as with any minority group, a main objective is inclusion and for inclusion accessibility needs to improve. That may look different to the deaf or blind community, neurodiverse, or those with a physical disability. Many feel they are disabled by society, by highlighting these societal issues and addressing them as well as showing the value in our community to stakeholders is what we want to achieve at Disability Expo and within our campaigns in the lead-up and beyond.
Could you share some of the highlights or key features of the Disability Expo that attendees can look forward to? How do you envision these elements benefiting both individuals with disabilities and the wider community?
Alan Wallace: The Disability Expo is designed to provide valuable information, resources, and opportunities for individuals with disabilities, their families, caregivers, service and product providers, and professionals in the field. While the specific offerings can vary, here are some common highlights and key features that attendees can look forward to at the Disability Expo:
Exhibition Booths: The Disability Expo will display numerous exhibition booths from various organisations, companies, and service providers. Attendees can explore and interact with these booths to learn about the latest products, technologies, and services designed to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
Adaptive Technology Demonstrations: Showcase the latest assistive technologies and adaptive devices. Attendees can see and try out these technologies, which can include mobility aids, communication devices, sensory support tools, and more.
Educational Workshops and Seminars: Offer a schedule of workshops and seminars led by experts in the field. These sessions cover a wide range of topics, such as disability rights, accessibility, healthcare, and independent living. Attendees can gain valuable knowledge and insights.
Accessibility and Inclusion Initiatives: Expos often highlight best practices in accessibility and inclusion. This may include demonstrations of accessible design, information about accessible transportation, and discussions about inclusive education and employment practices.
Community Resources: Attendees can connect with local and national disability organisations, support groups, and advocacy networks. This provides an opportunity to access resources and build a community of support.
Career and Employment Opportunities: The disability expo will focus on career and job opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Listen to those with lived experience of disability in the workplace.
Art, Entertainment, and Performances: The Disability Expo WILL showcase the artistic talents and creative expressions of people with disabilities. Attendees can enjoy art exhibitions, music performances, and other forms of entertainment.
Networking Opportunities: A chance to network with other attendees, professionals, and advocates in the disability community. It’s an opportunity to share experiences, learn from others, and build connections.
Government and Legal Resources: Provide information on disability-related laws, policies, and government programs. Attendees can get guidance on navigating the legal aspects of disability rights and benefits.
Youth and Family Programs: Special programs for children and families, including interactive activities and information geared toward younger attendees.
Inspiration and Empowerment: Disability expos often feature motivational speakers, personal stories of triumph over adversity, and messages of empowerment to inspire and uplift attendees.
Accessible Transportation: Showcase accessible transportation options and allow attendees to explore adaptive vehicles and mobility solutions.
Health and Wellness Initiatives: Information on maintaining physical and mental health and access to healthcare services may be provided.
Inclusivity is a fundamental aspect of the event. How are you ensuring that Disability Expo is accessible to individuals with various types of disabilities, and what accommodations have been put in place?
Jade Godier: We understand that accessibility is a variable term and many people have different requirements. To be fully accessible, all aspects and approaches need to be considered, whether physical accessibility such as level access, ramps or lifts, etc. Interpretation for communication needs, such as BSL, language translation, signposting and wayfinding, audio transcribing, sensory overload – the list goes on.
We have accessibility as a key factor in the design and feel of our event. Our community leads us, and there is no greater advice than from those with lived experience.
Our first event was a great learning opportunity, and we can only deliver more on top of this. We have obtained feedback and will be actioning these. We also understand that delegates like to plan confidently and delivering key information on accessibility and event content will help improve our visitors’ experience. We will also be working with our exhibitors, contractors and surrounding venues to deliver a greater experience to our delegates and to improve the overall accessibility of the event.
Looking ahead, how do you see Disability Expo evolving in the coming years? Are there any specific goals or milestones you hope to achieve in the future?
Alan Wallace: The evolution of the Disability Expo in the upcoming years will be influenced by various factors, such as advances in technology, changing social attitudes, and ongoing efforts to promote inclusion and accessibility. We have set a five-year mission for each Priority Action Area, and we hold ourselves accountable by our champions and social responsibility lead to ensure we stay true to our course. Every year of the show will reflect on the previous one, looking at the good and bad points and addressing them accordingly. The Disability Expo will focus on inclusive design and practices, ensuring that the events are accessible to all attendees, regardless of their disabilities. We will also incorporate digital technologies that are accessible and virtual components to showcase to everyone.
If we can make a positive contribution to societal change by 5% to 10% over the next five years, we will have achieved our ultimate goal.
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