Building a Network.

A laptop showing a blank screen, notepads, and coffee mug.

Over the summer of 2021, as some semblance of normality began to return as concern for the pandemic waned, a good friend of mine came to me with an idea. It had been a few years since the cessation of the previous group of disabled members of staff at the university where I work, which unfortunately never had time to be granted the status of a formal network, leading to its closure when the leader moved on. With many people becoming disabled as a direct result of the pandemic, the need for a uniting group for disabled members of staff was higher than ever. So, with the support of my friends and some university staff, I set about creating a new formalised network for disabled staff and post-graduates. It took several months of garnering interest and support, but eventually the Disability, Accessibility and Mental Health Staff Network (DAMH) was established.

Now, almost a year after the network was formally established, I find myself looking back on the first year of my biggest ever disability activism project.

First and foremost, if it wasn’t already clear, DAMH did not come about as a result of my efforts alone; I had help. The leaders of other staff networks, and the unit that coordinates equality and inclusion efforts at the university were instrumental in getting us set up. News of our group was circulated across the thousands of members of staff, and people began to take interest.

In early November 2021 we held our first ever members meeting, and shortly after I was joined by a co-chair who has continued to work with me to this day. We set up an email account and social media profiles as our membership continued to rise.

In January 2022 we created our Terms of Reference, a document that laid out how the network would run and what it hoped to achieve, with our largest task being to help reform the way reasonable adjustments for disabled employees were implemented at the university, a task which is very much still ongoing. This was only the beginning of our work.

Over the summer, when things tend to be a little quieter in the absence of students, we were able to meet with several departments to discuss some ongoing issues that impacted bathroom access and the implementation of assistive technology as reasonable adjustments, negotiating and arriving at solutions that addressed the concerns of both our disabled members and the departments involved.

Our efforts were helped when another co-chair joined us by way of election in July, bringing us both new ideas and more time and resources to get the job done.

Now, as we approach a year since first being established, and with almost 100 members, I cannot help but feel pride as I look back on what we have built. There have been ups and downs, frustration and exhilaration, but even just surviving our first year shows that this network has the potential to last. Our impact has been small so far but is growing, and there is still more we want to achieve. I am grateful for everyone who has helped us get to where we are today and look forward to what the future of our network holds.

Through this network I have been given the opportunity to shape the experiences of disabled people at a world-class university, and that is something I will never take for granted.

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