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Sheffield Voice: upholding the rights of disabled people

This case study forms part of the What Good Looks Like report on people with a learning disability and autistic people. This co-produced report was commissioned from the Building the Right Support Advisory Group, as part of the wider action plan developed by the Building the Right Support Delivery Board. It has been supported by Partners in Care and Health.

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Sheffield Voices helps people by:

  • making commissioners and managers listen and act to their concerns
  • bringing people together to support each other and find solutions to problems they may has encountered.
  • building on individual strengths and skills to deliver activities and projects.

Sheffield Voices is a self-advocacy group for adults with a learning disability and autistic people and works in Sheffield and the surrounding areas. Established in 1997, Sheffield Voices grew through the fact that people with a learning disability wanted to have an independent voice and their own steering group. By 1999 it had secured money from the city council. When this funding ended in 2010, they decided to not tender for more funding but to go under the umbrella of Disability Sheffield.

Sheffield Voices campaigns for the rights of disabled people, educating and training individuals and services, it ensures that the voices of people with a learning disability and autistic people or both are heard in local, regional, and national policy making.

By bringing people together to discuss common issues it helps others to develop strategies to make good changes happen. It also works with other self-advocacy groups, such as Sunderland’s People First and Rotherham Speak-Up, by sharing knowledge and experience.

Sheffield Voices members also represent Sheffield on national and regional bodies such as the British Institute for Learning Disabilities and Yorkshire and Humber regional forum and groups are open to all adults with a learning disability and autistic people.

It is led by people with a learn disability and autistic people, groups are developed, and projects are taken forward on the suggestion and support of its members. Members use their skills and strengths to further develop the organisation. For example, digital work has been taken forward by one of the members with specific skills and knowledge in this area.

It has been creative in the partnerships it has formed with other advocacy groups and external organisations both to secure funding but to also promote the rights of people with a learning disability and autistic people.

The challenge

Despite the pandemic, Sheffield Voices has evolved during COVID to ensure that people could remain engaged in group activities and reach out to people who had become cut-off from other groups/people because of COVID restrictions. It creatively uses digital means to promote campaigns, to ensure that people are listening and to communicate with each other


What makes it good?

It has worked innovatively with digital and online resources by not only producing resources that are online but also promoting greater digital inclusion for people. It has done this by helping to ensure that people could secure devices, providing support to get devices working and highlighting the importance of access to Wi-Fi. This work includes lunch sessions to help set up tablets and computers and can include the provision of devices to people who do not have one.

They work to promote the use of Easy Read to ensure that everybody knows the value of easy read materials and to challenge inaccessible/inappropriate communication.

By using their collective voice, Sheffield Voices have been influential in changing approaches in a range of organisations including Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Trust, housing, transport, and primary care. This supports a shared view that people have the right to equal high quality services, and that this is recognised by organisations.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Today, Sheffield Voices secures additional project funding through partnerships with others and has been successful in securing funding from a wide range of sources including Sheffield Live Lighter money, and Healthwatch SPEAKUP money (to find out how people living in care homes want self-advocacy to work). They also received money from the Arts Council for an arts group and through academic partnerships with universities.

Since austerity, all self-advocacy groups have faced ongoing risks to funding. Sheffield Voices has worked with a range of partners to creatively secure resources for activities and projects highlighted by its members.

Sheffield Voices think it is really important that they do not charge people to be involved. They have developed an entrepreneurial approach to 'selling' their expertise and insight to academic researchers and other organisations gathering insight.

There are also future plans to further develop face-to-face drama and arts groups. It has been influential in changing approaches in a range of organisations including Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Trust, housing, transport, GP and taking forward work on ensuring that the right to equal high quality services was recognised by these organisations.

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