Meaningful Engagement: But what does that mean in practice?

By Jazz Shaban, Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO) Engagement Manager, Leonard Cheshire

A man in a green shirt talks while a man in a blue shirt writes on a white board.
A man in a green shirt talks while a man in a blue shirt writes on a white board.
Economic strengthening officer Ken Osika teaches business and life skills for deaf people at Kayole, Nairobi. The training is facilitated by Deaf Empowerment Kenya, a DPO involved in the UK Aid Connect Innovation 2 Inclusion (i2i) programme.

Organisations and legislation often use the phrase ‘meaningful engagement’ when referring to involving specific groups in delivering or monitoring activities. But what does it mean to meaningfully engage disabled people for the work and activities of Leonard Cheshire?

I have been Leonard Cheshire’s Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO) Engagement Manager since July 2019. The main focus of my work has been to develop mechanisms that enable disabled people, and the organisations that represent them, to meaningfully participate in influencing and decision-making processes, particularly on issues that affect them. And while Leonard Cheshire delivers actions through the four live, learn, work and data objectives, it is the overarching engagement with DPOs and disabled individuals that provides the authentic experience of disability truly needed to bring about social change.

The year since the last International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD) has seen some unprecedented challenges for disabled people all over the world. But despite the hardships, the Coronavirus pandemic did offer an opportunity for disabled people to advocate for more inclusive responses to the pandemic through the Innovation to Inclusion (i2i) initiative, funded by UK Aid Connect. In response to a request, DPOs in Bangladesh and Kenya led a data collection survey to gather evidence on the impact that Covid-19 was having on disabled people’s lives. The qualitative survey undertaken by DPOs supported advocacy that aimed to not only speak to the current pandemic situation but enable lasting solutions to long-standing inequalities in their countries and around the world. The ‘stories’ they shared can be found in a briefing document, “Impact of COVID-19 on the lives of people with disabilities”, as well as forming the basis for a themed focused Influencer Resource Pack produced for developing advocacy actions.

A man sits with head phones and a face mask on while working from a computer.
A man sits with head phones and a face mask on while working from a computer.
Diversity and inclusion officer Derek Shimoli, 46, works from his office at Kenya Union of the Blind in Nairobi, a DPO involved in the UK Aid Connect Innovation to Inclusion (i2i) inclusive employment programme, of which Leonard Cheshire is a lead consortium partner.

The documents and subsequent participation in national and global advocacy events are great results. But what made those activities authentic was that disabled people conceived and drove the project forward based on their own experiences. In enabling this, Leonard Cheshire was helping to support the disability movements in Kenya and Bangladesh, as well as developing our own understanding on how to better engage DPOs in our work.

Closer to home, and in order to support our own cultural shift to put disabled people in the front and centre of our influencing work, next year we are launching a practical toolkit that will help us to collaborate with DPOs and disabled people in influencing activities. Developed in consultation with disabled people and an internal working group, it is hoped that this toolkit will open the door for greater discussion, dispelling fear and encouraging creative solutions to the participation challenges that we all sometimes face.

A woman in organge sits with a face mask on at a table with two men chatting to her.
A woman in organge sits with a face mask on at a table with two men chatting to her.
Basir Al Hossain, 45, meeting with Mohammed Giyas Uddin. Basir is a programme manager for National Grassroots Disability Organization (NGDO), a DPO which has been involved in the UK Aid Connect i2i inclusive employment programme, of which Leonard Cheshire is lead consortium partner.

Anil Sharma and Libby Parfitt are members of the Campaign Steering Group and contributed their time and expertise to developing the toolkit. Anil is clear that, “Leonard Cheshire should have a toolkit to ensure that the charity works in collaboration with disabled people and other disability organisations.” Libby, who assisted with the editing said, “I am excited to have been asked to be part of developing this toolkit and I hope that it will prove useful and become essential to Leonard Cheshire’s day to day activities.” I hope so too.

Find Jazz Shaban on Twitter: @JazzShaban

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