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A network for everyone

Our Chief Executive Nik Hartley describes SIA’s thinking behind its exciting network model that aims to connect with everyone affected by spinal cord injury (SCI).

What is the opposite of disabled? ‘Enabled’? What about ‘inside’? ‘Connected’? ‘Empowered’?

At a time when we are once more fighting embedded racism, I have noticed how the battle today is as much about the explicit day-to-day racism experienced by too many too often, as it is the implicit sense of not being on the inside; not being part of a network, with influence. And so it is with disability. SIA, alongside so many other brilliant campaigning organisations, has been fighting for decades for people to understand that disability is societal, not physical.

And in your recent feedback and the constant conversations we have been having throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we know that you, our network of members, want us to fight harder for more representation, a louder voice, more influence on policy and much better, joined-up services from charities, companies and the Government.

Critically, this must include you as leaders of those services at every stage.

A network of people and partners

SIA has responded.

A true Association must be for life; and a true Association must be not just a network of members but of partners too. Otherwise we are talking to ourselves.

Emerging from the on-going pandemic our renewed ambition is for every SCI person in the UK, with your diverse range of ambitions, needs and challenges, to reach and be reached by the best people and the best organisations. And so, we are launching an expanded network of people and partners region by region and nationally to create the best network possible to serve, support and fight for every aspect of what each person would define as a fulfilled life.

This means building a network of trusted partners, developing a new online space for easy access to the appropriate people and partners, and re-structuring our outreach region-by-region.

This new structure was ready for roll-out as the pandemic struck. In many ways it immediately faced – and passed – its toughest test: we embraced existing technology and built on current partnerships to build a coalition of experts who would connect SCI people and provide the advice and services you needed more than ever.

But now as we emerge it is time to expand that to everyone, wherever and whoever you are. The more SCI people we can reach, the more people we can support. But also, the more links that SCI people have to a network of experts, advocates, information and of course appropriate services, the more empowered – enabled even – people will be to lead a fulfilled life.

A network in your hands

Building our national support network, we are approaching organisations across many different sectors. We are using the headings of body, mind, life and livelihoods as a guide. Because a fulfilled life is not just about bowel management, but retaining a job, having children, getting to a shop, being safe from coronavirus. It is about finding organisations who you recognise as the best – not just an estate agent with a wider door, but one that prioritises a portfolio of disabled-people-appropriate housing; not just a legal firm that can win your personal injury claim but one that understands the diversity of legal needs throughout your life.

We want to hear more. We will be launching a new survey soon to help us build this network so it will be the right and most influential network for you.

What is the opposite of disabled? What about ‘networked’?


This article originally appeared in the August 2020 edition of our magazine FORWARD.

Find out more about FORWARD.