We’ve received funding from The Edge Fund!

We’re super excited to announce that we’ve received funding from The Edge Fund which supports grassroots groups fighting for justice and equality.

On 17 February we were invited to a funding day in London where we had the opportunity to speak about our work with members of The Edge Fund and fellow applicants.

Disabled Survivors Unite were one of sixteen activist groups there and it was a great opportunity to hear about other people’s important work and campaigns. We were also overwhelmed by the support and encouragement we received from everyone.

We were told at the end of the day we’d been chosen to recieve £3,000 towards our work! We’re over the moon and very honoured to have been selected for this funding — thank you Edge Fund!

The Edge Fund is a small organisation and they are currently raising money to enable them to continue to fund grassroots activism like ours. We’d love for you to consider supporting them either financially, if you’re able to, or by telling others about their amazing work.

To learn more about The Edge Fund, please click here.

The other inspiring activist groups we met were;

African Rainbow Family

Black Triangle Campaign

Disabled People Against Cuts Glasgow

Friends of Detainees

Galway Feminist Collective

Glasgow Autonomous Space

Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts

Hand2Mouth

Leeds Unity Centre

Living Rent Edinburgh

Smash IPP

Ubele Initiative

Unity Sisters

We Will Rise

You Should see the Other Guy

#ITSNOTOK Messages from Hannah and David

Blue speech bubble logo. Red and white text reads: SEXUAL ABUSE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE AWARENESS WEEK 2018. 5TH - 11TH FEBRUARY

This Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, Disabled Survivors Unite is sharing messages on our blog written by survivors for survivors.

We recognise the importance of people speaking out about sexual violence, and we stand with all those who have told their stories, but we also know the current media coverage is overwhelming for many survivors. Due to how difficult these past few months have been especially, we decided to ask survivors to write messages of support and advice for other survivors who are struggling.

Today we’re sharing messages from Hannah and David.

If you hear or read something upsetting, it’s ok for you to be upset and cry. It’s ok for you to be angry. Equally you might see something which you think should upset you but it doesn’t. That’s ok too, we shouldn’t feel bad about not being upset either. Try to be kind to yourself.

— Hannah

I’m not sure that the hurt and anger will go away completely anytime soon, though it is only 6 months since the incident so I guess it is early days.

These occurrences are now in the news on a daily basis and although this can bring up awful memories for victims, including myself, all this publicity can be looked on as a positive thing. The fact that it is now being so widely reported makes everybody very aware of these things. And this could make it easier for people to be open and to talk about things.

Yes it is absolutely disgusting and distressing that this is so widely spread, but it is only by the publicity and awareness that the way this is dealt with that can bring about change.

My anger and resentment is not only directed at my abuser, but also the limitations of the law and the way it has been dealt with. Maybe something can now change.

I think for me, the biggest breakthrough to my healing was the realisation that it WAS NOT MY FAULT AND I DID NOTHING WRONG!

At first I became very withdrawn and was asked all the time by family and friends “what’s wrong” and “are you okay”. I guess I was too embarrassed and ashamed to say what had happened.

However I realised I had nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. I have nothing to hide.

As we have all seen recently, once someone speaks out then others will feel able to also speak about their experiences.

I guess that what I am trying to say is that it can all be turned into a positive and that the abuse is now more openly talked about and then and only then, we can bring about change.

I also wrote a letter (without any intention of posting it) to my abuser to say how I felt at the time and how it had affected me. I must admit that on rereading it I was surprised at how angry and upset I was, however this was very therapeutic and may be useful thing for other people to do.

— David

Research project: the impact of the benefits system on survivors

Would you like take part in research about how the benefits system affects women survivors of sexual violence?

Beth Speak is conducting this research to look at how survivors are treated and the impact the benefits system has on their lives.

What is the research about?

The research project looks at how problems with ESA, JSA, Universal Credit and PIP (or DLA) have affected women survivors of sexual violence.

The purpose of the project is to highlight their experiences, and show the need for policies which are fairer for people claiming benefits.

Who can take part?

Self-identifying women who have experience of the benefits system since 2012 and are survivors sexual violence (rape and sexual abuse) are invited to take part.

You must be over 18-years-old and be living in the UK.

Who is doing the research?

Beth Speake is a PhD student based in the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University.

What will happen if I take part?

Participants will have between 1 and 3 interviews to talk about their experiences of claiming benefits. Participants and Beth will be the only people in the interviews, and everything said will be strictly confidential.

The interviews will be more like conversations than formal interviews.

What are the benefits of the research?

Participants will be able to talk about their experiences and opinions of claiming benefits and how this might have affected them.

It is hoped that the project will show the need to change benefits policy so that it is fairer.

Participants will also receive a £15 high-street voucher as a thank you for their time and contribution when the interviews have finished.

Want to know more?


If you want to ask questions about the research or would like to take part, you can text or call Beth on 07525130431.

You can also email: beth.speake@student.shu.ac.uk

Call out for messages from survivors

We recognise the importance of people speaking out about sexual harassment, abuse, and rape. And we stand with all those who have told their stories. But we also know the current media coverage is overwhelming for many survivors.

So Disabled Survivors Unite are putting together a blog with words of support and advice for survivors, written by survivors.

We welcome all people who identify as a survivor (or victim) to take part.

What would you like other survivors who are struggling to know? You may want to explain how you manage when things become overwhelming, share self care tips, or give some words of encouragement and support.

Please email your submissions to: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

Alternatively, you can share your message completely anonymously by clicking here. We cannot detect who you are or your location through this form.

We are more than happy to publish people’s messages anonymously.

Meet our Volunteers!

We’re pleased to announce that our little team has grown in recent months and we’re excited to introduce you all to our new volunteers!

SALIHA

Saliha has studied Psychology and Law and is currently completing a masters in Social Work at the University of Kent. She is blind and a survivor of honour-based abuse.

“I decided to become a volunteer for DSU to give a voice for disabled women, and to be an advocate for equal rights. I am particularly passionate about speaking out against the oppression of disabled women and gender-based violence. Furthermore, I would like to empower all disabled individuals, from all walks of life, to achieve their potential.”

JACK

Jack is an autistic activist who works within the charity sector and supports work that helps to empower young and disabled people alike. He lives in Weymouth, Dorset.

“I am delighted to be joining DSU at this time where it is continuing to grow in profile and activism, with a whole network of supportive volunteers to help ensure disabled people’s voices are heard and given hope at times of deep adversity.”

KESHIA JADE

Keshia Jade is an autistic adult currently studying for her BA in Theology with Philosophy at the University of London. She blogs on issues surround mental health, faith, and education.

“Volunteering with the DSU offers me the chance to use my voice, and experiences, to advocate for those who have been forced to suffer in silence. I feel blessed to be a part of an organisation that is focused ensuring that disabled people are heard.”

ZAHRA

Zahra is a Journalism student at the University of Leeds. She has a particular interest in media representations of disabled people and domestic violence issues.

“I’m very excited to start volunteering with DSU. It’s great to be getting involved with the only organisation I know of to focus on helping disabled survivors of domestic abuse.”

JAMIE

Jamie has an MA in Social Policy and Ba hons in Politics and Social Policy. He is currently a visiting lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton.

“Working with DSU is really meaningful for me, I want to campaign with and for survivors to improve access to support and educate people.”

BENJAMIN

Benjamin is a Philosophy graduate living in Leeds. He has an interest in disability issues and mental health.

“I’m particularly interested in issues surrounding mental health and the various accessibility barriers associated with them. I’m excited to volunteer with DSU to help tackle these issues.”

JEMMA

Jemma works in education and is a keen volunteer. She aspires to be a community arts practitioner.

“Much of my volunteering to date has been geared towards creating opportunities and supporting change on a local level. Through working with DSU I have the chance to work on projects that are both potentially larger in scale and longer term. More than this, volunteering for DSU will enable me to make an active contribution to a cause which is important to me.”

RACHEL

Rachel is a Social Policy student, Care Worker, and Volunteer in Canterbury, Kent. She is interested in social welfare policies, the care sector, and activism related to sexuality and queer issues.

“I am excited to be working with Disabled Survivors Unite to raise awareness and advocate for better support for survivors of abuse, particularly with an organisation founded by those with personal experience of the issue.”

NATASHA

Natasha has an MEd in Educational Psychology. She is currently an NHS clinical reviewer and autism specialist support worker.

“I am thrilled to be part of Disabled Survivors Unite to help support other disabled survivors and make sure their voices are heard and represented.”

Mental Health Services and Autism

Today is World Mental Health Day. We asked disabled survivors to share their stories about mental health services to raise awareness of the barriers which we face and to highlight the need for more funding to ensure services are inclusive and accessible.

This post was submitted anonymously.

Content note: this blog discusses disbelieved by health professionals. The author also briefly mentions of self-harm.

NHS Mental Health. A much needed, underfunded machine that cannot afford to see the individual and so breaks the sensitive soul with well meaning callousness.

“Six weeks therapy and you should be cured.”

“Take this pill it will make you feel better.”

I was eleven when I entered the system.

In the previous year my family had moved homes, I had changed schools and my parents were getting a divorce.

I had been told that children couldn’t get clinical depression. I was told that I was acting out. I was seeing someone at CHAMs, I don’t remember who. Their whole person ceases to exist in any meaningful sense in my mind.

They thought it was because of my sister, she was so sick, everyone assumed that I was acting out because of a lack of attention. They never listened when I told them that she was the least of my troubles. My saving grace, the reason I took less than the overdose limit. The reason I knew the limit.

You’d think they’d understand that all that change hurt my head. That the world no longer felt real to me. That it never really had. That I hated walking on patterned floors because they melted down. That walking passed tall buildings frightened me because they bowed to the ground. That faces hid in every pattern. That hugs hurt, and lights burned my eyes.

They didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell.

They put me on medication. I told them it didn’t work. They said I must not have been taking it. But I had. Even when it made me sick. When my skin would burn and the time my pupils blew and wouldn’t contracts. I always took them.

But to them I was a liar. A waster and a scoundrel.

I’ve never been in trouble in my life. I don’t have a criminal record and yet I always felt condemned in their eyes. Like I wasn’t trying hard enough. I didn’t want to get better.

50 minutes, every week for months. Then years. Their faces blur. I barely remember names.

There was one Dr who told me that I reminded him of a client he once had. That she struggled too but then her mum had died and her life got better. My mum was in the room.

I had one who liked to sit close.

By now they have all become a faceless entity. A pill dispensery.

Moths of time butting into each other in my mind but never settling.

I’m older now. No longer guilty. Long passed angry.

Why didn’t they help me? Couldn’t they see me?

I think of the lost years. I think of the lingering fears.

I think of the shed tears.

I think of the years I hurt myself just to feel.

Then one person, when I was in my late twenties after years of appointments said to me, “what do you know about autism?”

If you have been affected by this post and would like to speak to someone, please click here for a list of helplines.

Farewell Holly!

Our friend, colleague, and fellow Co-Founder Holly Scott-Gardner is leaving our organisation as she goes to study in Colombia.

Holly was one of the founders of Disabled Survivors Unite and she has had a leading role in creating and building our organisation. Mostly notably her work has focussed on promoting sex education for young disabled people and disability access to services. She also created and ran our wonderful website and blog.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Holly for all the passion and hard work she’s brought over the last year, our organisation really wouldn’t have been what it is today without her. We will always remember and be inspired by her determination and unwavering perseverance.

Holly has been a friend to us all as much as she has been a colleague, and while we’ll continue to be friends from afar, we’ll miss her very much. But we’re glad for the time we’ve been able to spend together—we have so many fond memories, special moments, and happy times filled with fun and laughter that we’ll always treasure.

It’s been an honour to work with Holly, we wish her all the best for her future and look forward to hearing about her adventures in South America!

Photo of Alice, Holly, Bekki, and Ashley in Brussels. All smiling. Photo in black and white.

We are looking for volunteers!

We are looking for an ambitious and enthusiastic people to volunteer with Disabled Survivors Unite!

The vast majority of work will be done remotely from home, but there may be opportunities for you to attend events and meetings if you are able to.

Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss and chose what their role will be in within the organisation. You may want to work in campaigns, research, administration, events, fundraising, blogging, training, or another area.

Positions are open to anyone living in the UK, and we especially welcome applications from people who are disabled, BME, and LGBTQ+.

Job description

You will be passionate about creating change for disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence.

You will have the ability to handle sensitive and confidential information.

You will be able to discuss abuse and sexual violence.

We are flexible on how much time volunteers can commit, but it would be preferable for you to give a certain amount of hours per month.

We will ensure applicants and volunteers have their access and communication needs met.

Please note that this is an unpaid role as we are currently unfunded, this means every position within our organisation is voluntary.

For more information or to request an application form please email: info@disabledsurvivorsunite.org.uk

Closing date: 15 July 2017

A Refuge for All

Shaping Our Lives has secured funding for a project to make refuges more accessible to disabled survivors.

The project is called A Refuge for All, and they are looking for disabled women who have experienced violence or abuse to help take part.

Interested in getting involved?

There will be two focus groups held next month;

London on 14 June from 1pm – 4.15pm.

Birmingham on 22 June from 1pm – 4.15pm.

Travel expenses and some support costs will be covered, and there will be a payment of £50 offered for your time. Lunch will be provided too.

An Advisory Group will also be set up, they will meet eight times over the next two years starting from this July.

If you’d like to find out more information, register an interest in attending a focus group, or inquire about joining the Advisory Group, please contact Becki Meakin.

Email: becki@shapingourlives.org.uk

Phone: 07956 424511

What is the project?

The aim of A Refuge for All is to establish practices which will meet the needs of disabled survivors and pilot these through existing services.

The project has been inspired by the Women’s Aid report Making the Links: Disabled Women and Domestic Violence which highlighted the lack of accessible services in the UK.

The project will be co-produced by disabled women and people who work in services. It will start by evaluating this research in the current context.

It aims to develop a user-led service model, raise awareness of the abuse disabled women experience, and look at how barriers to services can be broken down.

It will establish two pilot sites where services will be made fully accessible, and these will be used as an example of good practice and show how services can reach out to the disability community.

The project will also bring together services, other agencies, and disabled people’s organisations to improve partnership working and understanding.

Who are Shaping Our Lives?

Shaping Our Lives is a non-profit user-led organisation. It hosts a national network of user-led groups, service users, and disabled people.

The organisation is committed to inclusivity and diversity. They ensure that diverse and excluded communities are represented in the policy making, planning, and delivery of services.

You can visit their website by clicking here.

Autism and Abuse: How Autistic Acceptance Helped Me Move Forward

For World Autism Awareness Week, we are amplifying the voices of autistic survivors on our blog.

This post was submitted by Jessica Benton.

Content note: abuse (including, but not limited to, bullying and sexual harassment), assault, brief mention of suicidal thoughts, gender binary

I grew up not really understanding why I was the way I was, and I was treated pretty terribly throughout school. It left me wondering what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t be like everyone else.  In infant school I had a lot of trouble connecting to other children and interacting with them, and in junior school I tried to make friends but I didn’t have the same social skills that other kids did – I would talk a lot about special interests and if I was happy or excited I’d rock back and forth and flap my hands. I would get strange looks and the other kids would avoid me.

Secondary school was when it all came to a head. There was a group of girls who would verbally bully me and spread rumours about me, and boys who would sexually harass me by doing things like grabbing my chest. When I was 14 depression and anxiety took hold and the bullying was at its peak.

One day I completely broke down and I was sent home from school. That day had involved more of the same bullying but it just pushed me over the edge – the girls were talking about how they had taken a mug shot of me and posted it to Facebook, something which I never found out was true or not. The boys were pulling my hair and trying to push me over or touch my chest.

My parents contacted  the school straight away. A school assembly was held for the boys in the year and although I wasn’t mentioned by name they were told about how serious sexual harassment was, and the girls were dealt with separately. I lived in fear of what would happen after school. I didn’t see myself having any friends or relationships, I couldn’t trust anyone to not treat me the same way. I had grim thoughts and didn’t think I would live past 18, but the combined efforts of my true friends and family helped me to turn things around.

When I was 15 I came across an online autistic community of activists – they were ordinary people on the spectrum who championed autism acceptance. They spoke about neurodiversity, which accepted autism as a natural difference in human brains, with autistic people needing to be accepted and accommodated by society instead of being looked down on or viewed as an abstract mystery to be solved by the next medical breakthrough.

The ideas of acceptance, autistic pride and diversity, without exaggeration, saved my life and made me a happier person. Autism activists speaking out and campaigning helped raise my self-esteem, and now I want to do the same for other people. I am now 19 and therefore lived past the age I once thought I wouldn’t. *I have realised that the bullying and harassment I experienced was not my fault and that I didn’t deserve it. Society had lead me to believe that I, as the ‘freaky and ugly’ one deserve to be treated in an inhumane way, because sections of society maintain the mistaken notion that autistic people are less than human and are inferior.

Disabled women are more likley than others to be sexually harassed, assaulted or bullied whether the perpetrators know explicitly that we are disabled or not. We are told by society and media that we should be thankful we are receiving any attention or notion of our being desirable to others, so we should tolerate such treatment. Because there is still an underlying notion that our lives are lesser.  For anyone reading this, I tell you now that *you don’t deserve to be treated like that. Disabled women have the same rights to control over our own bodies, emotions and lives as our non-disabled counterparts. Disabled women (and men!)  have rights to be heard and taken seriously, to be included in feminism and human rights activism. We have the right to love freely and be loved. This message goes double for disabled people who are LGBT+!

I made a film with Fixers, the charity which gives young people a voice, telling my story and explaining how neurodiversity and autism acceptance have helped me to move forward. You can watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myUM7YNEg-s 

Thank you for you time!

If you have been affected by this post, or would like help to find accessible services in your area, please visit our support page by clicking here.