In this blog, written for Co-Production week and originally featured on DRUK, Kate Pieroudis, GOGA Peer Support Lead at Disability Rights UK, draws on her own considerable experience to say what co-production means to her and how it can be a life changing experience for disabled people.

To me, co-production is all about the people who use services being involved in creating them. When I worked for the fantastic disabled people’s organisation Action Disability Kensington & Chelsea (ADKC), my whole job was to create ways local disabled people could get their voices heard. 

Kate getting out and getting active and showing a practical application of co-production

I spent ages meeting Council Officers hammering home that disabled people often have the best ideas because they use services day in day out and can also say what doesn’t work! New to the Borough, I heard about the grand unveiling of the ‘fully accessible’ brand-spanking new leisure centre that local disabled people were invited along to, sadly the wheelchair users couldn’t fit through the door!. This is one reason to consult disabled people- to avoid mortifying incidents like this. 

This was around the time the Duty to Involve was introduced (2009) requiring public services to consult and involve people in decision-making to ‘embed a culture of engagement’. 
Mainly because they had to, local authorities consulted with disabled people, but over time something great happened. In Kensington and Chelsea word about the project spread – that there were groups of disabled people who were sharing valuable ideas, experiences and positive suggestions about how services could improve. 

Our phone was ringing off the hook and over 3 years disabled people worked with the NHS, the Council, Public Health, and some of the best Museums in the world like the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum advising on how to make exhibitions, buildings and processes more accessible to disabled people. 

I’ll also never forget someone on a stakeholder panel I sat on saying “but disabled people will only talk about themselves’ after I suggested they be invited to join the panel. 

I would meet disabled people who were insightful, tactful, positive who had great ideas but who would never think of themselves as ‘experts’ in the way things should be. In the training sessions, I’d run, I watched their confidence increase and over time even the shyest, most disempowered individuals would want to speak up.

I would also meet people who were extremely angry with systems locally and a wider society who didn’t understand, let alone meet their needs. They had a tendency to be negative but with encouragement, support and training they too would get involved as they watched their views get taken on board in community action plans and local strategies to make services more accessible. 

For some, this was life-changing. Often in these groups, disabled people would instinctively support each other- being given the space to share their experiences (good and bad) meant they felt less alone and when they saw their ideas were helpful to others, their confidence often grew. 

My current role as Peer Support Lead at DR UK enables active people with disabilities or long-term health conditions to become mentors, working one to one with another disabled person to get them more active as part of the Get Out Get Active (GOGA) Programme. 

There isn’t another project quite like this-valuing disabled people’s experience as an asset and using this to improve wellbeing amongst other disabled people.

Our job is to harness people’s lived experiences and make things better. With the right training and support and most importantly given the opportunity to, disabled people can share their ideas and improve the communities they live in.