Stephanie Harvey: First steps

Photo of research student Stephanie Harvey with Julie J Charles

Julie J Charles and Stephanie Harvey

I’m Stephanie, a PhD student lucky enough to be working alongside the D4D team. My PhD research is a stand-alone project that compliments some of the D4D workstreams. My project, ‘The identities I carry: being disabled, minority ethnic and more’, will look at how having multiple minority identities can impact on community membership and participation.

The 11th October was quite a big day for me and my project. Having spent the last few weeks reading and thinking about how best to take my research forward, I stepped out of my self-inflicted isolation and spent the day with the Equalities National Council (ENC).

The ENC had already agreed to support me with my fieldwork by helping me to find people willing to participate in my research. However, this was the day I would outline my plan in more detail. Unknown to them, I was also planning to up the game and ask them to be members of a reference group. The reference group would advise and challenge me on different cultural understandings, and is a part of my research process that I think is really important. Nerves set in. What if they refused? Or what if they thought my whole approach just wouldn’t work in their community?!

Thankfully, their warm hospitality put me at ease. Following discussions with the team there, I made one change to my proposal, but overall they really liked it. Particularly the aspects that will try to empower the people I will work with. Not only did they agree to continue being involved and be part of a reference group, but Julie J Charles (founder of the ENC) offered to open up her contact book and invite some other community leaders from a range of backgrounds to participate. I couldn’t have asked for more! I’m looking forward to working from the ENC on Tuesdays and Wednesdays over the coming months, meeting people in the community and getting my face known.

Smiling as I stepped out of their offices into the drizzling rain outside, I then made my way to an event by Disability Rights UK (DRUK). Every year they put on an annual lecture, and this year’s guest appearance was none other than Stephen Hawkins. Unfortunately, Stephen was ill and unable to attend in person, but he sent an audio recording of his presentation for us and DRUK organised for Andrew Marr to field the discussion afterwards. Andrew certainly got a few laughs when he pointed out his trepidation at having to fill in for Stephen Hawkins! He also commented that the presentation we had just heard was the first time he had heard Stephen speak so openly about his experience of disability.

Stephen’s presentation was indeed a very personal account about the lived experience of disability. He had a clear message that disabled people should not be underestimated and that new innovations are happening all the time to better support disabled people to live as they wish to. I thought of the D4D ‘Catch me if you can’ workstream and the research being done on innovative technology, and couldn’t help but agree.

However, another comment brought me back from the utopic visions of the future starting to form in my mind; that was Stephen’s acknowledgement that his fame has protected him from some of the greatest indignities that many disabled people face. This statement brought me back to my own research and fed my determination to spend the next few years doing something that helps to empower disabled people.

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