Jul. 20, 2016

A Volunteer of Dublin 15 Leader Forum

Barbara Franzoni is a volunteer of Dublin 15 Leader Forum. They are a peer group for people with disabilities. She kindly agreed to let me ask her a few questions about it.
1). How would you describe your job?
Right now I don't have a job, unless you include being a mother.  I am a mature student of creative digital media who is currently on her summer holidays.  One of the areas I have been studying is filmmaking and another is webdesign and more recently digital marketing.  Dublin 15 Leader Forum approached the college I go to, asking if anyone would be interested in making a documentary about them - I was interested and made the documentary as part of a 3rd year college project for which I was graded.  As a documentary filmmaker, I had to understand my subjects before filming them in order to tell their stories, sometimes it involved going into a subjects home and getting them to talk about their personal feelings on camera - this is not something you can do unless you have already built a good rapport with the subject.  As a result, I ended up becoming quite close to the group as a whole and made many friends there - and it was for this reason that I wanted to help them out as much as I could. When I discovered that the leader forum didn't have a website or any social media, I offered to make a website for them - just a basic wordpress one though as I had other assignments to complete.  This was because I could appreciate the benefits of the group and thought that a lot more people with disabilities would be able to avail of the group, if they only knew it existed. I had been doing a digital marketing assignment with a commercial software company which didn't work out as their website was not accessible, and so having done the initial part with the software company, I was able to switch over the rest of the assignment to cover setting up, monitoring and growing social media platforms for the group.  
A conversation with the tweeting goddess, Samantha Kelly, lead to the setting up of #AbleHour - there were three main reasons for #AbleHour ... 1: to grow the social media twitter platform and therefore inform more people about Dublin 15 Leader Forum so they could attend.  2: to garner support for issues that arose during Dublin 15 Leader Forum.  3: To facilitate those who can't always attend the meetings - after all, mobility is a major issue for people with disabilities - and to help widen the network for friendship and support. 
2). Could you explain what is it that D15Forums and Able Hour do for people with disabilities? 
Dublin 15 Leader Forum is a peer group for people with disabilities - it is an autonomous group under the auspices of the Centre for Independent Living.  There are quite a number of leader forums (fora?) throughout the country and I personally think that they are a wonderful initiative.  The Dublin 15 Leader Forum meets once a month (at 2pm on the last Thursday of each month in Blanchardstown Library).  It's a place where people with all kinds of disabilities can talk to each other, meet friends, network, discuss issues and air problems.  Sometimes a leader (a person with a disability) may have a question in relation to social welfare or another situation that other leaders have been through and so they help each other through this kind of knowledge sharing.  Perhaps they need someone to recommend an accessible venue for a particular need - things that able-bodied people don't notice - and this can be advised by another member of the group.
Apart from knowledge-sharing - this is also a forum to air issues in front of a local councillor who can then update the group monthly on what the local council has done to address those issues.
It struck me on my first conversations with leaders that one of the most common issues they have to deal with is isolation.  One leader told me that she went to a public event where she was ignored by everyone there - even the organisers and hosts.  She felt that they looked straight past her because of her wheelchair and didn't so much as offer her a cup of tea although other people had shown up alone and had been greeted and spoken with almost immediately.  There is an isolation to having a disability which goes beyond the mere physical presence of other people - people with a disability can be isolated in a crowded room purely because people are afraid of talking to them or because very often, those that do talk to them, talk down to them.  At a peer group, everyone feels that they are an equal part of the group and of the conversation - and if there is ever a problem that needs a chat with someone on an equal footing, then the other group members are only a phone call away. 
AbleHour is simply a method of bringing the forum online but opening it up to even more people.  We start out with questions and discussions about issues of the day and while this is all quite important, it is really more about networking and talking to people than it is about finding answers.  Sometimes the true value is in the journey rather than the destination.  Promoting and moderating the chat is a lot of work and means that I have to try to be home and on the laptop every Thursday evening - and some weeks I do a better job of promoting it than others - but I find that a good base of chatters are building and the busier it is, the easier it is for me and the more opportunity there is for great networking for the chatters.
3). What advice would you give to people who'd like to work with people with disabilities? 
Only that they are people - people who are different but not less.  All people need to feel that they are listened to and heard and that they are in charge of their own lives - I know that my wanting to be in charge of my own life and not to be looked down upon is what lead me to quit being a secretary - well it's no different for people with disabilities, they also need to be able to choose their own destiny and to go through their life without having to contend with people who would tear them down.  So just be a friend and look past the disability to the person inside.
You can find Barbara on Twitter @BarbaraFranzon1 if you have any further questions. You can also learn more about the work Dublin 15 Leader Forum do by visiting their website: http://d15leaders.com/