I had the genuine pleasure of being introduced (virtually of course) to Hilary Conroy late last year. I’ve had quite an association with York’s disabled community for almost 20 years, so it was so inspiring to hear Hilary’s professional perspective, hear of some of the amazing work going on in the sector and wider human rights networks, and learn about some very exciting sounding new initiatives about to bear fruit….
What do you do, and how do you benefit the local sector?
I am the Disability Programme Coordinator for the York Human Rights City Network. I am running a project called Community Voices to make sure we are hearing and including marginalised, hidden and ignored voices from the disabled community in York. The aim is to develop creative projects in line with the participants’ interests and it will all contribute to a Human Rights Indicator Report at the end of the year in order to feedback all the messages through the system to make some positive changes in the city for disabled people.
What inequalities in York are you most passionate about and why?
York is such a complex city. Most people don’t realise the inequalities that persist here because there are such physical divides between areas. Inequalities are not separate from each other; they are inter-related and have a cumulative impact on individuals. Under the umbrellas of neoliberal capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and years of austerity, society has tried to push fault onto individuals when they are firmly rooted in the systems we interact with every day.
I am passionate about communicating this complexity using the language of human rights. Too often individuals are reduced to one of our identities (our gender, age, skin colour, impairment, housing status, income, mental health diagnosis, accent, postcode and many others). Assumptions are then made about our character, trustworthiness, abilities, needs, vulnerabilities, right to access certain services, and risk. We all need to look at the assumptions we are making about others and how this impacts on our ability to offer true equality in our work. We also need to reflect on the systems we are upholding in our work and how our community might fight these issues collectively.
Who are some of your favourite organisations in York and why?
My favourite organisation is the York Multiple Complex Needs Network. It is striving to change the system and be inclusive of the most excluded in our city. I would recommend getting involved in their projects to anyone – everyone is welcome! It is a true community of people striving for equality and the work is really exciting and hopeful, which is what we really need at a time like this.
I really like the work of York LGBT Forum and Yorkshire Mesmac for supporting our LGBT community and providing training for organisations to be more inclusive and understand some of the challenges the community faces.
I’m really interested in Converge and the work they do to provide access to education for people who struggle with their mental health. The courses are free and there are a range to choose from.
What does success look like for you and your work?
Success for me in the Community Voices project has nothing to do with the report, and everything to do with creating positive experiences for the participants, building their confidence and providing a social network that can endure beyond this year. I want people to be aware of their rights and be empowered to challenge situations in which their rights are being eroded or ignored. I would love the York Disability Rights Forum to become a strong advocate for disability in the city and for businesses, organisations, local government, police and health services to conduct their work with awareness and respect of disability at their core – but that’s a longer-term plan!
Success is also creating networks across the city with our local services and groups, which we have started with York LGBT Forum, York Anti-Racist Collective, Kyra, the Women’s Wellness Centre, Converge, YoCo, and many others.
How has coronavirus affected your beneficiaries?
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the disabled community. Some have lost the support systems that were in place and have really felt abandoned in this time. Some have found that their social connections have disappeared as the activities have been cancelled. This has also impacted on people’s mobility as some have not been able to get out due to shielding. Some are suffering with high anxiety about going out because they may be at high risk, or they cannot wear a mask and fear public harassment for this. There have been changes to transport links and blue badge parking which has hugely impacted people’s ability to access the city centre, and the new plans for outdoor dining has the potential to cause serious physical access issues for people who use mobility aids.
On the other hand, some people have been able to access events, gatherings and employment opportunities due to things having moved online, as so many disabled activists have campaigned for in the past. They now fear the world returning to the normality which excluded them, so we need to make sure we maintain the online options that have been developed over the past year.
What does 2021 look like?
Busy! We are already working on lots of projects including advice booklets for non-disabled people, an Instagram project talking about Disability and Food, working with the York Museums Trusts on a project called Curating Covid, a community radio programme focused on disability, a parent space to connect parents of disabled children and adults, and a creative project later in the year. If anyone has any more ideas – please get in touch!
What do you love about York and what would you change?
I love the green spaces in York which have really shown their worth during the past year. Having access to nature really improves my mood and walking around places like St. Nick’s nature reserve and Rowntree Park makes me feel connected to the city and its people.
What I would change – more benches everywhere, without anti-homeless bars on them please!
And finally, what’s the best way for people to contact you?
These are the easiest ways to contact me are via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: 01904 325778 or on social media: @VoicesYork