Community journalism project giving disabled people in Camden a voice
Tom McDonough, Camden Disability Action
- Credit: CDA
Camden Disability Action (CDA), based in Kentish Town, has been busy over the last several months of the pandemic, working with an organisation more used to tackling slavery in Togo and climate change in Bangladesh than street access or employment rights for disabled people in north London.
But communities on the front lines of humanity's greatest challenges in Asia and Africa have at least one key thing in common with disabled people in Camden: voicelessness.
Working in partnership with On Our Radar, CDA has launched a community journalism project to capture disabled people’s stories as they play out on the streets, homes and offices of Camden.
Colin Brummage, CDA’s CEO, said: “Our stories largely go untold and even when we do speak, there is no guarantee the person listening has the empathy or life experience to understand where we’re coming from.
"Disabled people’s real-time every day experiences must be known so we can lift the lid on the thousands of social injustices taking place, every single day.”
Modelled on the type of mobile phone reporting that sparked the Black Lives Matter protests last year and motivated by the same thirst for social change, the community journalism project encourages disabled people to use their phones to send in "shoot-from-the-hip" video, audio and text reports to two "hotlines".
Staff from CDA review all the reports and post the best ones on the project’s website camdendisabledvoices.org
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The project offers a package of training and mentoring support to disabled people who want to report on issue in their communities.
Reporter Jill who has a learning disability, said: “It’s taught me a lot of things I didn’t know before.
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"It gives you knowledge and it gives you confidence to speak up. Also, because I have a learning disability, I’m not good at writing so being able to send in reports via a phone is really great.”
She added: “I’ve done stories on rubbish bins being left out, a lack of disabled parking bays at some supermarkets, the cycle lane in Haverstock Hill and Chalk Farm road and Swain’s lane low-traffic neighbourhoods.”
So far, eight reporters with a variety of impairments have completed the course, with the majority focussing their first pieces on the impact of the Covid-19 street scape changes on disabled people.
CDA asked students to start off by reporting on how the new cycle lanes, traffic-calming measures and wider pavements are affecting disabled people because it is liaising closely with Camden Council on this topic.
Reporter Mary said: “As a registered blind woman I am unable to go out alone without support if the streets are not accessible; but with the community journalism project I can help foster change in Camden’s streets which means I will be able to go out independently."
She added: “It’s also given me a chance to air my anger about my local area where shopping is made difficult with inaccessible crossings and signage for motorists that aren’t clear."
Councillor Adam Harrison, who is working with CDA on streetscape changes, said: "It is so important to have disabled people in Camden tell their stories directly about the things that affect them, including how easy - or not - it is to get around the borough. I hope as many disabled Camden residents as possible become community journalists and take part.”
The environment chief added: “I’ll be checking on the stories and working together with CDA to find solutions to some of the issues raised."
The project also encourages disabled members of the general public to send in stories to the reporting lines.
Colin said: “We wanted to cast the net wider than just the trained reporters because want disabled people across the borough to use this as a vehicle to get their voices heard. We’re replacing the old ways of engaging, which we did through forums and questionnaires. This is a more direct and powerful way to have your say."
- Tom McDonough is the engagement officer for Camden Disability Action.