A better Medway
Published: Tuesday, 31st August 2021

A non-visible disability initiative (NVDi) has launched in Medway to support those with hidden disabilities.

This initiative aims to tackle the impact of non-visible disabilities by teaching local businesses how they can adapt and make small changes to help customers who may have a non-visible disability. Non-visible disabilities include health conditions, such as Parkinson’s or heart failure, which are not immediately obvious. People with non-visible disabilities can have difficulties not accessing what they need which impacts to their day-to-day life. 

An event will be hosted at Rochester Cathedral on Friday, 3 September from 12pm (noon) to 3pm for people to find out more about the initiative, see what resources are available and sign up to an awareness course. The event will include a breakdown of the NVDi strategy, an overview of Medway’s initiative and speeches from partners, such as Jenny Walsh, CEO of Headway (Kent) and others. Justin Tomlinson MP, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work is due to send a video message providing an overview of government’s Strategy on non-visible disabilities. 

The initiative can be broken down into three parts:

1. Awareness Qualification 

The first part of the initiative is the creation of a Non-Visible Disabilities Awareness Qualification. The aim of the qualification is to raise awareness of non-visible disabilities for those working in customer service or front-line roles. The qualification will include a combination of theory based learning and practical workshops to equip the learner with the knowledge to recognise non-visible disability and the skills to empower them to make their customer and/or service user experience one that promotes inclusivity and celebrates diversity. The awareness course is being developed by Mid-Kent College in association with Medway Adult Education and a Parkinson's nurse specialist. It is anticipated that the course will be in three-parts (Level 1-3), which will include an awareness course for all front line staff.

2. Smartphone App
The second part of the initiative is the development of the 'Medway Locals' Smart-Phone App, in association with the University of Greenwich. The mobile app will highlight disability access and services. After being trialled in Rochester, it will be rolled out across Medway. The mobile app is being developed by a student at the Medway campus of the University of Greenwich. 

3. Awareness course

The third part of the Medway's NVDi, is working with the Alzheimer's Society to encourage retailers and employers of Medway to undertake a Dementia-Friends Awareness-Course. The NVDi are piloting the project to make Rochester High Street the first Dementia Friendly High Street in Kent - Medway leading the way.

Ensuring extra support is available for those who need it

Cllr David Brake, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Adult Services, said: “I am pleased to be supporting this important initiative which will raise awareness of non-visible disabilities which affects some residents’ everyday lives. We are committed to ensuring all Medway residents live independent and active lives and this initiative will ensure that extra support is available for those who need it. I look forward to working with partners on this exciting and life-changing project.

Phil Bungay was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1992 at the age of 45 and continued his career in the civil service in Whitehall until 2017, when he took early medical retirement. 

Take a little more time and not judge on first sight

Phil said: “I am so pleased that Non-visible disabilities are being highlighted - as all is required in for everyone, but particularly front line staff, to take a little more time and not to judge on first sight. As the Lead Coordinator of the Medway Working Age Group of Parkinson's UK, I know that this happens regularly. I have been refused service in a shop because 'I look drunk', asked why I have a Radar key for a disabled toilet as 'you don’t look disabled' and there are lots of similar stories from the Working Age Group - and across all non-visible disabilities.”

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