By Carly Tait, Assistant Content Manager

How did Represent start?

I’m 1 of 14 million people in the UK with a disability. I was born with Celebral Palsy after a traumatic birth at 10 weeks early. As a ‘minority’, I’ve had to constantly adapt to the world around me as it’s not built for someone who has differences like mine. 

At school, in social situations and in the workplace, I’ve applied a huge amount of physical and mental energy to ‘fitting in’. This meant I was apologetic, dismissive of my own needs and stubborn to ask for support as I was fearful of being a nuisance.

This all changed when I became a Para athlete (a story for another day!) and for the first time my possibilities and opportunities were endless.

It wasn’t until I retired from athletics and returned to everyday life that I realised I had internalised a lot of the prejudice and bias that exists around disability. I wasn’t in that protective bubble anymore and I was fighting to keep up (not just in the walking sense!).

Being a pregnant, disabled person amplified this and when I returned from maternity leave, I decided to start a colleague network for disabled people as I wanted to create a sense of belonging and to start a positive movement. I wrote a post on Yammer asking to connect to other disabled colleagues and it went from strength to strength. 

What’s the aim of Represent?

We know at a workplace level we need to improve the disabled colleague experience by driving inclusion. We also know it’s harder for disabled people to find employment and that the media often perpetuates damaging myths about disability – which is evident in the worrying increase in hate crime. 

This can only be tackled by starting positive dialogue about disability and increasing fair representation and visibility across all areas of society. 

We have been set up by disabled colleagues to provide guidance and support to other disabled colleagues because we know that living with a disability can sometimes be a difficult and isolating experience. We’re here to offer a safe space for colleagues to connect and talk.​

We want to celebrate differences, break down barriers and educate others. By working closely with the non-disabled community to implement positive change, we can build a culture of acceptable.  

How can colleagues get involved?

We use our Yammer page as the main touchpoint for becoming a member, if you join this page you’ll see lots of discussion around disability each week. Our main objective is that the page remains a safe space for colleagues and so it’s very much a support tool for opening up much needed conversations around disability.

From time to time we’ll ask for people to help volunteer their time to help us with a project aimed at driving disability inclusion. However, in the main part we just want you to use the page for providing and receiving support. If you want to use it to share then you’ll have a lovely community waiting to listen!

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Be yourself always, Being Co-op, Colleague support, Do what matters most, Great place to work, Succeed together, The Co-op Way