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> > > DAO evaluates its award from the Office of Disability Issues 'Strengthening DPULOs Programme'
a photo of a corridor in a long stay institution

As part of DAOs training we engaged Sheila McWattie to interview Julie McNamara about how her play about the lived experience of long-term institutions: The Knitting Circle, came into production

After a successful application to ODI in the Spring of 2012, DAO invited applications for two disabled people to train and work with us for seven month, working 2 days per month.

This offered an ideal vocational situation for disabled people as freelance work allows for flexibility relating to access and impairment, such as working from home and having flexible hours.

DAOs brief was to offer an opportunity to learn skills in online publishing, content management, use of social media and sub-editing copy for online consumption and to use the funding to increase the number of disabled people on DAOs Board of Trustees leading to the registering of DAO as charity.

A focus for the training DAO offered was the management of the arts events, jobs and opportunities listings service. During a very busy period as DAO undertook the Diverse Perspectives G4A Programme of work devising commissions and reporting on events happening within the Cultural Olympiad 2012, the demands on our free listings service rose from 80 to 120 new listings and related enquiries per week.

Hayley Davies proved very adept at getting to grips with DAOs content management system, publishing and sub-editing listings; and the invaluable task of helping us move a huge back-log of news items from an unused areas of the site. She also took up the reins in publishing a large number of the unsolicited news releases sent on to her, as she picked up navigation of the back-end of the site quickly and efficiently.

Sheila McWattie knuckled down to the task of learning about the history of disability arts in the process of undertaking and publishing a range of interviews. She talked to Julie McNamara - playwright and long-term advocate of positive change in the mental health system about her profound experiences of unearthing untold stories of patients and staff from long-stay institutions, resulting in Vital Xposure’s touring production: The Knitting Circle.

Sheila undertook an interview with Blue Apple Theatre about taking their production Living Without Fear to the Houses of Parliament, as well as an interview with Rachel Erickson about the launch of creative marketing company Narus Productions.

She talked to Lisa Simpson about using an accessible speech-board named after her, to set up a pilot course in collaboration with Merseyside Dance Initiative.

And lastly she supported DAOs Reaching Out project, working with Brighton-based charity The Grace Eyre Foundation by writing a report on their Open Garden Scheme in partnership with The Sussex Beacon.

The employment of two extra disabled people at a time when we were planning a new interface for DAO meant that as well as having extra hands on board to proof current copy, ready for publishing, that also had capacity to proof the whole mass of existing copy, going back to 2004 as we prepared to migrate the content of the old site to the new. Another result of the extra support given through the Programme was the increase in DAOs mailing list from 1,800 to 2300 addresses. 

We were keen that the project would provide opportunities in making the trainees more employable, increasing their confidence in using the internet and working for DPULOs.

Sheila said of her experience: “The bursary has made a significant difference to the quality of my life and work in the past seven months, enabling me to feel more empowered as a worker and community member.” … “The opportunity to extend my skills as a journalist and editor and particularly to realise that these are highly transferable to other industries and sectors is highly motivating and has increased my confidence in fundamental ways.”