Q&A with Sara-Louise Ackrill on the Wired Differently: Support and Advocacy Service
1) Sara, why did you start the Support and Advocacy Service?
I used to work as a disability specialist for the government Work Programme and I became aware of the high percentage of people who are house bound. There are lots of services available but they are modelled on meeting away from the home, which can create huge anxiety and tension.
In house services are seen as a carers, and social services criteria would mean professionals or people in higher education wouldn’t be able to access the service.
It was when I needed to go for a regular smear test in a new location, without my former advocate being there to come with me in person, that I realised I could do with someone coming with me virtually… and that was when it dawned on me that everyone should be able to access virtual support.
2) What would you look for in a support worker?
The people we are encouraging into these roles have life and lived experience, particularly with neurodivergent people. We look for people with certain backgrounds, for example; education, social work or support work with different minority groups as well as those trained in counselling or in the benefits system.
We provide Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) and training in advocacy for all of our team, as well as encouraging everyone to undertake professional development such as MHFA training.
3) What makes them ND focused?
Firstly, to be drawn to a company called Wired Differently, or to even get what we’re about, means someone’s curiosity has been piqued! Maybe they identify as ND, or as ‘different’ in another way. Or they have navigated the system for a loved one… or studied or worked in a field related to neurodiversity. So to start with, they are the right people. And then they spend their days working 100% with ND people in a team that is neurodiverse.
Our team get regular related training - in areas such as sensory needs, executive function, self employment from an ND perspective (most of our clients are self employed), mental health etc. Lastly we are plugged into a brilliant network of ND professionals who work in everything from ADHD focused money management to neurodivergent funeral care (!!) so we are all constantly learning and strengthening our knowledge is a huge range of areas.
4) What does this service do?
We have a team of virtual workers who support people with admin needs that are 80% personal, 20% work based.
Some examples of the tasks we provide support with are:
- Helping to structure our clients days
- Making challenging phone calls inc. HMRC / DWP / Access to work
- Making doctors appointments and attending virtually where required
- Ensuring our clients maximise their down time
- ‘life admin’
- Body doubling while clients open any brown envelope post
- Signposting to other services, for example debt management
The service provides a 24 hour whatsapp download facility – where the client can get their ‘to do list’ out of their heads and give us tasks to be getting on with.
5) Who is this service for?
We work with people who are not working due to health reasons or having time out, but need support to achieve a better quality of life.
It is for people who would not get support from the social services system because they are deemed ‘too able’. We recognise that professionals and students need support in everyday life and there is no need for any shame to be attached to that. This is just the same as having a cleaner or a gardener.
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