About Spokz People
We set up Spokz People in 2009 and have since supported more than 280 disabled people and families. When we collected data a few years ago, 72% of people said they benefitted from our services. We are a Social Enterprise, a Community Interest Company, and a founding member of Kandu, a network of ethical disability organisations, as well as the non-profit arm of Spokz, a provider of wheelchairs, sports accessories and lifestyle equipment. We are insured with Holistic Insurance Services (number HIS20190) and are organisational members of the National Counselling Society (number NCS22-00789).
Why we started Spokz People
In 2006 Mel and Steve met. Through Steve’s work running Spokz, an online disability equipment supplier, we discovered there was a lot of attention on physical rehabilitation in the UK, but very little on the impact of living with disability every day, on wellbeing and mental health for disabled people and families. We decided to change that. We discovered how few psychological therapists are disability affirmative or have any understanding of the daily experience of living with disability and difference. Mel trained as a counsellor and went on to specialise in disability, and after that, trauma when it became clear that there are many ways trauma co-exists with disability. We also discovered that many disabled people would prefer to speak to a therapist with disability knowledge and experience. After several years we had a long waiting list for our support. We also knew that many disabled people struggled to use our 1-2-1 support services because of finances or issues getting to venues. We put out a survey and 83% of the respondents said they would benefit from a tailor-made community focussing on mental health and wellbeing when living with disability. So, in 2021, funded by the lottery, we launched our online wellbeing community and programme.
Our aim is to create lasting change, for you and your family, but also for the wider disability community. As we discuss in our wellbeing programme, there are many ways to increase self-esteem by reducing the impact of prejudice against disabled people. Forming communities of disabled people, their families and non-disabled allies, is key to working towards collective action for positive change in the future.
Addressing isolation is Key
Isolation is a killer. It increases the risk of death by 29%. It carries the same risk of death as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
That’s quite some statement and is backed by research. It reflects our own personal experiences that we have also experienced isolation, particularly during Covid-19. It’s also our experience, and perhaps yours, that you can feel lonely and isolated, even if there are people around you, because no one ‘gets’ living with disability so we feel silenced and unheard. And emotions bottle up and get stuck and in the long-term damage us physically and mentally. Reducing isolation is one of the key reasons for setting up this new community.
Steve: ” Being disabled was my first experience of being different and I was disabled for a long time before setting up Spokz. I felt there were lots of able-bodied people selling disabled people disability equipment and whilst they were good people, there’s no substitute for first-hand experience: you wouldn’t hire an electrician to plaster your walls! I set up the business because I wanted to make a living in a way that fitted around being disabled. I discovered I was advising and mentoring many customers, not just selling them wheelchair tyres and inner tubes, so there was a need for the support we have here. I have been a mentor through other charities as well as an independent living adviser in the past and wanted to share my experiences to help others navigate similar experiences.”
Mel: “Throughout my life, before I had any experience of disability, I had many experiences of difference and being a minority. My parents moved our family from the UK to a different country where I didn’t speak the language when I was 10. I went to a school where no English was spoken, I was physically different from my peers as well as being from a religious and cultural minority. One grandfather was blind and another Black and as I trained as a therapist I came to see how all of these minority experiences affected my parents and filtered down through to their interactions and messages with me and my siblings. The associated stigma of being the partner, child or family member of a disabled person also runs deep in our society.”
Meet our team
We thought it would be helpful to include a few pictures and short bios so you can see who we are and why we are here:
As a neurodiverse woman, I’ve faced the lifelong challenge of finding my place in society. This journey has fueled my commitment to working alongside other marginalized individuals like myself. In my role as Head of Legal and PR at Nurture the Children International UK, I’ve contributed to mental health support programs and educational initiatives, striving for a happier and fairer society. I’ve also dedicated my debut novel to empowering minority groups. I have been a Goodera ambassador, enlightening corporate volunteers from companies like Deloitte and Apple around the issues of disability and poverty. I aim to lead Spokz People, expanding our services to reach and support more people and become a nationally recognised service.
Clinical Director, Supervisor & Therapist (MBACP Accred)
“My partner, Steve, has a physical impairment (spinal injury) which affects us all as a family. I experience associated stigma as the partner of a disabled person and have experienced childhood difference and trauma due to being from a religious and cultural minority. Impairment and disability are complex things. It’s as much about relationships and identity as it is dealing with healthcare professionals, members of the public, and so much more. Talking is one of the best cures for stress, isolation, fatigue, even for pain and trauma. If you can find a way to use the support you already have around you, it can really help your wellbeing and change your life.”
Mel is a qualified HE level 5 therapist and a registered and accredited member of BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – currently on hold as I am not working 1-2-1 with clients right now), meaning that we all follow their ethical framework. She has additional training in trauma (EMDR and Rewind), working online and disability. She is insured, has regular supervision and an enhanced DBS check. Click here to check my DBS number Number: 001458035020; surname Halacre; Date of Birth 18/05/1978, Organisation: Spokz People.
Director and Chairman
“I’ve had a spinal injury for over 30 years now and have worked as both a group leader and mentor. I set up our sister company Spokz in 2008, selling wheelchairs, accessories and sporting goods and came into contact with so many people who needed more than just wheelchairs and equipment in their life. Since my partner, Mel, was already a qualified therapist, I suggested she set up the non-profit services of Spokz People to provide a more holistic approach to helping people cope with being disabled.”
Lee has a spinal cord injury of 30+ years and has been one of our directors for 5 years, working closely with both Spokz People CIC and Spokz Ltd.
Director, Trainer, Marketing & Social Media Support
Director, Volunteer Member Liaison & Editor
Group Facilitator & Counsellor
“I have hemiplegic cerebral palsy from birth and have known differences from my peers from a very young age. I was aware of this difference long before my peers were. I always tried to mask what I was struggling with, or didn’t attempt it for fear of standing out, or being ridiculed. Having a mainstream education only amplified the differences as I was surrounded by people who had little or no understanding of the implications to my education and social progress. I have always found it a struggle to know how to voice what I needed, as I was never aware of the long lasting and ever-changing impact being disabled would have on my life and also my right to be able to do this. After discovering the importance of having a supportive relationship with a counsellor myself, I know the positive change this can make. This led me to begin on the career path of counselling as I felt that I would be in a position to help others feel heard and valued. I have a particular enthusiasm for raising people’s awareness of the importance of having their needs met and feel valued and supported whilst seeking this.”
Moderator and Video Editor
“Living with Autism has shaped every part of my life in ways I am still discovering – both for better and worse. My own journey with mental health and understanding myself has been affected by people who couldn’t understand what life with disability is like. It has been helped greatly by therapists who were sympathetic and understanding of these issues. I was intrigued by Spokz People’s approach toward therapy and their focus on disabled people. I am proud to be playing a part in what they do.”
A word or two on disability
Disability language is a hot topic! ‘Disabled people’, ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘people with an impairment’? Looking at disability from a social model perspective ‘impairment’ refers to the individual effects of an impairment and ‘disabled’ refers to the difficulties of being disabled in a society that does not accommodate different needs and abilities. Confusingly though, ‘disability’/‘disabled’ and ‘impairment’ are used interchangeable by most of us.
There are so many ways to describe disability out there and we understand different people like different words. Some people (us included) do not really like any of these words, because of their negative associations. However, since we have to use a term so that people can find us online and just because we have to use something, we generally use ‘disability’/’disabled’ as that’s what most people seem to prefer.
We know this term will not work for everyone and that the language we use impacts on our wellbeing. So whatever language or terms you like to use, just let us know in your first session and we will be happy to use them for the duration of our work together.
Most of us know the term ‘Purple Pound’ – the spending power of disabled people, which recognises their contribution to the economic cycle in society. The ‘Purple Pound’ also recognises the growing demand for services that meet their needs and, as our population ages, this will only grow.
Unfortunately, at present, studies show that therapeutic support often fails to meet the needs of disabled people. Many clients report feeling as oppressed and not listened to in therapy, as they are in society. Some examples of this are when therapists see their anger as denial of impairment, or when therapists express disbelief at the refusal to have medical treatment to improve impairment. Many clients report paying for therapy whilst educating the therapist about what being disabled is like, or putting up with poor therapy because that therapist was the only one with an accessible office.
How Purple Therapy differs: Our values
Purple Therapy is about using our knowledge of disability to empower disabled people, by recognising that there are many forces at work in society which aim to reduce their control and power, including, unfortunately, some health and social care processes and systems.
We respect that clients have many skills and are the expert, not we, at their lives. Our role is to help hone or bring out those skills.
We collaborate and plan sessions together, review regularly and work outside the usual boundaries if necessary so clients can make progress (boundaries such as session timing, location, touch and personal disclosure).
We work holistically. We draw on coaching, psychoeducation, self-disclosure, advocacy and body, trauma and touch therapy when appropriate.
We spend more time in self-reflection. As disability affirming therapists, we explore our own relationship, bias and prejudices towards impairment and disability and how this can impact on client work. Disability is usually seen as a medical issue on therapy training courses, rarely is it seen as a societal and political issue. This, in our view, is one of the key reasons for the negative therapy experiences many clients report.