When focus groups go bad

“This could be a complete waste of my time,” I pondered aloud before I left the house.

“Why?” my wife asked.

“Haven’t you ever been to a disability focus group before?” I laughed. “I’ll snapchat you a picture of the snacks. They’ll be awful.”

They were.

But so was everything else. The writing was on the wall from the start (except it wasn’t) as there was no signage on the building, and when you arrive at 7:30pm in winter, you need some signage. Upon entering, nervous facilitators fussed over where I should sit. I went to partake in the snacks, except they were placed in the middle of the table, out of my reach. The first question the facilitators asked was gob-smackingly ableist (“How would you feel if you were left alone at a table with a disabled person?”), and so I asked the facilitator to clarify what the question meant. She couldn’t. The night went on like this, with clanger after clanger of ableist, hostile language. I almost walked out several times. 90 excruciating minutes later, I got in my car and text my wife.

“What a clusterfuck.”

Here’s the thing. In the same way that cultural minority has tikanga or customs, so does the disability world. For instance, make sure your signage is good. If you’re providing refreshments, make them accessible. Use inclusive language. Be disability confident (and if you’re not, upskill yourself). Have high expectations of participants and facilitate the session well. Don’t let people get dragged down into war stories (we love that shit).

But do you know what would make your focus group even better?

…If a disabled person had facilitated the session! I know there are potentially some ethical issues around this, but what I’m saying is, that there are plenty of disabled people who could’ve run that session and maintained the disabled participants’ dignity and integrity. Surely that’s not too much to ask.

NB: I’ve followed up with the relevant groups about my experience, in order to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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