Danny West, who works as a coach and leadership consultant, strongly believes in the strength and ability of people living with long-term disabilities. Here he tells Disability Horizons how he works with people to build on their innate resilience.
Running a coaching, training and leadership consultancy company, I work exclusively with individuals who are living with disabilities and long-term health conditions as well as some of the UK’s leading disability organisations. I work to empower disabled people, to focus on their abilities not disabilities and to hone their leadership skills so they can achieve their goals.
I have lived with a highly stigmatised chronic health condition, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), since the age of 24 and was given a life expectancy of 18 months. In addition, I am dyslexic and have a chronic degenerative spinal condition.
Now at the age of 51 I find myself on a learning curve as I discover the multiple barriers and assumptions associated with using a walking stick as well as the access to the physical world, a social life and my favourite past time, travel.
Dying of HIV was never an option for me; I have always had a vision of my life and of the many things that I wanted to accomplish.
My professional career, which has included being a social worker, carer, trainer, manager and now coach and leadership consultant, came about as a direct result of my passion for equality and justice.
I absolutely believe that people living with disabilities are advantaged by our experience of discrimination, prejudice and the obstacles associated with disability in a non-disabled world.
Meeting Martyn Sibley
I first met Co-editor Martyn Sibley at a Disability Rights UK (formally RADAR) leadership programme and was assigned as his leadership coach. We formed an instant rapport based our shared attitudes, our vision for people living with disabilities, our resourcefulness and our entrepreneurship.
Our meeting encouraged me to write this article about the coaching relationship and how the tools of coaching can enable and empower disabled people.
What is coaching?
Coaching offers a supportive and confidential relationship that allows the coach to empower the client and enable them to build upon their inherent abilities, motivation and confidence. Coaching can cover a range of issues, from relationships to getting a job.
Empowering a client is done by initially identifying the clients goals and then recognising any perceived barriers and obstacles, changing these ideas and then focusing on, and developing, the client’s natural strengths. A coach also works to identify someone’s personal goals so we can develop a strategy to help achieve success.
Coaching is all about moving forward, it does not focus on past failures, mistakes or disappointments. It’s all about building on what the client can do and increasing their self-confidence and self-esteem. It is an interactive relationship which is non-critical and non-judgemental.
Going through the coaching process can be challenging. Where appropriate, I encourage the client to operate outside of their comfort zone. It is important for the client to have full commitment in the coaching relationship as this will assist the client to explore the things that are important to him/her and identify the issues or areas within their life that they are dissatisfied with. However, keep in mind that coaching is not therapy, counselling or an advice service.
Resilience and determination
I firmly believe that, as a direct result of living with (or growing with) a disability, those people have developed and honed a range of skills that non-disabled people do not necessarily utilise to their full potential.
Our experience has meant that we have become extremely resilient, more determined, creative and resourceful. We are driven by a need to achieve and challenge the limits imposed upon us by society and the medical and charitable models of disability.
Accessibility, cost and coaching
The coaching relationship can be conducted in a variety of ways, traditionally face-to-face, but this is not necessarily accessible or convenient. Development of technologies such as email, telephone and Skype, allow people living with disabilities to access coaching more easily.
As a coach who is committed to accessibility, I have been able to work in partnership with all of my clients to ensure that coaching is fully accessible as part of their everyday lives.
What about the cost I hear you say? The reality is that I am running a business and my fees pay the rent and that’s how I earn my living. However, I have adopted a flexible pricing policy. I am able to negotiate on an individual basis with each of my clients.
I also have a bank of 4 limited cost-free coaching sessions within my business, but these places are often fully occupied, so I do also retain a waiting list system for those people who do not have or cannot access funding.
Danny worked with me in 2010 for a number of months. He is a man of integrity and has an amazing knowledge of human behaviour and what makes people tick. He is encouraging and insightful as well as challenging and immensely patient. I would not have moved on with my life in the same way without his input in the sessions we spent together. I would recommend him to anyone who needed help with direction in life and assessing goals and aims and how to begin to achieve them. He also made me laugh whilst we were working together and that was really important for me. Anonymous
It was a pleasure to meet Danny at the Disability Rights UK event. He’s a kind and friendly guy. Then, when we began coaching, he helped put things in order: my vision, my goals, tasks and timelines. Last year I did so much following on from this. Now we are colleagues and mates. He’s a top guy and I’d recommend him to anyone. Martyn Sibley
By Danny West