Or, you know, what the hell is it?

I have to explain the importance of lived experiences so regularly I feel like every person who reads this blog (particularly those who aren’t in the disabled community themselves) needs to keep passing it on to another person to read until, finally, the whole world just gets why lived experience is so crucial!

The basic definition

Lived experience is accepting that someone from a historically marginalised community has a greater knowledge of what it is like to be from that community than someone who isn’t.

Why it matters

Basically, a disabled person is going to truly understand what it’s like to live through the discrimination of being disabled, as opposed to Bob who has a second cousin who spent a week in a wheelchair once and so feels the need to chip in and steamroll over another person’s lived experience because they feel their insight is just as valid (Oh Bob!).

It’s really important to understand how important lived experiences are, and identify where your limits for understanding certain issues begin and end. I, for one, will never truly understand what it’s like to be BIPOC. It doesn’t mean I can’t ever talk about the struggles faced by the community but it does mean that it’s my job to acknowledge and accept my limitations when it comes to understanding this and why it’s important I defer to people with lived experience for guidance.

It’s why we talk about own voices so much. We see this problem in the media time and time again. Because of the lack of understanding about how important lived experience is, people from the relevant communities aren’t routinely involved in creating work about them and as a result the media often perpetuates false narratives about these communities, which does active harm.

Deferring to lived experience can resolve this

Lived experience isn’t about stopping people from talking about these issues but rather making sure that they are fully understood and the right information is passed on. Inviting members of a community to share their experiences, advocate for others in their community and (this is often overlooked) paying them for their time, shows that the communities being discussed are both valued and being placed central to discussions about their own community. By centring the people affected by an issue at the heart of communications lazy stereotypes and false narratives can be avoided and genuine experiences and meaningful engagement can be had.

In creating a more authentic dialogue and pool of information, longstanding change can be made that will benefit the wider community better with higher engagement rates allowing long-lasting change to become a reality.

So, next time you’re in a discussion and a member of a community is trying to speak up make sure you listen – really listen – and help to amplify their voice against those from outside the community who may try to silence any uncomfortable truths. Acknowledging and trusting others’ lived experiences is all part of being a good ally and a key element of personal growth.