I believe in equity and human rights for all. However for disabled people across the world rights , equality and even self representation are ongoing battles. Over the last 60 years disabled people have come together as a movement of people and organisations in reaction to the inequality and discrimination we face to advocate for our needs and rights. The movement has adopted the phrase nothing about us without us to highlight the need for disabled people to be given space at decision making tables. Disabled people and organisations have had successes locally, nationally and internationally with things like the disability discrimination act and the United nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
I and many other younger disabled people have been able to benefit from these wins to be more included in our communities and wider society than ever before but that doesn’t mean the barriers and discrimination have gone. Disabled people’s organisations are needed as much now as they were 20 or 30 years ago the problem is (At least in the UK) most of the dpos are in crisis predominantly because of funding.
However funding is not the only challenge facing disabled people’s organisations leadership, accessibility and inclusivity are increasingly becoming issues and it is these things my fellowship is focused on.
Leadership, accessibility and inclusion – what’s the problem
I have had an impairment as long as I can remember as it happens I have multiple impairments but it took longer to get the other ones recognised. I started campaigning around disability rights at 10 and got involved in disabled people’s organisations at 17. From the moment I got involved in dpos one thing stood out there was rarely anyone even vaguely near my age involved in anything that wasn’t specifically youth related- and very few dpos did or do anything around youth.
From the moment I entered the disability arena in have tried with varying degrees of success to change that.
Unfortunately lack of access to ideas and other disabled people doing the kind of things people aspire to means that unintentionally many dpos in the UK are not as accessible as they could or should be. How can you explore what it means to be a disabled person if you are not given a safe and supportive space to do that in. Too often disabled people are expected to be politicised just by having lived experience but if all your lived experience perpetuates societal norms then how do you get the confidence to challenge That?
How do you ever find out disabled people’s organisations exist?
Accross disability organisations both with and for their is a tendency to divide along impairment lines and I get it but i don’t think it’s always helpful as it often puts disabled people in conflict with each other rather than trying to change society. As someone with multiple impairments and identities it means I can feel like I don’t really belong anywhere. It also limits possible solutions and innovation by limiting the angles things are looked at.
Often there is a sense that to be in a disability organisation you must see your main identity as being disabled but for me this is silly as everyone has multiple identities that define who they are and how they experience the world. So how can we support disabled people’s organisations to celebrate diversity and talk about it?
Disabled people’sorganisations are struggling to find skilled disabled people for leadership positions. For me this is mainly because there aren’t enough opportunities to develop the skills and experience to lead. As the current generation of leaders ages there is more and more need for new or emerging leaders but where are the learning opportunities?
Is looking at what organisations and individuals working around disability in Australia and New Zealand are doing to tackle these issues and to see there are any idea’s I can take back to the UK.
I’m particularly interested in how disabled women, young disabled people, disabled people from ethnic minorities and those with impairments which are often excluded from leadership roles are supported to be/become leaders.
Winston Churchill Memorial trust fund British citizens to investigate inspiring practice in other countries, and return with innovative ideas for the benefit of people across the UK.