Meeting QDN

Last week I had the privilege of meeting with Michelle Moss & paige Armstrong  at QDN . From the outside QDN is an unassuming building in the suburbs of brisbane but on the inside it is a hive of activity. QDN is the leading dpo for queensland as I mentioned in a earlier blog DPOS in Australia currently  receive funding from local and national government to carry out representative functions around disability and this is how qdn gets money.

As a result all around its  meeting space are graphics photos and evidence of consultation. 

It was really interesting to hear about some of the emerging challenges and opportunities facing DPOS in Australia particularly around competition from the private sector and adoption of the language of independent living by the government without full comprehension of what that looks like in practice.

My key learning from my meeting were

1) use membership 

QDN have a large membership at least by UK dpo standards and they actively engage with there membership providing them with opportunities to understand and use their rights. The volume of easy read materials was particularly noticible.

2) NDIS

Talking to Michelle I learned a lot more about the new national disability insurance scheme which is the roll out of direct payments and personal budgets  in Australia it’s big, relatively new and has teething troubles but has massive potential. Organisations like QDN are making sure that all disabled people are aware of the opportunities for choice and control the scheme offers. QDN is doing some really interesting to ensure that people with learning disabilities are not left behind.

What I found slightly surprisingly and depressing is Australia has a long history of institutionalising disabled people and is still struggling with deinsitutionalisation particularly around small group homes.

3)training the trainers

To support QDNs development of leaders they run training of trainers for any disabled people that  want to get involved in projects.in fact they build it into all project programmes to ensure that it’s not just the usual suspects taking part.

4)representation vs advocacy

There is a big divide in Australia between representative dpos and organisations that do collective and individual case advocacy. The roles are  separated which surprised me as most organisations in the UK do both. 

Me meeting with Michelle from QDN
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Why I applied for this fellowship

Background 

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. 

Accessibility 

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? 

Inclusion 

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? 

Leadership 

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? 
My fellowship 

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.

and we’re off

Today Kate (my willing PA for this adventure) and I begin our Leadership adventure Down Under. We will be spending the next few weeks exploring leadership in the disability field in australia and New Zealand and how it can be and is being made more inclusive.

I am interested in how the disability movement can support disabled women, young people, people with learning disabilities and those from diverse and minority backgrounds to be in leadership positions.

I will be meeting people from a wide range of organisations as well as individual disabled leaders in the followings cities:

  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Brisbane
  • Hobbart
  • Wellington
  • Auckland

The key questions I will be asking are

  • Why does leadership in the disability¬† field should be more inclusive?
  • What are you/organisation doing to support this?
  • What were/are the barriers to inclusion in leadership?
  • What solutions have worked?

I hope to be able to share infomation about what’s happening in the UK and the challenges and opportunities we are facing.