Sunday 10 May 2015

A union (or whatever) of disabled people?

Guest post by Sam Barnett-Cormack @narco_sam

Given the results of this general election, it’s more clear than ever that we need to make use of every tool outside of Parliament to stand up for ourselves. To stand up for our rights, our participation, our safety and our sanity.

It’s my feeling that a new national organisation, formally constituted and mebership-based, would be a strong way to ensure the voice of disabled people in politics, in civil society, and in the media. I have nothing against DPAC and Black Triangle, and I hope their work continues. Indeed, the organisation I envisage would hopefully work with them, along with all sorts of DPULOs, and anyone else that it makes sense to work with. The organisation I envisage would be dedicated to constructive policy work and campaigning in all areas, not just political. Inaccessible town centres, healthcare inequality, disabled people’s sports – raising the profile of all these, and more, and saying how we, disabled people, want things fixed – and having the data and policy work to back it up. And yes, that includes working to protect the social security that so many disabled people rely on, but also so much more.

We don’t have to call it a union – it wouldn’t exactly be part of the trades union movement, but I see it working in a similar way. A national executive, policy votes, meetings and similar. Of course, meetings can never be terribly accessible for many disabled people, so we’d do more absentee voting at meetings, and more things by referenda. But we would have a solidly defined constitution, and membership. So it could be called ‘union’, or ‘association’, or ‘fellowship’ – there’s arguments for and against a lot of language options. What’s important is that we do it.

I truly believe that, done right, such an organisation can carry the confidence and embody the unity of disabled people. We won’t all agree on policies, there will be internal politics, but we can see how many organisations out there make this work. We agree to follow our collective will in essentials, even while being free to disagree publicly. Not every disabled person would support it, but if we do it right, enough will. A credible, mature and accountable voice for disabled people on the national stage – with accountability, making it easy for everyone to participate, and allowing for differences of opinion without fragmenting.

I don’t have all the detail worked out, but here’s my thoughts so far. Two-stream membership, with different voting rights – self-identified disabled people as full members, and carers and allies as associate members. Our carers and allies are vital, and they must have a voice, especially carers, but the organisation must be led by disabled people ourselves. A constitution that embeds concern for intersectionality, that we will not discriminate against disabled people on the basis of other characteristics – be it race, sex, education, economic status, national origin (or even nationality), whatever. Not party-political, but admonishing all political parties (and politicians) equally, as merited. Praising that which is good and castigating that which is bad. Caring as much about supporting each other as about making noise and seeking change – providing advice and advocacy would be an excellent thing to incorporate.

Yes, an organisation doing this is going to need money. I don’t envisage employed staff any time soon, though if it takes off that’s a possibility. But organisation generally costs money, like room hire, renting a PO box, printing, and even legal advice. Some of that might come from contributions in kind, and we can always hope for a few big donors, but membership will probably need to cost money. I don’t know how much. Perhaps charge associate members more than full members, partly due to the fact that disabled people are more likely to be in poverty, and partly because that demonstrates our allies’ commitment to us as disabled people. Of course, concessional rates would be needed – carers are scarcely in a better position than disabled people, certainly. I’d love to sit down with some other people who are prepared to get this off the ground and sort out these initial details. Heck, I’m happy if other people run with the idea and I just end up a member, but I’m willing to do work to start it – I just can’t do it all.

There’s so much more that I could say: how we can directly address businesses and other organisations, not just politicians; how we can facilitate a structure of affiliate organisations to allow for local branches; how a clear forum that we have ownership of will allow us to be open about our fears and our hopes and, yes, our differences.

Let’s do this thing.

Friday 1 May 2015

A Call to Union

Post written for  Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015, #BADD2015

"Scroungers, cuts, unfair tests", how dare anyone treat us thus, people cry.
"Incapable, unfit, inferior", this is how you make us look, others despair.
"Pain, misery, poverty", why do you refuse to see?, more shout.
"Welfarists, pity seeking, anti inclusion", this is what you have become, some accuse.

"A few" becomes "most".  
"Most" becomes "all".        
Miscommunication, anger, fear. 
Won't anyone stop to listen? 

Fragmented, upset, distrustful,    
We will not have a voice until we do.
Until then "They" laugh and carry on.  
And harm is done to all.

For BADD 2013 I talked about the difficulties we, as disabled people, faced in simultaneously pursuing two goals to fight disablism.
The first was challenging the perception that disabled people are by definition incapable of working, particularly at the highest levels.
The second was challenging the "if you can type you can work" type argument. This meant ensuring that the general public understand that it is possible to be unable to do sustaining paid work and that appropriate support must be in place without social condemnation.

I am sorry to say that we have failed miserably, with unspoken disagreements over which goal to follow and crucially, how to go about it, causing rifts and friction.

What I see around me today are disparate disability "groups" often at odds with one another, unfounded accusations flying back and forth, and increasing stereotyping and disablism, all coming ironically from disabled people ourselves.
Here are just some of the types of things I have heard repeatedly from many different sources.
  • "Disabled people with chronic illnesses feel sorry for themselves and don't want to work"
  • "Disabled people who work look down on those who don't and don't understand what it is like"
  • "All disabled people could work if they really wanted to"
  • "Disabled people with chronic/mental health illnesses who work/go back to work can't have been that sick to start with"
  • "Disabled people with visible impairments have it easy (insert uninformed rant)"
  • "Disabled people with invisible impairments have it easy (insert uninformed rant)"
  • "Disabled people who campaign about welfare have never worked on or know anything about any other issue, and are against true inclusion"
  • "Disabled people who don't directly campaign about welfare issues don't care"
  • "Person A campaigned about Issue B, therefore they think "this" about Issue C!" (argument ensues)
(Those of you thinking "but it's true" at this stage might want to reconsider the earlier lines "a few becomes most, most becomes all" and apply the result in reverse to the above statements.)

This sort of labelling, insults and assumptions would be pounced on and defended against if coming from an outside source. So why are we allowing this to happen?
What is this if not disablism of the very kind we strive so hard to eliminate?

And so, I call for people to pause. To communicate. To try to understand each other's concerns and goals. Most importantly, to unite.
Until we do, we cannot create strong messages and policies which leave no one out, which both enable and support every one of us, whatever our impairments or current situation.

Unless we achieve this, in every sphere of life, be it education, welfare, employment, social care, health, family and social life, access and transport, many new policies will be unfair, unsupportive or even intrinsically disablist.

As a new government is about to be formed, there has never been a better time to get our act together and make our impact felt over the course of the next 5 years.

Post written for  Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015, #BADD2015