Birthday honours: OBE proves the only way is Essex, says DPO boss


The boss of a leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has described his OBE as a vindication of his pioneering approach.

Mike Adams, chief executive of ecdp (Essex Coalition of Disabled People), was included in the Queen’s birthday honours, with an OBE for services to disabled people.

He said the OBE recognised ecdp’s “forthright views” on how DPOs must operate in the future, raising revenue by providing services, but also providing disabled people with “a representative voice”.

Adams said: “I have always said I do not believe you can have one without the other. You need to generate income in order to continue to expand the voice-related work.”

He believes this message is now gaining ground among other DPOs, five years after he was slow-handclapped for his views at a National Centre for Independent Living conference.

Adams said: “What has been so brilliant is to talk to chief executives of older and emerging DPOs who are talking the same language now. Five years ago, ecdp were an outlier. I don’t believe we are anymore.”

The honour comes less than six months after ecdp’s former chair, Brian Mister, was recognised with an MBE in the new year honours.

Despite the widespread anger within the disability movement at many of the government’s cuts and reforms to disability benefits and services, Adams said he “didn’t hesitate” to accept the OBE.

He said: “The huge response that I have had tells me that the benefits for disabled people and the fact that it reflects the contribution I made massively outweigh the political sensitivities.”

He said he was “absolutely delighted and thrilled” to be recognised, and hoped it would help in “raising the profile of disabled people and DPOs”.

His only concern was that the original notification letter referred to “services to the disabled”, so he contacted the Cabinet Office to ask for it to be changed to “services to disabled people”.

Before he joined ecdp, Adams was one of the first disability officers in the higher education sector, at Coventry University, where he helped set up a disability research centre.

After moving to the Higher Education Funding Council, he took a part-time masters degree in business administration, before becoming director of operations for the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

After the DRC closed in 2007, he decided not to join the new Equality and Human Rights Commission, and to work instead with a grassroots organisation, and has been with ecdp ever since.

He said the OBE was “a recognition of what I have done and my achievements”, but he added: “What I also know is that I am not an island and it is also about the people who have worked alongside me, supported me, mentored me and coached me, to enable me to maximise my potential.”

He is still unsure whether to add “OBE” to his signature, wary of appearing “arrogant” but also already clear that the honour suggests “a level of gravitas” to those who have yet to meet him, and that it can “open doors”.

In less than three working days since his OBE was announced, he had already received four requests to attend high-profile events that he believes he would otherwise not have been invited to.

He said: “I will utilise it, but I will need to think about the best way of utilising it which feels comfortable for me as an individual, which works for ecdp and disabled people.”

Terry Collin, ecdp’s chair, paid tribute to his chief executive’s “intellect, commitment and drive”.

He said: “As a result of Mike’s leadership, the lived experiences of disabled people in Essex have shaped and influenced important changes at local and national levels.

“So I’m absolutely delighted that his talents, achievements, but above all his considerable personal contribution to advancing the interests of disabled people, are being recognised in this way.”

21 June 2012