Disabled activists have used a ground-breaking internet broadcast to call on self-advocacy organisations to return to their campaigning roots and fight for their local communities.
They want groups to take part in a series of lunchtime civil rights protests across the country on Thursday 22 September, which they hope will be led by people with learning difficulties.
Organising local protests will make it easier for people with learning difficulties to take part, as many do not have the money or support necessary to attend major protests in London and have raised concerns about their safety at big demonstrations.
Last week’s Back to your Roots broadcast was part of the Advocacy and Leadership Project, funded by the Labour government’s Valuing People Now programme and hosted by the disability organisation Inclusion North.
The project aims to strengthen advocacy and the leadership skills of people with learning difficulties across the country.
The project team hope some people will also become leaders within the wider disability movement and will campaign for their local communities, and not just for other people with learning difficulties.
Following a consultation, activists working on the project concluded that many self-advocacy organisations had lost touch with their old campaigning spirit and were now little more than social groups.
To spread the word about the September protests, and discuss what issues people should campaign about, the project team, including self-advocacy veteran Gary Bourlet, the project’s coordinator, organised a live broadcast over the internet.
The broadcast involved 10 leading self-advocates from Yorkshire and Humberside, and is thought to be the first time people with learning difficulties have been involved in such an event.
Among the issues they raised were calls for more funding for self-advocacy groups threatened with closure because of spending cuts; the need to tackle disability hate crime; problems with public transport; and calls for “real jobs with real wages”.
Bourlet told his fellow disabled activists: “We should be campaigning for civil rights, and work in a coalition with other disability groups.
“We need to be working together as a coalition and shout out and be heard, not let politicians or the press or the police put us down.”
More than 200 groups and individuals have already viewed the broadcast, including 138 who watched it live. Many of those who watched have contributed their own thoughts, via text, telephone, email, Twitter, Facebook, and a chat room.
Disabled consultant Tricia Nicoll, who has been mentoring the project, said: “The possibilities [of such broadcasts]are just huge, because there are none of those things that traditionally get in the way, such as a lack of funding, support and transport.”
She added: “We are really encouraging people to come up with ideas that are about their local community. That will do more for the self-advocacy movement because it will enable the local community to see people with learning difficulties doing really positive things to change their community.”
The project team are organising a second broadcast later this month to provide an update on the campaign.
4 August 2011