A new disabled people’s organisation (DPO) is hoping to bring together DPOs from across the north of England to provide a strong, collective, regional voice on issues affecting disabled people.
Leeds Disabled People’s Organisation (LDPO) was formed in January last year and has no funding, but it wants to hear from other DPOs across the region*.
It is hoping to map the location of all the DPOs across the north of England so they can work together and provide a powerful new voice, potentially setting up a new regional coalition.
LDPO has already been in contact with the well-established Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and hopes eventually to bring northern DPOs together for a “summit” meeting.
Mostafa Attia, LDPO chair, said: “We would like to do a northern summit, with all the different DPOs coming together, sharing and exchanging sources and see how they can work together rather than each of them working in a separate, isolated environment.”
Steve Graby, a founder member of LDPO and also a member of GMCDP’s executive board, but not speaking on their behalf, said a key problem was the lack of a coordinated list or database of active DPOs.
He said: “I hear about other DPOs mostly by word of mouth, and often even politicised disabled people living in an area, such as Manchester, where there is a DPO that is long-established and ‘well-known’ within the [disabled people’s movement] community, aren’t aware of it.”
Graby said part of the reason for this was that many DPOs had “failed to adapt to changing times and patterns of disablement, so that they don’t seem relevant to a lot of younger disabled people now, and are not necessarily addressing the most pressing problems that many disabled people are facing”.
One of the explanations for that, he said, was that many DPOs had become service-providers that depend on funding with “strings attached” or have restrictions such as only being open to certain age groups.
They have often “lost the roles of campaigning and consciousness-raising organisations” and “can often be de facto led by paid staff rather than their membership”, he said.
Even the national Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance of DPOs, which he supports, appears to be “very London/South of England centric”.
Graby said he believed there needed to be a mapping of where DPOs are active and where they are not, with more regional coordination to “move away from the London bias”.
He said: “I think this is especially needed because so much activist energy has been focused on the actions of central government and therefore targeting parliament, Whitehall, the DWP headquarters etc, and while of course this is important and necessary, disabled people (particularly those with personal assistance/independent living support needs) are now increasingly also being attacked by cuts made by local government, so there is a real need for local/regional as well as national organisation and activism.”
And he said there needed to be an effort to find “new ways of organising as disabled people without relying on the funding which so many DPOs have been reliant on and which increasingly is being lost.
“It is unacceptable to me that loss of funding seems to instantly mean the complete annihilation of a DPO regardless of the will of its members – there need to be ways that DPOs can function on some level as organisations of active ‘doers’ rather than a passive membership and things only being done by paid staff.”
Leeds DPO was formed by a collection of people, most of them disabled, who were either studying at the University of Leeds – known for its Centre for Disability Studies – or were working locally in the disability field.
Its mission is to bring together disabled people in Leeds and combat social isolation and exclusion.
Among its activities, it organises social events, has started a writers’ group and is setting up a disabled women’s group.
*If you are a DPO working in the north of England, you can contact Leeds DPO by email at [email protected], through Twitter (@Leeds_DPO), through its website or on Facebook
Picture: Two LDPO members at last year’s Leeds Pride
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