The disability movement now has a “powerful voice” to challenge oppression, the first major in-person gathering of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in England for seven years has heard.
DPOs from across England gathered in Manchester on Friday* for the launch of a new Disabled People’s Manifesto (see separate story).
It was the first significant in-person gathering of English DPOs since a conference in Sheffield in 2016 and was organised by the DPO Forum England, Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP).
Svetlana Kotova, Inclusion London’s director of campaigns and justice, said the conference showed how disabled people and their organisations had continued fighting over the last 13 years despite “huge cuts to our support”, the COVID pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.
She said the succession of setbacks felt as though “we can’t lift our head from one blow [before we] get another one”.
She said it was “important to remember that despite receiving all those blows from the government and from everyone who is supposed to support us, we kept fighting”.
Mark Harrison, a member of the steering group of Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, said the DPO Forum England now provided a “much more powerful voice” for DPOs because it “came out of adversity”.
He said the forum was set up two years ago after the then minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, set up a forum of DPOs and then shut it down after just three meetings “because we challenged him on every single thing”.
Harrison said later that the conference had “reaffirmed the belief of what we know, and that what we know is that disabled people change the world.
“Nobody else is going to do it for us. It’s us. We are the people that are going to make the change happen.”
Michelle Daley, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, spoke of the vital importance of sustainable funding for DPOs, which would provide the resources necessary for proper co-production of policy.
She said: “We don’t just want to sustain. We want to thrive. We must thrive.
“We don’t just want to be at the table. We want to be part of the conversation. We want to dismantle the shit that’s happening.
“We know that we can’t be sustained when we have to scrape for the pebbles. And we know that in order to be sustainable, we need to thrive as well.
“DPOs are important, they’re necessary. They’re necessary for our tomorrow, they were necessary for yesterday, and they’re necessary for the years to come.”
Fazilet Hadi, head of policy for Disability Rights UK, said it felt like “such a momentous day”, and that they were following “a very proud tradition of disabled people fighting for our rights and our equality and inclusion”.
She highlighted how she had personally benefited from the past activism of disabled people, which had produced disability living allowance and the Disability Discrimination Act.
And she said disabled people had continued their activism in recent years, protesting about personal emergency evacuation plans, the failure to extend the universal credit £20 uplift to those on legacy benefits, the unlawfulness of the National Disability Strategy, and now against rail ticket office closures.
*Other representatives of DPOs watched the conference and took part in discussions online
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