A national conference is set to provide disabled people and their organisations across England with an opportunity to come together to discuss key disability rights issues, share their campaigning successes, and secure a collective voice on the international stage.
The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) is set to take a sizeable step forward at its annual conference on 14 July when for the first time it elects a national steering group.
Tara Flood, chief executive of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), one of ROFA’s founding members, said a vacuum had been created by the lack of a genuinely representative network of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) since the demise of the UK Disabled People’s Council.
She said: “There is a need, in what is an extremely hostile time, for national, regional and local DPOs to come together to feel more united, and think about what we need to do together.”
The alliance plans to extend its influence internationally by applying to become England’s representative on the global organisation Disabled Peoples’ International, and to affiliate with other international organisations such as the European Network on Independent Living.
It is believed to be the first time there has been a network of DPOs representing the interests of disabled people in England, rather than the wider UK.
Flood said: “We are aware that disabled people in England currently have no voice in Europe or outside the European Union.”
She is hoping that as many disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) as possible will join ROFA and attend the annual conference in Sheffield on 14 July, an event that last year was attended by nearly 40 DPOs.
The conference will focus on independent living, equality and inclusion, the crisis in mental health, direct action and using the law to protect disabled people’s services and rights.
It will also highlight the work of individual DPOs, such as the Equal Lives campaign around cuts to social care, and the success of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts (HAFCAC) in overturning home care charging and persuading the local council to ring-fence funding for former users of the Independent Living Fund.
Flood said: “We want to learn from what people are already doing so there is no reinventing of the wheel.”
Inclusion London, Equal Lives, ALLFIE, People First, Sisters of Frida and Disabled People Against Cuts first came together in 2012 to host a conference “to raise the policy and political concerns of disabled people and English DPOs”.
Progress in developing ROFA was partly delayed by a lack of funding, but also by the work members put into developing their own manifesto in 2013 and then an English shadow report in summer 2014 in response to the UK government’s report to the UN on its progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
ROFA plans to continue working with its sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to monitor progress on the convention and to “develop collective influence to the problems disabled people are facing across the UK”.
Picture: Participants at last year’s ROFA conference