Thursday, 14 May 2015

My thoughts... Principles for a Union of Disabled People

This is taken straight from my rough notes. ORGNAME is a stand in for whatever the organisation ends up being called.

Commentary is interspersed among the principles, explaining what my intention was, and why I chose to put it the way I did.

These are just my ideas, and are completely up for discussion. Comments, as always, are welcome. 

The ORGNAME operates on the basis of the following principles. While we do not expect members to agree them all as generally true, they are to be accepted for the work of ORGNAME.
  1. The term disability refers to the a person's life being harder due to health condition, injury, impairment or difference in functioning. This incorporates unavoidable practical difficulties, as well as structural disadvantage due to society being constructed primarily for people who whole, healthy, and 'normal'.
  2. This understanding of disability includes conditions that are mental as well as physical, and all manifestations, including but not limited to emotional, developmental, cognitive, sensory and physical limitations or differences.
  3. We know that some people we refer to as 'disabled' prefer not to use this term. We welcome these people to participate without insisting that they use this term, on the understanding that they accept it will be the term in general use within ORGNAME.

    The first three principles are about understanding what we mean by 'disabled'. They deliberately stop short of adopting the social model, and that is quite deliberate. While I subscribe to the social model, I know many disabled people don't, for lots of reasons. Some don't understand it properly, others have experienced it being mis-stated or misused, even had people try to police disability with it and exclude them. Some have perfectly valid theoretical issues with it. The essential point, though, is that the social model is a sociological model. Models are very helpful to understand phenomena, but by definition they are never perfect definitions of reality. What I've written is aimed at being inclusive and practical, while capturing some essential points of different approaches, including the social model's point that society disables us by virtue of being built with the needs of 'normal' people in mind.

    The list of categories included is not meant to be exhaustive, but is supposed to include learning disabilities/difficulties as well, which isn't as obvious as it could be.
  4. We seek to represent the interests of disabled people regardless of other characteristics, such as race, sex, gender, gender identity or reassignment, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality and national origin, and religion or other belief. We also understand that multiple disadvantages tend to compound disadvantage, and seek to address the specific difficulties faced by disabled people who have other disadvantages.

    This one is very simple - we try to understand and allow for intersectionality. It's also about inclusivity.
  5. We strive to be a mutually supportive environment for all disabled people; while our members come first, we also aim to support and work in the best interests of disabled people who are not members.

    This one really has two parts - firstly, that we're mutually supportive, and secondly that we want to help all disabled people, not just members.
  6. We do not expect all members, let alone all disabled people, to agree on everything, or to get on well with one another. We do expect members to treat one another with respect, refrain from written, verbal or physical attacks on one another, and respect our collective decision making.
  7. We do not expect members to publicly agree with and support all decisions and policies of ORGNAME. We do expect such disagreement to be expressed within accepted channels, as well as whatever other venues members may choose. We also hope any such disagreement will remain polite and avoid personal attacks.

    Here's two that go together, again. The idea here is that the union be inclusive of people, even if they disagree with some of our acts or policies. I'd rather not see fractured organisations with different desires - though separate organisations can exist as well. I want the union to be a place we can all come together. That means not being dogmatic, and tolerating different opinions.
  8. We do not engage in party politics. We will criticise the mistakes and applaud the successes of every political party and every politician on an equal basis. Where we have policy recommendations, we will make them to all relevant political parties.

    I don't think we should just be Tory-bashing, or whoever might come after the Tories as the agents of oppression. I considered including other organisations as well, because even if an organisation is part of something we fundamentally disagree with, we can still tell them how to be less of a problem.

    Basically, the idea is that we're not about political parties. Disabled people support a wide range of parties, some even support the Conservatives - we should be for all disabled people, not just those who we agree with politically.
  9. We strive to engage issues in a positive and constructive manner. When we are telling a person or organisation what they are doing wrong, we attempt to offer practical, workable suggestions to improve the situation. We will also tell people what we would like to see in an ideal world, but we accept that this is not an ideal world for anyone, so we refrain from absolute positions.

    This is sort of a personal thing of mine, but I truly believe it. It's much easier to get people to listen when you aren't just tearing things down. That applies to the people that you're criticising, but it's also true of a lot of 'neutral' observers.
  10. We believe that honesty and openness can only enhance our campaigns, and will not distort facts or evidence in an attempt to make a point.

    Another personal thing, to be honest, but I think stating this as a principle does a lot to enhance credibility - you just have to follow it as well.

    Politicians who play with our lives twist things to get their way, but we don't have to follow suit. 
  11. Our aim at all times is to achieve change to improve the lives of disabled people. This may manifest, for example, through campaigning on issues, through advocacy, working with the public, with politicians, with third sector organisations or with businesses. Any other concern is a means to that end.

    I think this one is really important. The overriding goal of everything is to make life better for disabled people, and we need to keep that in mind at all times.
  12. We believe that all people deserve to be free from poverty, while taking no collective position on income inequality beyond this. As an organisation of disabled people in the United Kingdom, our concern for poverty is focussed on such people.

    I have a position on income inequality generally. Other people, including disabled people, have a different one. Some people have no opinion at all. But I hope that we can all agree that poverty is a bad thing and people shouldn't have to suffer it - and we're concerned with trying to address that for disabled people in the UK.
  13. We believe that work to improve the position of disabled people should be led by disabled people. We appreciate the support of allies, and especially of carers, with whom we share many concerns; it is, however, important that disabled people's interests be represented by disabled people, and that positions of leadership be mostly held by disabled people.

    Nothing about us, without us. Allies are important, but we're the ones who suffer discrimination, and this is our fight - we should lead it.

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