A new approach to disability activism:Some first thoughts

This is something I have been wrestling with for a while…and something I wanted to try and make a constructive contribution with. For a long time I have observed disability activism and seen some instances where it has gained more traction than others. I have also wondered about what it means to be an ‘activist’ or a ‘campaigner’ and wanted to help contribute to this debate. 

With this in mind, I outline some principles around what a new approach to disability activism could look like. I do so with some trepidation, and with the heavy caveat that these are first thoughts. I am though of the conviction that, used with a principled approach, disability activism has far greater (and more consistent) scope to have impact than it does currently.

Principles

In this section I present a very broad brush outline of the principles underpinning a new approach to disability activism. These are that activism should be goal directed, evidence based, nuanced, proportional and ideologically transparent.

 Goal directed

Activism must have a clear idea concerning its objective(s) and how the activism intends to contribute to their realisation. Being goal directed could also help in the engagement of individuals who share a similar or common objective

 Evidence based

In order to make a telling impact, what is said must be grounded in evidence, either of an empirical or experiential nature. Being evidence based will mean that findings can be discussed with authority, rather than being dismissed as being merely purely anecdotal in nature. Evidence could take the form of a quantitative, qualitative nature or a mix methods approach as each methodological approach has merits.

 Nuanced

The term ‘disability’ encompasses a wide range of impairments and as such, any activism carried out should take this range into account. Giving due attention to nuance will help to highlight the diversity that is covered when discussing issues related to impairment and give due respect to difference.

 Proportional

A sense of proportionality matters in order to ensure the effort directed to addressing an issue is relative to its significance. Moreover, this sense of proportionality is intended to avoid disproportionate responses to an issue. To give an example, boycotting a manufacturer because one of its employees used a disabled parking space in an isolated occurrence would be, it is suggested, a disproportionate response to this infraction. 

Ideologically transparent

Some disability activism is informed by a clear ideological standpoint which can help inform the stance taken in relation to particular issues. In the policy making arena Barrilleaux et al (2016) have suggested that ideas should be ideologically neutral. 

Given the nature of disability activism, much of which draws from personal conviction and responses to government and social policy, the author doubts it is possible to separate the personal from the political. Being ideologically transparent though means that ideas can be discussed with the nature of an influential standpoints disclosed. 

Learning from history: Using the past as a springboard for the present

In writing these first thoughts, I do so in the knowledge that the disability rights movement has a long and rich history which is of import with the above in mind. Here there is work to do in order to identify and learn from past endeavours in order to inform and develop present efforts.

I hope these first thoughts are useful, and I would welcome thoughts on them. I intend to develop them in the near future. Good disability activism, in order to make the case for the multitude of issues that those with impairments are facing in current challenging times, is in the interest of so many.

About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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