Often times, disabled people’s organizations and persons with disabilities speak to themselves when conducting advocacies. on social inclusion and access for PWDs. This is because non-disabled members of the public including those in government, traditional institutions, mainstrem CSOs, private sector, the media, etc invited to such events fail to attend. These invitees, generally lack awareness and capacity on disability issues and so often have less passion and feel less concerned. Again, they are often very quick to preempt what any PWD will say in any public gathering. In fact the society hardly believes that a PWD knows any other thing than “disability.”
But can we consider making non-disabled persons advocates on disability issues?
I ask this question because I’m tempted to assume that making non-disabled persons champions of disability advocacies may encourage participation of, and support from more non-disabled members of the public. Besides, the act of encouraging non-disabled advocates of social inclusion is in itself an “inclusive” practice.
We don’t intend to do away with the saying that “nothing about us with out us.” We know PWDs are in the best position to speak on their issues becauase they feel the disability. However, there are non-disabled persons who are also related to, work with, live with or around PWDs who feel affected by disabilities and who may be capable of conducting advocacies on disability issues. There are also others who by their profession and training have acquired knowledge and skills on disability issues. Some non-disabled persons may just have natural interest and passion for disability issues and so may be willing to support disability advocacies.
Meanwhile, there are those who have never come across PWDs, lack any knowledge and skills on disability issues, may not be professionally linked to disability issues and may not even have the interest and passion. However, such persons may, by their socio-political or economic status, possess the capacity and influence to promote disability issues.
It will only be strategic if DPOs and PWDs identify these two categories of non-disabled persons and organizations with a view to encouraging them to become champions of disability advocacy.
DPOs and PWDs may partner with non-disabled individuals and organizations in government, traditional institutions, private sector, the media, mainstream CSOs, etc by way of capacity-building, awareness raising, colaboration to organize advocacies, etc. Some of the very influencial and someworth apathetic personalities may have to be effectively lobbyed to win them as disability advocates.
DPOs and PWDs may also have to position such individuals and organization on the driver’s seat of such advocacy efforts in order to easily attract the attention of targetted stakeholders. We should understand that some of these individuals and organizers are strategic public opinion molders. As such, It is therefore important that the engagement with non-disabled champions of disability advocacy must take cognisance of appropriate perspectives, concepts, models and terminologies on disability so as to prevent them from passing wrong or ambiguous messages.
While we are not in any way demonstrating any element of shame or low self esteme about our disabilities, DPOs and PWDs should understand the psyche of the non-disabled public especially as it relates to perception of PWDs and disability issues. Accordingly, we must be strategic in the design of our advocacy messages, channels of communication as well as the branding of our disability advocacy programmes and other related events. This will help to attract more public attention, responce and support. It is also another way of changing negative public perceptions and attitudes towards disability issues; as the idea of believing that DPOs and PWDs can’t do anything outside disability work will be gradually eradicated.
Many DPOs and PWDs have spent millions of hard earned funds to organize lavished fund raising dinners in choiced event places; advocacy visits; public awareness and enlightenment rallies; workshops and seminars; production of advocacy materials; etc. However, most of these efforts have recorded little or no impacts because most or all of the strategic targets fail to attend.
Why not identify or convert a passionate member of local, state or federal executive carbinet and parliament? Why not identify or convert a passionate member of the traditional sector? Why not identify or convert a passionate member of the private sector? What about identifying or converting mainstream CSOs to become sensitive to disability issues? What about engaging celebrities? What about making strategic use of the vast social media to network with these influencial non-disabled personalities as well as brand disability advocacies?
DPOs and PWDs should ot in any way abandon their advocacy to their non-disabled partners. Rather, they should furge strategic and effective colaborations that will amplify their voices and impact positive change in favour of a socially inclusive society.