The air was blue. The bluest I’ve seen in a while. ‘What the #%&* does “inter alia” mean?’
What a task he set–‘he’ being Brendan Collins, at whose suggestion we had agreed to sit down and examine the document TowardsEequal Partnership: The Progress Report on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, and ‘we’ being the People in Action. PIA is a representative body of persons with disabilities, representing all persons who use the services of the Adult Services Centre of Cerebral Palsy Ireland (CPI).
Before we go any further, it would be helpful to readers to be aware that the mission statement of PIA is: ‘PIA is a partnership between the people who use the service and the managers of CPI. With courage and mutual respect we enable each with a choice, a voice in their working life.’ Established in 1998, PIA was set up as a representative body of the different areas of CPI Sandymount to come together to discuss the issues that they deemed important. Under the direction and guidance of Brendan Collins, this group met regularly and over the course of the past few years its members have achieved some milestones both personally and organisationally.
Most recently, as a result of funding received from the National Social Services Board, we are conducting training and in-depth examination of advocacy, its purpose and how PIA can best use the concept of advocacy both in daily living and in the development of services nationally for CPI.
The air was blue, the bluest I have seen in a while.
We discussed the Strategy for Equality report from the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities in a context and language that we use every day. Have there been changes? Yes, but only the slightest. But what about the changes highlighted so clearly in Towards Equal Partnership–the establishment of the National Disability Authority, the Equality Act, and so on and so on and so on?
‘What about them?’ they said. ‘None of this really applies to us, we are not feeling those changes personally, so until the time comes that we can see more of the ripple effects of these changes, to be honest, we are not really interested.’
‘OK, yes, there is change. We now have a voice and an open approach to being part of a decision-making process and that is good, and we will continue to work with the organisation to move towards change.’
‘It’s not that we are not interested, it’s more that I don’t think most of us understand the language. The language that is used is so confusing and mind-boggling that it immediately puts us off. It makes us feel stupid, and in a sense that keeps us from participating at that level,’ they said.
Ok, but where does that leave PIA as a group with a voice–as a group that is undergoing advocacy training and making headway both personally and organisationally?
It leaves them with a very strong voice, indicating that while, yes, there are some changes that are trickling down in their direction, there is still a significant percentage of persons with disabilities who are out of the loop–out of the loop that informs change at a higher level, that is, the decision-making bodies that inform policy.
‘So how do we get into the loop? Do we want to be in the loop?’
‘Just because a person has a disability, do they have an immediate responsibility to be part of the activism that exists to create change?’ I asked. In a short examination of other civil rights movements internationally, were all citizens involved or just some? These are questions offering food for thought, not only for us a group but for policy-makers too.
In putting this article together I am conscious of the regular use of question marks, and the need for some recommendations.
The government, and people at the forefront of change, have a responsibility to think more creatively about how to reach out to individuals and groups such as PIA. Through the process of effective outreach there are many things that can be learned. Perhaps a consultative group could be established from the bodies that are developing policy to visit some of the centres and groups with concerns similar to those of the PIA group.
Careful examination of the use of language is really important. PIA felt that the format of the summary document published alongside A Strategy for Equality was user-friendly and that this mode should be used for all policy documents.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Change trickles down from the top with a ripple effect that eventually reaches ‘the little guy’.
The trickle-down theory. Ask Ronald Reagan. Oops, maybe not now. How about Margaret Thatcher???