Notes from the National Disabled People’s Summit

Last Saturday I attended The National Disabled People’s Summit, a day long event in London with the aim of uniting members of unions, charities, and grass-roots organisers to make practical change for the liberation of Disabled People.

The event had an opening Plenary, with speeches from John McDonnell, Bob Williams-Findlay, and Ellen Clifford, followed by two one hour sessions where attendees could choose between seven different workshops.

I learned a lot at the Summit, and heard some brilliant speakers, doing my best to take as many notes as I could to share with those who were unable to attend! Below are some of the notes I made, and while they don’t quite give the whole picture of each talk and workshop, I hope they’re still useful!

Opening Plenary Speeches

  • The purpose of the summit is to unify the actions of groups working for deaf and disabled people
  • We need to emphasise that deaf and disabled people have been targeted by the Tory Government, and that public services and social security have faced the brunt of cuts caused by banks
  • We must show in every aspect of our lives and work how the Government has targeted deaf and disabled people
  • We must take direct action whenever we can
  • John McDonnell, Labour MP: The Labour party promises that their disability policies will be written by disabled people, and that there will be “nothing about us without us”
  • Disabled people are denied their history and culture and have been fed distorted visions of them, especially since the Victorian era when deaf and disabled people started organising
  • The 1960s & 70s saw an in increase in political radicalism in the disabled people’s movement, spurred on by the work of the women’s movement and civil rights
  • Disabled people since then have constantly been questioning our place in society and our segregations from it, especially that of physically disabled people
  • We are & have always been a movement connected to other liberation movements
  • Common conceptions of disability ignore the ways in which society marginalises disabled people
  • There is an inherent contradiction if our activism aims to assimilate us into a society which has systematically excluded us, and so we must work to alter the systems of society for real liberation
  • Facing the difficult and bleak state of things as they are now is necessary for our emancipation, which must be a self-obtained societal liberation
  • The rise of the far-right in the West is evidence that we need to support other marginalised groups & have each other’s backs
  • We can’t wait for a Labour government to make everything better, we need to organise against the Tory government now
  • The Government has posed its increases to Mental Health services as a good thing, despite this coming from cuts to other disability services
  • Disabled people had to work on the UN report to present a united message and avoid being watered down by parties with other agendas
  • Our oppression is intrinsically linked to capitalism, and overthrowing it will be long, but possible

Inclusive Education Workshop

  • Ran by Tara Flood, Director of ALLFIE (The Alliance For Inclusive Education), and Richard Reiser, National Union of Teachers
  • ALLFIE is run by disabled people, but also recognises that liberation must also come from allies, teachers, parents etc.
  • Inclusive education is a right, shouldn’t be a struggle or a choice
  • We should have ONE good mainstream education, not a choice of multiple
  • If we do eventually get a Labour government, we need them to understand their disability policies, and we need to target all local councils etc and work with all levels of government
  • Michael Gove’s new systems mean that 20% of children in education will make no “progress” through institutional education
  • There are over 12,000 children in the UK under 16 who are in 24/7, 365 days a year educational institutions
  • Inclusive education is a human right, however in 2009 the government added a caveat to their human rights policy allowing them to institutionalise disabled children, acknowledging that “special schools” will always be a part of the UK education system
    • The UK is one of only two countries out of over 150 who agree to a UN education charter who endorse this kind of educational segregation
  • Advancing inclusive education is a duty of parents
  • When discussing inclusive education, we often ignore that there are disabled people in non-compulsory Higher Education, and this is a particular problem as younger students are not told that HE is an option for them if they are disabled
  • Courses offered specifically for disabled students are often “into work” courses, disabled people deserve education for educations sake
  • Apprenticeships and internships that are underpaid or not paid at all are exploitation of disabled people, and emblematic of how inclusive education is currently very market driven
  • Inclusive education should be a right, and not a privilege based on institutional budgets and success
  • Every teacher needs to be a radical teacher to make cultural change, but often teachers are too overworked to make change
  • Inclusion is not about resources, but attitude
  • Research shows that inclusive pedagogy benefits all students
  • Parents, especially if they are international or BME parents, may think that “special schools” are a good thing because it seems like their child’s needs are being catered to, but don’t have the knowledge and sometimes the language to challenge the way their child is being taught
  • Institutions also give us a very limited idea of disabled peoples success and achievment
  • Parents often don’t have the time to consider how the language and ideas of cultural ableism are affecting their children’s life and education
  • We must be mindful of the phrasing and ideology of “special education” entering HE
  • Disabled students often have to fight to get into uni, only to have to drop out when they receive a lack of support
  • Training is seen as a moral option for staff, not as necessary
  • Publicly funded bodies are under obligation to further equality, and can be taken to court about this
  • A common problem students have is that the people they complain about are the same ones who mark their exams
  • The law provides disabled people with some powers, but not a change in mindset
  • Employees who require assistive technology may work for companies who cannot afford it, or the employees may not understand it, and may lose their jobs
  • We need representative staff who can act as role models for students
  • Home education is legally much harder to do with disabled children
  • Disabled children don’t have their identities celebrated in the same way as other marginalised groups
  • 1/5 of the country is disabled, if all of those people understood how Labour could help disabled people they would win an election, but this hasn’t happened, making it obvious that this is not being well communicated
  • Disability services across HE are emerging, but need support
  • NUS is doing great work, but lots of this is not trickling down to SUs
  • Possible plan for an “inclusion day” across all education sectors, to demonstrate what is working and what needs working on

Using the Law Workshop

  • Ran by Tracey Lazard, CEO of Inclusion London
  • Inclusion London has often used the law as part of its campaigns
  • Have generally found that people are quite scared when the law is used on or against them, even if it’s just quoted
  • PIP (Personal Independence Payment) regulations to be rewritten following legal intervention
  • First Buses were taken to court using the Equality Act
  • “Bedroom tax” has been attacked using Human Rights law
  • Judicial Review: Challenge of whether an institution is following the law (especially applicable to public sector)
      • There is a three month period after a decision is made when it can be subjected to a Judicial Review, the review cannot question a decision but the process that lead to the decision, and wrong decisions can still be made as long as they’re evidenced
  • The United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was used for the UN’s August review of Disability in the UK
    • UNCRPD can be useful in courts where judges are apprehensive of intervening in the decisions of social workers
    • The UNCRPD isn’t enforceable, but can still be used
    • Charities who informed the UN review ignored activism that used the UNCRPD as it has been used in explicitly political activism
  •  We do need to question social workers with our legal rights in order to make them aware of them and make sure they are sticking to them
    • The lack of protest around changes to the Independent Living Fund (ILF) meant it was closed to new applicants, and senior civil servants cited the lack of protest as evidence that closing the ILF entirely would be easy
  • Legal action combined with grass-roots activism can be very effective
  • Media outlets often prefer to chat to actual disabled people rather than the non-disabled CEOs of disability charities as it makes for more interesting news
  • Legal action often never makes it court, especially if it concerns local authorities, as they will often change their behaviour instead of risking reputational damage
  • We need to act as conduits between those experiencing oppression and those who can give legal help
  • Even if negative change will eventually go ahead, legal challenges can stall it, and give confidence to those who make the challenges
  • Different regulations exist for people at different ages
  • The NHS and local councils have their own ideas of what disability and care looks like, based on what they are willing to pay for, not the reality of our needs
  • Should be up to us to decide what our wellbeing is and how we should be cared for
    • An example given for this is that assitive care is often standardised to thing slike showering, eating, changing clothes etc, not things like cleaning or decorating
  • Large numbers of people who are losing their benefits are not appealing, even though most people who take decisions to tribunals win, and most cases are more successful without lawyers
    • However, appealing can be very difficult for mental health, and those appealing need support beyond the basic support of their peers


Notes from the National Disabled People’s Summit

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