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Introduction to Week 6

In this video, Educators Jos Boys, Louisa Smith and Karen Soldatic introduce Week 6 of the course, which looks at advocacy and activism.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. Introduction to week six.
LOUISA SMITH: Every resource that we’ve made for the course has involved a lot of people. I think there’s been about 25, 30 people who we have interviewed and talked to over the course, and all of them have, at some point, talked about advocacy or activism in some way. And it’s not necessarily something that I’ve asked them about, but it’s always come up. And I think that you might now be able to reflect on what you’ve learnt and to think of moments when there has been activism and advocacy discussed.
KAREN SOLDATIC: So this week what we’re going to be talking about is the different types and layers of advocacy and activism. So looking at global institutions, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the advocacy and activism involved in that. Looking then at national and regional institutions and things– activism around policy and those kinds of things. And then coming down to the grassroots level and looking at how important that kind of activism and advocacy is as well– at an individual level where people are advocating in their daily lives, and also at a collective level where people are coming together to make broad changes within their communities.
JOS: And we’ve talked quite a lot about the top down and the bottom up. But we’ve also seen that there’s the stuff– where one’s working at a policy level, or lobbying a lot. And there may be people just working in their local community or working as a small group of advocates or carers, and that they may seem quite different. But in fact, they inform each other a lot, so we feel like they go backwards and forwards and that they may be quite– there’s advocacy and activism that’s actually combining both of those roots.
LOUISA: Great. So I thought it would be interesting for us here and also for you learners to start thinking about forms of activism and advocacy that you’ve been involved in or witnessed in relation to disability. And so that will become a focus of this week. And also the opportunities and challenges that you might be able to see in the future for forms of activism and advocacy that you’d like to be involved in. But to start with, Karen would you, and Jos, do you want to share some stories about your own experiences?
KAREN: I’m going to talk it then as someone who worked in policy, since we’re talking about personal journeys in advocacy and activism. And I worked, for quite a long time, in Western Australia in the public service. And actually one of my responsibilities was the advocacy portfolio and funding for that. And that was initially set up in what we call the normalisation model, which is something we studied in the last course.
And then when I came in, because I was very interested in human rights, I did a lot of internal lobbying and working with the disability advocacy groups outside the bureaucracy to place pressure on the government to change the way that they understood advocacy so it would work in a human rights framework. Also to provide human rights training to local disability advocates, which was very contentious because why do you want to inform people about advocacy and activism and lobbying with a human rights framework, that so they can then speak back to you and make demands? So it was very, very contentious.
But through working with local disability advocacy groups or what we’ve called Disabled Persons Organisations on the ground we were able to lobby externally and I was able to place pressure internally. So we had lots of pressure coming on the bureaucracy. Also onto places like treasury and so forth. So that they would actually fund this work. So it’s very, very layered and it was about working in dialogue and supporting the work of the Disability Rights Movement internally so they could get their demands met. So that’s what we would call a policy advocate or a policy activist. Yeah, so I did lots of that and that’s just one example.
JOS: And I come really from a very different background because I actually came into disability studies and disability politics through the fact that I’d been working as an architect and felt that just over, since I’d studied in the 1970s, that issues around access and disability were still being treated in an incredibly mechanical way that was somehow so separate from the rest of the idea about what’s important when you’re trying to design buildings and when you’re trying to be creative.
And I got involved with a whole really interesting group of disabled artists, who also wanted to look at the built environment, and we set up a kind of shared group, which was called Architecture Inside Out, to look specifically at how you could use the creativity of disabled people, of these artists– it’s a kind of platform, there’s 20, 25 people involved in the UK, with disabilities– and then work with architects in different ways to actually build on a kind of shared dialogue, and working directly into spaces and with different groups to try and see if you can break the habit of treating disabled people very much as a kind of passive client of architectural services– whether you might actually use the creativity in a very different way.
And that’s been incredibly powerful. That’s had all sorts of knock on effects. And also being very enjoyable, being a really interesting way of having a very different sort of activism within that particular area, within the area of the built environment.
LOUISA: And I guess finally I’ll just say briefly that one way that I engage with disability activism I guess, and advocacy, is just on a day to day level through social media. And I think that things like Facebook and support groups and grassroots activism is happening. And even awareness raising is happening really actively online and in social forums. And I know that a lot of learners have used even the MOOC platform as a way of creating activist and advocate spaces and advocating for themselves and others. And I think that that is a really productive space and we’ll definitely be talking about that and social media as a space, a place, for activism this week also.
So I think one of the– to conclude our segment on this course, because this is the last time you’ll probably hear from us, is the importance of activism and advocacy in working towards a good life. And how crucial activism and advocacy has been in every single thing that we’ve looked at, as a way of creating social change. And so I think that’s probably a really important way to leave the course, and we look forward to hearing your ideas as we move through this week. Thank you.

In this final week of Working with Disability we explore the importance of advocacy and activism for people with disabilities and, at times, their families and supporters. In the above video, Educators Jos, Louisa and Karen discuss what we mean by advocacy and activism, and give some examples from their own experiences.

Think about the examples outlined here and the different kinds of work they involve. Some individuals and groups aim to influence policy — for example, by using existing frameworks to lobby for change or working to shift these frameworks so that people with disabilities are centrally included. Others self-advocate, advocate for others, or work within a community or interest group to promote change at a local level. As Jos says in the video, these are not separate forms of action but are often interconnected, as grassroots activity can help to change policies and laws, and high-level governmental shifts can interact with people’s everyday lives.

You may also have your own experiences of advocacy and activism to share. Your examples do not need to be restricted to disability but could be about other areas such as free education for all, gender equality, refugees and asylum-seekers, and so forth.

As Louisa says in the video, almost every week of this course has included examples of advocacy and activism. So think back through the materials from Weeks 1 to 5, and remind us of examples that stick in your head.

Talking points

  • What kinds of advocacy and/or activism have you been involved with or are you aware of in your day-to-day engagement with impairment and disability?
  • Can you give examples of effective advocacy and/or activism? What do you think made them successful?

In the next step we begin to open up some of the core characteristics of advocacy and activism.

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