Last Saturday night, I was able to attend a dinner to mark the 25th anniversary of Queensland Parents for People with a Disability (QPPD). For any community based advocacy group to last 25 years is an achievement in itself, but to survive and continue to have a viable role to play is something really worth celebrating and acknowledging.
This group is very strong on the significance of its advocacy role, which is more important than ever in an era where advocacy tends to be looked at with disdain by many governments who tend to see it as somehow less substantial or important than direct service delivery.
To give an idea of their focus, this quote is from their Mission Statement:
QPPD vigorously defends justice and rights for people with disabilities by exposing exclusionary practices, speaking out against injustices and promoting people with disabilities as respected, valued and participating members of society.
Not surprisingly, a lot of QPPD’s concerns revolve around the way children with disabilities are treated in the education system. Poor treatment and segregation of children at an early age can set the pattern for a lifetime of segregation and diminished opportunities. According to QPPD’s President. “segregation is still promoted by some educators as beneficial and its harmful effects are completely ignored.” Even more worrying are signs that the practice of institutionalisation is starting to creep back in.
QPPD’s Executive Coordinator has written of the damage done by services which do not adequately consider the needs of the people they are meant to be servicing. “Service systems can do so much harm when they could do so much good” and “the instruments of state, to some degree, represent the ignorance of the citizenry about some of their most vulnerable fellow citizens.”
The longer I’m involved in politics, the more I find myself believing that government bodies are often not very good at looking after the rights of the marginalised, which tends to mean they are not always good at providing services or assistance to them either. Whilst community based organisations have their flaws, as long as they are properly administered, they seem to me to usually do much better at assisting people effectively – partly because they are at community level so have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t in the real world, and partly because they often have a stronger and more direct personal motivation.
Even though there are very large numbers of people with disabilities, they do not form a distinctly defined group, with different types and degrees of disability, and sometimes a strong incentive not to be too overt about their disability. Hence, they are not a political powerful group and do not receive a great deal of political priority, despite their numbers.
Marginalised people need strong advocates, particularly if they not able to voice their own needs well. One simple sign of the evolution of QPPD over its 25 years, as the people involved in it continually assessed and re-assessed what they were doing and why, was to change their name from Qld Parents of People with a Disability to Qld Parents for People with a Disability. A small wording change, but displaying a significantly different attitude.
Advocacy groups have to constantly test themselves to make sure they are genuinely advocating for the needs of those they purport to advocate for, rather than inadvertently advocating for their own needs or views or those of a social or political sector they become most ‘attuned’ to. QPPD certainly seems to display the self-awareness that shows they are aware of these traps.