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Walking the line

There are lots of different organisations and individuals trying to influence government. To stand out from the clutter, you have to make strong forceful arguments. This can be risky in disability advocacy; however, you can easily end up painting a bleak picture with disabled people as passive victims, especially when advocating on vulnerability issues.

We recently submitted on the Vulnerable Children Bill. Disabled children are often invisible in the wider debate so we went in all guns blazing (Policy wise, at least). We emphasised the higher rate of abuse and neglect. We said that children with disabilities are more likely to live in one parent households and more likely to live in households where parents rely on income support (benefits). We also talked about many professionals feeling uncomfortable working with children with disabilities.

All these points are based on evidence and are likely to catch a politician’s eye. We did not, however, talk about the strength and resilience that many of these children and families show. We painted these children, young people and families as fairly passive. In the submission, we did not argue for extra resources or support, but simply for equal treatment under the law, which a small, but significant number of disabled children are currently denied. We still need to be cautious about how we portray disabled children.

As an organisation, we have a firm commitment to disabled leadership and rights; we are, however, also a service provider and an organisation that needs public funding. We always need to be mindful of how and why we advocate. We need to ensure that the issues we advocate on are the issues that really matter the most for the work we do and our vision and values. On balance, we think our Vulnerable Children Bill submission is appropriate, but we are definitely open to other opinions. It is certainly something we think about when advocating, especially on vulnerability issues. Someone wiser than me (a large category of people, I know), said recently that as a disabled person they were not vulnerable, they were targeted.

What do you think about walking the line between effective advocacy and being wary of painting people as passive victims?

Sam Murray

Policy and Advocacy

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