Large corporates don’t act like businesses they act like religions. You only have to hear:” Just do it”, “I’d like to teach the world to sing”, “I’m loving it” to realise you knew who had minted these straplines even though I hadn’t mentioned their products. Their PR and campaign teams think globally, promote universal values and tap into deep rooted human aspiration. I pondered “What does it take for the disability movement to do the same thing”? So I thought I would have a go with applying this approach to the new Disability Resilience Network. I was spurred on by the thought that this work could even be a template for the national disability strategy currently being developed. As a professional campaigner it made sense to do this work as a campaign plan.
First a warning, spirituality is often thought of as religion but it is more like belief; it works like belief precisely because it is without the dogma of theology. Belief is vital because it gives you the confidence to take action. In the context of the pandemic it might be having the vaccine or learning how to use the home testing kit or to become a volunteer carer for someone in the shield group. You believe they will benefit you. You are likely to adopt some measures such as wearing a face mask because you believe they will benefit other people.
A campaign plan similarly starts with belief in an overarching vision and then works through logic loops towards a set of supporting activities. The activities support objectives, the objectives underpin aims (programmes), and the aims support the mission of the organisation which in turn provides the organisation’s contribution to a vision of society.
Now the national strategy is a methodical statement of the policies required to enact Government objectives and their timeline for doing so. Generally speaking strategies are focused upon the what – what needs to be done, by who and when. The current priorities as listed in the Conservative manifesto are housing, transport, skills and employment. Every strategy tells a story by virtue of what it contains or doesn’t contain.
Like Maslow’s pyramid of needs I would argue that there is a hierarchy of questions to apply to a strategy and after the what, who and when the next level is provided by the how. On the basis of the four priorities identified these could be turned into the how questions as follows: how we (disabled people) live, how we move, how we become employable and how we obtain jobs. The how questions could be constructed to encourage a wider set of policy options if the how questions were to become: how do we belong, how do we relate, how do we aspire and how do we thrive. These questions would then generate responses from the literature on co-design/co-production, agency and resilience.
After the how I would argue that the next higher level of questioning is the why; after all it is generally agreed the biggest question we can ask ourselves is why are we here. I have noticed that most disability advocates fall into one of two camps: we are here because we wish to see disabled people have equal participation in society as non-disabled people whilst others wish to see justice for disabled people as indeed the 2017 DWP “Improving Lives” command paper held out a promise on. Both these camps in practice support their aims within an equal opportunity framework. Both legitimately anchor their arguments in universal rights. The Disability Resilience Network supports these approaches but seeks to add new arguments such as what options are left open to disabled people if they cannot enforce their participation or rights, is there an advantage to society at large from disabled people’s presence, attributes (specifically their resilience), contribution, spending power, participation, legal status, networking etc., can resilience plug the gaps in other models by virtue of its capacity to transcend the disability/non-disability divide – after all every human being depends upon their resilience and wishes to be even more resilient. The need to be even more resilient e.g. in response to the pandemic is a new driver of change. From this point we are now able to move from our objectives to our mission.
The economics philosopher Charles Eisenstein stated that there are four levels of change: 1) charity – doing things for other people, 2) empowerment – teaching people to do things for themselves, 3) legislative – changing rules, regulations and laws and 4) narrative change – changing the story in which the events take place. He argued that narrative change was the most powerful change that could be delivered. Ironically it may be the one form of change that disabled people themselves can most easily bring about – the power to produce and write our own stories. We can then move from mission to vision.
The greatest ever story has possibly already been written. It is of course the fall/redemption story that gave voice to Christianity. Yes I know that’s merely a Christ-centric western world view but I make no apologies for living in Britain. The good news is that it is still possible to write the second greatest story ever told and even to be in it. We need to think and act our way to this new narrative via 21st century parables and prophetic action.
I don’t yet know what the story will be for disabled people but I can tell you what the elements of it will be; 1) it will be positive, 2) it will have a universal theme, 3) it will feature disabled people as a transformative force for societal change, 4) the characters will heal the love deficit in our world and 5) there will still remain mystery because that’s a given for all disciplines.
I also think it possible to find the storytellers who will write the new narrative. There are ninety-seven universities that offer creative writing courses and then there’s the adult education and on line courses. Each one knows who their writers are. In any one year a fraction of all that talent could help us to tell a better story on disability. There is a creative impulse waiting to be unleashed.
Finally I do know that the national strategy should offer a compelling vision of an inclusive society. A compelling vision converts imagination into energy. As a disability movement we need the energy that flows from a renewal of our vision. A society wounded by the pandemic and not even focused yet upon climate change needs renewed vision. The national strategy should link these.
The Disability Resilience Network asks if you could write the story or make it a story about you.