Oct 312011

Gerry Hart

First of all I’d like to thank you all for coming. To put in context what I am about to say I’d like to tell you as to how I became involved in the anti cuts movement. From about the age of three I have had an educational statement as a result of being diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. I was sent to a mainstream primary school, where I wasn’t treated any worse, but in retrospect I think I was treated differently. When choosing which secondary school I should attend, my parents were presented with the choice of another mainstream school or a mainstream school but with an autism provision, which they chose. Since going to that secondary school I have been able obtained 11 GCSE’s and a made many friends, both autistic and ‘normal’, simply by being able to have a mainstream education with the provision as a safety net. Now I am in the second year of my A Levels and am aiming to study History and Politics at York University.  I also became politically motivated when I was roughly 14 years of age, which was only fuelled through events such as the 2010 general election but particularly the threefold hike in tuition fees. As a result of this, and family connections with local disability organisation Darlington Association on Disability, I joined the ‘Young Leaders Project’, which was created to build up leadership skills in young disabled people, but I see it as a platform for promoting the social equality of young disabled people and to an extent young people in general.

To the point, I had opportunities open to me that most disabled children now do not have, and it will be incredibly hard I believe to get young people involved in the DPAC movement. This is partly because after the previous government curtailed their numbers, the coalition have announced plans to eradicate entirely educational statements in the Green Paper ‘support and aspiration’, which will significantly reduce the standards of education for children who have additional educational needs. Instead, the money will go directly to the school and local authorities will have reduced powers as to regulate how the money is spent, further worsened by the fact that the vast majority of schools are now to become privately owned academies. So as such this educational equality may mean that not as many young disabled people are even in a position to take part in DPAC. It may also be the case that some young disabled people may not be able to travel or could simply be put off from travelling, due to a perceived hostility towards disabled people (which I know from experience with my visually impaired father does certainly exist). These of course are concerns that should be addressed as you cannot live fearing to use the public transport which until this government came along was entitled to everyone, but nevertheless it will be significant enough to discourage some people from attending DPAC events such as this one. Also projects such as the Young Leaders project through which I became involved with DPAC don’t exist in every local authority. Young Leaders was lucky in that it stemmed from the well established Darlington Association on Disability, and it received a substantial amount of funding from DISLIB, which has recently run out. Many local authorities either don’t have programmes such as this or they flounder, and as such many young disabled people simply may not even be aware of DPAC. Finally another issue that I believe has to be overcome is the fact that young disabled people, rather like the vast majority of young people in general either do not understand the cuts facing them or do not care. The margin that don’t care will of course be significantly reduced following the hike in tuition fees and the abolition of EMA but nevertheless its prevalent. And even though many young people are now hostile to the coalition government, as I have seen with many people I have spoken to they still do not understand the nature of the cuts that are facing them. This will not doubt be worsened by the fact that many young disabled people regrettably live in isolation from their peers. In the long term this must change I agree but it is still a barrier to involving young disabled people in DPAC.

So as you can see, we do have some fairly sizeable obstacles to overcome in order to involve young disabled people, and I can’t say I know the solution but I do have some ideas. Firstly, in your local authorities if you know of any organisations similar to Young Leaders, or if you are involved in one then ensure that they are aware of DPAC and its objectives. Secondly as has been shown with the ‘Occupy’ movement and the Arab Spring, a well orchestrated social networking campaign is vital. I know DPAC has a Facebook page, which I am a fan of but as far as I am aware its membership is fairly low. To that end it may be worth attempting to advertise it on other larger likeminded pages, such as ‘Nobody Likes a Tory’ which for those of you with Facebook I’m sure you are aware of, and the pages associated with the ‘Occupy’ movement in the UK, because its time that the anti austerity movement and the ‘Occupy’ movement were brought closer together. Also with regards media, try to get celebrities to promote DPAC. These will be fairly low key but could be vital. Examples I can think of are Matt Fraser and the comedian Mark Thomas. If you know any young disabled people who are vaguely interested, ensure that they know exactly the measure of cuts facing them. Also it may be worth allowing people to voice their grievances. Also try to go along with other grievances young disabled people may have. That will most likely be the increase in tuition fees or the abolition of EMA. It may also be worth advertising in schools, sixth for colleges or universities. But in all honesty I don’t think it will be possible to recruit young disabled people en masse, but instead on an individual level it would likely have an impact. So if you know any young disabled people or know how to get in touch with any organisations based around young disabled people then I would urge you to at least ensure that they are informed of DPAC and its objectives. Thank you.


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