Although society is slowly moving forward in terms of acceptance and tolerance, it still has a long way to go. Recent campaigns such as Black Lives Matter and #metoo have shone the light on the daily struggles of ethnic minorities and women, but very little of the media has focused on the struggle of being a disabled person today. Although the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) (1995) and Equality Act (2010) have supposedly made it illegal to discriminate against people in respect of their disabilities, for many disabled people, both in Manchester and nationwide, this has simply not done enough.

This is where Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) comes in. Set up in 1985, GMCDP is a grassroots disability rights organisation whose aim is to fight for equality, inclusion and independence for disabled people. GMCDP is completely run and controlled by disabled people and they base their work on the Social Model of Disability, which promotes the removal of the barriers disabled people face on a day to day basis.

I spoke with the group to find out about the work that they do, projects that they are currently working on and what non-disabled allies can do to help. The interview concludes in next month’s issue.

So what is the GMCDP?

Brett: We’re an organisation of disabled people. We’re 100% run and controlled by disabled people and we formed about 30 years ago. Traditionally, disabled people have been sidelined and have had other people speaking on their behalf, be it medical staff, carers or support workers. It was important that we came together for our voice and we’re looking for full integration and inclusion in society.

What is the Social Model of Disability?

Brett: It’s very much the central plank of our philosophy. It’s saying that we’re not disabled by our bodies, our minds or our emotions; we’re disabled by the society we live in and the obstacles it places in front of us. But these can be changed and campaigned against and that’s what we do as a group.

Linda: Basically, what happened is disabled people realised that the way society in general explained our lives didn’t make much sense to us. It’s about separating impairment and disability. Impairment is our personal medical condition, but disability is the barriers we face in society. A man called Mike Oliver took all of this and turned it into the Social Model of Disability. All it’s meant to do is make people focus on the barriers in society and not the individual.

Brett: The social model is divided into three strands. The first is the physical and built environment, and the clearest example of this is if you’re a wheelchair user and there’s a set of steps in front of you. Those set of steps are going to stop you getting into a building. The steps were built, you could have made the building level access or made ramps or lifts instead. Then you’ve got the way things are organised. For example, not having enough spaces for wheelchair users on buses. Finally – and this is probably the biggest one – you’ve got people’s attitudes. These are all issues that are created by society. They are not naturally occurring, so they can be changed by society.

What was the spark that started the organisation?

Brett: It was a national thing but a lot of it came from a letter from a guy called Paul Hunt that was published in the Manchester Guardian. It was regarding institutionalisation and disabled people finding their voices in institutions. It came about as the social model was starting to be. By 1985, a lot of local people in Manchester were coming together off the back of the civil rights movement and disabled people started to get together and get organised. A lot of it was focused on Manchester Town Hall, because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible. Through changing that, it brought us together and we started the GMCDP.

The interview will conclude in May’s issue (NT#54).

GMCDP membership is currently free and by registering with the group you can access information; access skills, knowledge and experience that you wouldn’t necessarily get anywhere else; access support and, where appropriate, signposting; be kept informed of policy developments which affect disabled people; and have the opportunity to have your voice heard.

If you would like to find out more about GMCDP, or join the group, visit their website at gmcdp.com; email them at info@GMCDP.com or follow them on Twitter @gmcdp

David Ewing