Last issue (NT#53), we published the first half of our conversation with some of the people involved with Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, who described the group’s core aims, origins and the “central plank of [their] philosophy”, the Social Model of Disability. You can catch up with it here.

This month, we conclude by discussing the broader issues, how to affect positive change and how to get involved.

What other types of issues do disabled people in Manchester face?

Heather: It’s things like public transport, because it’s not always as accessible as you think it is. You might have put in the lowered floors to get wheelchairs in, but you’re not always guaranteed space and if you’re going out with two to three of your friends who are all wheelchair users you’ll have to get separate buses and hope to arrive in the same place. There’s also a lot of talk about concessionary bus passes at the moment, but they only work between 9.30am and 11pm at night, so if you’re a working disabled person and rely on your bus pass to get to your employment, it limits your ability to use it.

Brett: Some of the things GMCDP have done in the past as part of a national campaign to highlight the lack of accessibility on public transport is with direct action. We’d chain ourselves to buses to disrupt travel to show this is what it’s like to be a disabled person trying to use public transport. If we can’t use it, we can’t get jobs, we can’t go shopping, and we can’t get on with our day to day lives.

Matthias: Another is accessible housing and this one is nationwide. There’s a really low number of houses which are adaptable, especially with council housing and housing association owned properties.

Heather: And a lot of this links to age. If you’re not over 65, your options are really limited in terms of accessible housing.

Brett: If you see these through the lens of the social model, these are barriers that are placed before us that can be changed.

How do you go about affecting change?

Brett: Direct action was something we did a lot in the early days, but it’s also getting involved with decision makers and making sure disabled people are in there at the earliest point and not just rubber stamping things at the last minute. You know, DDA [Disability Discrimination Act] compliant buildings are not always actually accessible.

Heather: People will say, “We’ve got a disabled toilet,” but it’s up a flight of stairs or it’s also used as a store cupboard. Another one is the straw argument. They’ve recently banned plastic straws and I get the reason why, but some disabled people need straws. It’s an access thing.

Matthias: A lot of these national campaigns, although they come from a good place, don’t always take into account disabled people’s needs.

Heather: Yeah, another one was prepared food. When people were complaining about pieces of fruit in plastic pots and saying, “Why don’t you just peel them?” Well, I can’t peel them! It’s very exclusive.

What other successes have the organisation had?

Linda: Some of our successes have been with other people. We helped set up the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network. We’ve campaigned to make public transport more accessible. We campaigned to allow disabled people to have the right to get funds from authorities to employ their own personal assistants, rather than having homecare. It’s important to have that control yourself. And that’s how we got direct payments in place. We were also successful in getting British Sign Language recognised as an official language. But a lot of our successes are now being eroded.

How has austerity affected disabled people?

Linda: You’ve got people who for years have been entitled to direct payments who have suddenly found that the criteria has changed and they now no longer are.

Brett: There’s been a lot of firefighting in the past few years, but it’s really reinvigorated GMCDP’s campaigning. In these times, we can feel a bit like a political football. Now we’re scroungers and undeserving poor, stuff like that. Passive recipients of charity. As an organisation, we don’t believe in charity. We believe these things are a right and we shouldn’t have to rattle a tin for them. We’re people like everyone else, we’ve just got barriers.

Matthias: We went a bit on the defensive for a while, but we’re becoming more proactive again. We’ve published a comic book called The Accessibles and this won the Manchester History Award in 2016. It’s all about changing attitudes to disabled people and we’ve been focusing more on training new, young people with the Shaping Our Inclusion programme.

Can you tell me a little bit about Shaping Our Inclusion?

Brett: Shaping Our Inclusion was a legacy from another project and a lot of the people who stayed with the project to the end wanted to get more involved in the organisation. As an organisation, we’re always looking to the future and we have to find the next generation. Shaping Our Inclusion is a development tool to develop these young people into leadership roles.

Matthias: It’s really involved. You tackle harder topics, like how we run as an organisation and what our background is. It’s very much about building up a future for the Coalition.

Heather: We helped set up a campaigning group, and we ask people what campaign we should pursue next and what we should do to get involved. We’re currently trying to improve our website and social media presence as we know we can reach a lot of people through it.

Matthias: It’s also improved my leadership skills.

Brett: Of course, you’re on the exec! And Dan, Heather, you’re the same. When you come in and do the mentoring and the role-modelling, you’re always developing these skills.

How are you attracting young people to the project?

Brett: Well, this isn’t a youth club and it’s not about having fun at all. We try our best to stamp out any fun [laughs]. But word of mouth works and so does our social media presence, but we also do general outreach work too. We want people to get involved for the want of campaigning and changing the world we live in.

Heather: It also gives you the skills to challenge problems when you come across them. Rather than just getting angry and frustrated, it empowers you to argue and say, “Actually, this is you, not me”. It gives you the skills to challenge these things constructively.

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