Disability Awareness in Action
Resource Kit No. 3
Published by © Disability Awareness in Action, All rights reserved
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Kit" as a PDF file (120 KB)
Stage One, Coming Together
1. What is Disability?
All over the world, disabled people are among the poorest of the poor, living
lives of disadvantage and deprivation. Why? There are two common explanations
The Social Model: Disability as Social Oppression
The disability movement believes that there are economic and social barriers
which prevent people with impairments from participating fully in society
and that these barriers are so widespread that we are prevented from ensuring
a reasonable quality of life for ourselves.
This explanation is known as the social model of disability because it shifts
the focus away from individuals with impairments towards society's disabling
environments and barriers of attitude. The social model was developed by
members of the international disability movement and is now accepted by
an increasing number of non-disabled academics and professionals as well.
The Medical Model: Disability as a Personal Tragedy
Another explanation of disability is that impairment (loss of limb, organ
or function) has such traumatic physical and psychological effects on a
person that they cannot ensure a reasonable quality of life for themselves
by their own efforts. In other words, we are disabled as a result of our
individual physical, intellectual or sensory limitations.
The medical model assumes that it is up to the individual, with the help
of rehabilitation, to adapt themselves to society; to learn to fit in and
to be as "normal" as possible. This model of disability has been
rejected by organisations of disabled people and is now generally recognised
by academics and professionals as well to be an inadequate basis for understanding
Using the Social Model to Define Disability and Discrimination
When we redefine disability from our own direct experience, three things
In other words, it is society which disables a person with an impairment
- prevents us from being able to participate fully in society. Unlike the
medical model, this definition is liberating. It gives us a group identity
and a common cause - to rid society of its discriminatory barriers.
- Each of us has our own individual characteristics (which include our
particular physical, sensory or intellectual impairments).
- We are also members of a distinct group (of disabled people).
- Society singles out this group for a special form of discrimination
We can therefore define disability as: the restriction of the ability to
participate in the mainstream of social activities which results from the
cultural, physical and social barriers of a mainstream society which takes
little or no account of people who have impairments.
Together We Are Strong
The experience of other organisations - such as women's groups and the environmental and black civil rights movements - can be useful and encouraging. We can look to these groups for guidance and support in the building up of our
organisations and in our campaigns.
Progress of a Movement for Change
Every organisation, even those that now have many thousands of members,
started with just a few people, sometimes bringing in their families and
friends. In each case, one or two individuals made a start by bringing a
few people together: first to talk and share ideas, experiences and feelings;
later to discuss what steps could be made to improve their situation.
- Concerned individuals come together in organisations to understand
their shared problems and to express their concerns.
- They raise awareness on the general nature of the discrimination they
- Attitudes change. Policies and programmes are changed or created to
meet needs. Legislation is enacted to outlaw discrimination and promote
A group's early aims are necessarily simple and short-term but in time it
can begin to influence the people who make decisions at local level. Gradually,
the organisation can:
A theme of DAA's resource kits is that no one can change very much on their
own. But by coming together in organisations, we, disabled people, can have
a loud, strong voice. We can demand action in our village, our town, our
country. We can change things. Remember: together we can really make a change.
- become better informed about ways to help its members
- meet together from time to time
- write a newsletter to keep members in touch as the group becomes bigger
- launch campaigns
- contact local decision-makers to ask for improvements to services
- join with other organisations to run joint campaigns
Stage Two Choosing an Issue, Time-Scale and Target Group
Identify the Problem
Your first major decision is on the central issue of your campaign. This
will help to determine the strategies, time-scale, resources and target
audience needed to carry it through effectively.
Agreeing on the problem sounds quite easy. There are so many things which
prevent the full participation of disabled people and so many examples of
changes that could be made to improve our lives. It is important, though,
to focus on one issue and to make sure that you act on the basis of consensus.
To do this, you need to provide time for your group to discuss everything
fully. Make sure that everyone agrees with, or at least accepts, the final
decision about the focus of the campaign and the best way forward.
Public Awareness - Campaigns with a Time Focus
One kind of campaign is that of raising awareness of disability issues among
the general public - disabled and non-disabled people - with the aim of
changing negative attitudes about disabled people into positive recognition
of our skills, needs and rights.
It's important, though, to realise that this sort of change doesn't happen
As disabled people, we are often isolated, even within our own families.
We need to talk to each other, celebrate who we are, increase our self-confidence,
before we can change others views.
- Firstly, because it takes a long time for people to begin to recognise
that they have the power within themselves to produce change.
- Secondly, because once you have convinced yourself, you have to start
trying to change the way society is organised and the way other people view
Our full participation and equality depend to a large extent on the awareness,
acceptance and respect of members of the communities in which we live. To
achieve this, non-disabled people need to be given information about the
abilities of disabled people.
The aims of a public awareness campaign include:
Public awareness campaigns work particularly well when they have a time
focus - a week or a day. It is useful, if possible, to repeat an event on
a yearly basis. The United Nations General Assembly declared, in October
1992, that 3 December each year would be the International Day for Disabled
People. This could be dominated by fund-raising activities by non-disabled
groups, using stereotyped images of us to encourage pity and fear. We must
make sure that we place the emphasis firmly on full human rights and not
- knowledge about disabled people's lives and about disability issues
- correcting inaccurate ideas about disabled people
- positive publicity for your organisation
Examples of awareness-raising activities include awareness weeks or days;
public awards to communities for access to transport, education, employment,
housing, leisure, etc.; public signing by the head of state or government
of the Reaffirmation of Commitment to the World Programme of Action concerning
Disabled Persons; public readings/signings of statements and exhibitions
of pictures, cartoons or photographs by disabled people about their lives;
celebrations, such as the anniversary of the start of your organisation
or of the International Day.
Changing Laws, Policies, Services - Long-Term Campaigns
Campaigns for new or changed policies or legislation, such as anti-discrimination
legislation (ADL), need to be long-term. They involve very careful planning
of strategies and resources. They need committed and motivated people at
the core of the campaign who are going to follow through with the work over
a long period. These people will need plenty of time to spare. You also
need people who know how to get other people to do things.
Activities to support campaigns for changes in laws, policies and services
include awareness-raising activities, direct action (demonstrations, petitions,
marches), influencing parliamentary representatives with a briefing paper
(summary of an issue), letters, personal contact, etc.
Who Do You Want to Reach?
After choosing the issue and time-frame, you need to identify very carefully
the people you want your campaign to reach.
For example, if you are trying to improve public transport services, you
If possible, involve the people who decide on policies and programmes in
your campaign: for example, talk to bus manufacturers, operators and transport
planners at local and national level.
- raise awareness among the general public - both locally and regionally
- promote changes in legislation on accessibility by speaking to political
- ask for increased funding of the system by service-providers
Keep them up to date with your research as well. Make sure you point out
the benefits of change to these groups. For example, if you are running
a campaign to make shops accessible, tell the shop-keepers that this will
mean more people can use their services and buy their goods.
Your target audience is a very important consideration in the planning of
any campaign. Whether it is the local authority, national government, the
business community, health, social welfare or education professionals, the
general public, or a combination of different sectors of society, you need
to think about the best strategies for each group.
3. Campaigns with a Time-Focus
Example 1: NAAW
National Access Awareness Week (NAAW) is now an annual event in Canada.
The first NAAW, in 1988, launched by 250 communities across the country,
focused on raising awareness of disability-related issues. By 1992, over
850 communities were taking part.
Over the years, the focus has shifted from raising awareness to concrete
action - creating access through practical improvements. NAAW aims to break
down the physical and attitudinal barriers that prevent Canada's 3.5 million
disabled people from participating fully in society.
National Access Awareness Week
The Five Key Areas
- is a community-based initiative
- is based on a set of partnerships
- is not a fund-raising event
- is cross-impairment in focus
- does not stigmatise disabled people
- places a priority on tangible accomplishments
- is based on year-round action
NAAW focuses attention on issues in five areas:
Transport, Education, Employment, Housing, Recreation
Each community is encouraged to assess its level of accessibility, to raise
public awareness of barriers to full participation and to take action to
remove those barriers.
Five Star Community Awards Programme
- To assess the accessibility of services and facilities in the five
- To set measurable goals.
- To make practical improvements.
- To celebrate achievements.
The Programme is an initiative co-sponsored by NAAW, the Federation of Canadian
Municipalities and the Department of the Secretary of State. It gives Canadians
an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to accessibility and integration.
It recognises the achievements of communities in the areas of transport,
employment, education, housing and recreation.
The Five Star Challenge sets targets for improvement in all five areas.
Some solutions are simple; others need a great deal of effort and cooperation
among various groups in the community.
The Programme aims to:
Some Past Activities
- recognise significant achievements in each of the five key areas
- highlight models of good practice to inform other communities
- inspire more communities to ensure the full participation of disabled
- A 'Speaking for Ourselves' conference, during which 60 delegates learned
how to influence people and spoke to a panel of government officials about
their concerns. Sign language interpretation enabled all delegates to participate.
- A 'Help Lower my Image' campaign encouraged businesses and community
facilities to install accessible mirrors.
- Phone-in radio talk shows, encouraging public participation and publicising
- A conference to bring together employers and disabled people to discuss
- Demonstrations of alternate communications for people with visual
or hearing impairments.
- A school package, Discover Together, with ideas for teachers about
exploring disability issues.
- Surveys on accessibility in businesses and community facilities.
- Workshops, conferences, picnics, parades, art shows, sports events,
NAAW has a board of directors, which is the national policy-making body
overseeing all aspects of the Week. It serves as the point of contact for
corporate sponsors, national voluntary organisations and the Department
of the Secretary of State. The board is chaired by a disabled person.
Organising committees are set up in each province and territory to decide
regional policy, distribute information and plan and coordinate the Week
at provincial level. Each province forms a working group made up of provincial
affiliates of the national voluntary organisations, corporate sponsors,
provincial governments and others who are interested.
The local organising committee administers NAAW at the community level,
encourages active participation by all citizens and develops strategies
to address identified barriers in each of the five areas: transport, education,
employment, housing, recreation. The aim of the committee is to make the
community a 'Five Star' community, with significant achievements in each
The government, in the form of the Department of the Secretary of State,
provides coordination, funding and Secretariat support for the delivery
of National Access Awareness Week.
National voluntary organisations that represent disabled people and service-providers
are invited to take part. Through their memberships and networks they are
expected to promote the principles of the Week.
Corporate sponsors support and help to promote NAAW. They publicly recognise
and accept their social responsibilities in removing barriers that prevent
equal access for disabled people.
Funding for NAAW comes from many different sources across Canada. The federal
government provides 25 per cent of the total. Other contributors include
eight major corporations, most provincial and territorial governments, many
municipal governments and support, both financial and in kind, from local
businesses and individuals. NAAW operates as a community-based initiative
and funding is primarily local in nature.
Partnership and Sponsorship
NAAW is founded on the principle of partnership. An important link in the
partnership chain is the active involvement of private sponsors of the Week.
Sponsorship is in money and in kind. McDonald's, for example, has used tray-liners
carrying a NAAW message to promote the Week. The company also sent guidelines
to each of its restaurants emphasising NAAW's aims and offering suggestions
on how local owners could get involved with local NAAW committees.
Esso informed over half a million credit card holders about the Week and
its aims by mailing out the nationally-produced information pamphlet. The
corporation has also paid for television advertising in prime time to promote
continue...Example 2: National Integration Week