Independent Living Institute


Disability Awareness in Action
Resource Kit No. 3

Published by © Disability Awareness in Action, All rights reserved

Download the "Campaigns 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 for disability.

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 disability.

Using the Social Model to Define Disability and Discrimination

When we redefine disability from our own direct experience, three things become clear.

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.

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.

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.



Stage Two Choosing an Issue, Time-Scale and Target Group


2. Choices


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 overnight.
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 impairments.
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.

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 on charity.

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 need to:
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.

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

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

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

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 area.

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 public awareness.

continue...Example 2: National Integration Week

Contents Campaigns