Are Disabled People’s Organisations doing enough to ensure that the voices of New Zealand’s diverse community of disabled people are being heard and represented?
Disabled People’s Organisations, or DPO’s as they are more commonly known, are representative organisations governed by disabled people. In New Zealand, the size of the eight recognised DPO’s vary, but primarily their existence and mandates are based on representing the voice and views of their members. For example, the Disabled Person’s Assembly NZ aims to engage the disability community, with a view to listen and articulate the views of the community when working alongside decision makers.
But in reality, are disabled people satisfied that the organisations representing them are really listening to and hearing their views?
To try and understand this question a little more, I created a poll on Facebook asking members of the disability community if they felt that DPO’s were generally doing enough to ensure that their voices were being heard and represented.
Out of a total of 34 votes submitted, 26 people said that they felt DPO’s could do more to hear and represent the views of the disability community. Just 2 votes came in saying yes, they were satisfied, whilst a further 6 people argued that with more funding, DPO’s could do more for disabled people.
Granted, we are dealing with a very small number of people who voted in that poll, and there is every chance that the numbers could swing dramatically in the opposite direction if more people had their say. Many DPO’s also generate regular surveys asking their members for feedback, and that feedback may tell more of a whole story.
The Lack Of Funding For A DPO
The problem for many DPO’s is the amount of funding available not being sufficient enough to achieve all the goals it has. This is an argument put forward by many, and whilst it is familiar, it does have a lot of merit. Lobbying Government, be that local or national, for example, can be a time-intensive process and many organisations don’t have the time to put as much effort into pushing decision makers to further consider the rights of disabled people when it comes to new or existing policy.
Holding local community forums and advertising them costs money as well, but some DPO’s are lucky enough to have forged connections with other community organisations in the disability space and have regular opportunities to hold their events using their buildings free of charge. Further costs for DPO’s can include travel and accommodation expenses for executive committee members when on official business on behalf of that DPO, and further expenses that cannot be forgotten is the costs to rent out spaces in buildings and pay all the staff working at national and regional levels.
Revenue streams for DPO’s vary, but memberships and donations often play a big part in balancing the books year to year.
Making Changes, Taking Responsibility For Delivering A Quality DPO
It is absolutely vital that the voices of disabled people and families, as well as the organisations working alongside them, are heard at the local level. But this, in all reality, is a two-way street. Many people with experience working within DPO’s argue that the community itself doesn’t engage enough with their elected leaders by attending local forums and national events, spreading the word about a DPO, or generally caring about what’s going on.
As a result of this, once regular forums see a lack of continued support from the community, slowly becoming stale, leading to disillusion on both sides.
That’s where two things become ultra important moving forward. Firstly, how local leaders engage with communities. These leaders need to ensure that regular meetings are held and that people know about them, and in some cases across New Zealand, this is not happening.
In the case of the DPA in the Waikato, Meetings are canceled suddenly, often without much notice or reasoning behind such other than the appropriate people needing to be somewhere else.
Advertising and information sharing on numerous modern platforms is essential also, and this is a national problem, not just for DPO’s, but for most organisations within the greater disability sector. Rather than relying on the traditional methods of monthly newsletters, word of mouth, and occasional Facebook page updates to engage with members, DPO’s need to find more ways to use new platforms such as Instagram for example, or embrace the live streaming video opportunities presented by YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch.
Imagine a weekly live stream with an NZSL interpreter that is also presented as a podcast. This would allow a DPO to simultaneously share the latest news that would concern their membership, as well as have in depth and engaging conversations about issues that their members raise. Or, if you wanted to stick with holding local and national forums in the way that they are currently presented, at least record and advertise what happened at said forum in a way that is accessible to all disabled New Zealanders, and the wider public.
Secondly, there is a responsibility on the memberships of DPO’s as well. During conversations ahead of writing this blog, some did raise with me their frustration and disillusion with the lack of engagement by local communities when it comes to attendance at events that don’t include a Ministerial visit or big announcement of some kind.
Often, one person said, it was “the same old faces and the same old discussions at the same old events with tea and biscuits”.
The aim of this blog wasn’t to rubbish DPO’s, nor was it to make excuses for their occasional lack of transparency. The aim of this blog was to have a fair and frank discussion about a question that needs more attention placed on it.
We started out the blog by asking that question, are DPO’s doing enough to ensure that the voices of New Zealand’s diverse community of disabled people are being heard and represented?
Regardless of the answer to this question, the discussion should be about the roles, accountability, responsibilities, and most importantly, the outcomes that DPO’s are delivering for disabled New Zealanders at all levels. It doesn’t take a whole lot of funding to listen to people, nor does it take a whole lot of funding to discuss that invaluable feedback in the boardroom.
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Michael Pulman is a Hamilton-based writer, content creator, and public speaker. Michael has a strong interest in disability rights in New Zealand and in 2016 was a recipient of the Youth with Disability Award. You can get in touch with Michael via email at firstname.lastname@example.org