Disabled Leadership: A dividing definition

Disabled Leadership is the hot topic for many organisations that support people and families with disabilities. But with all the great things going on, does there need to be a little more clarification about just what Disabled Leadership is?

The first thing to say is that leadership will mean different things to different people, so the exact answer to this discussion may never be clear.

For some people, leadership may be leading from the front in their own lives, and for others, it may be advocacy work or striving to make positive change in their community.

Many disabled people are now more firmly in control of their own lives than ever before. But does this mean that they are all leaders?

Perhaps they are leaders of their own lives, but not the wider sector.

Let’s not forget that the grass isn’t so green for a lot of people either. Many people with disabilities are still having their basic human rights stripped of them.

New Zealand prides itself on having de-institutionalised the older facility-based approaches to care, and in a lot of ways, our country is going through its next big transition to better qualities of life for people with disabilities.

But with all that has been done to make New Zealand a better place for people with disabilities to live in, let’s not get too carried away.

I’d expect that people with disabilities do have that control and do make all the decisions that affect their lives. It is imperative that this continues. A part of me worries about over-celebrating people with disabilities making basic day-to-day decisions about their care and well-being.

Yes, it’s great and all, but it’s not something that should be so difficult to occur in the first place.

Now it’s easy to say that, but clearly as history suggests, not so easy to implement. I am not trying to downgrade such achievements at all, they are very important.

Choice, control, and ordinary outcomes for people with disabilities should be the aim for all services across all organisations. It should also be one of the biggest motivators for all decisions that Government make, decisions that in turn, directly impact on people with disabilities and the organisations that represent them.

Yes, there needs to be strategies in place, but you must be careful about how you celebrate the achievement of things that, for those who aren’t disabled, never presented a challenge.

I am talking, once again, about things like the person having a say in who supports them and the things that they do from day to day.

This, however great and rewarding, certainly shouldn’t be seen as the “great final act” toward a person with a disability becoming a leader. If anything, it is something they should expect to be able to do and not have to fight so hard to get it.

I am not trying to downplay or degrade such achievements at all, and yes, we have come a long way toward improving the choices that people with disabilities have in their lives. That is undisputable, it is factual, and it’s something everyone who worked so hard to see become a reality can be proud of.

But at the end of the day, disabled people having choice and control of how they supported is a human right. It’s not a great achievement, it should be something that “just happens”.

That is why some of the new ways of supporting people with disabilities are proving to be a success. Look at demonstrations like Enabling Good Lives, or the Individualised Funding model, they put people with disabilities firmly in the driving seat, and adhere to those basic human rights. They are designed to provide ordinary outcomes for people with disabilities, and give a better platform for them to go forward and strive for more.

Being a leader is far more than achieving the ordinary outcome.

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