Disability, leadership and social change

Generating change for disabled people is similar to change for any other group, for example women or for Maori, who have fought for and led change for themselves. In the same way disabled people can, and must be leaders and agents of our own social change as well as participating in other movements for social change. To achieve positive change for our community, the community of disabled people, we need good leaders.

To be a leader in your community beyond being a leader in your own life requires some very practical skills and attributes.

Leadership is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.

Leaders should not be afraid of hard work.

To be a leader you must have followers, so leadership cannot be too individualistically focused. Our community needs energetic, mature, self-disciplined young disabled people who have a sense of service, who have structural and social analysis, who understand our history They must be independent thinkers, with good judgement, beyond “It’s all about me.”

Leadership in a disability context involves a range of practical skills, in no particular order, including;

  • how to run a productive meeting
  • how to successfully facilitate group work
  • problem solving and conflict resolution
  • able to shut up and listen to others
  • how to make a submission to local or national government
  • knowledge of how the disability and other systems work
  • knowledge about rights and how to complain, and how disability rights are connected internationally through the CRPD and its monitoring framework in New Zealand
  • working with others in teams, co-operation and collaboration
  • An understanding of the wider disability community.
  • Knowledge of the legal frameworks around disability
  • Strategic, big picture thinking
  • Know how to focus on the issue and keep it separate from the personal
  • The ability to “hold your own” in the wider community
  • The courage to stand up for your convictions
  • Good communications skills. These could include Sign Language, or the ability to tell a good story simply, for example

A good dollop of passion and a healthy sense of humour are essential.

Many disabled people will find creative ways of acquiring and demonstrating these sills. One person may not have them all. That’s where working together comes in. Different people will also lead in different ways and in different situations. Some may choose to lead in teams.

Aspiring leaders also need to have the opportunities and encouragement to lead. This includes during and upon completion of leadership training. This requires community outreach so potential leaders are not isolated in a self-referential bubble.

If that sounds like a fairly tall order it is. That is the point. Leadership requires effort. But it is perfectly possible and there are people who can and will help. Some people may need more support than others to be leaders. Leadership is not always glamorous and exciting, and real leadership takes hard work and commitment. But you don’t have to wait to do leadership training to be a leader. You can start by being active and involved. Go for it!

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Filed under Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Miscellaneous

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