The Global Disability Summit and people power

Kyle James Eldridge

A month on from the Global Disability Summit, citizen reporter Kyle James Eldridge looks at what the event achieved and the strength of people power.

Kyle smiling

Kyle is part of our Change Makers programme, which trains young people to be citizen reporters who campaign on issues that are important to them.

The Global Disability Summit might have been the most important event in our calendars this year. You could call it the Paris Climate Accords or the COP26 of the disability world. A moment when disabled people and national leaders met from all corners of the globe to agree on a way forward.

It didn’t prompt large demonstrations or mass media coverage in the same way as COP26 or the Accords. But in many ways, I’m very much fine with that. It means we can focus more on what different leaders promised and whether they delivered on previous pledges. And it gives us space to think about how we use the next few years to achieve a series of goals set out by the UN, to build a more inclusive world by 2030.

My experience with disability

I know how emotive a topic disability can be. Because for me, it’s not a topic of discussion but a lived experience.

My lived experience means I’ve seen a lot that needs fixing. When I hear about appallingly low rates of people with disabilities in education globally and skewed unemployment rates, I immediately think about what needs to be done to change that. Who is able to make a difference? How do we reach them? What are the concrete, practical things we can and need to do to break down barriers to education, employment, and everything disabled people need for a good life?

That doesn’t mean that I am detached from the issues at hand, far from it. My disability journey started in school, where I was aware that I was experiencing education very differently from other students. I’ve spoken about inclusive education before, on The Disability Download. This meant quite a few difficulties, especially with behaviour. But it also meant being able to see things that others didn’t.

I was diagnosed with autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder when I was 14. My interest in politics – especially the practical, getting-things-done kind – largely comes from the very big ups and downs of my journey from where I was when I was young to where I am today.

Working with Leonard Cheshire

It’s what in many ways led me to become a Change Maker, or youth reporter, with Leonard Cheshire. Stories and experiences often have a lot of practical lessons. They present problems but also frequently offer solutions to them. My message? Let’s get rational and think about where we can influence people at a high level.

Alright, it’s not a rallying call you’d hear from Extinction Rebellion, and it’s not the kind of language that made movements like Occupy so famous back in the day.

But stay with me on this.

Why the Global Disability Summit was important

When so much of our political discourse today is emotionally charged and risks turning discussions into shouting matches, I can completely get behind a rational approach. It’s a case of asking the questions I mentioned before and taking action based on the answers. If we know who can make a difference, let’s work with them. If we find out the best way to reach them and the kind of language to work with them effectively, let’s use that language. If we know what practical steps we can take or promise to take to make a change today, then let’s get them down in writing and work out a plan.

This is, in a way, what the Global Disability Summit was about: disabled people and leaders talking and agreeing on goals. You can’t understate how important it is for disabled people and leaders to be in the same room like this. It gives disabled people something that is often considered a dirty word: power.

The power of people

Talking about power is a risky business, but we need to do so if we want to make a change. There’s a lot of stigma around power and securing it, especially given that the news is too often filled with people who wield it in the wrong way. But we cannot just pretend that power isn’t a factor in making change. Making rational arguments to stakeholders at a high level may not be a phrase that grabs headlines. Still, it gives us – campaigners and ordinary people – the chance to make a difference.

The fact is that we all have that power. The Global Disability Summit really demonstrated that. Let’s use it.