Thursday and Friday just gone, I hosted two 90-minute live chats on IRC, the transcripts of which are available on this blog (chat 1, chat 2). Various topics were discussed, but here I'm trying to reflect on them, what I think we can take from them, and where we might be going.
The first thing that's clear is that we need a better venue for discussions. After consulting some people about accessibility of different technologies with their impairments, and applying my own knowedge of the area (I do some web accessibility consulting), it looks like an email list is the best bet, but preferably one with a web interface for people who prefer to access things that way. As such, I'll look at setting up a Google Group for some free-form discussion later this week. The IRC channel may still get some limited use for really quick discussions, but I don't expect any more mass discussions there.
There are some things about which there was something close to consensus among those in the chat - we need the new organisation to be inclusive, without any hierarchy of disability, no prejudice between different impairment groups, and to be as safe a space as we can reasonably make it. We need to be able to raise money to work on whatever we decide to work on, and we need to be able to decide how to spend money in a way that everyone involved can be invested in.
Another thing that seems clear to me is that it's a good idea to keep a wide focus, and not only work on opposing government cuts and proposed changes in law. While the threat we face from the new government has spurred us to this action, we don't have to be defined by it. As I reflect, I think there are two main benefits to keeping a wider approach. Firstly, it allows us to take into account all of the lives of disabled people - and our lives are not defined by our social security benefits, even for those of us who are forced to rely on them. Secondly, that wider focus allows us to draw in support from disabled people who don't want to focus on that, and prevents us being mischaracterised as a group of people defending their own financial self-interest. This is also supported by the recently-ex MP, and parliamentary champion of fellow disabled people Anne Begg, in comments she gave to DNS (see an earlier post on this blog, Should we be afraid? And other reactions to Anne Begg).
There are some big unanswered questions (along with all of the little ones). For instance, what place should carers have in this organisation? The general tendency (including in the opinion of some carers) is that they should not be members on the same terms as self-identified disabled people, though some (and not just some carers) feel they should be welcomed on an equivalent basis; all agree they should be welcome as part of the organisation, as far as I can tell. Similar questions arise as regards non-disabled, non-carer allies. I intend to write more specifically on this subject in the next few days to explore options, and reasons why each might be preferable - though I should be clear, it's a wide spectrum from "non-voting members" to "all members have equal status".
Another area touched on in the chats (if memory serves), and certainly in other places of discussion, is name. This seems like such a trivial, small thing, but it can be quite important. For instance, if we are to build an organisation for all disabled people, it has to be welcoming to people who are to the right of the political spectrum - and they won't like the idea of an organisation being a 'union', due to the association it creates with the trade union movement. This is another topic I'll write more on in the coming days, and I've heard some great (and some amusing) ideas that I'd like to share and discuss.
So, there's a lot of food for thought, and expect to see more posts from me on these topics, and others, and look out for the email list being set up!