Do Disability Charities Really Help Anyone?

By ‘Disability Charities’ I am referring to the big impairment specific charities that has dominated the scene for over half a century like Scope, Leonard Cheshire, MENCAP, RNIB and Action on Hearing. These monolithic organisations, primarily run by non-disabled people, have dominated the disability agenda and due to their income and assets, are much larger than organisations that claim to be user-led, like Disability Rights UK. However, the big question to ask is do these organisations actually help anyone other than themselves?

To answer this, it is important to explain their history. Many of these charities were set up by parents who were concerned at the lack of services at that time for disabled children and adults, and hence they invested in what were ‘cutting edge’ services like special schools and residential care facilities, which soon became the norm and are now out of date. As any organisation grows, it is very easy as staff come and go for the original goals to be lost and replaced with the single goal of survival, meaning the charities have now become dependent on the dependency of disabled people using their services.

The charities have also needed to adapt to the fact disabled people can now represent themselves and do not like being devalued. This means that the patronising advertising used right up to the late 1980s, proudly portraying disabled people as objects of pity in the way we still see on TV with African children or foreign donkeys, had to stop and be replaced with ‘campaigning’. While the idea of these charities actually campaigning for what disabled people wanted was revolutionary at the time, the concept is now overused and it is now clear to see that campaigning is merely a marketing tool for charities to portray themselves as the authentic voice of whoever they claim to support, portraying their service users as ‘vulnerable’.

With the internet and social media, the level of campaigning by these charities has gone into overload, especially in terms of the welfare reforms, which has enabled them to switch the agenda from politically correct notions of equality and inclusion that challenges the deep rooted prejudices towards disabled people, to the more comfortable notions of welfare and dependency that reinforces the prejudices and keeps disabled people disempowered and dependent.

What is interesting now is that the charity’s competitors are no longer just other charities, but are now disabled people themselves, who have a greater voice as individuals and organisations. Social media has given campaigning tools to the masses and enables anyone to have a voice without money playing the deciding factor, as anyone with access to the internet can now tell the world what they want to say directly and without interference.

This means disabled people are no longer dependent on the charities, who could now be seen as the Black slave traders of our time. The services they run are now mostly funded by government and are undesirable relics of the past. However much they try to reinvent themselves as modern and necessary, the reality is the charities still see disabled people as people who need them because they are incapable of ever really being equal and included in society. This mindset simply stems from their need to survive for the benefit of their staff and no one else.

I must therefore wonder if these charities now really help anyone but themselves and they are simply now asset rich dinosaurs who serve no purpose other than damaging the liberation of disabled people by their dependency on dependency. The question must also be asked if as the issue of disability becomes more complex, can any organisation be the voice of disabled people, especially when it is impossible to determine who disabled people really are or what disability really means.

I believe we are entering the age of the individual, where so many people like myself can have a strong voice as an individual in a cyberspace of voices. This means the power dynamics between individuals and the state, particularly disabled people and the state, is changing, even if it is not fully understood, and this is perhaps going to be the final nail in the coffin for disability charities, who are gradually losing control of those they have needed to survive.

from Simon Stevens


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