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We’re a Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO)

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Here’s why that matters and why we REALLY need our members.
Jess, Policy and Communications Manager

You might have heard us talk about being a Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO), but do you know what we mean by that? Do you know how it makes us different, and why this means we really need you to join as a member?

So often when I describe Disability Positive, I say we are a DPO. Sometimes people understand straight away the importance of that statement. Other times let’s be honest, I am met with blank looks.

We need to change that, so in this blog post I’ll talk you through what a DPO is, why it matters, and how it makes us different to other charities that support disabled people.

I’ll use the term ‘disabled people’, to mean disabled people facing disabling barriers in society because of their impairments or conditions. This includes physical impairments, mental ill health, hearing impairments (including D/deaf people with BSL as first language), visual impairments, learning disability/difficulty, neurodiverse people, and those with chronic illness or fatigue.

What is a DPO?
Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) are organisations that provide services and support for disabled people. But it’s not just that. We are organisations in which most of the staff, volunteers, and board of trustees (like a board of directors) have lived experience of disability or a long-term health condition.

DPOs also invite people with lived experience of disability the opportunity to join as a member and have a say in the direction of the organisation and how it is run. Just fill in a short form to become a Disability Positive member for free. You’ll get regular updates from us as well as the opportunity to help us design our services and share your views. Go to our membership page now to register.

Another part of being a DPO is our commitment to the social model of disability. This means that we believe a person is disabled not by their condition but is disabled by a society and an environment that is not designed for their needs. You can read more about the social model here.

All this together means that Disabled People’s Organisations are representative and so we act to promote the interests of our members and the people we support. You can think of it as a bit like trade organisation or a union. In fact you may also hear DPOs referred to as ‘representative organisations of disabled people’ or ‘disabled people and their organisations’.

The United Nations has a Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (CRPD) which defines representative organisations of disabled people as organisations like Disability Positive, in which 100% of members are disabled people and that are majority led, directed, governed, and staffed by disabled people.

Being representative means that when we talk to others, including government and decision makers, we really understand the barriers disabled people face and the impact of decisions made.

For me, this part is so important because in my role I attend meetings to work to influence change. Being able to offer the lived experience gained from our members, customers, staff, and volunteers, as well as my own, is very powerful. 

Why is a DPO different to a charity?
Ok, so I admit this can get a bit confusing. Many DPOs (including Disability Positive) are in fact also registered charities. However, the key difference between a DPO and other charities that provides services for disabled people is that a DPO is run and controlled by disabled people, for disabled people, as I explained in the section above.

Many other charities provide services and may have a good understanding of the issues for the disabled people they support. However, whilst a charity may speak on behalf of disabled people because it runs services for them, it cannot represent disabled people in the same way that a DPO can.

It is also important to understand that the disability rights movement in the UK continues to lobby for ‘rights, not charity’. DPOs form an important part of this, with disabled people leading their own support and advice and not relying on voluntary support and the ‘kindness’ of others.

The role of DPOs
DPOs across the country have such an important role in enabling and supporting disabled people to access services, understand their rights, challenge discrimination and exclusion and much like with our own vision, to create a world that is Disability Positive.

At Disability Positive we do this by offering services, opportunities, and a voice to people with lived experience of disability and long-term conditions. We bring the added value of being ‘user led’, so that we really understand how much what we do matters because we have lived experience too.

We work closely with many other DPOs, including as part of the DPO Forum England, the collective voice of Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations in England.

How is working with a DPO different?
Whether you know us as a member, a customer or as a partner, you will benefit from our experience of disability and long-term health conditions at every level.

We use it to help us:
▪️ Design better services and opportunities, guided by our lived experience and working in equal partnership with our members and users so that they really meet the needs and aspirations of the people we support, and can be responsive and flexible.
▪️ Offer local knowledge and a representative voice of the issues for disabled people (our members and clients).
▪️ Be trusted experts by offering understanding and insight into disabled people’s lives and needs, especially when working to support businesses to improve their services for disabled people.
▪️ And not forgetting, of course, the title of this blog. We can’t do any of this without our members, we really need you!

    If you have lived experience of disability and long-term health conditions, or have caring responsibilities, we’d love you to join us and help guide our work. You’ll get regular updates from us as well as the opportunity to help us design our services and share your views. Just fill in a short form to become a member for free. Go to our membership page now to register.

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