Rehab Critical Mass is an advocacy and par-excellence grassroots initiative, the goal of which is to “bring together people with disabilities, and thus improve their self-advocacy skills, improve cooperation, and make them visible on a societal level, thus ultimately contribute to strengthening solidarity in society.” RCM was initiated by a young man with a physical disability in 2014. Together with his supporters, he organised a march across the city for people with disabilities, bringing them to the streets in unprecedented numbers.
Detailed description of the practice and its goals
We decided to present this initiative as part of a publication on employment because we identify with RCM’s holistic approach which integrates needs and a range of features which are important to ensuring a full and satisfactory life for people with disabilities. Employment, for instance, requires good qualifications and a decent level of knowledge about a specific field, therefore we also have to address the education and training opportunities that are available for people with disabilities, as well as the training or further training provided for people with altered working capacity.
“This is our job, to show ourselves, that we exist; we are different but we are just integral parts of society like anyone else who walks on two legs or who can talk in a way that others understand.”
(Rehab Critical Mass organizer)
An important characteristic of the initiative is that it does not focus on one type of disability only but seeks to represent the interests of all those who are impaired in their movement, eyesight, hearing, speech, mental abilities or who have several disabilities. This is of course a diverse group with diverse problems but whose members have several things in common: the difficulty of promoting their interests and their “invisibility”.
People with disabilities are almost entirely invisible in the media and even in everyday life. This is what prompted Rehab Critical Mass to bring them to the streets, together with their family members, friends and supporters.
Festive marches were organized in both 2014 and 2015, as a result of which the streets of Budapest saw an unprecedented number of people with disabilities. This RCM managed to make them visible, and drew attention to the fact that people with disabilities are entitled to the same rights and opportunities. The message of the march was also elaborated in a petition with the title “What we expect”, which included details about the organisation’s mission and the fundamental rights and conditions that are necessary for people with disabilities to have meaningful and decent lives:
- the right to social security,
- the right to decent education,
- social inclusion,
- support services better tailored to the person and his/her condition,
- community-based living in homes, as opposed to large institutions,
- a complex rehabilitation system that is based on the assessment of an individual’s condition.
Marches are held once a year, but advocacy work is on-going. There now exist working groups organized according to different focal areas, including a working group for the situation of people with altered working capacity, which was set up to develop a protocol related to their employment. There is a parents’ group, and a new group, Mental Rehab, was recently established to address issues related to mental health problems.
Background, participants and their responsibilities
As mentioned above, the movement was initiated by Csaba Kiss, who sought to bring together and organize a critical mass of people with disabilities and their family members, friends and supporters. Csaba describes the motivation behind the initiative in the following words:
“Those who are not involved wouldn’t know what a person like me needs. This is the case even if he/she is a politician, or maybe sometimes even if they are experts. This is our job, to clearly say what we need.”
Difficulties, strengths, results and key success factors
The key feature and the strength of the initiative is self-organisation. After all, who could be more competent, who could explain what a person with a disability needs than the person themselves?
We have seen that the voluntary participation and commitment to the cause of friends, experts and anyone with or without a disability can evolve into a robust and impressive initiative and thus draw attention to the situation of people with disabilities in the mainstream media.
The initiative has the power to impact people’s attitudes by conveying the message that “everyone is able – but differently” and that everyone should participate in society according to his/her abilities. This was the highlighted message of the 2015 march and this is the origin of the term “a person with different ability”.
Assessment of the practice and its results
Rehab Critical Mass managed to raise awareness of the social exclusion of people with disabilities and to facilitate dialogue among interest representation organisations, experts and, of course, those affected. The list of media appearances in the wake of the marches suggests that a great amount of people were reached.
A further strength of the initiative is that it actively seeks solutions, instead of only highlighting problems. To this end it spreads the word about other relevant, innovative projects such as MagicMe, nowtechnologies, jarokelo.hu, spinner wheelchair and the “azabaj” flashmob – which all aim to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
The initiative builds on volunteering: all participants, helpers and all active members are volunteers. Just like in the case of similar organisations, it is a question how long voluntary work can be sustained, and how long volunteers can reconcile existential and other constraints with their dedication and commitment to bringing about change via mobilizing and raising awareness. How is it possible to recruit new and more volunteers and members? How is it possible to ensure continuity once new members are involved? While at the moment there are many activities and active members, sustainability is definitely a key issue.