The Sozialverband Deutschland Nordrhein-Westfalen, SoVD NRW, (English: Social Federation Germany North Rhine-Westphalia) has launched a major Call-to-Action Campaign in the summer, titled "Ich bin nicht behindert, ich WERDE behindert" (English: I am not disabled, I am NOT ENABLED). It reflects the solidarity of people with and without disabilities, as well as the plea to consequently implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The campaign’s closing event will take place on Wednesday at 3:00 PM at the REHACARE Forum.
Franz Schrewe is the state chairman of the SoVD NRW. REHACARE.com spoke with him about the goals of the campaign, celebrity support, and its political significance.
Mr. Schrewe, what is the significance of this campaign?
Franz Schrewe: Everybody can participate in this campaign true to the principle: nothing about the involved parties without the involved parties. Everyone has the chance to play a part and express with a photo that he or she supports our pleas. That means, this person also wants a courageous, honest and sincere implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities –he or she actually demands it. The photo support has a practical aspect. It works online, which means people, who were not able to attend our events in North Rhine-Westphalia in person, are also able to show their support. On location, many people were prepared to spontaneously join in and have a photo taken of them. In doing so, people quickly struck up a conversation. Many of them not only wanted to find out more about our campaign but they also obtained information on our association and were interested in the social services we offer to all of our members.
The photos have another very important advantage: it doesn’t matter if you can hear, see, talk or walk – nobody was excluded from the photo opportunity; everyone can participate on a small scale in a manner of speaking. This is not just a symbolic gesture, it was simply important to us. Needless to say, we were also excited that so many people shared their photos on Facebook. That was actually the purpose of this campaign: for people to participate and talk about it. After all, social networks like Facebook provide the opportunity to widely share information, campaigns, and photos – we took advantage of that, and were successful.
How did you call public attention to this campaign?
Schrewe: To reach as many people as possible and become a topic of conversation in social media, we naturally also asked celebrities for their support. Then one day, we received an e-mail from Gaby Köster with a wonderful supporter photo. If you remember, she wrote a book about her struggle to return back to life after suffering a stroke. Many of her fans were, therefore, already receptive to the need for assistance and disability issues and – as affected parties- became Gaby Köster fans. When she posted her photo along with the campaign poster on Facebook and smugly asked, “Why do people always raise their voices when you are in a wheelchair, as if wheelchair users are also automatically deaf?", our Facebook numbers really skyrocketed. She apparently expressed what many people are thinking and drew a lot of attention to our campaign in the process. The entry reached more than 274,000 people and received thousands of Facebook Likes. It was also shared approximately 1,000 times. Even the most optimistic among us didn’t seriously expect this type of success.
Your campaign received great feedback on Facebook and Twitter. Yet the corresponding fundraising campaign has been slow. Why are things so difficult?
Schrewe: As a matter of fact, we would like it if more people would donate to the campaign; even five Euros are helpful if many people contribute. And it’s incredibly easy: it only takes a few clicks and takes no time at all. If you used Paypal, you didn’t even have to provide your bank account information. We knew that people are often pinched for time. That’s why we wanted to make donating as easy as possible.
The problem might be that people think, “Hey, this is a venerable association, steeped in tradition. They are professionals; they are able to afford this and don’t need my help.“ Many probably don’t know that we are not only politically independent but we are also virtually exclusively funded by membership fees, and these funds are primarily used to support our branch network and social services. That’s why we really need to stretch our funds to run this type of campaign. Ultimately, it all worked out, also thanks to those who volunteer at SoVD, baked cakes, set up the booth and hung posters. But there are limits to all this.
That’s why we are actually glad that at least some people have supported us with donations so far. Generally speaking, the problem might be that a campaign is a less palpable endeavor than raising funds to build wells or supply notebooks or warm blankets for example. Who really likes to donate money to set up a campaign website? But these are the kinds of things we needed.
The SoVD NRW has very concrete demands. What will policy makers likely be able to implement in the near future?
Schrewe: It’s crucial for the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) to find ways, so the justified expectations of people with disabilities in NRW for a consequent implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities won’t continue to be crushed due to the arguments between state and municipal entities and an alleged lack of financial resources. The implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guidelines needs to be more forcefully expedited than was previously the case. Policy makers in North Rhine-Westphalia need to immediately tackle this issue. The same applies to the debate over the Bundesteilhabegesetz (Federal Participation Law). We expect the state government to act now in the Bundesrat (German Federal Council) and use its votes to achieve improvements to the bill for the concerned parties.
The presentation at REHACARE is also the campaign’s closing event. What happens next?
Schrewe: We will use the campaign boost to aggressively continue to plead our case concerning disability rights and call for improvements in the lives of persons with disabilities in NRW. This is what the people of NRW expect from us and what they have told us in numerous conversations throughout the campaign. People with disabilities in NRW don’t want to wait another 100 years for the country to finally become accessible. Things mustn’t move along at a snail’s pace but need to be turbocharged. We will work and fight for this.