From Beth Rose
Image rightsBaroness Jane Campbell
It’s been 25 years since the Disability Discrimination Act became law, but the campaign for equality continues.
Here six people close to the law – after fighting for it, applying it, or working with it – say what they think of the law as it stands and what they would like to see next.
“Society has taken its foot off the gas”
Image rightsPA Media
Baroness Jane Campbell sits in the House of Lords but was a protester in the 1990s. She became involved in disability policy after she was fired from her job with a charity because she could not use a typewriter. It gave her “the anger I needed to become a radical activist”.
The DDA [Disability Discrimination Act] It would never be a magical answer to all of our problems, but it did a very important thing – it paved the way for a radical change in the social concept of life for disabled people. Instead of disabled people being tragic victims, it was accepted that we could not thrive because of the disabled environment and social attitudes that left us excluded and powerless.
The public quickly understood that the lack of access to transport, buildings, housing, education and employment was a national farce.
Image rightsBaroness Jane Campbell
We have been considered “the vulnerable” since the austerity years and now the pandemic. If we don’t see it, we’ll soon switch from “vulnerabilities” to “consumables”. I fear the term “survival of the fittest” could undermine all of our profits over the past 25 years.
We have gained freedoms that I never enjoyed as a child. However, society has taken its foot off the gas.
Disabled people must find the strength to regroup, to unite like other disadvantaged groups and to renew our claim to dignity, equality and respect.
“Disabled people must be able to use the law.”
Image rightsGraeme lamb
Kaliya Franklyn is an activist and blogger. Last year she used the Equality Act, the successor to the DDA, to sue her employer. Her request to work from home was not considered due to her impairment. The charity settled in front of a full tribunal, and on rare occasions Kaliya was not required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. She hopes this will set a precedent.
The DDA, and later the Equal Opportunities Act, fundamentally changed things for many disabled people, but it has only worked really well for those who can use it for themselves – those who are educated or more capable. I don’t think people understand how difficult it is to apply the Equal Opportunities Act. Even with a law degree and the ability to seek advice, I was still discriminated against and still had tremendous problems with the legal system.
You are incredibly traumatized and are trying to fit that trauma into a legal framework. This was not a process that would ever work for my former co-workers with learning disabilities – they are the most abandoned group of all.
For me, the most important thing for the future is to give disabled people the opportunity to apply the law without the burden falling entirely on the individual.
British Disability Rights Act at 25
“We have to do more to protect and create jobs.”
Justin Tomlinson MP is the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Labor. He is currently working on an “ambitious and far-reaching” national strategy for people with disabilities.
We have seen a tremendous change in awareness, excitement, and opportunity. The DDA and the Equal Opportunities Act have proven their worth and provide a strong and uncomplicated legal framework that protects disabled people from unfair treatment.
This has focused the mind and has been instrumental in helping us deliver record numbers of disabled people at work. However, these are unprecedented times, so we must redouble our efforts to protect and create new jobs.
For full details of the employment figures, see the government’s latest report on disabled people in employment.
“Someone has to be brave enough to take up the fight”
Image rightsChris Fry
Chris Fry is an attorney specializing in disability discrimination. During Covid-19, the number of cases has increased sevenfold.
Equal Opportunities Act itself is quite complicated and requires experts to properly prepare court documents. I have been qualified for 20 years and still bring specialist attorneys with me to do this work.
It is an effective tool and it gives us the opportunity to change things. The criticism is generally based on the fact that a person is brave enough to face the fight.
The change in the shape of our case load due to Covid-19 reflects the change in society. While the cases used to be about physical issues, they are now about the online area. Supermarkets removed people’s existing online slots and reduced them to a first-come-first-served policy that always put their disabled customers at a disadvantage.
Equality does not mean following the same policies for everyone without discrimination. Equality ensures that the outcome of the policy creates a level playing field.
“If a company wants my loyalty, where is their handicap credentials?”
Image rightsMike Adams
Mike Adams is the CEO of Purple, an organization focused on the disability-related economy and business.
I can clearly see that life has been different since 1995, but there are always memories of how far we still have to go. Businesses don’t necessarily see disabled people as customers, they see them as a set of responsibilities. However, companies and organizations have to determine for themselves that good access and service are the right thing to do.
Unlocking the disabled customer will unlock the disabled employee.
What I’d like to see is if a company wants my loyalty, where are their disabled credentials? I don’t think anyone would have a brand now that wasn’t environmentally conscious. We’re talking 22% of the population – that’s a fifth in a quarter.
“People don’t necessarily have the same outrage”
Image rightsHeather Lacey
Heather Lacey is an award-winning activist and activist. She was nearing her second birthday when the DDA passed and will turn 27 later this month.
Diversity and inclusion are high on everyone’s agenda. We’re making some fantastic changes in the world, especially with Black Lives Matter. But disability is never quite there – people don’t necessarily feel the same outrage.
It’s frustrating because as we get older the majority of people will be disabled – it’s a variation on the normal.
There has to be more acceptance of the Equal Opportunities Act for the benefit of all than there has to be for “them” over there, and it has to be able to actually involve people.
In the next 10 years I would like to be able to change this perception of what disability means to people. Without that, you will likely struggle to really make sure everyone is accessible.
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