There was a great turnout at our first disability rights event. There were five full tables at our forum in Cardiff last Thursday, and they shared their greatest concerns very compellingly. Consequently, we thought we’d share the top five areas of interest for disabled people’s rights so far. As we get ready for our North and West Wales events, these may give you food for thought about what you’d like to discuss.
(Pictures courtesy of Natasha Hirst).
The Top 5:
People noted that public transport doesn’t allow for spontaneous travel. That excludes disabled people from participation in society. Also Motability suffered a sustained attack from the Daily Mail regarding the cars it was offering, and it now offers a smaller range than that which the general public enjoys. In the process of the Daily Mail’s campaign, disabled people were demonised as using tax payers’ money rather than being helped to play an active and equal role in our society.
The high cost of private sector accessible housing was also raised. At the moment, the law doesn’t require listed buildings to make accessibility changes, but, housing built after 1980 tends to have walls which are too weak to be adapted to make them inhabitable for disabled people. Also, if a toilet isn’t accessible then the building isn’t accessible, and if there is no access, it prevents any question of employment.
2. Independent Living.
Attendees stated that there shouldn’t be assumptions that if a person has a learning disability that they won’t be able to live on their own. Giving people a say in where they want to live rather than making assumptions about what sort of housing they could live in would help as well. While it would be unrealistic to make every house in Wales accessible, there could be a greater dispersal of accessible housing, and it would be even better if it was more flexible as well. Some people with learning difficulties are compelled, bullied, and threatened into sharing social support despite negative consequences. One way to help disabled people maintain their independence would be to have local authorities find out what an individual’s needs are, or have a GP identify them. Information should also be available in accessible formats.
Several people at the forum suggested that there should be a Disability Ombudsman or Commissioner. It would guarantee disabled people representation at a political level, and devolving the issue to the Welsh Assembly would give Welsh disabled people more oversight in their community. However it was also noted that the Sennedd building itself was not designed to be disability friendly. Access to democracy is not on the same level for disabled people, with the handrails in the Sennedd being only at one height along with vertical beams in corridors obstructing access.
3. Adequate Standard of Living and Social Protection.
It was noted that there is a premium on disability aids. One attendee stated that a company wanted to sell him an optical device for over a thousand pounds, but it was available on e-Bay for a tenner The assumption is that disabled people are older, and that older people have money. Getting affordable aids for young people is much harder. Attendees found it hard to get disabled pushchairs or cots, and wheelchair provision was rated as shocking. It is very hard to get spare parts for wheel chairs, or models light enough to be lifted into a car.
Others told how access to legal aid has been cut. Because of the way laws referring to disabled people work, disabled people find themselves having to sue for compensation once a wrong has been committed against them rather than having their rights enshrined in statute law. With the loss of legal aid, many disabled people don’t have the same protection as the able bodied.
4. Right to Work.
One attendee described how there are two broad patterns among disabled people in the workforce. Some are underqualified, and as a result earn less than their non-disabled peers. Better training or hope of turning that training into good work could help there. Others are over-qualified and are either still struggling to find jobs or they’re underpaid compared to their peers as well as what their qualifications merit. That shows just how hard some disabled people have to work to get their jobs.
Moreover, people may not apply for jobs if they know that driving to a workplace and parking there will be a problem. Many jobs are advertised as full time, which reduces the opportunities for disabled people who may be open to job sharing, part time contracts or need flexi-time.
It was also mentioned that there’s an attitude that you can’t be ill at the top of an organisation. This was shown most recently in the Presidential debate where there was concern as to whether Hillary Clinton could hold office due to a recent illness, and such viewpoints are heard in the UK too.
5. Being Treated with a Lack of Dignity.
While there were many other issues reported, a lot of them shared a common theme – the lack of dignity given to disabled people. Dignity is covered in the preamble of the ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’, and overarches many different areas. Attendees reported teachers bullying disabled children, and benefits assessors patting people on the head. Having to come in the back way or enter through through a different part of the building contravenes disabled people’s dignity too. A discriminatory attitude is behind many of the problems that were raised, and it is fair to say that the Government has adopted a discriminatory attitude.
Attend Our Next Events
These issues will now go into our report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled People. The Committee will review them, and then make recommendations to the UK Government. Yet if there’s an issue facing disabled people that you feel strongly about, you can still get your voice heard by attending one of our two remaining forums in Llanelli or Wrexham. If you don’t speak up now, we can’t pressure the Government to act.