20 years ago this week the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced in the UK. This law meant that it would now be illegal to discriminate against people just because they are disabled. As a result of this historic law public service providers would have to make adjustments to allow disabled people to access their services. Employers would not be allowed to discriminate against disabled workers. It was a game changer for disabled people, and a massive step to putting disabled people on an equal footing as the able-bodied. However, the law wasn’t passed without a fight.
Disabled people had to fight to get their voices heard. They chained themselves to buses. They blocked traffic in the street. They got themselves arrested (but would have to be immediately released because the police cells and vans weren’t wheelchair accessible.) Thousands of disabled people protested outside the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street. This video from Scope shows what the protests were like:
The act then wasn’t perfect and in 2010 it was replaced by the Equality Act, which protects against discrimination for a wide variety of groups. Nowadays access is a lot better for disabled people than it was 20 years ago. Like someone said in the video “it’s a different world now for disabled people.” Most public services such as shops, restaurants and public transport are now accessible. Most, but still not all of them. Only 67 out of 270 London Underground stations have some form of step free access. That is only 24% that are wheelchair accessible. There are still shops on Lincoln high street that have steps to the entrance and no ramp.
People are often surprised when I tell them that places are still not accessible for people in wheelchairs. They thought that everywhere HAD to be accessible nowadays. Well, technically they should be, but if they can get away with it some places will try.
There are no inspectors inspecting places to see if they are accessible or not. It is up to disabled people to complain and force these places to provide access. In my opinion the Equality Act (2010) is not strict enough. It says public service providers must make “reasonable adjustments” so that disabled people can access the services. But what is “reasonable”? My idea of reasonable is probably different to yours. A restaurant may think it is reasonable to have a disabled toilet, even though you have to go up some stairs to get to it. Yes, this has actually happened!
It should be clearly stated what service providers need to do to improve access. It’s not rocket science. If there are steps at the entrance, provide a ramp. If there are no disabled toilets, build some. If the doors are not wide enough for wheelchairs, widen them. There should be no ambiguity, and no wriggle room for anyone. The law should apply to everyone, and no one should be allowed to choose whether they want to comply or not.
So although things are a lot better than they were 20 years ago, there is still a long way to go. The government seems determined to take as much money as possible away from disabled people, even though most of us don’t have much anyway. Why not target the people that have money and can afford to lose some of it, like millionaires? Oh yeah, I forgot. Because most of the government is made up of them!
We need to continue highlighting places that are not accessible, and make them change things. We need to show the government that there are better ways to fix the economy than picking on disabled people. We must not remain passive when faced with inequality. Just like the protesters did 20 years ago we need to make a fuss if we want to see real change. 20 years ago disabled protesters made the government introduce the Disability Discrimination Act. We need to continue what they started as disabled people have not yet achieved true equality.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world that surrounds him. The unreasonable man attempts to adapt the surrounding world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
– George Bernard Shaw