9th December 2020 • Emma Cooper
Hello all! It’s been a strange, long, and uncertain year; but compared to my previous articles of 2020, this one does not ponder or grumble. This month’s article is dedicated to celebration, gratitude, and respect.
November in the UK is packed with tradition; be it the 5th November and fireworks night, or the profound silence and giving of respect on the 11th November, when we remember our service men and women on Armistice Day. The mood of the days leading up to 8th November, which in 1995 saw the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act, although worlds apart in essence to the other traditions, struck some uncomfortable similarities.
The Disability Discrimination Act became law on 8th November 1995, and made discrimination against disabled people unlawful. It meant people with disabilities in the UK were finally protected by a law to ensure no forms of direct or indirect disability discrimination could affect them and their rights to equality ever again.
The disability movement of 1995 were an army of the UK’s most vulnerable, who gave up their yesterday for our today; it should never be forgotten.
The changing landscape of disability
The Act laid the foundation for all future advocates to build upon, it was already designed and campaigned for. When it’s compared to recent history, the landscape of that time is unrecognisable to the landscape for disabled people born after 1995.
My thoughts and respect are with those campaigners in the early 90s who had trodden a not yet ventured path for our lives today. The Disability Discrimination act of 1995 is responsible for so many of the freedoms disabled people like myself could all too easily take for granted or as ‘standard practice’ in 2020.
The Disability Act, which leant itself to the equality act, means if you or your young person have ever had to ask for reasonable adjustments or had an accessible application form, then you may owe a great debt of gratitude to the disability advocates of 1995.
As I write this, I have just come off an online conference where I was training new disability trainers.
One of the trainers asked where I trained as a public speaker. I replied quite honestly that although I am drama school trained, I have never had access to accessible autistic training as, in 2008 when I started to be involved in advocacy, it simply didn’t exist.
We spoke about renumeration and how much to expect to get paid for being a disabled public speaker. I felt proud to be able to share the ballpark figures and a sliding scale of rates. Reflecting back to just over 10 years ago since I started advocating, you often weren’t believed to be disabled let alone invited to talk, or get paid.
I shared how far we have come in just one decade and couldn’t help but dare to imagine the landscape our disabled elders faced in 1995 and the years before.
Disability is a fast-paced relentless treadmill. Discourse on language, society’s perspectives, knowledge, and accessibility change if you so much as blink.
You may assume it’s easy to make changes for the better then?
The reality is, change for good isn’t a simple task undertaken by one person, one charity, one campaign or one group.
It’s a movement – so vast in its history, depth and width, that it eventually reaches the top and change occurs.
It’s life-long dedication with vast health and personal sacrifices and losses made day and night by those involved.
The scale of the mass efforts of disabled people both then and now is only highlighted when we take time to reflect and imagine how the country must have felt for disabled adult advocates in 1995.
We must continue to make progress
Only 13 years on since I started advocating have I seen ideas and perceptions change, leading to reduced stigma and more women talking openly about being autistic. Autistic mothers and fathers attend courts, and social services influence judges and health and care staff who, in turn, influence boards, which in time can influence parliamentary figures, ministers, and the law itself.
It isn’t one nudge in the right direction, it’s the constant nudges of many over time that erode the barriers. It’s that movement that makes change.
It’s vital that we all keep nudging and moving in the right direction so we make progress and don’t relapse. It’s just as easy to turn the clock back to the dreadful experiences disabled adults of the 1990s faced if we don’t maintain their efforts.
The global picture is very different
In Marrakesh in 2014, I was speaking at the World Humans Rights conference. The difference of disability rights in Marrakesh was unlike anything I’d ever experienced or witnessed in the UK.
Professionals who were deaf were left without a sign language interpreter, the volume on the speaker being turned up to ‘help’ them instead.
Top Washington DC professionals who were also wheelchair users were stranded for days, miles away from home without a disabled toilet.
I felt I had time travelled, and as I landed in Heathrow on that cold December morning, I wanted to kiss the ground. I felt so fortunate to be a British disabled woman.
One of the take-away comments that haunted me from the World Human Rights Forum trip was this quote:
“Human rights do not exist unless we all respect them “
Luckily, the law does, and that is why the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 is an advancement we can never forget.
Thank you to all the disability advocates of 1995 for laying the legal foundation for us all.
On 1 October 2010 the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), along with a range of other discrimination laws, was replaced by the Equality Act 2010 in England, Wales and Scotland (in Northern Ireland the DDA is still the law). The Equality Act covers all the provisions in the Disability Discrimination Act as well as some additional protection from indirect discrimination, discrimination arising from disability and discrimination on the basis of association or perception.
If you enjoyed this piece from Carly, be sure to check out her other articles here.
An apology (added January 2021)
In this article, I aimed to show a contrast between countries that have the equality act and those that didn’t. I aimed to have an honest and frank article that showed this contrast. Sadly, honesty without shared communication of context can often lead to things being read with a different perspective. My aim was to show, in a protective and frustrated manner, that not everyone globally has their equivalent of the Equality Act and try and stand up for them.
It has come to my attention that the intended message of my Nov article has not been conveyed and hurt the feelings of others not in the U.K. and was not viewed as supportive. I would like to be accountable for this hurt caused and apologise publicly for the miscommunication. Being Autistic, even at 38 years old, I struggle with context and am I grateful for the message I received as although it hurt to know I had caused sadness and disappointment, it highlighted to me my own blind spots due to my disability and an area I need to work on and have support with.
In 2021 I will try my best to ensure I gain PA support to double check my communications and to ensure I learn to convey a message as it was intended and to do ultimately better – I am sorry x