This week we celebrate the 40th birthday of the first piece of disability discrimination legislation. A long time before the Disability Discrimination Act, which first arrived onto the statute books in 1995, was the Chronically Sick and Disabled Person’s Act.
The Act was designed to ensure disabled people were able to enjoy an acceptable standard of living whilst also having access to a wide range of services. It created a local authority duty to indentify and register disabled people in their area. However, affording disabled people and families similar services as non-disabled was not the same as affording rights.
In more recent years disability rights have equalled the provision of service as the driver in the disability equality legislation, but how far have we come at in the fight against disability discrimination. Let’s take a look at a few figures.
Of the 5 million adults of working age in the UK who identify as disabled, 48% are in employment whereas 78% of non-disabled adults are employed. 24% of disabled people have no formal qualification, as opposed to 10% on non-disabled. As many as 19% have reported discrimination, whereas only to 13% of non-disabled people have (source – Family Resource Survey) – hardly an endorsement of a fair society.
So how has the 40 years since the first act changed society? Clearly, for the majority of disabled people, things are much improved. Segregation is no longer the overriding policy, though not all are included in the mainstream. Large institutions and sub-normality hospitals have been replaced by hostels and day centres in the community. Inclusion in mainstream schools and colleges is an option; alternatively high quality specialist educational services are available for those who need it. Access is a legal demand on providers of shops, restaurants, entertainment, transport and other facilities.
Despite so many social improvements one in five still feel discriminated against. Is this because society, as a whole, has accepted (or been forced to accept) its responsibility, but people as individuals have not. I wonder how many advocates of equality in the workplace live their lives in total segregation, not attempting to share with those they seek to include at work.
Legislation is a continual driver of improved social policy and practice, but it has little direct influence over individuals with society. Exposure and education are the answers. We must keep social policy moving forward and people will be brought along too; it just seems to take that much longer.
Roll on the next 40 years!