What is disability discrimination?

14 Jan 2018

As I've grown older I've become increasingly aware that the world and the society in which we live is not set up for people with disabilities such as myself. From inaccessible (in the loosest sense of the word) nurseries to inaccessible crematoriums, we have failed as a human race to live up to our bold declarations that everyone should have the same opportunities. Whether you're a person of colour, LGBT+, someone belonging to an ethnic minority, or belong to one of many other protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010, you will probably agree with me that discrimination is a real challenge in your everyday life.


That, to be honest, is the last time that I want to use any kind of legal definition in this blog post, for it is not going to be about legal arguments or high court rulings. Organisations and the government throw around the term "reasonable adjustments" so much that it has almost become like a get-out-of-jail-free card for them. I do not care what they deem to be discrimination. If I am feeling discriminated against, then it is their job to fix it. No ifs. No ands. No buts.


No, this blog post is going to be about what it is really like to have a disability in the 21st century. This is the human side of disability discrimination, and the vast majority of the examples that I describe below will be based on real life situations that I and others have faced. And yes, a few of the examples will refer to the Labour Party. I make zero apologies for this so get over it.


Disability discrimination is going out for a night out, only to find that very few of the venues that you want to go to are physically accessible. It is also being asked "can you not get out of your wheelchair?" or "can't we lift you?". Firstly, if I could simply jump out of my chair, then the odds are that I WOULDN'T NEED IT!! Also, no. At the point at which you offer to lift me (as innocent as it might be), you are treating me differently from other customers. A member of the door staff giving a fireman's lift to someone with a disability would probably draw an awful lot of attention. I do not want this kind of attention! Instead, why not try getting a lift or a ramp installed, and treat me with the respect and dignity that I deserve as a fellow human being?


Disability discrimination is also not being able to reach the bar or see over it because of it being too high. I have a solution to this - my chair raises up. Not every person using a wheelchair has this function on their chair, so why not lower an area of the bar so that everyone can buy a drink? It's really not rocket science!


Disability discrimination is not being able to participate in karaoke night at the pub because there is no ramp or lift up to the stage.


Disability discrimination is being approached in a public setting by a random stranger (who is probably either drunk or high), and being told that "you're an inspiration" and "it's great to see you people out and about". On more than one occasion I've even had money given to me. Not offered - just thrust into my hands. 


Disability discrimination is not being able to drink ANYTHING whilst out and about (including on a night out) because you're not sure where the nearest disabled bog is or you know there are no disabled bogs nearby. Or when there is a key to the disabled bog but it takes the staff ages to find said key. I admire their attempts to keep able bods out, but seriously, just get a Radar scheme lock that a fair number of us have the key to open!


Disability discrimination is coming out of a club at a random time, and watching whilst able bods pile into random taxis that they hadn't even worried if they would be there, while you have to either have a pre-booked taxi for a certain time, have a friend to pick you up and take you home, or hope and pray that there is a wheelchair accessible vehicle on the road at that time (and available). 


Disability discrimination is having your motivations and justifications for taking decisions questioned by friends, because they are not sure that you are of sound mind to make such important decisions by virtue of your disability. It is admittedly very tough to explicitly prove, but those with strong moral compasses will have no problem with this situation having ever arisen.


Disability discrimination is not being able to go into shops or not being able to access shops in their entirety because of a lack of ramps/lifts or because the shop is so tightly packed that you cannot get around.


Disability discrimination is being placed in a standing machine to stand for 40 mins per day in a school classroom because it's apparently good for you.


Disability discrimination is your Annual Review (a meeting every year with "experts" to review your support) at school endorsing a "circle of friends" scheme specifically for you, which involves very awkward conversations with your friends.


Disability discrimination is not being able to go to your top three choices for secondary schools because of a lack ramps and lifts, and being sent to the local school with a lift. 


Disability discrimination is not being able to participate in after school activities because of a lack of funding for support.


Disability discrimination is not being able to board or disembark trains independently because of an ancient rail network and a lack of political will to make the necessary modifications. Further to this point, it is also having to ask other passengers to seek assistance to disembark the trains because the staff have abandoned you. 


Disability discrimination is having to wet yourself on a train because the bog is out of service.


Disability discrimination is not being able to get on a bus either because the ramp is not working, or because of inconsiderate passengers who decide that the space for wheelchairs is now their luggage storage space, and refuse to move them.


Disability discrimination is your local party considering moving into premises where they know there is no access.


Disability discrimination is allowing the able-bods on Conference floor to stand up to obtain the chair's attention to be able to speak, whilst ignoring delegates with disabilities.


Disability discrimination is considering the views of young members, of BAME members, of women members and other groups of members in a Democracy review of the party, and not even considering the views of members with disabilities.


Disability discrimination is having an exhibitors stand at Conference, but having a step up to that exhibitors stand so that wheelchair users cannot properly engage with the interactive parts.


Disability discrimination is selling metallic straws, with no alternative being available (i.e. putting a tax on those who need straws).


Disability discrimination is not considering the needs of disabled people when talking about eliminating plastic, and not offering suitable alternatives at the same price.


To be honest, I can think of many, many more instances of disability discrimination, but that would result in this post being much much longer. 


Why have I written this? Because I'm frankly fed up of disability issues not coming up in discussions enough. Even within the Labour Party there is a distinct lack of disability representation, and that is something that a group of members called DEAL (Disability Equality Act Labour) are working on. I see friends who are rightly concerned about issues related to women, LGBT+ people, BAME people etc, but they're rarely talking about disability issues, or when they do it's never in any kind of context related to discrimination and calling out such bad practices.


The issue is that very few people think about disability issues. So when people like me come along and call out disability discrimination for what it is, we are seen as a nuisance for asking the difficult questions.


There needs to be a huge shift in public conversation in order for people with disabilities to not feel like we're having to fight all the time for even the simplest things. That shift can begin here with you, if you fight for the rights of people with disabilities in your school, in your communities, in your workplaces. 


I'd like to conclude with a succinct answer to the question posed in the title:


What is disability discrimination?


Disability discrimination is not giving people with disabilities the same rights and opportunities as able-bods, and not treating us with the same level of dignity and respect. 


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