Today as we mark the international day for persons with disabilities, I am very aware that one billion people around the world live with a disability – that’s roughly 15% of the global population. I am one of them, mainly using a wheelchair and sometimes walking with sticks. I could have written something smooth and supportive, but I am angry at having to be an afterthought in our society today.
I am angry at having to be an afterthought in our society today.
I’ll be frank. Most people are not aware of the daily barriers and difficulties that we face, whether it is the benefits system using the medical model of disability, making decisions about us that bear no relation to our lived experience, or travel – whether by bus, train, taxi or plane – where both the companies running transport and the wider public have no idea of how difficult even the simplest journey can be.
I turn up to event after event around the country, including TV interviews, where I cannot get to the stage or platform.
As a senior politician, I turn up to event after event around the country, including TV interviews, where I cannot get to the stage or platform. As a traveller, I have been left on trains at 10pm at night, been reduced to tears in airports, been offered an accessible room in a hotel to discover it has a bath, not a shower…. Many other disabled people can add to this tale of frustration!
I want to thank friends and colleagues who are supportive on social media when I post if things have gone wrong. But we need a more fundamental rethink. People with disabilities need everyone to come on side and help us to change the system.
It is not acceptable that children with disabilities are facing worse cuts in their support from both education and health, with personal support and respite care being cut for the most vulnerable in society.
It is not acceptable that new trains are designed with only a handful of wheelchair spaces, which are still used more for luggage.
It is not acceptable that the benefits system targets people with disabilities, and also removing their access to Motability support, and thus access to specialist cars and wheelchairs.
It is not acceptable that house builders can avoid building even the minimum number of disabled accessible and affordable homes, meaning disabled people have nowhere to live.
It is not acceptable that shops and theatres are allowed to continue to be inaccessible.
It’s not acceptable that in too many offices the disabled access to the building is via the bin store.
It is not acceptable that people with an invisible disability are refused seats on public transport, even if they are wearing a “Please offer me a seat” badges
It is not acceptable that disabled people are targeted in hate crimes as easy prey.
Under the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act before it, the law in our land is absolutely clear: discrimination is unacceptable and illegal. Unfortunately the law is not upheld.
If you want to help change things, don’t stand by and offer help afterwards: please, intervene early! Ask individuals what help they need, but also help us to campaign to change attitudes and get the basic services that others take for granted.
The Liberal Democrats fight inequality, conformity and ignorance. Help us to fight discrimination and inequality for all those with disabilities, visible or invisible.