Every day for the 100 days leading up to tomorrow’s election, we’ve published the story of a disabled person or parent of a disabled child. On the final day of our campaign, we asked Charlie Willis, a young disabled campaigner with the organisation Independent Lives, what he would do if he was Prime Minister.
There are more than 11 million disabled people in the UK. As the 2015 General Election dawns, disabled and non-disabled people alike will be voting tomorrow for those candidates that they feel will best represent them in the Houses of Parliament.
If I were Prime Minister, I would hope to be able to use the position to improve the lives of disabled people. With this in mind, there are four changes I would immediately propose, broad ideas with one common theme: empowerment.
Firstly, open up positions of power to different identity groups. A government should be representative of the people it supports, including identities formed around race, gender, sexuality, class and disability.
The present situation is far from this ideal: the diversity in our country is not fully reflected in the diversity of the Government.
By improving this, the country can start to champion the needs of the many, rather than the needs of the elite few, by fair and equal empowerment in terms of rights, visibility, opportunities and respect.
No. 2: An accessible country
Secondly, make spaces accessible for all. Accessibility is not just about ramps into buildings, but about all spaces being adapted to public need. Many disabled people still experience significant barriers to transport, buildings and the countryside.
Disabled people with varying impairments should always be included in the design process of new transport and the building of accessible lifetime homes.
This would work towards a Standard of Accessibility, by reviewing the accessible standards of building regulations to include hearing loops, quiet rooms or Changing Places toilets. By making everywhere accessible, people are empowered to get involved and have a voice.
Thirdly, protect independence through welfare. Some disabled people are feeling the effects of changes to welfare, personal budgets and constant reassessments of need.
For those who rely on support to live their lives, the consequences of further cuts could be severe.
A tax on the richest people in the UK, and higher corporation tax, would ensure a future for the welfare state with adequate benefits for all that required it. Local authorities, the NHS and schools would have more money.
This would protect those with the most substantial need, empowering others to live more independently, being able to afford true choice and control.
No. 4: A change in attitudes
Lastly, reform attitudes within, and outside, government. In recent years disabled people have been repeatedly scapegoated and victimised in all areas of society. Representations of identity groups are linked to the behaviour towards them.
Images in the media that show disability are often manipulated and disabled people are represented as “weak”, “faking it”, or “scroungers”. Perhaps as a result, disability hate crime is on the rise.
Therefore, education needs to be inclusive of difference. The world of disability is a reality that everyone, at some point, will come into contact with, but is seldom taught about.
Representing disabled people in a more positive and radical light will end this manipulation and allow the creation of individual, empowered, identities for all disabled people.
Ultimately, disabled people and the organisations that empower them need to focus on the fight for independent living, and move the discussions in government towards preserving our civil rights.
Disability is a political issue. As Prime Minister, discussing issues around power, accessibility, protecting independence and our attitudes towards disability would help all people, not just those with impairments.
Independent Lives is a user-led charity supporting disabled people in West Sussex and Hampshire.