A picture of disabled activists outside of the Houses of Parliament

‘I don’t want the money. I want to make a difference for other people’ – #DDA20

Many disabled people were worried that the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was too weak to make a real difference. Others worried that disabled people still faced barriers to challenging discrimination.

Lawyers Chris Benson and Catherine Casserley tell us how they worked to give the DDA more clout. 

This blog is shared as part of a series of stories to celebrate the campaigners who fought for civil rights. You can find out more on our website or on social media using #DDA20.

Catherine Casserley

Catherine is a barrister at Cloisters Chambers. After the DDA was passed she developed the Act in the courts and at the Disability Rights Commission.A picture of activists holding a banner saying Dump the Disability Discrimination Act

Many disabled people had campaigned for civil rights and created the circumstances for the DDA to come into being.

Yet the majority of blind people I supported at the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) had no idea that there was a law to support them when, for example, restaurants turned them away because they had a guide dog.

Often disabled people who knew that they had rights didn’t know lawyers such as myself who were willing to take their cases forward.

It was a very exciting time – working in a new area of law which had the potential to change lives. It wasn’t an ideal piece of legislation – there were faults with it and that was the focus of the campaign work that I was involved in, to secure changes to improve it. But it provided disabled people with a tool to achieve change.

“I don’t want the money”

I represented a young man called David Allen in his case against a bank in 2009. David’s branch was inaccessible to David and all of the bank’s suggestions were impractical or just embarrassed him. We took the case to court, funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the bank offered to settle for £5,000.

I talked over the offer with David because the amount was a lot of money for somebody aged sixteen. But David just asked, “if I take this, will it make a difference for other people?” and I had to tell him that no, it wouldn’t. David, who could really have benefited from that sum of money, simply replied: “in that case I don’t want the money, I want to make a difference for other people”. It was an incredibly selfless gesture from a young man and it was really inspiring.

We turned down the offer, pushed on with the case, and won – the court found that they had failed to make reasonable adjustments. The court required the branch to install a platform lift, at a cost of around £250,000. David was awarded damages of £6,500, increased to £9,000 when the bank unsuccessfully appealed. But the key thing for him was his ability to make a difference for other disabled people.

Chris Benson

FISS05Chris is a solicitor at the firm Leigh Day. In the run-up to the passage of the DDA he was a support worker for adults with learning difficulties. After the law passed he helped develop it in the courts and at the Disability Rights Commission.

I was lucky to get a job in the late 1990s advising disabled people and bringing cases on their behalf. I worked at Salford Law Centre as one of a small group of lawyers with few resources, all working hard to obtain equality for disabled people.

The DDA was really new and most of it had not been tested. I wanted to use the law that I had campaigned for. At the time it felt that the Law Centre was pushing cases, pushing the boundaries of the law, because it was so new.

I was strongly of the view that we could push the law by requesting reasonable adjustments that may have gone slightly beyond what the law would appear to allow. Yet often they would be accepted because the service provider wouldn’t want bad publicity. No business wanted to be the first in Greater Manchester to face a disability discrimination claim.

Pushing the boundaries

It was clear that the campaign angle could be used as well as the law. Both together were powerful. Case law has extended the scope of the DDA far beyond what most people would have dreamed of when they first saw its passing.

I remember the effort of Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability (HAFAD) – or the ‘envelope stuffers’ of the movement.
When you got letters in Salford, hundreds of miles away from the biggest, busiest protests, you got so much inspiration.

Years later, I had the privilege of taking a case on behalf of a former stuffer experiencing discrimination. The case was a strong reminder that the campaign worked because of people doing all sorts of things like envelope stuffing, mailing out letters, keeping together a movement spread across the country.

Find out more about the activists and campaigners who fought for civil rights and about the Disability Discrimination Act

2 thoughts on “‘I don’t want the money. I want to make a difference for other people’ – #DDA20”

  1. What David said about making a difference is the most important thing and why we need more access to justice.
    I’m in the situation at the moment of battling to get my employment tribunal case taken forward by my union. Due to a lack of understanding about disability issues and the Equality Act, my situation has been allowed to continue and become more complex and stressful over three years. The lack of action has given my employers the confidence to pile on increasing amounts of discrimination and harassment whilt making minor changes that both they and the union believed got them off the hook (We made an adjustment, it’s not our fault you can’t manage it (when I’d told them in advance that I couldn’t) or, even more cynically, we made the adjustment by referring you to counselling/ physio but no we can’t let you take any time off work for the appointment (while I was working full time)).
    My motivation in fighting to take this to tribunal to court isn’t the pay out, which may be tiny depending on the attitude of the judge to my losses. My motivation is that bullying, harassment, playing a game with reasonable adjustments and driving someone out of their job because they’ve become disabled are not acceptable. I want to make sure my story is out there in the public domain and that people are aware of the way in which some unscrupulous employers treat disabled people.
    Unless that happens and there is pressure for tightening up the law (take out the word reasonable- we have a right to adjustments!) and punishing people who misuse potential loopholes to cause distress to people who are in a vulnerable situation, then we will not see anything approaching equality for disabled people.
    We still have a very long way to go and unless we get more lawyers who specialise in disability discrimination and all the nuances and complexities of discrimination cases and are aware of the right of disabled people to be treated as dignified and independent people then nothing will change.
    Unless we get an enforcement body and access to affordable justice then nothing will change. Unfortunately, that has now become further away with the changes to the legal system and legal aid.

  2. Dra. I understand very well your position and the position of the company perhaps. Wouldn’t want bad publicity. The true is that in my case I can’t care for the reputations of the signs that had been destroted to me. But I understand very well this point.
    The fact is that the sick worst very much, since the point that actually my body movements to be reduce more and more add a great pain.
    The lost of dignity and a married destroy
    What could done?
    What want really? Have I stiill any hope? Hope the endeed of them.
    Always I assume my responsability. The marriage is the most important contract in our society. In this month I’ transferrin all my properties at my wife and my two daughther’s. I haven’t any money
    Sick, alone. They lie to much. I don’t said countries and don’t said signatures or persons. I understand very well that?. You asked to me if I reach any be lying if I get that others dissabled person’s could receive benefits in law’s protection and the great part of myself money. The answer Dr is so firm: Yes.It’s undertood the reality. Do I want the benefit of the others dissabled person’s. Perhaps. Then, the answer is Yes. They recurred at the physiquiatric prevarication and worst, because I worked in three places at time: heated by my past, love by my family, responsability, risk conduct, all at time….I don’t know. But I will not done this attitudes in any circunstances. Today is the past, is a retrovisor mirror. I’m seeing in front to me, never behind to me. Is possible to receive any part for to me. Well If I could realise I need this money..if I couldn’t realise nothing, for my daughter’s. I’m thinking in the other’s dissable person’s and laws by protection the dissabled person’s: Any doubt. Yes. If I receive compensation and make a difference for other’s. Well sincerely, in general the answer is not. With england people, the answer is yes. Do you understand to me? Yes, sure. Well, it’s my answer.

Comments are closed.