A picture of Beth Irwin and Lucy Ruck at the National People's History Museum

Standing on the shoulders of giants – #DDA20

The campaign for the Disability Discrimination Act inspired a movement. It also inspired a new generation of campaigners to continue fighting for change. 

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.

Beth Irwin

A picture of Beth Irwin posing for a selfieBeth is an ex para-athlete turned graduate screenwriter, who is currently combining two of her passions – disability equality and screenwriting together to develop a feature film script exploring the disabled people’s rights campaign that led to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

As somebody with cerebral palsy, my life has been changed by learning about the disabled civil rights campaigners. As a writer, I’m always looking for that one story that people can’t forget. When I came across the civil rights campaign during my degree studies, I knew it was a story that needed to be told and I wanted to tell it.

From the early stages of writing, I knew that my project was bigger than any university assignment. I promised myself that I would take it on as a long term project after my graduation. There was never any question of should I or shouldn’t I. Growing up, there were no disabled people on television and film and I yearned to see somebody I could recognise.

If my sixteen year old self had known about the movement I would have been the confident disabled woman that I am today much earlier. I want sixteen year olds to grow up knowing about the movement. It should be a part of social history and remembered as important, not forgotten as it is today.

There’s a wonderful quotation for an unknown disabled civil rights campaigner that I believe underpins the drive behind the A picture of Beth Irwin as a baby wearing a pink hatmovement. It goes “we are not weak and we will never be seen as weak again”. In a matter of a few words it says everything and the reasons behind why direct action was a necessity.

It’s a shame we are still in that position where we need change. If I could, I would definitely have been on the frontline of the campaign in the 90’s, chained to a bus, stopping traffic, shouting for equality at the top of my lungs! Twenty years later, I knew I had to do something to be part of this collective voice.

We are yet to achieve equality. The DDA was a bittersweet victory that still needs a lot of improvement before everything is perfect. There is still a long road ahead of us both politically and socially. Yet, thanks to the DDA and the people who fought for it to happen I am not that ‘fragile thing’ that I would have inevitably been seen as before the DDA and everything that has subsequently come after it.

Lucy Ruck

Lucy is the Technology Task Force Manager for the Business Disability Forum.

Twenty two years ago I was hit by a train. I wasn’t a reckless teenager jumping on to train tracks for fun. I was on my way to college. There wasn’t a bridge at the station, so I didn’t see the fast train hurtling towards me as I moved to cross the tracks. My leg was found half a mile up the track. My right leg had gone underneath the train. I became an amputee.

A picture of Lucy Ruck as a little girl in a ballerina outfit My accident happened in 1993 and the DDA came into being a couple of years later. It was only when I entered the workplace that the DDA began to make a difference to my life. I needed to visit the hospital for fittings because there were lots of changes to my stump. My employer got slightly fed up with me taking time off quite regularly and asked me if I would be willing to consider this time as holiday. Being young and unsure about my rights, I agreed.

Then somebody told me about this new Act called the Disability Discrimination Act had just come into place and could support me if I was being treated unfairly. Knowing that law existed empowered me enormously. It gave me the confidence to say to my employer, “Actually that’s not fair that I should use up my holiday days waiting around for doctors in hospitals when this law requires my employer to make a reasonable adjustment.”

The DDA gave me the amazing opportunity to say, “No. I won’t do that. There is this law. That’s not fair.” I didn’t want to kickA picture of Lucy Ruck sat on a hospital bed after her accident up a fuss, all I wanted was the right to fight my corner for an even playing field.

We still have attitude problems. The average person on the street doesn’t quite always know how to talk to a disabled person. I think a lot of people would rather say nothing than say the wrong thing and that’s a real shame.

If someone used the wrong term or called me an amputee, I’m not going to get hung up on that. I will correct people in a polite way, but the key thing is that people don’t isolate me because of my disability.

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