Tag Archives: DDA20

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

What do you want to change in the next 20 years? – #DDA20

November 2015 marked 20 years since the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act, the first piece of legislation which provided disabled people with protection from discrimination under the law.

Whilst the law improved the lives for many people and the campaign inspired a movement, there’s still lots to be done. Campaigners Layla Harding and Sulaiman Khan tell us what they want to change to make equality for disabled people a reality. 

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.

Layla Harding

Layla is 21 and from London and currently studying for her Masters. She’s recently got involved in campaigning on disability and equality issues. 

It’s really important that we change attitudes now. I think the media has a huge role to play creating positive and realistic representationsA black and white photo of Layla Harding. We need greater visibility in the media. Not stories that are just based on the character’s impairment as the focal point of their story line, but instead the fact that they’re disabled should be just one part of who they are.

Providing early opportunities in schools for children to learn more about disability issues is also vital to improve attitudes. Many children do not have any lessons about disability issues and so this can make make them unaware or fearful about disability and how to approach the subject of disability.

I’d also like to see more of a focus on disability equality issues at university as there is so much scope to have a big impact on attitudes there. There should be more campaign weeks focusing on various issues affecting the lives of disabled people. My university held a ‘Don’t Dis My Ability Week’  but I didn’t even know about it as it wasn’t well publicised!

I’d like more integration for disabled people. I want disability being less awkward subject to discuss.

Sulaiman Khan

Sulaiman wearing a suit and tie in his wheelchairSulaiman is 30 and from London. He works as a researcher and is also a wheelchair user.

I’d like us not to be talking about ‘disability issues’ by 2035. I’d like the lives of disabled people to be very much like those of non-disabled people. I don’t want to be talking about accessible transport or providing more social care support.

I don’t want to be saying that more disabled people should be able to enjoy careers like everyone else or that it’s odd for a disabled person to be in a relationship with a non-disabled person.

I don’t want disability to be an issue at all!

We all must work to make disability a part of everyday life. I know that won’t be easy, but people have always been telling disabled people they couldn’t do things and then disabled people went ahead and did them anyway.

We have to take back the reins again as those disabled people did in the ‘80s and ‘90s when they were campaigning for civil rights.

I hope a disabled person my age is able to look back with their friends and family to 2015 and wonder what all the fuss was
about and wonder why it wasn’t sorted out sooner!

Who on earth would argue against disabled people being equal?

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

Building a broad movement – #DDA20

The campaign to change the law for disabled people brought together a broad coalition of activists and impairments for the first time. Liz Sayce OBE of Disability Rights UK and Frances Hasler of Healthwatch Camden talk about how the movement drew strength from its diversity. 

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.

Frances Hasler

Frances is Director of Healthwatch Camden. Frances helped to set up the National Centre for Independent Living, and was a campaigner for direct payments and civil rights legislation.

One part of the campaign that I’m quite proud of is our ability to bring new people into the action, as well as the people who would always be involved.

Disability rights activists had a very different approach to the charities, and one of the reasons was their involvement in the other equality campaigns of the time. We had people in the civil rights campaign whose activism included the anti-Apartheid and LGBT movements. We knew that the disabled civil rights activists in America had learnt directly from the black civil rights and feminist movements, and we were also learning from the other equality and social justice issues.

It’s about equality for all

For me, it wasn’t about special pleading for disabled people. It’s about equality for all, so that if it’s about equality for me, it’s equality for you, too.

The movement didn’t get it all right – not everyone always felt included – but this sense about the connectedness of equality struggles was there. In practical terms, this meant having the largest possible coalition of people with a range of impairments.

One of the things that this openness and inclusiveness did was to bring a great energy into the campaign, in the form of the UK Coalition of the People Living With HIV. Charismatic people were involved in that campaign, in particular John Campbell. They brought irreverence and their own unique tactics. At a time when people with HIV were dying very quickly, and when use of retroviral drugs was in its infancy, these activists had an absolute urgency when campaigning.

Liz Sayce OBE

A head shot of Liz SayceLiz is Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK and was a member of the government’s Disability Rights Task force between 1997 and 1999. 

“Our critics are like wolves circling a flock of sheep, looking for the weakest to pick off – that is, people with psychiatric disabilities”.

So said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner in the USA, where popular and ‘unpopular’ (mental health and HIV) disability organisations had joined together, to succeed or fall together, in their fight to get and keep civil rights law. Thanks to the late survivor activist Judi Chamberlin, unity held and the American law covered mental health discrimination.

I worked with Ian Bynoe, Mind’s legal director, who co-wrote the first policy blue-print for disability discrimination law in 1990. In 1978 mental health activists had called for anti-discrimination law, but were turned down on grounds of insufficient evidence of discrimination to justify legislation.

In the 90s I oversaw lobbying on the Disability Discrimination Bill which ensured that mental health and even personality disorder were covered, against everyone’s expectations. Peter Campbell, the great leader of Survivors Speak Out, led survivors in pressing for our rights, working with legal experts. They were exciting times.

Mental health

I spent much of the next decade putting discrimination on mental health grounds at the heart of disability rights thinking; and disability rights at the heart of mental health debates. Formed in 2000, the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) decided to list important adjustments to the social world ahead of more obvious physical access adjustments, all to create a sea change in public awareness of the massive exclusion of people living with mental health challenges.

At the DRC, we undertook formal investigations and found no less than a quarter of DDA employment cases concerned mental health discrimination. Commissioner Richard Exell talked of his pride in working with other mental health users and survivors around the country to promote our rights. The DRC Commissioners historically opposed distinct mental health law as inherently discriminatory – because it permits compulsory treatment of people quite capable of deciding for themselves. We thought we were making headway.

We must be inclusive

Breaking down physical barriers is crucial – and patently unfinished. But, if we are serious in using figures like ’12 million disabled people’ we must not imply access is only or mainly physical. We must be inclusive. History in the US and UK shows us that unity is strength.

The mental health movement is not a small adjunct of the ‘main’ show: it has fought discrimination for centuries. I spoke to Peter Campbell, now retired, and he said “We are still fighting on”. We must. And we have to recognise the diverse history of our distinct but increasingly linked movements.

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

‘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

Building a movement right across the country – #DDA20

Activists Chris Benson and Joanna Owen tell us about how the campaign for civil rights for disabled people involved people from all different backgrounds from right across the country. Protests in Leeds and Oldham showed the public that disabled people wanted to change the country. 

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.

Chris Benson

Chris is a solicitor at the firm Leigh Day. In the run-up to the passage of the Disability Discrimination Act he was a support worker for adults with learning difficulties.

Protesters at Leeds City train station

I remember being in a pub with some disabled people that I was assisting. The landlord asked my group to leave because he didn’t feel comfortable with them being there. I was so shocked to learn there was no law to right this wrong. Disabled people couldn’t escape discrimination and there was nothing they could do to tackle it when it happened to them.

I’m not a disabled person. I got involved in the campaign for civil rights as a facilitator. My job was to support the involvement of individuals with learning difficulties. So, once people were handcuffed to a train or a bus, I would stash the keys somewhere and make sure everybody had a cup of coffee.

Taking control

Picture of Chris Benson taken in SalfordMy strongest memory is of disabled people taking control of lives. Quite a lot of the people I worked with had severe learning difficulties but they knew what they were doing and why they were doing it. Seeing disabled people take direct action remains one of the most positive things that I’ve ever been involved with.

It was tough being in a Northern town because most campaigning was based in London. We couldn’t get down to London too often because buses and trains were tough to access, the costs of travelling were high, and the time and energy needed were so great.

We worked locally to raise awareness of the importance of rights. One of our memorable protests was in Oldham Town Centre, where we demonstrated against inaccessible public transport. What was key about that demonstration was service managers joined disabled people in lying down in front of buses to stop them from moving.

Causing difficulty

I was conscious of a big difficulty when it came to disabled people campaigning for rights. Adults with learning difficulties were very reliant on statutory services. If anybody asked their social worker or carer to support them in going on a protest to obtain rights, it caused professional difficulty. The staff – employed by the local council – had to make a choice, and so I often chose to use my free time to support the campaign for rights for disabled people.

The idea that disabled people had adapted minibuses or that local councils provided transport dominated the public mind. Actually, what disabled people wanted was to get on the bus like everybody else at the end of their street. We made the point that disabled people can’t get on the bus and go where they want. We raised awareness about the lack of rights where people would previously have had no idea. It put non-disabled people into the same shoes as disabled people and got our message across.

Joanna Owen

Joanna is a solicitor. In the run-up to the passage of the Disability Discrimination Act she was working with the Brent Association of Disabled People in London and took part in direct actions with the Direct Action Network.

I’m generally quite a quiet person when it comes to sticking up for myself. I’m not really the type of person to shout loudly about the things that bother me. I had shied away from campaigning through direct action for a long time because I thought it wasn’t ‘me’. As soon as I got involved in the Direct Action Network (DAN), I felt so strong.

A DAN national action focused on public transport that was impossible for disabled people to use. Over 100 disabled people travelled to Leeds City Station from all parts of the country.

Chained to an Intercity train

The railway station had no passenger lift to the platforms, so disabled people had to take the goods lift. Trains had one
space per train for a wheelchair user, so wheelchair users often had to travel in the guard’s van. With both the station and trains inaccessible, we were insulted that £40,000 had been spent on a garden on the end of one platform. It was insulting that disabled people were expected to sit in the garden while waiting for trains they cannot get on.

Picture of protesters handcuffed to a train at Leeds train station

As planned, people chained themselves to the Intercity 225 to London. Everybody had a role, from handcuffing themselves, crowding around the handcuffed campaigners to stop the police from cutting them loose, leafletting the public, or chanting. The whole day felt positive as the campaign stopped a train from leaving for up to forty minutes. That protest felt wonderful.

It felt particularly good to see we had support from so many non-disabled people. It validated our message. Usually, people didn’t really know about access issues unless somebody brought them to their attention. Campaigning is a good way of achieving that.

Negotiating is important for achieving change, but it happens away from the public eye. Behind the scenes negotiations happen at a slower pace and, at that time, we had run out of patience. We wanted the railway company to realise that disabled people mattered.

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

We met in handcuffs. Now we’re married! – #DDA20

Activists Agnes Fletcher and Adam Thomas tell us how the campaign to change the law changed their lives – in more ways than one.

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.

Agnes Fletcher

Agnes Fletcher worked for Disability Awareness in Action, which she represented in Rights Now!, and took part in direct actions with the Direct Action Network.

I didn’t grow up thinking of myself as disabled, although I have a number of impairments. I thought about disability in the same way that most people had for a long time – as a greater or lesser medical tragedy, to be cured if possible or, if not, hidden. I had ‘internalised the oppression’ – my difference from the idealised norm was a source of shame.

It was only after I met Rachel Hurst that I discovered the social model of (or way of thinking about) disability. Not only did my meeting make sense of my frustrations, but it transformed my wish to change myself into a desire to change society.

I started working for Rachel, and soon after went to my first demonstration. The protest was organised by the Direct Action Network (DAN) and it was scary because it involved breaking the law. Inspired by the suffragette movement and the American black civil rights movement, DAN led peaceful law-breaking, such as stopping traffic, to draw attention to injustice.

Getting arrested

Agnes Fletcher in Trafalgar Square, London, wearing a Rights Now! t shirtI was arrested and driven to a police station where I whiled away an hour in the cells then received my caution for obstructing the public highway.

It was exciting and strange – handcuffing myself to a bus, bringing traffic to a halt until the bolt-cutters came, and being locked up for it. It was amazing to replace the stereotypes of what disabled people should be – ashamed, weak, passive – with pride, collective strength and action.

It says a lot that many disabled people risked arrest or put themselves in physical danger for the cause. We felt that protests were the only way to get media coverage. Disabled people historically had never been able to control what images of us were shared with the general public – there’d been freaks shows, medical displays and charity fundraising adverts aimed at shocking people, frightening them and eliciting pity.

Changing people’s views

With direct action, disabled people could guarantee media coverage and control over the images beamed via television into living rooms.

Direct actions put disability issues in the spotlight and pressured MPs into realising that we weren’t going away, no matter how many times they rejected a civil rights bill. At the time, it felt like direct action was the only way we could get our long-ignored message across.

Campaigns can provoke debate and create political pressure. They also inspire and unite people. Alongside the demand for civil rights, DAN was campaigning to ‘free our people’ – to end forced institutionalisation of disabled people in residential homes. Some demonstrators were on ‘day release’.

Singing, shouting, chanting, blowing whistles –  we felt a sense of our power and pride in our experiences and struggles. None of us could have done it on our own but the collective power freed all of us.

If I went back in time, I’d do all of it again. It was so exciting. It’s so much a part of who I am today. I met so many incredible people who’ve become good friends that I’ve learned so much from. They redefined what it means to be brave – not brave in terms of physical or mental challenges, although many were that, but brave in terms of defying expectations for themselves and disabled people to come.

Adam ThomasAdam Thomas in his wheelchair on a busy street

Adam Thomas worked for the Rights Now! coalition and took part in direct actions with the Direct Action Network.

Life was tougher back then. Small things were a big problem. Cash machines were too high to reach from my wheelchair and phone boxes were too small to get inside. Pushing my way around London made my hands filthy, and most of the public toilets weren’t accessible or the sink taps were beyond reach. Eating with dirty hands really took the edge off an evening out!

When I joined the disability movement, I worked in Rights Now! (with Victoria Scott) as well as the Direct Action Network (DAN). In the morning, I could turn up to a DAN direct action with a pair of handcuffs – bought from a rubber sex shop on Upper Street in Islington! – and chain myself to a bus outside Parliament. In the afternoon I’d join Rights Now! people, go into Parliament and meet MPs shaken by the earlier protest. We showed MPs and ministers Colin Barnes’ research, which proved that disability discrimination was widespread.

Rights Now!

With Rights Now! we could encourage thousands of disabled people to lobby Parliament but newspapers would write one
column inch of news. With DAN, we’d have 20 people cuffed to big red buses and every reporter in the city would be covering the protest within 15 minutes and putting it on the evening news of every major TV channel.

If I’d gone to a restaurant with a black person who was denied service, we could have called on the law to resolve the discrimination. If I was denied service, it was the restaurant owner who was able to call on the law if I demanded service. I felt alive on the protests and I knew that we were doing something worthwhile.

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

Progress and setbacks in the fight for civil rights – #DDA20

Disabled activists wanted the same rights as everybody else. In 1994 an MP’s civil rights bill was making its way through Parliament and campaigners were holding lobbies and rallies to keep up the pressure on all MPs. Activits were left disappointed when the law was defeated. 

Former MP Roger Berry – who introduced the civil rights bill – and Victoria Scott – who worked in parliament to try and change the law – talk about their work to secure legislation. 

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. 

Roger Berry

Picture of former MP Roger BerryRoger was the MP who proposed a civil rights bill which galvanised activists to lobby Parliament and hold a rally in Trafalgar Square. The ‘Berry Bill’ was defeated.

In 1992 I became an MP by defeating the person who, two months earlier, had blocked a civil rights proposed by Alf Morris. A year later the number of second readings of Private Members’ Bills was increased from six to seven. In the ballot for these bills I was fortunate enough to come seventh. Since I had been planning with Alf Morris to persuade a lucky colleague to take up his Civil Rights Bill, I now had no hesitation in offering to do that myself.

I knew that for years the movement had been campaigning for equal rights. What I didn’t know, until we first met, was that Rights Now! had a campaign strategy up and running. This included a lobby of Parliament in March 1994, and a big postcard campaign that ensured MPs knew the views of disabled constituents.

Lobbying Parliament

TPicture of a lobby of Parliament in Westminster Hallhis lobby of Parliament was, according to MPs who’d been around a long time, the largest they’d ever seen. It provided clear evidence of the need for things to change – like most places in the Houses of Parliament at the time, it was inaccessible! Many MPs who hadn’t been engaged in the debate were being forced to address the issue for the first time.

I never expected the Government to do other than seek to block the Civil Rights Bill and it was no surprise when they denied MPs a vote on the Bill. There was public outcry at the manner in which the Government had blocked the Bill. For this reason the Government felt it had no alternative but to reverse its position and we now saw the remarkable spectacle of it finally embracing the principle of legislation! The campaign was having an effect.

After the Disability Discrimination Bill had been published a rally in Trafalgar Square was called to demand the real thing. At the rally many spoke: MPs, personalities, and, most importantly, disabled activists. A march down Downing Street had a profound effect, not least because the media covered it, representing the strong feelings of disabled people.

It’s important to engage with Government, but it’s extremely helpful if there are people making one hell of a fuss outside Parliament. We’re a democracy and MPs have important roles to play. But we didn’t make progress on disability rights because of speeches. We did it because of the campaign being run outside Parliament. That‘s what made the difference then. And that’s what can make a difference now.

Victoria Scott

Picture of Victoria Scott taken in front of a bookcase

Victoria was research assistant to the All-Party Disablement Group inside Parliament and worked with the Rights Now! coalition of disability activists and organisations to pass a civil rights bill into law.

It was an incredibly exciting time and Roger Berry’s Private Member’s Bill played a huge role. Ahead of a lobby of Parliament in support of Roger’s bill, I remember a red postcard campaign by Mencap to make MPs aware of the views of disabled constituents. Walking through Parliament one day, I saw a flustered MP opening his post and hundreds of these postcards falling to the floor. I got a real feeling that we were going to pass a civil rights bill into law this time.

I felt less confident about how many hundreds of people would be able to turn up to the lobby of Parliament. I was very aware of the various barriers in place – transport to get to the lobby or the need to install ramps, heaters, and induction loops. In the event, the day was monumental and historic, not hundreds but thousands of disabled people and carers turned up to make their voices heard.

Rally in Trafalgar SquarePicture of activists and campaigners calling for disability rights heading down Whitehall in London

MPs who thought they could get away with quietly opposing the Bill quickly realised they couldn’t, because their own
disabled constituents had made their way to Parliament. Seeing disabled people in the heart of Westminster was inspirational. Seeing MPs who had been strong disability advocates, such as Jack Ashley and Alf Morris, in the midst of all these disabled visitors was incredibly moving.

The rally at Trafalgar Square was memorable in a number of ways for me: the people and organisations whose doors we’d been knocking on for decades with very little success were suddenly reaching out to us, asking to speak from the stage.

I had real hope that Roger’s bill would pass. Real hope is exciting but I underestimated the lengths to which the Government would go, including underhand tactics and sacrificing their own Minister. It later transpired that the wrecking amendments added to Roger’s Bill had been drafted by the Minister’s civil servants. Obviously there was a deeply personal aspect to the campaign as my father was Minister of Disabled People at the time. It was a tough time for us, but it got the papers focused on the issue and helped keep the pressure on.

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

‘This is the only place in the entire country where you can feel proud you’re a disabled person’ – #DDA20

During the fight to change the law and to change attitudes, thousands of disabled activists took direct action to capture the public’s attention.

Thousands of campaigners turned out in force on London’s South Bank to block Telethon, a fundraising broadcast on television. Campaigners travelled from all over the country to oppose negative portrayals of disabled people and make the point that disabled people should have rights, not pity.

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.

Barbara Lisicki 

Barbara Lisicki was a disability rights campaigner with the Direct Action Network, who used direct action to fight for equal treatment. Barbara has also been a stand-up comic since 1988 and worked as accessibility manager at the London 2012 Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

Disability rights campaigners at a rally in Trafalgar SquareIf you’re under 35 it is unlikely you will remember Telethon. Those of us who remember contended with 28 hours of unremittingly patronising fundraising, as audiences wondered why Coronation Street or Emmerdale were not on air when they turned on their TVs.

In 1990 and 1992 the television broadcasting world was very different. Today you can flick from channel to channel. In 1990 there were four channels, and one would take all of its programming off air to swamp the public in a festival of begging for the ’less fortunate, deprived and disadvantaged in society’.

With two weeks to go before 1990 Telethon, a few young disabled people from Ealing in West London met me and Alan Holdsworth (also known as Johnny Crescendo, the singer and songwriter of the anthem of the disabled-led, disability rights movement: ‘Choices and Rights’).

These young people told us: ‘We cannot sit through another assault on our senses, our identity and our dignity for another year. This is what Telethon does to us and we want to do something’. So we did something. Within two weeks, we had printed t-shirts and leaflets, and mobilised up to 200 disabled people outside Telethon. We got coverage, satisfaction, and reaction, but not enough.

Block Telethon 1992

In 1992, we were better prepared, and it worked. 2,000 campaigners protested against Telethon. The streets were jammed, we had banners and placards, and proudly wore black t-shirts with ‘Piss on Pity’ in shocking pink. The police were unimpressed, calling the language offensive and demanding we took them off. I was willing, but told them that I wasn’t wearing anything underneath!

Alan and I had been mobilising people to join our protest over months. I had rung people, distributed leaflets, and spoken with groups around the country. Young people had told their parents that they were going to Telethon, but not saying why! Performers and speakers, sign language interpreters and support workers, all freely gave their time, all to reclaim our dignity.

Mike Oliver summed up Block Telethon in a speech to the crowd: ‘Today, this is the only place in the entire country where you can feel proud you’re a disabled person’. Mike was right.

Proud

Our argument was simple: the only time disabled people appeared on TV was in tragic and needy roles, begging for money. Why? And what damage did this do? What employer watching – and probably donating to Telethon or allowing staff to organise a fundraising event – would hire ‘poor creatures’?

‘Rights Not Charity!’ was the disabled people’s movement’s early call to arms. We were run and controlled by disabled people, unlike charities. We were sick of traditional solutions to the ‘problems’ of disabled people and demanded an end to discrimination.

Two thousand disabled people – all proud, angry, and strong – chanted, sang, and brandished banners. Celebrating our difference and challenging negative stereotypes, we stopped Telethon. It never appeared on air again.

We won then and we can win again.

Adam Thomas

Adam Thomas worked for the Rights Now! coalition and took part in non-violent civil disobedience and direct actions organised by the Direct Action Network.

I snapped my spine in a motorbike accident three weeks after my seventeenth birthday. Ironically, this happened in 1981, the year the United Nations proclaimed the International Year of Disabled People. Until I became a wheelchair user, I was going toAdam Thomas looking at campaign memorabilia at his home pubs and concerts. After my accident, I found it hard to go because the venues were often inaccessible or had inaccessible toilets.

I had no experience of the movement whatsoever. I was a kitchen designer becoming more and more political as my frustrations boiled over. At that time I had no idea about the medical and social models of disability. All I knew was that I had been injured in the Year of Disabled People and spent 15 years listening to politicians say there was no need for legislation.

I wasn’t alone

When I saw the Block Telethon protest on July 18 1992 I realised that I wasn’t alone in the world. Seeing the protests against the celebrity fund-raising gala ignited the fire smouldering inside me. It just didn’t feel right that celebrities would turn up, raise money, and everybody except disabled people would feel warm inside.

I needed my civil rights and we didn’t have them. I didn’t need pity or negative images of impairments. I saw that there were other disabled people out there who felt the same way. They had gone on a protest, had fun, joined together, and made an impact: that protest succeeded in stopping Telethons.

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

Baroness Campbell: from pickets to Parliament – #DDA20

Baroness Campbell was on the front line of the campaign to change the law for disabled people. She’s spent her life campaigning for equality and tells us how the campaigning community made her who she is today.

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. 

All throughout my segregated school days, where I was taught nothing apart from how to cook cheese on toast, make pottery vases and learn about dinosaurs, my life was in black and white. At 16 I could just about read and write and add up. I was acutely aware of the difference between me and my sister, who went to an ordinary school and got to do all the things that I wanted to do.

It was only when I went away to university that life began to turn into colour. I began to feel liberated because I started to learn. I learnt academically and I learnt socially.

It was hard because barriers to my participation were everywhere but at least I was present. I joined various uni-societies, as much as I physically could, and became an active member of the ‘Feminism Soc’.

I was a women’s rights activist long before a disability one. My Master’s degree dissertation focused on the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst who organised working women’s suffrage campaigns.

If I could go back in time, she’s the woman I would want to be. I wanted a moment of liberation exactly like Sylvia Pankhurst had achieved. I wanted to be part of bringing about a legal watershed moment, just like she did. Little did I know then that this time would come.

Changing society 

Jane Campbell with friend posing for photo

An early lesson for me was that nothing would change without a mass movement to infiltrate every part of society and demand change. We came up with a saying in the disability movement – “nothing about us without us”. This means having a mandate to change society, so it would comply with the Social Model of Disability.

To do that, we needed to involve all disabled people in our movement, not just people in wheelchairs. who dominated at the beginning. That was quite a challenge because we had to deal with our own prejudices about other impairments.

I’ve always been struck by how collective the disability movement was and how mutually supportive we were when organising our campaigns. I think we did more than most civil rights groups to ensure that all of our activities were as accessible as they could be so everyone could join in.

Getting arrested 

I wasn’t afraid to test the law. I would be found in the middle of the street with my disabled brothers and sisters. People who used electric wheelchairs were very useful because the one thing about an electric chair is that you cannot lift one without putting out your back!

In the early days of the civil rights campaign, it was impossible to get arrested, try as we might. The police didn’t know whether to pat us on the head, give us a pound, or arrest us. They were so confused. They couldn’t get disabled people into their meat wagons, if they managed to get us to a police station, there were no accessible toilets or cells.Jane campbell taking part in a demonstration calling for rights for disabled people's rights

I remember police officers taking wheelchair users they had arrested across the road to an accessible toilet in a hotel and end up, buying them a coffee, and then letting them go.

Liberation 

All in all, my childhood of segregation, initiation into the Disability Movement and then the campaign for the DDA, was pretty much what made me the person I am today. I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The law itself and the campaign were just small parts of what came out of taking part in our liberation struggle. The experience enabled me to understand who I really was and what I wanted. One of those things was politics, which eventually led me to enter Parliament as a Crossbencher in the House of Lords. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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

Fighting for independent living – #DDA20

The campaign for a law to ban discrimination was energised by the campaign for Independent Living. Under a 1984 Act, local authorities paid for disabled people’s care, not the disabled people themselves. Independent Living campaigners fought to receive money directly to buy their own care.

John Evans OBE, one of the first disabled people to set up an Independent Living scheme, and Rachel Hurst CBE, who was chair of Rights Now! and founded Disability Awareness in Action, tell us about their campaigning work.  

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. 

John Evans OBE

For me, Independent Living was the real liberation of disabled people from institutions and settings that were restricting inclusion into society.

Two key principles of independence were control and choice. We believed that rehabilitation, medical and social care experts shouldn’t be making fundamental decisions about the lives of disabled people.

The motto ‘nothing about us without us’ summed up the movement well. I started one of the first independent living schemes in the country. A group of us were living at Le Court Residential Cheshire Home in Hampshire and wanted to leave the institution.

Making Choices

Along with seven other people I began to assert control over the decisions affecting my life and making choices. The law at the time was a problem. A local authority directly paid the residential home of the individual, not the individual themselves. We developed a solution which involved the indirect payment to the individual.

Our thinking was this: why should the local authority go on paying the residential home? Instead they should transfer the money into an individual’s bank account so we could control our own budget and pay our own personal assistants.

We negotiated a financial agreement with the residential home which led to us moving out of the institution and living independently in the community. This marked the beginning of the Independent Living Movement in the UK.

This loophole worked in some areas, but other disabled people wanting Independent Living did not live in residential care. As some local authorities would not accept that transferring money to the individual was legal, they wouldn’t take the risk.

Changing the law

In order to change the law to make Independent Living schemes available to all, we set up an Independent Living Committee inside the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP), the umbrella organisation of groups run by, not just for, disabled people. Our goal was to ensure direct payments would be made to everybody wanting them.

At the same time, we set up the first Centres of Independent Living to share our experiences and build our campaigning. We set up the Hampshire Centre for Independent Living in 1984, which was the first of its kind in the UK along with Derbyshire Centre for Integrated Living and later the Greenwich Centre for Independent Living.

Rachel Hurst CBE

Rachel Hurst smiling for a photo outside of HarrodsOne night in 1968 I awoke to find myself completely paralysed. I was finally diagnosed with a congenital myopathy, became a wheelchair user in 1976, and lost my teaching job. I thought the only thing to do at that time was to find other disabled people, so I looked up ‘Disability’ in the telephone directory. I found RADAR (The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation) who put me in touch with Greenwich Association of Disabled People (GAD).

When I first got involved with Greenwich Association of Disabled People, it was clear that disabled people had almost no role. After I became Chair in 1981, we changed that, becoming an ‘of’ organisation and a Centre for Independent Living (CIL).

At Greenwich, we took responsibility for running the Dial-a-Ride transport from the Greater London Council, worked with the council to develop flats for disabled people to live in with their personal assistants, and set up a personal assistant’s agency – the only one still to this day run by disabled people for disabled people.

Learning from others

I was talking to John Evans from Hampshire Centre for Independent Living and Ken Davis who had set up Derbyshire Centre for Independent Living. We had pioneered independent living centres drawing on local needs of disabled people, what we had learned from CILs in America and the social model that Mike Oliver had developed. However, the Americans we discussed Independent Living with didn’t talk in social model terms because they had the constitutional protections that we didn’t have.

I’d been inspired to join Greenwich in the first place by watching a TV programme on the Centre for Independent Living in Rachel Hurst smiling for a photo in her homeBerkeley, California. I had the fortune to go out to Berkeley just two weeks after John Evans’ visit, and see people living their lives with choice and control over them.

I saw the Independent Living movement as a vehicle for changing society instead of people or their impairments. We wanted to live in our own homes, for those homes to be accessible, for personal assistants if we ever needed them, and for a transformed environment because there’s no point having an accessible home if you can’t leave it.

‘I didn’t want to be a burden’

Independent Living was a big revelation to me. I’d expected to go into an institution. I didn’t want to be a burden to my family.
I didn’t want my son or daughter to feel that they had to stay home to look after Mum. But, once I joined with other disabled people in Greenwich I found my liberation from discrimination – and the liberation of many others who realised that they had a right to be fully and equally participating human beings with personal dignity and integrity.

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