A bit of background
In 1944, the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act was introduced, making it a necessity for firms with over 250 employees to employ a quota of disabled people (many returning from the war). It was a gesture on paper only – not monitored, and not enforced.
In 1970, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act gave us more rights to welfare. But our access to wider society was still a glimmer in the distance. It would be another quarter a century before a more robust Act would be introduced.
By the early 1990s, disabled people had had enough.
We took drastic action to be seen and heard.
We took to the streets, organising, amongst other things, mass demonstrations, blocking access to TV studios we couldn’t enter in case our wheelchairs were deemed fire hazards, and chaining ourselves to buses we couldn’t physically board because of in-built inaccessibility. These moves paid off.
In 1995 the government introduced the Disability Discrimination Act. Race and gender legislation had been introduced in the mid-1970s, but it took another 20 years for disabled people to be recognised with civil rights enshrined in law.
For the first time, it became illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities when it came to education, transport, employment and the provision of goods and services.
The Act made discrimination against disabled people unlawful, and incorporated a key phrase – ‘reasonable adjustments’ – that forms the backbone of our rights to demand, and receive, equality of access, services and provision.
In 2010, the major principles of the Disability Discrimination Act were amalgamated into the Equality Act (consolidating previously separate legislation on race and gender, and adding new protected characteristics – sexual orientation, religion or belief, and age). The requirement for ‘reasonable adjustments’ to be undertaken remained a key aspect of the Act.
Today, twenty-five years later, disabled people still face barriers across society. In physical environments, in attitudes, and in the way that information, goods and services, opportunities and spaces are provided.