Disability transport protest Whitehall, London England UK, 1997. A young boy in a white t-shirt with a bright blue, green and orange motif stands behind a red London bus with a sign that reads “NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED AS SOON AS WE CAN RIDE!”. There are other people along the side of the bus who are handcuffed to the railings of the bus. In the back entrance of the bus an officer of the Metropolitan Police Force holds the front of his Police cap.

A bit of background

A brief history of disability rights in the UK.
From mass demonstrations to chaining ourselves to buses, we’ve fought hard for our rights.
A man is sitting on a wooden bench, facing right. His head is out of shot and we can see his torso and legs. He's working on a laptop which is resting on his right leg. He has a coffee in his right hand and has his left hand on the keyboard. He has a prosthetic left leg. He is wearing a red and black dotted gym t-shirt and black sports shorts. Next to him, there is a second prosthetic leg resting on the bench.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Today, as much as ever, we are standing up, and speaking out, to show society that We Belong.
Learn how you can get involved