UK: Government policy has set back the disabled people’s inclusion agenda

Jaspal Dhani

Disabled people have been marginalised for thousands of years and the question remains: can disability discrimination ever be overcome? Whilst this may seem like a complex issue, part of the answer lies in ensuring that non-disabled children and disabled children are brought up together so they can appreciate each other’s differences and similarities, and they can work together as members of an equal community. It has to start with ensuring that inclusive education works, not just in the UK, but globally. Where diversity is embraced, we have healthier attitudes towards difference and that tends to work in schools, as it does in businesses and in peoples’ homes.

The other part of the answer is the visibility of disabled people. We’ve moved forward somewhat with that agenda by having a more accessible environment – transport systems, workplaces and shops – which do enable more disabled people to get out and about. Nonetheless, for many people disability remains a taboo subject. We can talk about politics and other world affairs, but disability is just one of those things that people don’t discuss.

The media has a key role in promoting positive images and messages about disabled people however, disabled people remain invisible in our literature, TV programmes and films. How many disabled people do we see on our TV screens, as mainstream actors, as presenters? We don’t! Disabled people are invisible in one of the most visible channels in our society. The media is a very, very powerful vehicle but at the moment it is full of messages which focus on disabled people as being work shy or as scroungers living off the benefit system and as being passive recipients of charity.

The government and the media have become very good at portraying negative images and messages about disabled people, and there is a great deal of frustration developing within the community. We feel we are taking one step forward and two steps back. Historically we have campaigned on the streets to have a better transportation system, to have independent living, so that disabled people don’t have to live in residential homes or institutional care facilities, but are able to live in houses of their own choice in the community of their own choice. But, we are now in a climate of austerity the government has introduced policies and cuts in public services which has eroded the rights of many disabled people. Consequently, disabled people’s discourse has been set back by some twenty odd years.

One of the biggest barriers that disabled people experience is negative attitude towards and perceptions about disabled people. To make positive changes in society, society has to change the way it sees other members of the community and society at large. People have to reexamine their beliefs, life philosophies and scrutinize their own prejudices. How we see the world begins with how we see ourselves. As individuals, we run the risk of projecting our insecurities on to others. A compassionate soul will always be compassionate towards others.

Disabled people are doing what they’ve always done – campaigning for better rights and recognition as equal citizens. We continue to advocate for ourselves through organisations that are run and controlled by disabled people and campaigning for disabled people to access leadership position in the community, business, and politics. It is through self determination that disabled people will secure their equal rights.

This article originally appeared in issue 11 of Global: The International Briefing. At the author’s request, the website version contains a number of revisions.

About the author:

Jaspal Dhani is Chief Executive Officer of the United Kingdom Disabled People's Council


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