UK Disability History Month – How far have we still got to go?

With Richard Rieser - Coordinator of UK Disability History Month

Some of us will be old enough to remember when hundreds of disabled people took to the streets in the 1990s, chaining themselves to public transport and having to be physically carried out of their wheelchairs by policemen.

They were protesting the injustice that saw the law allowing people to discriminate based on disability. By 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act was brought into force, making it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of disability in the workplace. It didn't immediately give access to transport, instead setting out a timetable for change which would last 25 years.

In 2010, this Act was absorbed into wider legislation which was named the Equality Act. So 25 years later, how far have we come, and how far do we still have to go?

A decade of austerity hit disabled people and the services they rely on considerably harder than anyone else. And disability discrimination still isn't seen by some in the same light as race or sex discrimination—daily barriers for disabled people are still seen as an ‘unfortunate consequence’ of their disability, rather than a denial of human rights.

UK Disability History Month is coordinated by long-time disability rights campaigner, Richard Rieser. Richard has written for Special Needs Jungle about why it is important and how we can get involved.

UK Disability History Month 2020 - Focus on Access by Richard Rieser Coordinator UKDHM 

UK Disability History Month was set up in 2010 and this is our 11th year. In 2010 it looked like many of the disability rights gained but only partially implemented in the previous period would come under threat, as has been proved to be the case.

The combination of accelerated free market economics ideology and austerity introduced by the Conservatives, building on measures introduced by New Labour, challenged the ideas and implementation of Inclusion, Equality and Human Rights for disabled adults and children.

We find innovation in access comes from committed individuals but implementation comes from Movements.

The purpose of Disability History Month

The key purpose of the month is

  • to raise awareness of the unequal position of disabled people in society and to advocate disability equality;
  • to develop an understanding of the historical roots of this inequality;
  • to highlight the significance of disabled people’s struggles for equality and inclusion and the ‘social model’ of disability;
  • to publicise and argue for the implementation of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities and the Equalities Act (2010).

Parents and carers are key allies

Key allies in the struggle for disabled children’s inclusion and rights are their parents and carers. Impairment has always been with us, but through history and across the world responses have been different. Oppressive practices and attitudes have denied disabled children their potential and human rights.

On paper, all our schools are meant to promote inclusion, eliminate disability discrimination, make reasonable adjustments and provide the necessary support for disabled pupils to access learning and the social life of their school (Equality Act 2010 and Article 24 UNCRPD).

In addition, all publicly funded schools in England are also meant to promote Disability Equality in all they do:

  • prevent discrimination and harassment (e.g impairment based bullying);
  • advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a disability and persons who do not share it;
  • foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it Section 149 Equality Act)

When the SEND amendment Act (2001) came in all school’s Responsible Bodies were under a duty to have an Access Plan (AP), to consult on it, implement, review, revise and fund it. This duty was re-enacted in the Equality Act 2010 (Section 88, Schedule 10)

An accessibility plan is, over a prescribed period and renewable (3 years) to:

  • Increase access to the curriculum for disabled pupils;
  • Improve the physical environment of the school to increase access for disabled pupils; and
  • Make written information more accessible to disabled pupils by providing information in a range of different ways.
Richard Rieser
Richard Rieser

Are schools accessible?

In 2019 ALLFIE the Alliance for Inclusive Education commissioned a study into the effectiveness of this statutory requirement. Accessibility Plans (AP) as Effective Tools for Inclusion in Schools: Are They Working? They talked to 300 parents, pupils and 100 teachers, questioned schools and local authorities.

They found Access Plans were hidden away, were not generally implemented, not consulted upon, did not tackle the curriculum or changing attitudes and practice in pedagogy. Ofsted is meant to inspect these plans, but they do not. When they did in 2004, one year after implementation, they found that 50% of schools did not have them.

There is no end date to when schools have to be fully accessible, unlike all other public sector buildings. The Government's ideology of marketising schools and developing, through league tables, an education factory system, leaves less and less room for inclusion and accessibility and little incentive to prioritise training and develop inclusive pedagogy.

This is exacerbated by a large increase in enrolment in special schools, as mainstream schools become less habitable for disabled children. This is a national disgrace and one of the many reasons why the Government was heavily criticised by the United Nations saying they presided over “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people.

The UN CRPD Committee, in its final report in October 2017, called on the Government of the UK to drop its reservations on Article 24 . They were concerned by the persistent segregated education system, the increase in number of children in segregated environments, that the education system was not equipped to respond to the requirements of high quality inclusive education, and the fact that the training of teachers does not reflect the requirements of an inclusive education system (para 52).

We must push for lawful inclusion compliance

Almost 90% of children with EHCPs and SEND Support are in mainstream schools. The Government building of 128 new Free special schools does not address the policy and implementation gaps.

We need a campaign of education staff, parents, unions and the disability movement to push for full implementation of existing laws and a change back to an inclusive ethos in our schools. A good start would be to enforce the access planning duty and increase training and SEND funding.

The UN CRPD Committee recommended to the UK Government that they :-

  1. Develop a comprehensive and coordinated legislative and policy framework for inclusive education
    • Create a timeframe to ensure that mainstream schools foster real inclusion of children with disabilities in the school environment
    • Ensure teachers and all other professionals and persons in contact with children understand the concept of inclusion and are able to enhance inclusive education;
    • Strengthen measures to monitor school practices concerning enrolment of children with disabilities and offer appropriate remedies in cases of disability-related discrimination and/or harassment, including deciding upon schemes for compensation;
  2. Adopt and implement a coherent and adequately financed strategy, with concrete timelines and measurable goals, on increasing and improving inclusive education.
UKDHM logo with disabled people through the ages and the words, How far have we come, How far have we to go

Launch event - sign up now!

On Wednesday 18th November at 7pm we have the online launch of UK Disability History Month (click here for free tickets). The month runs to 18th December 2020 and full details can be found here. The theme this year is Access: How Far Have We Come? How Far Have We to Go? The Broadsheet for the year outlines the human right principle of access as contained in the UNCRPD Article 9.

Richard Rieser, coordinator of UK Disability History Month. Richard also runs World of Inclusion

Also by Richard on SNJ: Inclusion and putting the 'Disability' back into SEND

Also read:

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