This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Disabilty Discrimination Act (DDA) The BBC lunchtime news announced it today alongside the news that disabled people were disproportionately affected by this worldwide pandemic and that some were living without supplies , PPE and other normally lifesaving equipment.
They featured a disabled woman called Fi Anderson who has Muscular Dystrophy who reported that she was struggling to get supplies of filters for her ventilator, in fact instead of changing them daily as recommended, she had been using the same one for 6 months. Her local hospital had even suggested that she should boil the filter and reuse it, such is the shortage of new ones. She showed us the one remaining spare filter that she had and explained that a clean filter was essential to her health and she was extremely worried that without new supplies she might succumb to pneumonia.
Fi Anderson is not alone in this worry. Many other disabled people have struggled to get the medicines, equipment and PPE that they need during this lockdown. According to a YouGov survey, over 60% of those answered that they too had found it difficult to obtain vital supplies or support.
So if these terrible shortages are true, then the question I’m raising is………
Does the Disabilty Discrimination Act have any teeth…?
This week we’ve also seen the documentary by the BBC reporter Frank Gardner who was shot and paralysed in 2004. It was a ‘warts & all‘ documentary which showed some of the less known ‘bits‘ of the reality of disabilty, the bits no one usually sees, the catheters, the stomas, the hidden bits. Frank has been very vocal about the discrimination that he has faced; being stuck on a plane because the lift to get him off is late or wheelchairs being mislaid at airports.
Disabled people in general are more than familiar with these problems. There are 14 million disabled people in the U.K. and we all understand and see every day how difficult it is to get around in the world that isn’t designed for wheels or those with mobility problems. I’ve had more than my fair share of inaccessible places such as shops with steps, needing a disabled toilets when there’s not a single one in sight and again in common with Frank, issues with aeroplanes and airports. As a disabled person, to go onto a plane is nothing short of a rigmarole. You are separated from the rest of the passengers, you are put into a what can only be described as a cage-like construction which lifts you to the door and unless you’re very lucky, the people who are ‘handling‘ you, treat you as if you were nothing else but another set of luggage. Unfortunately this has happened to me on more than one occasion and even more unfortunately, you become accustomed to it and almost expect this kind of second-class treatment.
Now I wasn’t disabled 25yrs ago so I can’t comment on what discrimination was around then but I certainly can comment on the discrimination and difficulties that disabled people face today.
Inaccessible buildings, patronising and overbearing people who think you can do or understand nothing, intrusive and humiliating assessments to ‘prove’ your disability or illness, doctors who don’t believe your symptoms or jobs that pass you over again and gain.
All of these things should be governed by the DDA, so have they improved? To me, it all needs vast improvement. Why do I say that? I can only remark upon the huge difference with which I was spoken to and treated when I was a Pastoral Head in a large secondary school to the way I’m spoken to and treated now that I’m disabled following my spinal fracture 6yrs ago.
The difference is staggering. Before? I was treated with respect and politeness. Now? I am often treated like an idiot, a pretender, a scrounger and a usurper. Because you can’t see my pain and I insist on trying to look as good as I can, people assume that I can’t possibly be affected in the way I say I am. To claim disabilty benefits, you have to lay bare all of your problems, even down to how you toilet and bathe, in complete gory and embarrassing detail. And if you get it and choose to use it to get an adapted vehicle on the Motability scheme, you then have to deal with the negative comments from the general public who will happily throw snipes about ‘free cars‘ and ‘benefit scroungers‘.
When I wrote an article pointing out the poor accessibility in a local town, I hoped that something could be done to improve things. Instead I had a flurry of negative comments, some particularly obscene telling me ‘who the hell did I think I was?‘ being negative and ‘didn’t I realise how bad I’d made the town look?‘ and unfortunately, some that were so disgusting I couldn’t put into print here. It was a pretty awful experience.
I was more than shocked; I couldn’t believe that people could have that attitude. That instead of trying to help me, they preferred to criticise and attack me. So has the DDA improved attitudes? Not by much that I can see?
I accept that things must have changed in the last quarter century and I would not suggest that disabilty discrimination is as bad as it was in the past 25 years but boy do we have a very long way to go.
I just fervently hope that as we move into an ever modernising world and in its second quarter of existence, that the Disabilty Discrimination Act of 1995 finally bares its teeth and actually gets those barriers and attitudes changed once and for all.
Get those fangs out, I dare you…………