20 years on from the Disability Discrimination Act disabled people’s rights are still not fully realised

by Lord Chris Holmes

Published: 17 Sep 2015

This year sees the twentieth anniversary of the seminal Disability Discrimination Act (1995), reflecting the progress society has made in understanding the lives of disabled people and safeguarding their rights.

Anniversaries always provide good opportunities for reflection, but we certainly can't be complacent.

Barriers to the full participation of disabled people still persist. It is unacceptable, that provisions which have been on the statute book for 20 years have not yet been brought into force. Many disabled people are still 'locked out' of full participation in society due to barriers remaining in the provision of housing, transport, leisure facilities, education and workplaces. Just as important as removing barriers to employment and fundamental services is to ensure that disabled people can effectively and fully participate in civic, political and public life on an equal basis with others. This is why today I am setting the challenge of five key actions to tackle the barriers that prevent disabled people participating in political life.

In my previous role as Director of Paralympic Integration for London 2012, I was determined that the 2012 Paralympic Games would not only be an inspiration for generations to come, but would also leave behind an international and national legacy that supported the aspirations of disabled people to achieve in education, employment and social life.

My involvement in delivering this legacy was one reason why I was delighted to join the Equality and Human Rights Commission as Disability Commissioner, providing leadership in its role to influence and regulate government, employers and service providers, and driving forward a range of actions to help disabled people play a full part in society.

The Commission has delivered many vital interventions on behalf of disabled people in recent years.

Of course, people rightly challenge us to go further, and we must continually look to the future and do more.

In an era of scarcer resources, we also need to be more outward-looking, and forge new partnerships and relationships. We can't deliver change alone.

Our comprehensive strategy is underpinned by three priorities:

Firstly, to promote fairness and equality of opportunity in Great Britain’s future economy.

We have taken legal action on the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); we have developed a new e-learning course aimed at removing barriers to education for disabled children and young people; we are reviewing disability pay gaps; and encouraging action to increase the number of disabled people in public appointments, to ensure representation in important decision-making. In addition to this, our assessment of compliance with the public sector equality duty during the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review led to the Treasury reviewing its decision-making process to ensure it takes account of the impact of changes on disabled people. This week we have written to DWP to flag our concerns about the extent to which the likely impact of measures in the new Welfare Reform and Work Bill on disabled people and others are properly understood.

Secondly, to promote fair access to public services, and autonomy and dignity in service delivery

We have tested the law and taken action to challenge a wide range of physical barriers including inaccessible sports stadia, taxis, buses, trains, retailers, and workplaces, challenging powerful commercial enterprises and public authorities. For example, we are supporting wheelchair user Doug Paulley in his case against First Bus Group and we published a passport-sized leaflet to advise disabled passengers of their rights when travelling by air.

Thirdly, to promote dignity and respect, and contribute to keeping people safe.

Our inquiry into disability-related harassment made recommendations to address the dire lack of reporting, recognition and recording of disability related harassment and hate crimes and the subsequent lack of access to justice.

Our investigation into deaths in custody of adults with mental health conditions made a range of recommendations - many of which have now been adopted by Government including stopping the practice of using police cells as a “place of safety” for people with mental health issues.

Our international work includes producing the first ever report into how the UK is meeting its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

I could go on but I know we can't rest on our laurels, given the breadth and scale of the challenges still faced by disabled people.

Our forthcoming review of progress in Britain on equality and human rights -‘Is Britain Fairer?’ will show the daily challenges many disabled people in Britain still face, and inform our future priorities.

Despite what many saw as a changed attitude as a result of the Paralympic Games, many disabled people still experience day-to-day verbal and physical abuse.

Over the coming years, we want to work to further develop a landscape where business and employers value the talents of disabled people, and where we can all enjoy a society that recognises the social and economic value of delivering accessible and inclusive services. This is why we want to meet more groups which bring together the concerns of disabled people.

Without close collaboration, we can only achieve a tiny fraction of the possible. This is why the Disability Committee I lead at the Commission is travelling across the country to meet with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and hear people’s concerns. We would like to hear from as many DPOs as possible so if we have not met with you yet, please contact us at – correspondence@equalityhumanrights.com  - we would be very interested to hear from you.

We all have more work to do, and we look forward to working with you to build a legacy for the next 20 years.