The Forgotten History of the Disability Discrimination Act

As people celebrate 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act was enacted, it is worth briefly reminding ourselves that it was not the act anyone campaigned for or wanted. Instead, it was a compromised act proposed by the then Conservative government to divide the disability movement and to stop a more substantial Disability Rights private members bill from being passed. I know because I was there, a fresh 21 year cp campaigner with a lot to learn.

To understand what really happened, it is important to understand there were a large succession of private members’ bills over the years before 1995 focused on Disability Rights. The last two of these were the Roger Berry bill, and the Harry Barnes. Harry had particularly added a cause in his bill to make polling stations accessible, something we still do not have.

The Harry Barnes bill was actually going through parliament at the same time as the Disability Discrimination Act, making life exciting and confusion. All the lobbying by dysabled people and organisations were focused on the private members bill, not the Disability Discrimination Act. I attended some of the lobbies at parliament, where fresh face Tony Blair was a speaker, although I never got involved in changing myself to buses.

The original act was flimsy and complex to explain with many loopholes. When Labour came to power in 1997, they set up the Disability Rights Taskforce, which saw many amendments to the act including the formation of the Disability Rights Commission, who used a picture of myself on their first leaflet, unfortunately without my permission! Today, the act is now a part of the Equality Act, monitored by the Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years in terms of environmental accessibility and attitudes towards dysabled people, but we are still a long way from the true and meaningfil inclusion of all dysabled people. For myself, I feel disability organisations have wasted the opportunities the last 20 years have provided and that the last 5 years have shown how hollow their belief system is as they have quickly reverted back to a medical model welfare agenda.

Dysability and Disability is more complex than it has ever been in the UK, where the next step in our liberation is not about making laws, but learning to help ourselves and push our own boundaries as well as those of others.

from Simon Stevens

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