A few days ago, my husband and I went to register our new son, Jack James at Birmingham Registry Office. It was an occasion which I was looking forward to, as I’m sure all new parents do.
However, my excitement and pride was soon replaced by upset and anger when we entered the registrar’s office. With Jack wriggling and crying in my arms, she turned to ask me my name but as soon as I opened my mouth, she looked at me blankly, making it clear she couldn’t understand me and then immediately turned to my husband, expecting him to speak for me. As I’ve said before, I have a speech impairment but with time and a little patience, it isn’t difficult to understand me. After all, I wouldn’t be a successful trainer if I couldn’t effectively communicate!
From then on, she directed all questions to my hubby and although he told her she was being ignorant, she ignored his comments. I continued to try to interject, telling the registrar that I was quite capable of answering her questions but the registrar then bluntly stated that only one parent was required to regjster Jack. In other words, my presence was not needed.
Unfortunately, Jack was very unsettled and in need of a feed so it wasn’t an appropriate time to challenge her ignorance and I left hubby to complete the process. But I was angry and frustrated at being made to feel like I was surplus to requirements just because the registrar was too ignorant to take the time to listen to me. She ruined an important occasion, one which I can never repeat and yet she is completely oblivious of this fact.
Since 2010, every public sector organisation has had specific responsibilities under the Equality Act to “Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act”. So I find it incredible that three years on (as well as 17 years since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) disabled people are still having to tolerate such ignorant attitudes and being made to feel like second class citizens. I wonder if any other mother would be treated this way and the answer is quite rightly, no so why should I accept such treatment?
Public sector managers, and indeed all managers, need to remind themselves of their legal and moral responsibilities and start taking steps to ensure that their staff are treating disabled people with the respect and dignity that they deserve. They need to stop paying lip service to the legislation, stop merely ticking boxes and start taking meaningful, positive actions to ensure that equality and diversity is truly understood and accepted by every member of staff.