This week, The Guardian published an article highlighting the issue of disabled people being treated like second class citizens. Still.
In 1994, the UK introduced the Disability Discrimination Act which was intended to protect the rights of disabled people, in areas from employment to gaining access to goods and services. Then in 2010, the Equality Act was intended to build on this foundation and extend the rights of disabled people even further. I’m not disputing that we have made great progress and that disabled people are in a much stronger position that we were a couple of decades ago.
So why are disabled people still fighting for equality? Why are we still being treated like we don’t matter? Why are taxi drivers refusing to take disabled passengers and why are bus drivers still too lazy to put down a ramp? Why are business owners so unconcerned by their responsibility to provide proper access? And why are employers still discriminating against disabled applicants and employees?
The answer is very simple. We have a law which isn’t been enforced and there’s very little consequence for failing to comply with it. A few years ago, I highlighted access problems in my local area, through my “Making Great Barr Great Campaign”. Dozens of businesses in my local area were, and are, failing to provide disabled access and are effectively, breaking the law. Despite highlighting the issues to Business Owners, MPs, the Minister for Disability and even 10 Downing Street, nobody batted an eyelid. Nothing was done and the problem isn’t local; it’s a national issue.
In the last few months, I’ve come across several businesses across the UK who are failing to provide adequate provisions for disabled customers. I’ve been discriminated against, distressed and inconvenienced. This will not change unless there are consequences. But before that comes education. Every employee in every business needs to fully understand what their responsibilities are. If they then fail to meet them, they and the businesses that they represent should be held to account.
Perhaps that relies on more disabled people coming forward to highlight problems but it also requires authorities, MPs and The Government to recognise that the Equality Act isn’t a magic fix. Disabled people will never realise true equality until the flaws in it are recognised and rectified.