Sal Brinton was part of the House of Lords Committee which produced today’s report which reviewed the impact of the Equality Act 2010 on disabled people. Its conclusions were pretty damning. It’s worth setting out in full the five major themes that they identified:
First, in planning services and buildings, despite the fact that for twenty years the law has required anticipatory reasonable adjustment, the needs of disabled people still tend to be an afterthought. It is time to reverse this. We are all living longer, and medical advances are keeping us alive where in earlier years it would have failed to do so, but not necessarily in good health. We should from the outset plan for the inevitability of disability in everyone as they get older, as well as for those who suffer accidents and for all those other disabled people who are the subject of our inquiry.
Our second theme, closely related to the first, is the need to be proactive, rather than reactive or process driven. Many of those involved—Government departments, local authorities, the NHS, schools, courts, businesses, all of us—wait for problems to arise before, at best, attempting to remedy them. We should be planning so that disabled people can as far as possible avoid facing the problems in the first place.
Thirdly, there is the issue of communication. So many of the problems of disabled people are exacerbated by a failure to make them aware of their rights in a manner that is clear and is adapted to their needs. But communication is a two-way process. If all those responding to the needs of disabled people engaged with them, listened to them, and took account of their views, all would benefit.
Rights which are unenforceable are not worth having. The law and the courts must adapt so that rights can be made effective as easily, quickly and cheaply as possible.
Lastly, it is the Government that bears ultimate responsibility for disabled people, and it must be structured to discharge that responsibility. Currently it is not.
Sal was on the Today programme talking about the report and its conclusions this morning. You can listen to her here from around 1 hour 13 minutes. She focused a lot on issues relating to transport. It’s worth reminding ourselves of the article she wrote for us back in 2014 about how disabled rail travellers were “treated like packages.” Some of the incidents she outlined were appalling:
Last Sunday, returning from the Scottish Lib Dem Conference in Aberdeen, I was left on an empty train on an empty platform at midnight at King’s Cross for over 15 minutes before I spotted someone on the first floor, and waved furiously to get her attention;
On Today, Sal said that despite legislation being in place for two decades, it hasn’t been properly enforced. Buses still haven’t complied with accessibility requirements and it is virtually impossible out of Central London to hail a cab that’s capable of taking a wheelchair. She highlighted how the initial planning for Crossrail had 7 stations without step-free access.
She highlighted how Witness after witness demonstrated to the Committee how not enforcing the law had a major impact on their life, adding that most of the report’s 55 recommendations are no or low cost but implementing them requires organisations to be proactive.
The recommendations are highly specific. One of the most interesting was that the Committee disagreed with David Buxton, who had been giving evidence in his role as Director of Campaigns and Communications of the British Deaf Association. In their opinion, the Equality Act did cover BSL
Mr Buxton told us that “the Equality Act does not cover BSL users” and “does not cover BSL use”. Our conclusion is otherwise. The Equality Act covers BSL users because it imposes on service providers a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments in communicating with them; and where BSL is their first or only language, those adjustments will very often be the provision of BSL interpreters. Without the Equality Act and, before it, the Disability Discrimination Act, there would be no such legal obligation.
Sal concluded today that:
All it takes is the political will so that disabled people can start to live their lives.
That’s quite a powerful statement – and quite an indictment on our institutions of Government for not making more progress over he last 20 years. How do we take the recommendations forward in a way that actually transforms the lives of disabled people? As a party which seeks to break down barriers for people, we should be at the forefront of that effort in our own practices as well as in our campaigns.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron’s Musings