Today
Wed 22 September 2021

Penny Pepper offers her own suggestions for policies that would help remove barriers for disabled people

I’ve kept a journal since 1979. It was a playful challenge with a new best friend. As December of that year crawled along, what was playing fearfully on my young mind? Afghanistan – a place that had no real meaning to me until the USSR invaded it. Now this place faraway was going to be where World War Three started.

Stuck in the of dregs of the Callaghan Government, a young rebellious disabled women had nothing much to look forward to at that time and the situation in Afghanistan became a morbid obsession.

I feel no more qualified to speak with authority about the horrific catastrophe unravelling in that beleaguered country now as I did then. But one thing I am sure of is that it has resulted in thousands of people – beyond demarcations of age, nationality, religion, and culture – falling into lives with injury and impairment; now facing an existence with the imposed barriers of disability. 

Disability is a great leveller but societies respond to it in vastly different ways for multiple reasons – not least because of a nation’s wealth; whether there is a welfare state; and, crucially, whether disabled citizens have successfully fought to have their voices heard and their rights addressed. 

Voices of emerging disabled activism in Afghanistan do appear on the Accessibility Organisation for Afghan Disabled (AOAD) website. But, while I am delighted to see this, I’m filled with pensive speculation as to their current fate and future. 

The hidden voices of disabled people of any nation should not be brushed aside or silenced – given merely a cursory nod of acknowledgement.  


A Strategy Without A Strategy

At the end of last month, the Government published its National Disability Strategy. My overwhelming response to it was that these people know little and we disabled people know more.

If I consider any major changes that have been secured for disabled people since that frightening Afghan invasion day in December 1979, I know that this is because of the tireless campaigning and activism that goes on by disabled people themselves, and our genuine allies, who understand that disability is an equalities issue. 

The Prime Minister lauded the new strategy with all of his usual bluster and bluff. Yet, the ethos of ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ has never rung so hollow. As the Disabled People Against the Cuts group observed: “The lack of meaningful engagement with disabled people and our organisations in the development of this so-called strategy has been so bad that a group of disabled campaigners are taking the Government to court on the grounds that consultation was so poor as to be unlawful.”

Even Conservative peer Lord Kevin Shinkwin warned that the much-delayed new strategy would be a car crash – and many feel that this is exactly what it is, with Disability Rights UK calling it “disappointingly thin… despite being 120 pages long” with “insufficient concrete measures to address the current inequalities”.

In some ways, it is simple: realise that there will always be disabled people and new ones coming around the corner tomorrow.

Further enforcement of the disability stream of the Equality Act would help, as would making the requirement for “reasonable adjustment” mean something other than a get-out clause for big businesses to avoid spending money. Providing fully-funded, independently-run social care using the best aspects of the (now closed) Independent Living Fund would also help. The Government could also divert money paid out to massive profit-driven care agencies who run on inflated fees and stop the punitive attacks on benefits, which have never worked to save money or improved life for anyone. The things would be a start to give us control.

We are part of society and, as human beings, we would quite like all of those ridiculous barriers for us to be removed – because they don’t need to be there. And like other marginalised group, we would like some control and self-determination. 

Access, equality, and a journey towards full participation in a hopefully peaceful society should be a priority – whether in Kabul or Leicester.  

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