If you are regular in activist circles or are yourself disabled, the you may already know that this month is Disability History Month. This year’s Disability History Month is focused on the theme of access, giving us an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come in the fight for disability access and how far we still have to go to build a society that is truly accessible and open to disabled people.
2020 also marks 25 years since the mass protests that pressured the government into passing the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. This act made it illegal to discriminate against a person because of their disability. Whilst it’s undeniable that there are still gaps in the rights and protections for disabled people, the DDA was a significant victory for disability rights activist and laid the groundwork for future progress to be made on disability rights. This month, Disability History Month is focussing on the 25 years since the DDA was passed, asking how far we've come, and how far we still have to go.
As we emerge from a second national lockdown, it would be remiss of me not to mention how the COVID crisis has opened many people's eyes to the importance of accessibility.
As a disabled person, it’s been incredibly frustrating to see just how quickly workplaces, universities and countless other institutions have adapted to the challenges that come with a global health crisis, having for years insisted that the same adaptations were simply not feasible when they were requested by the disabled community.
In 2017, having struggled through two years of university, making use of every provision offered to me in the hope it would allow me to complete my course and graduate with a degree. I felt I had no option but to drop out for the sake of both my physical and mental health. Seeing how quickly many universities went out of their way to adapt their courses so students were able to continue with their studies the best they could from home and via Zoom was a real kick in the gut - with similar support, disabled students like me wouldn't have to to choose between our health and our education.
Likewise, many disabled people have for years been prevented from working due to the lack of flexibility and companies' refusal to allow accommodations such as remote working. Come 2020, within weeks of it becoming clear quite how serious the nature of this pandemic was, organisations all over the world seemed to switch to remote working with remarkable speed - proving that this flexibility wasn't impossible as they'd claimed when it was requested by disabled people.
Having now been through two national lockdowns, and with thousands having to go through periods of self isolation in their own homes, feeling unproductive and at a loss, many non-disabled people seem to be experiencing what it’s like to be stuck at home and unable to participate in society they way they’d like for the first time in their lives. My hope, as a chronically ill person used to spending the majority of my time in my flat, is that these experiences aren’t lost on people as we begin to navigate our way back to some sense of “normality” post-Covid.
As we start to rebuild, why not take this opportunity to plan for the more accessible future disabled people have been pushing for for years? We are being presented with the perfect opportunity not just to make society more accessible, but to harness the skills and insight of disabled people to make much needed improvements to our institutions and infrastructure. Now, more than ever, people need to be elevating the voices of disabled people and using our experience and perspective to build back stronger and more accessible. Disabled people must be at the heart of how we rebuild - to build a better, more accessible society for everyone.