Being disabled isn’t easy. As disabled people we deal with prejudice and discrimination every day but that’s only the start.
As disabled people we face barriers in every walk of life. Work, public transport, shops, restaurants, pubs, in the street. The barriers go up and the list goes on.
What do you do when a fire alarm sounds? Get out as fast as you can? Not if you’re disabled. You’re told to wait in a ‘safe refuge’ area until someone comes to rescue you. Half an hour later, the alarm is silent but the safety doors are still locked for ‘your protection’. You pick up the emergency phone only to find it isn’t working and begin to wonder what would have happened if there really had been a fire.
Disabled people are almost three times as likely to experience domestic abuse as non-disabled people and disabled women are twice as likely to be sexually abused or raped. Yet only 1% of refuges are accessible for disabled people. And they wonder why disabled people are more likely to try to take their own lives than go to the police when they’re victims of crime.
Then there’s the pity, the disbelief and the unrealistic expectations. Disabled people are often told you’re so brave or you don’t look disabled or asked why aren’t you in the Paralympics.
Running into a burning building to rescue a child is brave, living with Multiple Sclerosis, as I do, is just part of life. What does looking disabled actually mean? Do you need to use a wheelchair or have an assistance dog? Perhaps we should wear a badge saying ‘I’m disabled’ or even get a tattoo so everyone knows we’re disabled. But my favourite is definitely the non-disabled person who thinks I’m either stroppy or stupid when I ask to see their Olympic medal in response to the Paralympian question.
I’m regularly told ‘You’re so lucky to have a Blue Badge’ or ‘I want a chair like yours’ before quickly being asked ‘how do I get one.’
The jealousy is pretty good too. I’m regularly told ‘You’re so lucky to have a Blue Badge’ or ‘I want a chair like yours’ before quickly being asked ‘how do I get one.’ I’m told suggestions like ‘you could try getting hit by a bus’ are inappropriate and not very helpful and show a bad attitude. Really! But asking a disabled person how you can cheat the system to get a Blue Badge isn’t a bad attitude?
One thing I have learned is, that if you’re disabled having UNISON in your corner, will help. Not only do you have 1.4 million members behind you but there’s about 350,000 other Disabled Members who can be called on for advice.
It’s UNISON who led the campaign for disabled people’s rights. It was UNISON who overturned the tribunal fees that charged disabled people top tier fees for discrimination cases and UNISON are the only union who are founder members of the Disabled Employment Charter.
And it was UNISON who declared 2022 the Year of Disabled Workers in recognition of the valuable contribution disabled people make in the workplace and in society.
We’ve achieved a lot during the Year of Disabled Workers. Nationally we rolled out a programme of webinars on everything from Access to Work to negotiating for Disabled Members. We’re delivering a fantastic training course to help Disabled Members become Disability Officers. We launched the Disability Employment Charter in Parliament and, in the Northern Region, at our policy day. We’ll soon be rolling out our Reasonable Adjustments Passport and launching two awards, one for individual Disabled Members and another for Branches.
But it doesn’t matter how much we’ve achieved there is still a lot to do. The Tory government treat disabled people like second class citizens.
But it doesn’t matter how much we’ve achieved there is still a lot to do. The Tory government treat disabled people like second class citizens. The media portray us as work‑shy scroungers (unless you’re a Paralympian) and too many employers still see disabled people as a burden or too difficult to employ.
The Year of Disabled Workers might be coming to an end but the legacy of what we’ve achieved must continue.
Every year on 3 December, International Day for Disabled People, I say the same thing. “There are no ribbons to wear and no flags to fly but please show your support and respect for disabled people.”
In UNISON we do our best to show that support every day. We recognise and respect the role disabled people play in society and that our Disabled Members play in our union.
I will always fight for the rights of Disabled Members in our union and for disabled people everywhere because I know, that with UNISON on my side – on our side, one of these days we will win the battle for equality. And on that day the world will be a fairer place for everyone.