Twenty Years Of The DDA
This is a special post marking 20 years since the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act became law.
First, there are two links I would like to share with you.
BBC Ouch have devoted a large section of their latest talk show to the stories of people who campaigned at the time.
And the Guardian carries an article by Lucy Webster, a disabled woman about to turn 21, about the difference those campaigners, and the Act, have made to her life.
Personally, I am in a similar situation to Lucy Webster. I was a disabled child of 10 in 1995. My friends and I were among the first group of disabled children to leave special schools and be accepted into mainstream schools.
By 1995, after some rejections and many battles for appropriate support, I was at a very supportive mainstream primary school where teachers were doing their best to meet my needs.
It is very difficult for me to tell you whether the DDA made a difference to my life. I don’t think it immediately made a difference to inclusive education. In 1997 my mainstream secondary school, which did its best to meet my needs, had accepted me and a girl with Downs Syndrome who was a few years older than me (they were later to accept another who was in my year group and became a friend) but a couple of years later they did not accept another, younger friend of mine with Cerebral Palsy, even though they had accepted me and knew my strengths and my intelligence, just because she was in a wheelchair and would not have been able to access the upstairs classrooms. She went on to be accepted by another mainstream secondary school and achieved top GCSE grades.
Years later, when my age group were at college, a friend fought successfully to have a lift installed so that he could attend the college of his choice.
I hear from teachers at my old secondary school that today, they have pupils in wheelchairs, lifts, and even disabled toilets. This makes me extremely happy.
However, today, as a blogger and journalist, I still hear stories of wheelchairs being called ‘fire hazards’ in public places. I still hear stories of guide dogs not being allowed into taxis, restaurants and supermarkets.
The 1995 DDA, the 2005 DDA and the 2010 Equality Act were, and still are, very useful legal tools to improve the lives of disabled people in all areas. No doubt, our lives would have been worse without these laws. The campaigners who helped bring in the original 1995 DDA do deserve sincere thanks from the disabled children of the 1990s.
Sadly, however, none of these laws have changed attitudes. So the laws alone are not enough. Before disabled people can fully ‘access all areas’ of the mainstream world, we must work to improve negative attitudes towards disability.
With laws in place to back us up, that is what the campaigners of today are able to focus on doing. However, I fear that we have a longer and more difficult battle on our hands than the campaigners of yesterday had to put the 1995 DDA in place.