On 28th July 2021 the UK government published their National Disability Strategy, and were then promptly ruled to have breached the Equality Act by failing to provide British Sign Language interpretation for the coronavirus briefings. The irony is almost as staggering as the fact that someone has managed to fill 121 pages with absolutely nothing, and that’s just the easy-to-read version of the policy. Within a few hours there appeared to be a common consensus among the disabled people and organisations that had read the document; it was simply the written version of hot air.
The National Disability Strategy presents a fairly detailed set of statistics that estimate how many people are affected by disability and it’s associated disadvantages, even going so far as to call out the inaccessibility of public transport and trains in particular, but that’s the only positive thing I have to say about the entire report. The remainder is impenetrably long, making it virtually impossible to pick out the important information, with most of it being hidden behind vague, half-hearted promises rather than measurable goals (that could be used against the government when they inevitably failed to meet them). Ironically, this meant the document was pretty inaccessible to me, and the summaries produced by others have helped me to form a proper opinion.
The main focus of the document seemed to be getting disabled people into employment, but failed to address the main barriers disabled people face when trying to find work. The inaccessibility of buildings and public transport was mentioned but no real solutions were suggested. The unconscious bias and negative assumptions made about someone disabled being able to perform a certain role, making them less likely to be hired, were almost completely ignored. The need for pay that would cover the extra costs of being disabled, and hours that would be flexible enough to accommodate medical appointments, was not mentioned. As for ensuring employers adapt to meet their employees needs, the Access to Work scheme has already been in place for some time, and the Access to Work passports the government have hinted at are likely to be no more than re-workings of the recommendation letters that employers can (and often do) ignore. That is, of course, assuming that the employer is even aware of the Access to Work scheme in the first place.
This rigid focus on getting people into employment also ignores several other groups of disabled people; those who cannot work, those in education, and those who are already in employment. Pushing the notion that disabled people don’t work is one of the barriers to disabled people finding work in the first place, exposing disabled people to invasive scrutiny and abuse from the public, and making us out to be burdens on the state. The fact that the taxes I pay from my hard-earned wage have contributed to this joke of a report stings, I won’t lie.
Perhaps most infuriating of all is that I’m not even sure how much of a say disabled people got in the National Disability Strategy. It would seem that most of the disabled British activists I have spoken to recently were not asked to contribute, and I know I wasn’t. The contributing ministers and politicians are not, to my knowledge, disabled. In fact, this situation is no different to the ridiculous stair-climbing wheelchairs and exoskeletons plastered across social media; most disabled people do not want or benefit from these inventions, but because we weren’t asked for our input they get designed anyway. Meanwhile, vital infrastructure that disabled people have been lobbying for for decades gets ignored, such as decent wages, proper care support, and accessible public transport and buildings.
In short, because I am actually capable of providing a proper summary; I am extremely doubtful that this strategy will result in any real world progress, but frankly I’m just relieved that we haven’t gone backwards.