Nothing about us without us or have you forgotten?

Is it just me or is something untoward going on concerning disability and social inclusion? Let me explain.

The Minister for Disabled People Penny Mordaunt recently appointed 11 sector champions who are supposed to promote the importance of disability inclusion across the retail, music, leisure, tourism, hotels, media, advertising, airports, buses, banking and gaming sectors.

The aim of this initiative is to drive improvements in the accessibility and quality of services and facilities in each area, helping to highlight best practice and demonstrate to other businesses the merit of making disabled customers a priority.

So what’s wrong with that I hear you say? A couple of things.

The Minister asked the DWP and the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) to find suitably qualified or experienced people. The ‘advertisement’ said that they were looking for “champions who are ambitious, passionate and dynamic, with strong networks and the ability to reach out to a wide range of organisations and create momentum for change”. Anything missing? Well Yes! No mention of the word disability let alone disability-related experience. Presumably disabled people aren’t “ambitious, passionate or dynamic”. To make matters worse there is no mention of the appointed sector champions having any ‘power’, or resources so we must assume that as with so many previous initiatives this one will also disappear. Who remembers John Major’s Citizen’s Charter, Anne McGuire’s Equality 2025 Committee and most recently David Cameron’s Big Society?

Disabled people have campaigned for years to be included but on their own terms. The idea that non-disabled people should champion our cause smacks of the old days when patronisation and charity were commonplace. Does no one in the Minister’s office or the ODI remember the slogans ‘Nothing about us without us’ and “Rights, not Charity”? The fact that some of the appointed champions are disabled people is more by accident than design?

I’m sure the Minister is well intentioned but why is the DWP involved in a customer focussed initiative? Where is the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIZ)? They are responsible for “making sure consumer law is fair for both consumers and businesses, and that consumers know their rights and can use them effectively.”

Disabled customers already have some protection through legislation which is designed to protect them from disability discrimination. I would urge the Minister to consult with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, BIZ and the ODI to explore ways of supporting and encouraging disabled people to assert their legal rights as consumers.

Finally, if the Minister wants to make a real difference, she will ensure that Disabled People’s User Led Organisations have the necessary resources to expose poor practice and discrimination and where necessary take appropriate action against the perpetrators.

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Here are some other disability-related stories which might be of interest.

Minister appoints Sector Champions http://bit.ly/2mhXCaq

EHRC puts 18 accessibility questions to Premier League Clubs http://bit.ly/2mi674Y

Peer pressure sees minister finally announce date for taxi access laws http://bit.ly/2midYj5

No chance of halving employment gap without tackling independent living, says DPO http://bit.ly/2mi3uQN