Stand at the traffic lights on a major street in any city. Now, when the green man invites you, try to cross the road. Unless you have the acceleration of an Olympic sprinter, the chances are that the beeps will stop, the green man will flash and cars will rev impatiently before you’ve reached the sanctuary of the other side. Especially if you have a disability, are pushing a buggy or laden with shopping. Or are old. The Department of Health says the average walking speed demanded by pedestrian crossings is 1.2 metres a second, while the average speed of the older pedestrian is just 0.7 to 0.9 metres per second.
Clamouring for the right to vote seems slightly out of sync with modern politics, like watching a suffragette discover voter apathy, or Nigel Farage. Still, things tend to feel more important if you’re stopped from doing them. It’s 2015 and disabled people in this country haven’t yet got the franchise. Well, we have in theory, but having the legal right to cast your ballot isn’t much comfort when dire access means you can’t physically do it.
Adam Lotun, who uses a wheelchair, found himself stuck outside his polling station, a community centre in Tolworth, Surrey, when he went to vote in the 2014 local and European elections. Despite access signs pointing to a ramp, there were no safety barriers and there was a drop to the floor of the building.
“Even if I’d managed that, I was then faced with narrow internal doors, which I wouldn’t have been able to get my wheelchair through,” Lotun, 53, tells me. Unable to get inside, he couldn’t vote.
Shortly after World War II, the UK government introduced the National Assistance Act (NAA, 1948) which called for, amongst other things, the establishment of welfare services for people with disabilities (PwD); with the Attlee government asserting that ‘the guiding principle of welfare services should be to ensure that all handicapped persons, whatever their disability, should have the maximum opportunity of sharing in and contributing to the life of the community, so that their capacities are realised to the full, their self-confidence developed, and their social contacts strengthened’.
Though the NAA made significant improvements in the lives of PwD through the universal provision of healthcare and medical assistance, there was no mention of the built environment.
Care minister Norman Lamb (see above photo) on Friday unveiled a green paper of proposals to give people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions more rights around the care they receive.
No voice unheard, no right ignored is a consultation to gain the views of disabled people, their families, those working in the sector and other interested parties on the proposals. It opens on 6 March, and closes in 12 weeks’ time, on 29 May. Here are six things you need to know about the proposals.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the fastest negotiated treaty in the history of the UN; it also had the highest number of signatories on its opening day than any previous UN treaty. It took just four years from the conception of the Convention to its adoption in 2006.
The principles upon which it is based include those of non-discrimination, respect, autonomy, independence, equality of opportunity, accessibility and the removal of barriers to full and effective participation by PwD in an inclusive society.