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DR UK CEO Kamran Malick's Global Summit Speech

24 July 2018

Speech for Global Disability Summit plenary session on Dignity and Respect for All: creating new norms, tackling stigma and ensuring non-discrimination.

Plenary session panel members

The plenary session focuses on three critical pathways for change:

  • Catalysing leadership and political change for system wide action

  • Stepping up initiatives to support the full participation of people with disabilities in society

  • Fostering respect and combating the underlying prejudices and harmful practices and behaviours

Kamran's speech

The key lesson from history is that disabled people must lead the campaign for their own rights.

We know from experience that such change does not come from spontaneous innovation by governments. Disabled people’s rights have been achieved through campaigning for changes in legislation and through disabled people negotiating with local authorities and service providers.

Everyone here will have their favourite milestones of disability history, I’ve picked just three to talk about here today, the social model of disability, the independent living movement and the disability discrimination act.

1: Social Model of Disability 

The Social Model was created by disabled people in 70s. It turned the thinking about disability on its head, forcing people to address the barrier (such as the built environment or people’s attitudes) not focus on the impairment.

2: Independent Living Movement

Disabled people travelled to the US in the early 80s to find out about Independent Living possibilities in California. Those ideas led to action by disabled people living in a residential home in Hampshire, England. They called themselves ‘Project 81’ (1981 was the year of the United Nations International Year for Disabled People). They struck a deal for freedom. They negotiated a financial package with the local authorities who had paid for the home they lived in and used this money to hire their own personal assistants. This ‘escape committee’ created a blueprint for independent living for future generations of disabled people.

3. The Disability Discrimination Act

Disabled peoples campaigns over the next 20 years resulted in our rights becoming enshrined in law. Those campaigns were conducted both within parliament and outside over several decades. Disabled MPs (such as Jack Ashley and Alf Morris) worked within parliament to effect change - with successes and failures along the way. At the same time, disabled activists were campaigning and taking direct action. Finally, Conservative MP William Hague introduced the Disability Discrimination Act. It had its weaknesses and a timescale that infuriated many disabled people (25 years to implement some changes). However it recognised for the first time that we as disabled people are citizens and that disability whether obvious or hidden is a characteristic that needs to be a protected by law like race, gender or sexuality.

As Sophie has indicated there is much still to do. Where should our focus be? 

Finding common cause & forging alliances beyond the disability movement is vital on issues like social care & tackling poverty. This is not just in the interests of disabled people; many of the big challenges the world faces cannot be successfully addressed without thinking about the barriers faced by disabled people. In 10 years time, will we look back on the current period and recognise the fierce campaigning against cuts as another such milestone? While resistance against damaging policies is crucial, most progress has happened when the disability movement has put forward and campaigned for bold ideas, such as Disability Living Allowance, Direct Payments and anti discrimination law.  We need big new bold ideas for the future. Perhaps instead, we may recognise initiatives like DRILL, the Disability Research on Independent Living – the FIRST academic research programme led by disabled people, researching topics that disabled people believe are important, as a key milestone of this decade.

Many of the major improvements in people's lives are not down to government policy.  For example, information technology and the internet have probably had the most positive impact on disabled people - as all of us - over the past 20 years.   It's as - if not more - important to engage non-government organisations including business in bringing about the social change we seek.

We at DR UK welcome the opportunity to work with disabled friends from around the world. We have a lot to learn from the lived experience of disabled people in other countries and are keen to share our experiences in return.

Finally, when governments use our language, such as ‘nothing about us without us’ we want them to be true to the spirit of those words  - ensuring that disabled people co-produce the policies that affect us all. My message to our colleagues in the UK government is that I want them to see the UNCRPD report from 2017 as an opportunity to work through the issues raised and for the UK to reclaim its reputation as one of the leaders in disability equality.