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Kamran Mallick: 'I want to change the world for disabled people'

23 May 2018

The head of Disability Rights UK on how the organisation is campaigning to remove the kind of discrimination he faced.

Read full Guardian Interview

As a child, Kamran Mallick was subjected to racist taunts in the playground. As a teenager, his school’s physics lab was inaccessible so he had to travel to a neighbouring college for physics lessons. In his first full-time job, his boss used to pat him on the head when she stood next to his wheelchair.

Now 45, and almost a year into his role as chief executive of Disability Rights UK, Mallick’s experience of racial and disability discrimination is shaping the charity’s future.

“I want to change the experience of disabled people younger than me, so they don’t experience the same barriers,” he says. “I want to make sure that we are as loud a voice for disabled people from our country as possible.” Mallick is contacting local black and minority ethnic, faith-based and youth groups for disabled people in order to understand issues “from the grassroots”. In the coming months, he will appoint additional ambassadors reflecting “a diverse range of people”.

DR UK is part of a charity coalition to highlight “the deteriorating quality of life” among disabled people that was exposed by a United Nations’ damning inquiry last year into the UK government’s failure to fulfil its commitments to disability rights.

A recent NHS review into the deaths of people with learning disabilities found that poor care had contributed to the deaths of 13 people. Mallick says the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England are “uninterested in tackling the systemic discrimination that learning-disabled people face”.

Given his own experiences, he is sceptical about the government’s plan to get a million more disabled people into work by 2027.

“It’s good to have that target, but where’s the mechanism to make that happen? It’s all about sanctioning disabled people, but there’s no evidence to say if you reduce someone’s income they will naturally think ‘I need to get a job’,” he says.

Mallick believes that the barriers to getting more disabled people into jobs “lie not with the person, but the world around them that prevents them from working”. But today's Scope report The disability perception gap shows the prevalence of outdated public attitudes towards disabled people.

What is needed to change perceptions, he believes, is “good, inclusive education … If disabled people are part of society and have support to enable them to contribute to society, then over time this starts to change perceptions.”

Mallick says the government should have an overarching policy for addressing disabled people’s needs: “There’s no joined-up thinking between departments,” he points outs.

For him the priority is always about “protecting and securing the rights of people with disabilities”.