School students organise disabled rights meeting
Caroline Vincent, Leicester Socialist Party
I was invited by students at the Jame'ah Girls Academy in Leicester to talk about disability rights and discrimination at an event called "Years of Struggle". Seventy students aged from eleven to 16 attended on 1 October.
First we talked about people's perceptions and stereotypes - the things that come to mind upon hearing the word "disabled". Most admitted to visualising wheelchairs, when in fact less than 8% of disabled people use them.
We talked about the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act: the rights that exist due to legislation, but also the problems that are faced when these rights aren't recognised.
One student gave an example of a Leicester resident who was turned away and labelled as a "fire hazard" upon turning up for his disability benefit assessment. He was informed at reception that the interview building was not equipped for people in wheelchairs!
This led on to a discussion on work capability assessments. In February a protest took place outside the Atos offices in Leicester as part of a national day of action.
We agreed that it was a significant victory when Atos - a huge company with a £7.1 billion yearly revenue - decided to end its contract with the government. This was a direct result of protests and negative publicity.
But we also agreed the test should be scrapped altogether, not just handed to another company. Anyone who cannot work due to sickness or disability should have a right to an income they can live on without enduring humiliating additional tests.
We also talked about problems caused by cuts to vital local services. Free, publicly owned health and social care is vital. Cameron's "Big Society" is using children and relatives as a substitute for professionals.
Students felt inspired by local demonstrations, and several expressed an interest in future Socialist Party campaigns.
There was general agreement that the point is to change society, and remove the barriers that prevent people from participating in life in the way that everybody else can. Cuts to vital services have turned back the clock as far as equality is concerned.
Disabled people are a minority in society. Only by uniting, fighting back and struggling together for a fair and equal society can we look forward to a future that's free from all discrimination.