UNION 17 2010

How to ensure disabled people's inclusion and participation are preserved in the mainstream of society

Date: Sunday, 31st October 2010

By Michelle Daley

(Presented at the UNISON 17th National Disabled Members’ Conference in Telford International Centre)

It gives me great pleasure to be speaking at your national disabled members’ conference.

I have been asked to present on how to ensure disabled people's inclusion and participation are preserved in the mainstream of society. This is a really important subject to disabled people who have been denied far too many opportunities but also it is a human rights issue.

I believe the concept of inclusion is such an important subject to all groups of people globally. Inclusion is in more than a theory it is about belonging and acceptance which plays an essential role to how society values, recognises individuals but also how different groups are represented.

I want to start my presentation by asking the question why disabled people are systematically excluded from society.

What I intend to do in my discussion is to draw on this question.

In order to go forward in our journey to achieve inclusion we have to go back in history as a way to understand our situation today.

History has taught society to regard disabled people as useless eaters, dependable and non-productive. It is for this reason we have been shut away in institutions or placed in segregated service provisions as a way to keep us disconnected from society.

Like other oppressed groups within society disabled people radicalised themselves to form mass movements to help to generate the uprising of Disabled People. It was important for them at that time to inform society about their unjust and inhuman treatment. They no longer wanted to be regarded as powerless, dependable and institutionalised.

Another important factor that I believe is pertinent to the root of our exclusion from society is to do with capitalism which I am sure I am not the first person to raise this point. As Marx said, "the ideas of the ruling class are the dominant ideas in society" (Red Disability, n.d, no page number).

What this creates is a system based on the survival of the fittest. Vic Finkelstein a prominent figure within the Disabled Peoples Movement makes a interesting point when he says that:

“Our society is built on a competitive market foundation and it is this social system that disables us. From this point of view disabled people are forced to live in a social prison. While no one can object to campaigning for ‘rights’ so that the prison in which we live is made more humane it is only a political buffoon who believes that exploring prisoner experiences can lead to emancipation! Nothing less than dismantling the prison and replacing it with a non-competitive form of society can break-down the doors which bar our emancipation” (Finkelstein, 2001, p.4).

I also want to draw our attention to another point made by Rachel Hurst (1996) who is also prominent figure within the UK Disabled Peoples Movement who presents in an discussion paper titled Disability & Policy – Survival of the Fittest says:

“What is common to all survival systems -whether based on the individual or the group – is the instinctive recognition of what makes good reproductive/survival material, how the best material can be obtained and rejection of anything different” (no page number).

This experience continues to remain the situation for far too many disabled people who are shut away in segregated institutions for this very reason mentioned above.

I want to now look at another important point which I believe is crucial to our full inclusion and participation within society – this is the notion of equality.  Al Sharpton (2010) a US Civil Rights activist in a recent speech talks about equality for everyone. He said that someone said to him that:

“… we got an African American president we’ve achieved the dream of Dr. King. I told him that was not Dr. King's dream… the dream was not to put one black family in the White House. The dream was to make everything equal in everybody’s house.”

How many disabled people have you heard say something similar to this. You would hear comments like “we have accessible taxis, we have legislation” and so on… Yes, this is true we do have a few disabled people now sitting in parliament, yes we do have parts of an accessible transport system, yes our government has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People and yes disabled people are now given the option in how they receive social care…

I recognise that there has been much progress made for disabled people and it would be silly of me not to say so. The grouping of oppressed groups within society have without a doubt contributed to cultural, social and political change on policy and legislation and many other changes disabled people and others are able to enjoy today.

Disabled people have made much progress in a number of areas for example in the area of Personalisation Agenda which gives disabled people greater choice and control over their support needs, improvement in Education where we have many more disabled people enjoying inclusive education as well as greater access to the public transport system. 

I want to echo Sharpton’s (2010) point that is what these people have not understood, is we still do not have full equality. Let me raise another question that is how can we begin to contemplate thinking about our inclusion when we still have not achieved full equality?

In my opinion, I believe disabled people and others are dealing with a sophisticated way to which disabled people and others are excluded from society. Today society has become more advanced in the way it thinks and responds to difference. Society has become mindful about the way it implements services to make it look like it is not disadvantaging certain groups by using certain rhetoric language of equality.

Just to give an example of this which can be found in the Coalition Government ambition to ‘Building the Big Society’ (Cabinet Office, n.d). The rhetoric of ‘Building the Big Society’ is to imply fairness and improving opportunities (Cabinet Office, n.d).  However as Saádia Neilson a good friend of mine whom is Disability Equality Consultant said that it is “about scrutinizing people and giving them nothing”.

In another example in which services can exercise their right to exclude us is through the use of the word “reasonable” within Disability Discrimination Act / Equality Act 2010 which gives service providers the legal right to justify discrimination. How can disabled people ever have the same opportunity when the word “reasonable” is contrary to the core principle of inclusion?

A good friend of mine Jaspal Dhani, the Chief Executive of United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC) has often said to me “Daley” that’s what he refers to me as, in our numerous conversations about disability politics and other equality issues he says to me “I do not think it’s ‘reasonable’ for disabled people to be denied the same opportunities to access all areas of mainstream society.” I reply by saying “I agree”. I believe that we disabled people have to preserve the positive aspects of the work that has been achieved to bring about changes for disabled people. We must continue to work at all levels to share our experiences both past and present within society to help further influence changes.

We have the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People and this supports the inclusion of disabled people we must use this to help strengthen the struggle for full inclusion and our participation within society.

Contradictory to UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People in my opinion, I believe is the recent Comprehensive Spending Review 2010 (HM Treasury, 2010) which has severely disadvantaged many disabled people and other group of individuals. A number of disabled people’s Organisations have analysed this Spending Review and put out information papers to share their concerns about it.

Inclusion London analysis of the Comprehensive Spending Review made a pertinent point that is significant to our subject of ‘inclusion’. They said:

“The spending plans represent a choice: a choice to make disabled people and others who are among the poorest in society, already facing enormous discrimination and inequality, pay for an approach to deficit reduction which is riddled with the risk of creating a double dip recession” (Inclusion London, 2010, p.2).

When I think about this statement at a deeper level, the reality is that choices for disabled people are limited. Choice is an integral aspect of the principle of inclusion – it is about increasing people’s freedom and opportunity to improve their life chances. However if we continue to have limited choices made available to us, our opportunities to achieve equality of opportunity will continue to be seriously limited. What this means is that our full inclusion is being threatened.

There has been much progress made by disabled people to improve the quality of service delivery and accessibility to the built environment. However the spending review seems to have taken disabled people backwards in their journey for full inclusion within society.

I am horrified that individuals living in residential settings will no longer receive mobility component of Disability Living Allowance. Straight away this takes away an individual’s freedom and liberty to move about freely.   

If equality is about having the same opportunities as others and my non-disabled sister can access public transport but I cannot, I believe that I have been discriminated against but also I do not have same opportunity to equally participate within society. By me not having full access to all parts of the public transport system results in me being excluded from being able to enjoy certain parts of society – this is unfair!

I like everyone else want to be included in society in a full way, something which is being denied to me and other disabled people.

What this tells me is that equality and diversity are immutably connected to the fundamental principles of inclusion which is about designing systems that allow everyone the same opportunity to participate.

As I come to the end of my presentation I believe that the words of our disabled activists and also the disabled people’s movement must be preserved because their words are around our emancipation and social change. We must never allow their words to die.

Even in these difficult times where the recession has resulted in many disabled people losing their jobs, cuts in budgets, weakening in legislations and so on, your involvement has never ever been so important in helping to strengthen the voices of disabled people struggle to address our inequality and unfair treatment experienced by disabled people.  

We must preserve solidarity in unity to voice that full inclusion is a human rights issue. Therefore we must reject patch work implementation of equality because this can never achieve our full inclusion in society.


  1. Cabinet Office. (n.d) Building the Big Society. Accessed from: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/407789/building-big-society.pdf
  2. Inclusion London. (2010) Comprehensive Spending Review and disabled people: a brutal attack on equality. Key points in the CSR and their implications for Deaf and disabled people in London. Accessed from: http://www.inclusionlondon.co.uk/?unique_name=News&item=48&itemoffset=1
  3. Finkelstein, V. (2001) The Social Model of Disability Repossessed. Accessed from: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/finkelstein/soc%20mod%20repossessed.pdf
  4. Hurst, R. (1996) Disability & Policy – Survival of the Fittest. Accessed from: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/Hurst/disability%20and%20Policy.pdf
  5. HM Treasury. (October, 20 2010) Spending Review 2010 accessed from: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/spend_sr2010_documents.htm 
  6. Red Disability. (n.d) All in it together ?. Accessed from: http://www.red-disability.org/index-text-only/AllInIt2Gether.htm

Sharpton, A. (May 2010) Explains His Obamunist Dream Of Equality. Accessed from: http://hillstreetblahg.com/2010/05/07/al-sharpton-explains-his-obamunist-dream-of-equality/