As gay people celebrate, the treatment of the disabled just gets worse

With more spending cuts looming, are we content to leave one minority locked out of society as second-class citizens?

Share

They were clearing up the confetti, nursing hangovers and disappearing on honeymoons yesterday after the first batch of gay marriages in Britain. It was a remarkable moment as  the contented couples celebrated their unions with the traditional kiss. Within my lifetime, homosexuality has been first legalised, then embraced into everyday normality. Even bishops have begun to welcome the reform.

The ceremonies mark a milestone in the bumpy march towards tolerance and equality. We should rejoice at the speed with which people who were once jailed, mocked and used as a political football have taken their correct place at the heart of society. Politicians of all hues deserve praise for displaying courage in confronting the misanthropes who sought to stop lesbian and gay people from enjoying rights that the rest take for granted.

Problems remain with homophobic bullying in schools and bigotry abroad. But the reform shows how quickly attitudes can change. It is less than three decades since two-thirds of people thought any same-sex relationship was wrong; now, the same proportion support gay marriage – the numbers rising fastest among young respondents. There are 24 openly gay MPs (and more on Tory benches than those of other parties combined).

We have seen a similar rapid shift in attitudes on gender and race, for all the hurdles that still exist for both women and ethnic minorities. Yet, amid all the discussion of diversity and self-congratulatory talk of tolerance, one minority remains stuck in the shadows of society. Indeed, many members would argue that their life is getting worse, with hostility growing.

These are people with disabilities, a group growing fast in our ageing society. A new study by the charity Scope reflects the changing attitudes over the 20 years since it changed its name from the Spastics Society and shows the scale of the problem. In 1994, just over a third of disabled people said they experienced verbal abuse, with a similar number refused a service in a public place. Today, half of disabled people report discrimination in shops and almost a third when using leisure facilities.

It gets worse. Not only are people with disabilities far less likely to be in work despite being the most loyal employees, but almost two-thirds of those who develop a disability have lost their job within two years. Jean’s story is typical: after working for more than a decade, she was ignored by job agencies and had interview offers withdrawn when she started using a wheelchair. After finally getting an interview, it had to be held in a café because the work-place was inaccessible.

Reported hate crime is rising, with stories of awful abuse commonplace, while other studies have found that almost half of disabled people say attitudes against them are hardening. You can multiply all these damning statistics – the terrible stories of routine harassment – for people with learning difficulties. Just imagine the rightful outcry if this was happening to people because of their gender, sexuality or skin colour.

READ MORE: FOR DISABLED PEOPLE, AND THOSE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES, THE 'SACKING' OF ATOS WON'T CHANGE A THING

So why is this happening in the wake of the Paralympics, with all that optimistic talk of transforming attitudes? After all, there is anecdotal evidence that the event helped spark more sympathetic attitudes, while some businesses woke up to a market numbering millions of people. Yet Jean has been pulled from her wheelchair, sees buses refuse to stop for her and has even been accused of pretending to be disabled.

One reason is the lack of social and workplace interaction, such a crucial motor in changing attitudes. So instead of invitations to drinks after work and weekend dinner parties, there is befuddled British embarrassment at best, coldness at worst, towards people with disabilities. As a consequence comes a failure to understand their hopes, fears and desires.

Then there is the lack of political power – one more legacy of the poverty and woeful support endured by many disabled people. Digital technology has helped, but the idea of seeking a seat in Parliament is a joke for people who struggle to obtain a seat on the bus. At the last general election, more than two-thirds of polling stations had significant barriers to accessibility.

It also comes down to money. It is expensive to be disabled: on average, it costs £550 extra per month. It is costly to convert buildings, build specialist centres and ensure support for disabled children to get a decent education. As with gay rights, both main parties have passed landmark legislation but, more recently, both undermined their own steps forward. Disabled people have been victims of scrounger rhetoric and botched cuts, whether foolish measures such as the bedroom tax or badly implemented attempts to ensure that the right people claim benefits.

It is great to see Britain become more tolerant. But, with more spending cuts looming, are we content to leave one minority locked out of society as second-class citizens? Just as with gay and lesbian people, disabled people want only the same rights as everyone else. And remember that only one in six people with disabilities was born with them; one day this minority might include you, whatever your colour, gender or sexuality.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal  

What is 4Chan? And why does it threaten women like Emma Watson?

Memphis Barker
Chuka Umunna was elected MP for Streatham in 2010  

Could flirty Chuka Umunna be worth a punt for Labour’s top job?

Matthew Norman
Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world