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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Justine Thornton with her husband, Labour leader Ed Miliband  

Why do these otherwise intelligent political wives allow themselves to become talking handbags?

Janet Street-Porter
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform