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Scottish Action on Disability
The Scottish Government has published a report on meeting the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD). It is termed a delivery plan, and pledges:
- Support services that meet disabled people's needs.
- Decent incomes and fairer working lives.
- Places that are accessible to everyone.
- Protected rights.
- Active participation.
This is a very welcome development and should bring about positive advantages for how disability is managed and recognised.
There are four aspects of the Delivery Plan which I would like to comment on:
The delivery plan is issued this month, in 2016. However, the Convention has been ratified since 2009. Surely a delivery plan should be more prompt than this, even given the complexities. The delivery will be complex, but the objectives are fairly laid out in the articles of the Convention.
It appears that the UN has pointed to some gaps in how the UK is implementing the Convention. The Equality and Human Rights Commission expressed concern to the Government after an inquiry visit from the UN in 2015, that the '...programme of social security reform since 2010 has resulted in grave or systematic violations of disabled people’s human rights'. The Commission has asked the Government to take action on this and other issues highlighted by the visit. Urgency attaches to this, as the UN will again be looking at our performance, through an inspection visit planned for 2017. This might explain the production of the delivery plan at this point. Let us hope that the previous delays are not repeated when it comes to the delivery of the plan.
What went before?
The Scottish Government already has a policy or strategy on improving the lives of people with learning disability , and this covers much of the same ground as the CRPD. Its priorities are described by the Government as: 'A Healthy Life'; 'Choice and Control'; 'Independence'; and 'Active Citizenship'. This alternative strategy almost mimics the Delivery plan on CRPD, yet the delivery plan only mentions Keys to Life briefly, in two places. The term 'joined up working?' springs to mind.
Is disability social?
'Disability' is rather a negative term I believe. There are prominent scientists, celebrities, artists and politicians who have 'disability’. This suggests that it is not ability which is lacking, (which is the implication of the term). The lack of ability appears to lie at the social level: society lacks the ability to fully support every person in reaching their potential.
This is clear in the foreword of this news release, where the minister acknowledges the wide range of barriers to people attaining their aspirations: unsuitable housing, employment and transport policies together with low expectations and negative stereotypes. It is our society which can be seen as disabled, not the usual people to whom the label is applied.
Sometimes our actions, or lack of them, actually disable people. I experienced in my work people being turned down for employment not for reasons of competence or knowledge, but on perceived disability which was not relevant. The rejection for employment was the true cause of disability.
The Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability is a group of organisations, including service providers and Universities in Scotland. They facilitated a national consultation on the CRPD with people with disability, and it is good to see that they emphasised the importance of social origins and influence on disability. They said that 'The social model says that disability happens when the world around us is full of barriers and does not change to meet people’s needs.'
The need for public awareness
The Consortium's consultation with other organisations found that there was a widespread lack of knowledge about or even awareness of the Convention. Little wonder then that action on the Convention has not addressed all the points which the UN, and people with disability themselves, would wish. It is good that this issue has been raised. The Delivery plan includes work on the need to raise public awareness of the Convention and the need for more widespread action to take place.
The UN Convention and this country's efforts to meet with UN scrutiny of our performance in meeting its requirements has resulted in actions and consultation which should ensure that we deliver on the rights promised to disabled people. An important outcome is the raised awareness which has arisen, and the move to recognise that disability has its roots in our society, in our attitudes, language and the actions which these bring about.
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