Sylvia Rose explains some key legal points about disabilities rights.
It’s tough having a long term illness, impairment or disability, and even tougher in these times of austerity cuts. But something that cheers me up is knowing that there is legislation that supports our disability rights, in various ways. And knowing about it can really help. In theory at least, the law is on our side.
First and most important is the Human Rights Act 1998. Under this, disability is a “protected characteristic”, which makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone because of their disability. This is fundamental legislation that underpins our rights, and can come in handy in all sorts of circumstances.
Next comes the Equality Act 2010, which incorporated all the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Amongst other things, it makes it illegal for providers of goods and services to give a lesser service to someone because of their disability, unless they have good reason. So, anyone with a “substantial and enduring disability” can make a reasonable request for a service provision to be varied in order to meet their specific needs, and if the provider refuses and is challenged, it is up to them to then justify why their refusal is reasonable. So, if you have mobility difficulties and need to borrow a wheelchair to get round a large supermarket, that might be a reasonable request. If you’re asking for the provision of one to get around a public park, they might say, bring your own.
Incidentally, provision of goods and services can also apply to Pagan events, and there doesn’t need to be money involved. Anyone who is running a Pagan event or ritual that is open to the public is responsible under this and other legislation, and can potentially be sued. (Many Pagans would be shocked to know this).
This Act also puts a duty on local authorities to promote the rights of people with disabilities.
Then there’s the Care Act 2014, which gives adults the right to an assessment of their care needs by their local authority – i.e. by adult social care social workers. If they are found to have “eligible needs” due to either a physical or a mental condition, a care plan must be drawn up of how these needs will be met. This can include the provision of services direct to the person, or direct payments to them for them to arrange and pay for these services themselves.
If the person has a carer, that carer is also entitled to an assessment of their own needs for support.
Finally, if a person with disabilities has children, and due to their disability they struggle to care for them, then under section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989 those children could be deemed “children in need” and the local authority children’s services department would have a duty to provide support and help, to ensure those children are not disadvantaged compared to other children. This could be financial help, respite care, or funding of childminding or whatever would help. (This does not mean that the person would be assessed as an inadequate parent.)
And of course there’s lots more: these are just the headline Acts. Some is decided by case law or government guidance; some is down to what the local authority can actually afford when it balances these requirements against all the other demands on it. But I think it’s good to know what the rules are.
As I write this, I can hear people saying, yes that’s all very well, but I couldn’t afford a lawyer, or don’t have the energy, to challenge breaches of it. Well, there are several answers to that, as well as that you have my great sympathy. One is that there are various disability organisations that can advise you, and sometimes even pursue a case on your behalf. These tend to be related to the specific illness or disability in question. Another is that, in these times of legal aid cutbacks courts or tribunals are increasingly sympathetic to people conducting their own cases without legal help – you’d just need to have done some basic research first, and maybe bring a friend along for support.
And lastly, there is the power of threat. It works, but it helps knowing your rights first. Try suggesting that you will launch a formal complaint to their organisation, or write to your MP, or even sue. Then drop in exactly which Act you are planning to sue them under. It’s remarkable how it can focus people’s minds. My favourite helpfully non-confrontational phrase is “I wouldn’t want to have to resort to legislation, but….”. Which is a polite way of reminding others that these laws exist.
You’re not being difficult or demanding. You didn’t choose to have these extra needs.These laws are a fundamental part of living in a civilised society, and are there to be used.