Disabling system

DISABILITY RIGHTS activists were insulted and roughly manhandled by Brent Tory councillors when wheelchairs barred the exit from the council chamber on June 19. Denying speaking rights to the campaigners, they had voted to close the council’s disability unit to save money.

Two days later, Brent Communist Party’s Red Brent video discussion was opened by Party supporter and disability rights activist Simone Aspis of People First, using its video, Altogether better. Discussion of this question will contribute to the formulation of disability rights demands in the Party’s election manifesto and forthcoming draft programme.

As Simone explained, the authority of mental health charity Mencap - established in 1948 and now running services to the tune of £42m a year - to speak for the needs of so-called ‘mentally handicapped’ people is being challenged by new self-advocacy groups run by people with learning difficulties themselves.

Simone contrasted two parliamentary bills in the pipeline. People First’s Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill puts the onus on society to provide a non-discriminatory environment in which disabled people can participate equally. The Tory government’s hurried response is the Disability Discrimination Bill, which leaves the onus on individuals to invoke the law against each infringement.

Capitalism sees disabled people as an unprofitable burden. Approximately 70% survive on ‘benefits’. The government bill proposes to slash and tax invalidity benefits for those unable to work in their current profession due to impairment.

The concept of disability, Simone said, started with the advent of industrial society. People considered incapable of productive activity were institutionalised, segregated from ‘normal’ people and divided according to impairment - a division which prevented the development of a generalised mass rights movement. Instead of the oppressive fetishism for so-called normality, it is society rather than individuals which must be changed, to meet the needs of all the individuals in it.

Stan Kelsey