Scope marks 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act

PHM has been working with Scope to collect campaigning material relating to the campaign for the Disability Discrimination Act. Here their Campaign Officer, Tom Hayes, writes about the success of the project so far.

Nelson Mandela is known the world over for his impressive fight against racial segregation in South Africa.  Helped by a recent blockbuster film, Britain’s women’s suffrage movement is better known among people today. Whether projected onto big screens or taught in classrooms, similar civil rights fights from Selma to Stonewall are well-known.

Other equality campaigns have been wholly forgotten, however. Twenty years ago this month, Parliament finally passed a law to ban discrimination against disabled people. This change would never have happened without the fierce campaigning of disabled people.

Rights Now! rally, Trafalgar Square.jpg

Rights Now! rally, Trafalgar Square. Copyright Scope

In their thousands, disabled people gridlocked cities up and down the country, throwing themselves from their wheelchairs and chaining themselves to buses. Their message was clear: activists wanted rights. Not tomorrow or in a year, but, as their campaign’s name demonstrated: Rights Now!

For the first time, disabled people joined together, discovered they were not isolated and alone, and decisively smashed society’s flawed view of disability as something requiring pity not rights.

The law passed twenty years ago – the Disability Discrimination Act – fell short of the civil rights Act that so many disabled people campaigned for. But the campaign itself was life-changing for so many and challenged society’s stereotypes and negative attitudes.

Many of the leading disabled campaigners drew inspiration from the fights against Apartheid and for the vote for women.

The suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst is the only person that one of today’s leading disabled campaigners and a civil rights veteran, Baroness Jane Campbell, says she would be if she could travel back in time.

Many Rights Now! members moved into disability rights campaigning  from the anti-Apartheid movement because they despised the injustice of segregation wherever they saw it.

However, in sharp distinction to the equality campaigners who inspired them, Baroness Campbell and others have a hidden history of campaigning. The campaign which took so much of the media spotlight in 1994 and 1995 has been entirely forgotten today.

Young disabled people – even those who campaign for change in their communities today –have been shocked to find their rights have not always been there and needed a fight to bring about.

That’s why Scope has been celebrating the civil rights activists who fought for equality and brought about the change that happened twenty years ago this month.  We’re proud to be working closely with the People’s History Museum to preserve a past in danger of disappearing. Together we have appealed to campaigners to rummage through their attics and find mementoes.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of the treasures that leading campaigners have shared with us as a direct result of our joint public appeal for donations. Until that time we will be sharing some stories of the civil rights campaign, as told by the leading activists themselves.

The campaigns which inspired disabled activists twenty years ago are honoured every day by the People’s History Museum in the galleries that are seen annually by tens of thousands of visitors.

Together we want as many people to see disabled people’s campaigning, right alongside better-known movements, so that their campaigning can inspire today’s activists as much as others do.

Disabled people’s campaigning has been central to our national march towards equality. Scope can have no better partner to honour this campaign than the People’s History Museum – the nation’s own museum of democracy and equality.

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