UN’s international day sees awards, celebrations… and protests


Disabled people took part in protests, campaigns, awards, marches, conferences and celebrations as they found different ways to mark the UN’s international day of disabled people.

Many of the events used 3 December to continue the series of protests against government cuts to disability benefits and services, while others celebrated the achievements of organisations that have helped improve disabled people’s lives.

Breakthrough UK announced the winners of its National Independent Living Awards 2012, which included Harrow Asian Deaf Club, Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, and retail giant Wilkinson.

In Guildford, Surrey, more than 350 people attended the first of a free, two-day sports festival organised by the British Paralympic Association, with more than 1,000 attending over the two days.

More than 20 Paralympians – including stars such as Jonnie Peacock, Sophie Christiansen, Ben Quilter and Mark Colbourne – were on hand to take part in the inaugural ParalympicsGB Sports Fest, which provided an opportunity for disabled people to try out different Paralympic sports and discover how to get involved in them.

In west London, members of Harrow Association of Disabled People took part in a 200-strong march to protest at disabled people being “hit the hardest by cuts to the benefits and services they need to live their lives”.

The march, which was joined by eight local councillors – seven Labour and one independent – and Labour MP Gareth Thomas, passed the Department for Work and Pensions’ Jobcentre Plus offices and ended at Harrow council’s Civic Centre headquarters, where Labour council leader Thaya Idaikkadar spoke to them about their concerns.

In Croydon, disabled people held a vigil inside the reception area of the building used by Atos Healthcare to test people’s eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

The vigil, organised by the Croydon and Bromley branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), included a minute’s silence to remember the sick and disabled people who had “suffered as a result of the punitive regime of assessments” operated by Atos on behalf of the government.

They were refused permission to leave flowers in the building, so laid them instead at the local war memorial.

Protesters from Cardiff DPAC gathered beside the statue of Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS, for a candlelight vigil which featured about 1,200 candles spelling out the words “Atos Kills”, before continuing their own remembrance protest by blocking traffic for about 30 minutes.

They and many other activists believe the assessments, as carried out by Atos, are putting thousands of sick and disabled people under serious and unnecessary strain, forcing them further into poverty, and are even responsible for many deaths, including some people driven to suicide.

Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People marked the UN’s day by releasing a striking visual and audio representation of the Austerity War report it commissioned and published in September, which describes how the burden of the government’s cuts are falling unfairly on disabled people’s shoulders.

In contrast, the Department for Work and Pensions used the day to launch its Role Models: Inspire a Generation campaign, which will use video clips of young disabled role models talking about the barriers they have overcome to inspire other young disabled people to “help fulfil their potential and achieve their aspirations”.

The European Commission made its contribution to the day by publishing proposed legislation to ensure the accessibility of public sector websites.

But the proposed laws would cover only 12 public services – such as websites for benefits, applying for passports, car registration, birth and marriage certificates, enrolling in higher education, and communicating with the police.

The European Disability Forum welcomed the publication as “a first positive step” but said it would work with MEPs and the European Council to ensure the final legislation was “even more far-reaching”.

The European Blind Union said the proposal was “a missed opportunity” and was “simply not going to deliver the radical change that is needed” because it failed to cover all public sector websites and private sector sites that deliver “basic services to citizens”.

In Tower Hamlets, east London, the disabled people’s organisation Real joined other charities to host a free information event (on 4 December) and party, and celebrated both the international day and its own success in winning a new local authority contract to give disabled people more say over how services are run in the borough.

Meanwhile, Remploy ignored continuing anger over the closure of many of its remaining sheltered factories and released a video featuring pledges from employers – and disabled people such as Paralympic champion David Weir – to push for an improvement in the employment rate of disabled people.

Just three days later, Remploy announced that another 682 disabled people had been told they were at risk of redundancy because of its closure programme.

There were also many powerful blogs using 3 December to warn of the threat to disabled people’s rights posed by the government’s “austerity” policies.

Jane Young wrote that there was “little to celebrate” on 3 December, with the anticipated implementation of a “horrifying range of policies set to devastate the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled Britons”, with the threat next year of “a tsunami of human need, the like of which we haven’t seen in Britain for many years”.

Kaliya Franklin wrote in her blog of a time when Britain “led the way in promoting rights and independence for disabled people”, while Neil Crowther said the government’s “perverse and illogical” assault on disabled people’s rights was “not only unjust, it is pure economic folly”.

5 December 2012