The Disability Discrimination Act 1995: The campaign for civil rights

February 15, 2020

[CHANTING] What do we want? Civil rights! When do we want them? Now! NARRATOR:The Disability Discrimination Act was passed into law in November 1995 thanks to years of campaigning by disabled people. For the first time, it was unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in areas of life such as work, education and transport. MIKE: We had no resources and yet we built a movement which mobilised at its height more than 100,000 people. ROGER: One of the key questions is why the government suddenly decided to introduce a piece of legislation, the DDA. The only answer to that question has got to be it was because of the campaigners on the streets and the campaign in Parliament. ADAM: Going on the first demos, I did find a bit scary but I took the attitude, at that time I had nothing to lose. I was single, I had no dependents. MIKE: A lot of these demonstrations were spur of the moment and were an expression of anger and I think that’s why they were so powerful and that’s why they were so successful. AGNES: It was a scary thing to feel that you could be arrested and I was arrested once for obstructing the public highway. But there was a fun element too. JANE: For me, it was the most exciting moment of my life. ROSEMARY: Actually seeing people give us a thumbs up and ask us questions about why we were doing this Finally you thought, “we’re getting through here!” AGNES: You felt that you would risk a huge amount to make a small difference if you could And eventually the change did come. JANE: The day or the week that the vote was carried and we gained our rights I remember feeling a bit… “Oh… Right…” “Where do we go now?” NARRATOR: The passing of the DDA was a bittersweet victory for many of the campaigners involved. IAN: The DDA brought a certain amount of rights and equality for disabled people. Rachel Hurst referred to it as “The trainspotter’s charter” She said you could now stand on the platform but you couldn’t get on the train. MIKE: It was basically unenforceable. Most disabled people wouldn’t have had access to the court or couldn’t have afforded to go to court. NARRATOR: Although the Act had its critics the campaign itself was a landmark in the fight against discrimination towards disabled people. It also changed the lives of many of the disabled people involved forever. AGNES: All sorts of things have really improved for disabled people in that time and there are completely new challenged as well. It’s a different world now. ADAM: There’s a whole generation of disabled people who won’t know what we fought for twenty years ago, so I think this story is really important and it really needs to be told. JANE: It’s vital that we mark this anniversary. It wasn’t just about getting a piece of legal paper. It was our liberation moment.

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