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Disability is Political

16 June 14 words: Mike Scott
Disabled people are subject to appalling discrimination, just like some people suffer from sexism, racism or homophobia
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Liz Silver (right), defender of disabled rights

What are the main issues for disabled people in Nottingham?
There are a huge number of issues – a lot brought about by the attitude of the Government. It often seems like they’re deliberately attacking disabled people. Probably the main ones at the moment are the ATOS “fit for work” assessments – people have committed suicide after having their benefits withdrawn – the Bedroom Tax, which has a particularly serious effect on disabled people and the threats to cut funding for independent living.

Both the City and County Councils have cut back on services such as the specialist social work teams in the past few years. They’re continually having their Government grant cut back, which is obviously not their fault, but they just won’t stand up and fight, which they must do. What’s the point of electing Labour Councils if they end up doing the same as the Tories? Privatisation in the NHS has a disproportionate effect on disabled people as well.

Is it all bad news?
Locally, there are some positives. The tram system is fully accessible - apart from the ticket machines – and there has been consultation about access to the Concert Hall and the refurbished train station. The “talking buses” are helpful and we appreciate the ongoing commitment to fund housing adaptations.

What single thing would make the biggest difference for disabled people in Nottingham?
It would be great if all non-disabled people had to go on a disability training course and then be interviewed by a disabled person, to make sure they’d got the message about the barriers disabled people face every day. And that they understood a lot of the barriers aren’t physical, they’re about attitudes and stereotyping.

Would you describe yourself as a disability activist or a political activist?
Both. The two are the same thing – campaigns to defend the rights of disabled people are bound to be political. It’s Parliament that makes the decisions that affect all of our lives, so you can’t draw a distinction.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats say they support fairness and inclusion – the Tories aren’t interested at all, of course - but it’s only words. I joined Left Unity (the new national political party) when it was being set up, because they looked like they were going to be different right from the start. It’s really interesting how many disability activists have got involved.

Getting the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act through Parliament were big victories, but there’s lots more to do. We need to raise awareness of the barriers disabled people face on a daily basis, just living our lives. There’s so much still to campaign on.

How does your view on the way disabled people are treated fit in with your wider political perspective?
I believe that society should work for everybody equally and that we should all be able to enjoy our lives – that’s what socialism is about. Disabled people are subject to appalling discrimination, just like some people suffer from sexism, racism or homophobia. It’s the same sort of thing. We want basic human rights and we’re not going to get them unless we fight. There’s no point putting different groups of people in separate boxes. If one person from one group is discriminated against, it should be the concern of everyone.

You’ve mentioned Left Unity – can you tell us more about the party?
Left Unity was founded as a broad-based socialist party that will actively push for a fair society with no discrimination against anyone. The involvement of so many disabled people across the country is quite different from other parties, which don’t seem that keen for us to get active. One of the first things that happened when the party was getting under way was setting up a Disabled Members’ Section, to make sure our voices are heard. We’re not there because they feel sorry for us, we’re on an equal basis with non-disabled members.

Disabled can sometimes be seen as ‘invisible’ to non-disabled people. Why are you different?
Well, as I have a visual impairment and use a white cane, I’m very visible. People register that I’m there, but often have a strange view of me – I get called “brave”, as if I was a firefighter rescuing someone from a burning house. You’re not brave when you’re disabled, you just get on with your life the same as everyone else.

But I do get angry when I see people being discriminated against, especially people with hidden disabilities, who often get treated as if they were stupid. The truth is that we’re disabled by the society we live in and the barriers we face, not the disabilities themselves. I suppose I am different because I’m a socialist and I believe in equality and justice for everyone. I’m sometimes accused of being stubborn and pedantic in what I say, but it’s about fighting discrimination, not being difficult. 

So many people have to spend all their energy just surviving. If some of us didn’t feel we had to fight, we’d never make any progress.

What can non-disabled people do to help?
The main thing is thinking about what they’re doing. For example, avoiding parking on the pavement or over dropped kerbs and if you’re on a bus with a pushchair, leaving space for wheelchair users.

You haven’t got a local accent – how did you come to be in Nottingham?
I came to Nottingham to go to University – I wanted to escape from home, and get out of London. When I finished, I decided to stay on. I really like Nottingham. I feel established here; it’s friendly and easy to get round. I didn’t really imagine staying permanently, but it looks like I will now. I don’t fancy living anywhere else and I would certainly never go back to London. 

Over the years, I’ve been involved with various campaigning groups, including Notts Disabled People’s Movement, which I helped to set up.

Of course, there are lots of other attractions as well – I’m keen on real ale and know all the best pubs and I won’t starve to death either, even though I’m a vegan!

Left Unity website

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