The equality section of the coalition programme says it all: it is not more than half a page. Whilst the areas included within this section are not as detailed and broad as they should be, it is particularly disturbing to see no mention of disability. Equality is central to improving disabled people’s position in society, and Labour partly grasped that when initiating things such as the Independent Living Review. The central notion of ‘care’ is also worrying – as ‘care’ is tagged alongside disability to produce one of the sections. This is ignoring the significant progress the disability movement has made with challenging this patronising conception of provision, and also ignores the importance of the Independent Living movement for disabled people.
There is no mention of the need to radically restructure society so a lot of people who currently are disabled would no longer be so, as it is society’s social barriers that make people disabled, not individuals’ impairment as the current government may like us believe. Words such as ‘burden’ are used when referring to the ‘cost’ of disabled people. That is patronising nonsense. The fact is, they don’t want to change society because they know that would cost a lot of money, instead, they like to pass the blame for disabled people’s position to disabled people themselves.
A particular area of concern is the government’s views around education and disability:
“We believe the most vulnerable children deserve the very highest quality of care. We will improve diagnostic assessment for school children, prevent the unnecessary closure of special schools, and remove the bias towards inclusion”
There are various problems with this. For one, special schools are segregating and they should be phased out so that we have a movement towards full inclusion for disabled people within mainstream schools. There is an interesting piece by Jonathan Bartley on the problem with the wording “remove the bias towards inclusion” (click here), as he rightly claims:
“The problem is that the agreement focuses on only one set of disabled children – those who attend special schools. It does nothing at all to help those thousands of children in mainstream contexts, or who want to enter mainstream contexts, who need to have more inclusive schools. As it is, they have to battle just for the right to attend their local school.”
What needs to happen is a proper restructuring of the mainstreaming schools so that disabled people are able to be included, not integrated. The former places emphasise on the responsibility of the schools and government to ensure that no child is segregated, whereas the latter places emphasise on the child, so in this instance the disabled child, to accommodate to the school’s environment. Jonathan Bartley, who has a disabled son, made an effective and relevant point on David Cameron’s campaign trail:
“You are saying you want to reverse the bias towards the inclusion of children in mainstream schools. At the moment there is a bias against inclusion, not a bias for it, as your manifesto says.”