British attitudes to disability are so contradictory (following on from the last post).
On the one hand, things are getting better for those with disabilities in Britain. There is better access to buildings and public spaces, stronger legislation against discrimination, and more integration in ordinary sociaty generally of those who are disabled. And, of course (this gives me another excuse to refer to my groundbreaking post about traffic management), there are fewer pavement curbs – at least in Kensington and Chelsea.
Two examples caught my attention recently. There was an article in the Times on Tuesday (I can’t link to it because of the paywall!) about media preparations for the Paralympics. It points out how much interest there has been in the Paralympics over the last few years, and how people with disabilities are much more present in the mainstream media than they used to be, e.g. as presenters and not just as guests.
And last week I had a tour of a newly constructed hall of residence at Leeds Trinity University College. The facilities were really impressive. Not only were there rooms for wheelchair users and the physically disabled, but these rooms were integrated into the sets for able-bodied students.
So your own room has all the facilities you would expect (accessible bathroom, accessible wardrobe, etc.), as well as some wonderful features that I never would have anticipated, like two spyholes in the door – one at about 5 feet for those who are standing, and one at about 3 feet for those using wheelchairs. And the shared kitchen that you use with other students has an extra cooking hob and an extra sink, both designed so that they are at the right height for someone using a wheelchair, and – equally important – enough space for you to get your knees underneath them.
These are all positive signs about how British society is becoming more inclusive and more open to those who live with disability.
On the other hand, if you are an unborn child and you have a disability, you can be aborted simply for the fact that you have this disability.
Even the Disability Rights Commission (which merged into the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2007), which you wouldn’t expect to comment on abortion law, recognised this contradiction. It wrote that the section of the Abortion Act concerned with disability:
is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability; and there is substantial support for the view that to permit terminations at any point during a pregnancy on the ground of risk of disability, while time limits apply to other grounds set out in the Abortion Act, is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally…the DRC believes the context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally.