Disability equality training - a low priority?

2008-11-11 by

Much of my work as a trainer has come from organisations realising that disability is not simply a small part of diversity issues but is an important subject that their staff should learn about. They are very keen to incorporate disability as part of their plan to increase diversity and equality training.

Recently someone asked me how to address a question that came from one of their employees: ‘Why are we learning about disability? Surely we should address other diversity issues, such as racial and cultural discrimination first?’
This led me to ask myself why disability equality training is often seen as a ‘low priority’ topic.

There are almost 20 million disabled people who live in the UK, yet some people think they do not see them around, they do not work with them – so why uphold a legislation like the DDA which applies only to a perceived few?

Of the millions of disabled people who live in the UK most of them are not visibly disabled. Conditions like diabetes or epilepsy or HIV, for example, are classified as a disability by the DDA yet they are not visible. The low visibility gives the false impression that there “really aren’t many disabled people out there”. This false belief would justify the assumption that disability equality training is of lowest priority compared to all other equality topics, yet disability is the one human condition, that together with age, all of us might have in common at some point.

No-one is immune from disability. Disability discrimination cuts through age, race, gender, cultures, religion. I believe it is the very last taboo of our society which we need deconstruct and tear apart. Ignorance and prejudice towards disabled people are so widespread and so pervasive that they are really affecting people’s lives.

For those that do not have any experience of disability, often death is preferred to it. Suicide is seen an alternative to living with disability and many women would have an abortion if the foetus they were carrying was disabled.

While I absolutely want to make it clear that in no way I judge these personal choices, I do however feel sad at the thought that so many people are not familiar with disability at all and are so terrified by it. Only a few media contributors have stopped to talk about whether problems are only exclusively about the disability or whether there are serious issues around inadequate care provision and support for disabled people and their families.

Disability Equality Training is crucially important, now more than ever, especially as the issue of euthanasia is being considered as a viable legal option in Scotland, and I feel that whatever choice people make they should be better informed.

While no public establishment today would dream of putting up a sign with ‘No Irish and No Blacks’ on its doors, there are still so many offices, restaurants, pubs, cinemas, etc. that do not have accessible toilets or ramps or staff trained in providing inclusive customer service. Yet their owners don’t feel they have to do anything about it. Nevertheless the discrimination they inflict is outrageous and painful to disabled people, who often do not have the means to take someone to court for this type of inequity.

I usually encourage organisations and businesses to view disabled people as an untapped segment of the market with considerable disposable income and ability to purchase and use services. But the recent headlines highlighting how widespread the prejudice against disability is, make me realise that Disability Equality training is needed more than ever on a general level, and yes it should a priority.

In a world where more glass ceilings, race and cultural barriers are being shattered, disability discrimination is the one thing that could hurt us all, no matter what race, creed, gender, or culture we identify with. It is in the interest of all of us to understand disability: what if one day it happened to us too?

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