Are Disability Rights Really Worth Fighting For?

Another year has arrived and with it, we all generally hope that so has a little more enlightenment of human nature. Human rights appear to evolve over time and with them, so do the lived rights of those whom they have sought to protect. Like all things there are sensational stories that appear to make a mockery of justice as one persons right allows them to go against what most feel to be common decency. However, I would stress that these situations are rare and deflect too much from the intention and real benefit that human rights have provided to millions of other people.

That said, I have spent 2018 reflecting on the rights that have been and continue to be trampled over within the disabled community. Yet the outcry compared to that of a woman to choose an abortion or the right of marriage for a loving same sex couple; has been so silent, it is deafening! Since the crumbling of our Executive here in Northern Ireland, imputes has been shifted to Member of Parliament at Westminster for changes in the laws here to improve the lot of both the aforementioned groups. Yet I cannot recollect a single MP moving to introduce the Equality Act in Northern Ireland, which would see improvements for our disabled community as well as the many others. This as a backdrop to the significant criticism directed toward Northern Ireland from the United Nations Committee overseeing the Convention of the Rights of Disabled People.

For some of us, this galvanises our desire to continue fighting and I must say that I despair when I use the verb ‘fight’, as during the passed week I have followed the vitriol and abuse directed toward a fellow campaigner. Probably by decent folk who appear to forget themselves when they let their fingers do the walking over a keyboard! The story is not a sensational one of fraudulent benefit claims, but rather about equal access to independent living and this being impeded by able bodied people with children electing to use disabled facilities for their own convenience. What is saddening about the entire episode is that the debate or should I say ranting, descended into an us versus them scenario. Rather the real question of why facilities are not being provided for all? Which for the disabled community is the thrust of our continued campaigning.

So as we begin 2019, my hope for continued enlightenment toward the rights provided for the disabled community have diminished a little. I really do long and wonder if we will ever have our own Rosa Parkes moment here? Creating a historic event which future generations will look back on with pride. To that end, I am in no doubt that the struggle must continue, but am convinced of the need for improved discourse in order to avoid the venom like that directed toward one of my friends and peers.

Author: Michael Holden
Michael, who has Motor Neurone Disease, is a member of several organisations; alongside the Centre for Independent Living, in NI he is also a member of the European Network for Independent Living in Brussels as well as Deputy Chairman of a patient working group at the Royal College of GP’s here in Northern Ireland.