Disability Justice is More Than Campaigning for Accessibility

Heavens knows, I have engaged in the challenges of disability access for nearly a decade now and I know that I have peers for whom this has been a longer campaign. Yet despite all of our efforts in this area, we appear to be no further forward than when I first began. The battle for accessibility is sucking the life out of real Justice for people who have a disability and I fear it is taking its toll.

On the occasions that I have been asked about policy or strategy development, it has rarely been to engage at the start of a project or piece of legislations. I usually find that there is a blockade in the road where someone has decided that there needs to be an input from the disabled community. We are a means to an end, offering an insight into how the project might become more accessible. No one has ever thought about including a person with a disability on merit, to be part of the entire process, because they have the talents to be there to contribute to the wider strategic development.

This has never become more apparent to me than since I took on the roll as Chairman for the Centre of Independent Living Northern Ireland (CILNI). Delivering what is yet another government policy directed towards the disabled community, with very little input from the people it affects as it rolls out on the ground. In my personal life I constantly face issues with the Self-Directed Support Scheme (SDS) and yes, I have been able to answer questionnaires and fill in forms, but does that mean I have been truly involved in co-production? I would say not and from the barrage of comments I receive on social media, I would have to say that others feel the same too.

One particular aspect has been the provision of personal assistants (PA) and how a trained and accessible PA would make a real difference to the continued rolling out of SDS which has had the unintended consequences of finding good staff very difficult. This idea of providing people who use SDS has not been a new one on my part, indeed other members of the board at CILNI have agreed with me that this is a genuine difficulty faced by many. However, over the years I can only say that an ambition to answer this need has been stifled for one reason or another. Yet in so many other ways the Centre has provided justice in engaging with genuine employment and opportunities that allow for the additional needs of the differing abilities of our staff. We are good at looking inward and developing policy and delivering strategic goals, but when it comes to being outward looking, I find ourselves lacking in so many ways.

In a recent survey, we are able to congratulate ourselves that we have been rated highly in-service delivery, but that begs as to the nature of the questions and if we have probed enough what is really at the core of social justice?

As we come to the end of our current strategic plan and look to the future to design and deliver the next, I truly hope that we as a user led organisation can really dig deep and begin to spearhead those truly sacred rights that others take for granted. For if a group such as ours cannot begin to achieve disability justice over and beyond accessibility, then I fail to see how anyone can.


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.