The values of the Disability Discrimination Act are still important today

Disability rights campaigners 1995

By Angela Craig

This week sees the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act. Such was the impact of the legislation – and the radical movement of disabled people that it resulted from – in creating a political understanding of disability discrimination that it seems to have been with us for much longer.

Yet the DDA was the first British law to frame a rights-based approach to disability and to distinguish between impairment and disability. The latter, it contended, was not inevitable or the result of human difference, but might be the result of social barriers (refusal of employment or entry to clubs or social spaces) or environmental ones (poor lighting, inaccessible buildings or lack of audio description) or attitudes (people stigmatised or shunned from premises or society because they are considered upsetting by other customers). The DDA said these barriers could, and must, be challenged and removed. 

The thinking reflected in the DDA was emancipatory for countless disabled people: ‘piss on pity’ declared demonstrators. 

Any law is only as good as its enforcement and the dismantling of the disability commission in 2007 hugely weakened that. The so-called austerity of the last 10 years has massively increased poverty, inequality and even re-institutionalisation and segregation of disabled people, cruel realities that have been reflected in Covid deaths figures – two thirds of whom are disabled people. Far higher than the proportion of disabled people in the population, this is not something inevitable – the false view that the language of ‘underlying conditions’ in government media presentations propagated – but a politically driven fact, that speaks to poverty, exclusion and discrimination.

As Covid confronts us brutally with fundamental choices of political morality and priorities it is appropriate to celebrate and uphold the values of the DDA.

Some headlines and newspaper photos from the time