Over the past 30 years racism and homophobia have been tackled with great success, but individuals with disabilities are still discriminated against by companies and society as a whole, why? Take the example of First Buses in Leeds that are disputing a legal judgement that wheelchair users should be given priority for wheelchair spaces on their buses over those who have pushchairs or buggies in the wheelchair space. Arrow taxis, who have the rights to bookings at Leeds and Bradford airport, demand that anyone requiring a wheelchair accessible taxi must book the taxi beforehand (without informing travellers). Is this right when people with disabilities should be treated like any other member of the public according to the Equality Act (2010)?
A massive effort by mental health charities have encouraged individuals to not discriminate between those who have mental health issues and those who have not. This progress is commendable and has increased in awareness of mental illness and the need to not discriminate; however the same cannot be said for individuals with either physical or learning disabilities. Unfortunately, society still has an issue with treating any disabled person as an equal; for example, try and open a business account with any of the mainstream banks when one cannot communicate over the phone and has an inability to sign and you will encounter major problems. Simply trying to call your bank if you have communication problems causes major issues, particularly when the call centre is not UK based; slightly ironic when one has trouble understanding the advisor! However banks in general have not trained staff or invested in ways to help individuals with disabilities (perhaps because they assume anyone with a disability is on benefits and therefore are not a profitable customer?).
However society as a whole has a problem with accepting disability; in my experience anyone who is in a wheelchair and has any communication difficulties are assumed to have learning difficulties. For example, when undertaking my PhD we (postgraduates and academics) were attending a seminar by a so-called expert in disability awareness, however after his talk we all went for a drink and despite my colleagues explaining that I was completing a PhD he spoke to me as if I was a child. This was an academic teaching disability awareness; however it is an all too common theme when speaking to people in the local pub. Why must individuals see a wheelchair with someone who does not have perfect speech and have been told that I am "intelligent" (some of my friends may disagree with that definition) speak to you as if you are an idiot?
Disability access to venues has increased, which I am promoting through disabledaccessguide.net however there is still a problem with the service that one receives when arriving at restaurants or bars. Staff automatically assume that one is not compos-mentis solely on the basis that I am in a wheelchair and/or my speech is not perfect. This stereotype needs challenging, as the stereotype of mental health has been challenged with great success. On a number of occasions children will come and stand or stare at me while I am eating my meal; however the parents and staff do not intervene and it is then up to my friends or family to politely ask the parents to remove their child (some of who do not understand what the child is doing wrong).
It is the case that increasing integration of children with disabilities into mainstream school will enhance their awareness of disabilities, however I still believe that campaigns and education is needed to suppress the discrimination of people with disabilities.
Here's an experiment: join any dating website and start talking to a person for a few weeks over email, then before you ask to meet them explain that you are a wheelchair user with some communication difficulties. You will be amazed to find that about 90% cease communication (some without emailing you back) and the remaining 10% may join you for a date but speak to your friend and then complain that you did not explain your disability at the beginning of the communication or on your profile. Call me old fashioned, but if you wear glasses or have a birth mark, then this does not define your personality - as my disability does not define who I am. Yes, according to evolutionary psychology, certain body types or skin/hair colours are less attractive as evolution has determined that these are not beneficial for the production of healthy offspring. However, many disabilities are not genetically transferrable to the next generation and there is no evidence that a disabled person is worse at parenting than an able-bodied person. Even when someone can see through your disability one has the normal complications of finding the right person and making the relationship work, which everyone knows can be difficult.
In summary, there needs to be a campaign by the government and disability organisation to promote awareness that if someone has a disability then it does not mean that they are any different to 'normal' people. Banks, restaurants etc need to train their staff to be more aware of how to accommodate people who have any kind of disability or mental health issue. Above all, when people encounter someone with a disability then they must realise that they are just human beings and should not treat them any different to someone who is from an ethnic minority or who is gay. The political correctness surrounding referring to people with disabilities is not helping at all and therefore campaigners should not be fussed whether a person is called handicapped, disabled or less-abled just as long as we are treated equally. The PC culture is arguably putting up barriers that cause fear when anyone is interacting with a person with a disability and more effort should go into increasing respect and awareness of disability and not what someone in a wheelchair or who has learning difficulties is referred to.
PLEASE RESPECT EVERYONE!