What does disability equality look like to you? Looking back at the history of the Disability Discrimination Act

A group of people that Sense supports standing in front of a coach in the 1970s.

At Sense this month we’re marking the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), a key law passed in 1995 that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. In 2010 the DDA was replaced by the Equality Act everywhere except Northern Ireland, but many disabled campaigners fought long and hard for this law. To mark the anniversary we’re looking back and celebrating key dates in the history of campaigning by disability activists and Sense as an organisation. Check out our timeline below.

While policies such as the DDA now exist, we know there’s still a long way to go to achieve true equality and the important role that campaigners have to play in this.

We spoke to one of our Sense campaigners, Janice about what disability equality looks like to her and how it’s changed since the DDA.

“I was born with some disabilities so have experienced discrimination throughout my lifetime, including things like not being considered for work promotions and not being readily accepted to join my local swimming club despite swimming for team GB!

Things didn’t seem to change much in spite of the DDA and subsequently the Equality Act, but these laws meant I could help Sense campaign for a better life for disabled people, including lobbying my MP at parliament.

Today, I continue to work with organisations to ensure that “reasonable adjustments” are made for people with disabilities.  For example, health care providers and my local private gym.”

A black and white photo of a woman and a young boy sitting on chairs facing each other. They have their arms out in front of each other and are holding hands, and the boy is wearing a pair of headphones.

Key moments in time

Our timeline below marks just a few of the key dates in the history of disability rights.

1955 – Sense is born as two mothers who caught Rubella while pregnant gave birth to children born deafblind. They link up with other families to form the Rubella Group.

1974 – Alf Morris becomes first Minister for Disabled People. This followed the introduction of his ‘Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons act’ in 1970 which obliged local authorities to help disabled residents.

1989 – Following years of Sense campaigns, the Government publishes the first guidelines on the education of children who are deafblind.

1990 – Disability campaigning reached high point in 1990s and activism established a focus on barriers in society rather than medical condition. This is often termed as the ‘social model of disability’ which argues that people are disabled by societal barriers, rather than their impairment or difference.

The term ‘Nothing about us without us’ was coined by disability activists to convey  that no policy should be decided without the involvement of the group affected.

1995 – The Disability Discrimination Act becomes law, offering protection for disabled people against discrimination.

2001 – Sense’s Yes to Access campaign results in the introduction of the Deafblind Guidance – requiring local authorities to provide support for people who are deafblind.

2003 – British Sign Language is recognised as an official language

2004 – The Sense Campaigns Network has taken number a different forms over the years but it first came into being in 2004. Find out more and how you can sign up.

2010 – The UK Government ratifies the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and the Equality Act comes in to law. The Act replaces the DDA, except in Northern Ireland where it still applies.

2011 – The Sense User Reference Group (SURG) made up of people who use our services and influence how they develop – celebrates its first birthday. Today, the group is still going strong.

2016 – We take play to Parliament. Our Case for Play report highlights the benefits of play and the barriers faced by children with multiple needs.

2016 – The national Accessible Information Standard comes in to force, ensuring that all publicly funded adult social care and health providers provide accessible information.

 2018 – Our When I’m Gone campaign launches – 36,000 of you signed our petition calling for families to receive more help to plan for the future of their loved ones care.

2020 – Alongside families, we launch our #ForgottenFamilies campaign in response to the lack of support for disabled adults and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Celebrating Sense Campaigners

In December this year, through the Sense Awards we’ll celebrate campaigners and individuals who’ve joined our fight to ensure disabled people get the right support to live health, happy lives.

But we need more people to join with us. Our campaigns network is one way for you to stay up to date with our campaigns and take action. Join our community of campaigners and we’ll send you email updates with quick opportunities to take action and help us move towards.

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