Amusingly in contrast to all the claims of access being everywhere there was no ramp provided for the speaker's podium and when asked about one Commons staff seemed to think there wasn't one available. So instead we had a podium and a speaker's sit on table!
There's an article here about the idea behind Easy News and a great interview with Nick and John, two of the consultant's who worked on Easy News
They say, the past is another country, they do things differently there. The implication being that we are somehow better now than then, better here than elsewhere. But are we?
Once upon a time all people lived in small communities, with disabled people at their hearts. Communities that through the arrogance of time, we look back upon and consider less civilised than ourselves. But were they? Or have we just misunderstood the message in the adage? Skeletal remains teach us that tens of thousands of years ago people with severe disabilities were cared for, loved and if necessary, the entire tribe would adapt to the pace of their disabled member, fully understanding what we today seem to have forgotten – that any society is only as strong as its most vulnerable member.
In another past we lived in villages, accountable to a Lord and Master. Disabled people no longer cherished, but barely tolerated. A different past again tells us that disabled people were considered lucky by leaders, and kept as fools at court. In another, disabled people were unlucky, locked away so as not to contaminate the general population. A closer past tells us how disabled people were demeaned and dehumanised, labelled as financial burdens worth nothing more than an opportunity for those in power to learn the skills of mass extermination.
There is fiction in the space between these pasts, these countries, but also truths of change. The biggest of these truths for all people was the invention of printing, the benefit of mass literacy and freedom to disseminate information. Without the power to access and produce their own information, people without sufficient riches to own land and later women would never have won the battle to gain their right to vote.
Whilst the information revolution effected lasting political and social change for most people, disabled people were excluded from society and refused the freedoms gained by others. Only in the much more recent past were disabled people able to begin our own, long march towards freedom.
The contemporary revolution is once again based upon information and a battle to balance the freedom of citizens to educate and inform against the controls imposed upon people by their governments. Here, the now is many countries, and they all do things differently there.
For some disabled people technology breaks down barriers and provides us with the freedoms to participate in politics, policy and democracy. We can educate ourselves by circumventing a physically inaccessible world to enter one based within the virtual. We can write things down, articulate our own truths and counter the challenge from the powerful that perhaps we’re just telling stories.
The abuse of power is intertwined in the history of disabled people - modern Britain considers herself far more developed than the peoples of the past, the peoples of countries far from here. But contemporary Britain continues to treat her most vulnerable citizens with a callous disregard – imprisoning those convicted of no crime in places paid to care, but that care is just a cover for the facilitation of torture. The bill for that torture is footed by us all, and equally the responsibility to prevent it, to demonstrate we are better, more human than that lies with us all.
Without the freedom to record the stories of those locked away, the platform to pass on these shameful truths of how our society disregards those it perceives as lacking contributory worth progress can never be made. Those without power can be blamed, targeted, made less human by those who sip from the cup of success, whilst those with power are not held accountable for the consequences of their own words.
Today we are gathered in the heart of power, the seat of democracy to celebrate how far disabled people have come, and attempt to speed up the pace of travel to full equality. The right to vote is insufficient on its own, without the provision of non-partisan news and information in a format everyone can understand, voting remains a token gesture based upon empty words.
As disabled people we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with fatigue cannot gain access to the transport, to the workplaces, to the leisure spaces of our cities. But as humans, as people, we can never be satisfied until we all have, not just the right to participate, but the appropriate and individual tools to enable us to do so.
Then, perhaps one day, future people will look back upon our past and know that this was when we learnt to do things differently. When we began to understand that the right to do something would never be enough without the communally provided support to do so.