Maria Miller – 2011 Speech on Equality for Disabled People


Below is the text of the speech made by Maria Miller, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Disabled People, in London on 20th October 2011.

It’s important to recognise the practical work the Mayor is doing to support disabled people in London to live more independently.

The Government wants to support disabled people to make their own choices, to have full control over their own lives and to reach their full potential.

In part this is about taking practical measures, like those the Mayor has mentioned, to remove the physical barriers to independent living.

This could involve making some basic adaptations so disabled people can live in their own homes, making transport facilities more accessible and ensuring public buildings are accessible to everyone, including disabled people.

There is, of course, a requirement, in law, for organisations to anticipate necessary reasonable adjustments for disabled people to access their services.

This not only encourages service providers to proactively consider how to make their businesses more accessible – it also provides disabled people with the right to challenge if the legal requirement is not met.

But changes to legislation and improvements to physical accessibility can only go so far.

We have not yet seen these changes translate into complete equality and independence for disabled people in their everyday lives.

The Mayor and I know for disabled people to enjoy truly independent lives we must transform attitudes and support aspirations, as well as transforming buildings and buses.

Too often it is societal barriers rather than the person’s impairment that prevents disabled people living independently.

Findings on public perceptions of disabled people, published by the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) earlier this year, revealed that out dated attitudes about disability still exist.

Worse yet, we know very well that prejudice exists. ODI’s findings showed that eight in ten people believe there is prejudice in society towards disabled people.

This prejudice may not be expressed openly. Although we know from some of the dreadful hate crime cases we have encountered over the last few months that too often it is and in the most awful terms.

Thankfully it is a minority who behave this way. But ODI’s research shows that prejudice about disabled people exists within many more people.

Three quarters of people believe disabled people need caring for.

This “benevolent prejudice” is perhaps the most prevalent. There are still many, well-meaning people, who believe disabled people need to be looked after, protected from the world, and supported in a way which means they are detached from mainstream society.

It must be addressed because whilst well-meaning, it is harmful, holding disabled people back and preventing them from realising their full potential.

This is particularly clear in education.

We know that the aspirations of young disabled people are the same as those of young non-disabled people.

But too often these aspirations go unfulfilled.

The ODI findings discovered four in ten people admitted they thought disabled people could not be as productive as non-disabled people.

We have a responsibility to support disabled young people to overcome the lack of expectation that surrounds them.

The role of society should be to inspire young people, whether disabled or not, to achieve their full potential in life.

I want to make sure that at every stage of their lives disabled people are encouraged and supported to make the most of the opportunities that are available to them.

One of the things I am particularly interested in is developing a really clear route for disabled people through the education system and into work.

In education – we know that the experience of disabled young people at school and beyond has an enormous impact on their ability to fulfil their potential.

In the right environment, aspirations are encouraged and young disabled people will flourish.

I want to ensure we create more of the “right kind of environments”.

The Department for Education has recently consulted on how to support young disabled people at school and beyond to achieve their ambitions.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Green Paper set out far reaching changes to improve the support that young disabled people get from birth to adulthood.

Proposals include a single assessment process andcombined education, health and care plan from birth to 25 years old.

For the first time people with special educational needswill have one plan that follows them through from birthto adulthood.This is a really radical idea that many people have been talking about for a long time.

Early intervention is of course key. A child’s early experiences can have such a powerful impact on their lives we cannot leave this to chance.

We must ensure young disabled people are getting the right messages about what they are capable of from a young age. And for many disabled people, the short answer to that is anything they put their minds to.

Following a recommendation from the Sayce Review, I have formed a new cross-government ministerial group on employment.

One of the issues this group will be considering is how we can ensure young disabled people have the support they need to identify their path in life, achieve in education and move on into work and be the best they can be.

But our philosophy is not just about making sure disabled people are able to do well at school, or even about smoothing the route into employment.

It is about ensuring disabled people are able to fully take part in life – that means forming friendships and relationships, being spontaneous with friends, enjoying the freedoms many of us take for granted.

And that means we have to really transform attitudes.

The public perceptions research revealed that one in six people still feel discomfort and embarrassment around disabled people. This is a real barrier to equal participation in society.

Changing such attitudes is difficult and takes place over a long period of time.

But we have some real opportunities coming up to challenge out-dated perceptions of disabled people – as well as celebrating our sporting heroes, and inspiring new ones.

London 2012 is the first Games to bring together the Olympics and the Paralympics.

More than 100, 000 people applied for 1.14 million Paralympic Games tickets.

Sixteen sports were oversubscribed in at least one price category, including athletics, swimming, and track cycling. Tickets for these events will be balloted.

Having some sessions already oversubscribed a year before the Games, has never been seen before in the history of the Paralympic Games. To have such interest and hunger in the Games really is unprecedented.

The Government wishes to build on the inspirational power of the Games by using this opportunity to encourage more disabled people to take part in sport and become involved in their communities and to challenge the perception of disabled people in society.

The Paralympic Games will enjoy more UK airtime than ever before thanks to Channel 4 and BBC Radio, and overseas the Games will be broadcast in more territories than previous years. These Games will show disabled athletes performing at their best.

And it’s not just the mainstream media and sporting worlds that have a role to play in changing attitudes towards disabled people.

Government is responsible for setting the public agenda and has an important role to play in driving change.

But it would be entirely wrong for Ministers alone to be at the forefront of this change – disabled people must lead change by telling us what they want, and of course, wider society has an integral role to play.

Government departments are increasingly involving disabled people in developing government policies and services.

We want more disabled people to be involved in taking the decisions that affect all disabled people.

The Government is serious about this involvement. We want to ensure it is meaningful and representative and that disabled people have the tools they need to influence and engage in the right way.

That is why we are investing £3 million in User Led Organisations (ULO) – groups that are run by disabled people, for disabled people.

These organisations have a unique insight and are a powerful voice for the disabled people they represent both locally and nationally – as well as providing important support to disabled people.

We want to secure their continued role by supporting them to develop their skills and build their experience.

We want every disabled person to have access to a good ULO in their area so we will work with disabled people to improve coverage across the UK.

We also want to see more disabled people in positions of influence.

Direct, meaningful contact with disabled people plays a major role in promoting positive attitudes and this is why the participation of disabled people in public life and at work is so important.

We want to support disabled people to become MPs, councillors, other elected officials. To put them at the heart of the decision making process.

We recently asked disabled people what would make the biggest difference to them if they were to run for elected office.

On the basis of their answers we have developed the Access to Elected Office strategy which includes practical measures such as training and development and funding to provide additional support with disability related costs.

The change we want will be hard won.

You cannot change attitudes overnight.

But we have a very clear sense of what we are trying to achieve.

Working alongside disabled people we want to create a completely accessible world – in every sense of the word.

One in which disabled people have the adaptations they need to live in their own homes, are able to spontaneously go out with friends without having to make complicated travel arrangements and check accessibility as a matter of course.

One in which society’s attitudes and expectations do not prevent disabled people from participating fully in every aspect of life.

A world in which disabled people are able to live truly independent lives, achieve their aspirations, fulfil their potential and be the very best they can be.