Monday, 6 December 2010

40th anniversary of first disability discrimination legislation

It is 40 years since the first disability legislation was steered through Parliament onto the statute book.  Hailed as the ‘Magna Carta’ for disabled people, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 set down specific provisions for the inclusion of people with disabilities in welfare services, housing, education and recreational facilities.  While much progress has been made, people with disabilities continue to encounter discrimination and exclusion.

At St Dunstan’s, the charity working to secure an independent future for blind and partially-sighted members of our Armed Forces, we see, first-hand, the positive impact art and culture can have in the rehabilitation process for blind and visually-impaired people. Yet we know that people with serious sight problems struggle to fully participate in cultural experiences, such as museums and art galleries, with exhibitions and displays designed, primarily, for only the sighted.

By introducing simple measures, such as audio description, tactile displays and through harnessing the power of IT, art and cultural venues would make an important contribution towards promoting inclusion and equality for disabled people.  By bringing exhibitions to life, our cultural institutions would help them share in the same immersive experience and joy we often take for granted when visiting museums and art galleries.

That’s why St Dunstan’s is supporting a ground-breaking Resolution, which calls for Europe-wide action to remove the barriers that blind and partially-sighted people face when visiting museums, galleries and heritage collections.  Passed at a recent conference held by St Dunstan’s and the European Blind Union and presented to the European Commission and European Disability Forum, the Resolution urges national governments to promote the full participation of people with a visual impairment in all aspects of art and culture.

At St Dunstan’s, the craft workshop classes run by our flagship rehabilitation and training Centre in Ovingdean, Brighton, is transforming the lives of the ex-Service personnel we work with.  The classes help unlock their creativity and provide them with a channel through which a range of emotions can be expressed. Giving disabled people the chance to fully experience the power of art and culture, on an equal basis with others, brings a host of therapeutic benefits and gives them a sense of achievement, pride and belonging.

We ask so much of those who make incredible sacrifices by putting their lives on the line for our safety and security. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first disability discrimination legislation, let us all make a pledge to make 2011 the year we redouble our efforts to tackle the barriers that prevent our blind and partially-sighted ex-Service men and women from a playing a full and active role in society.

Written By Andrew Cooper

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