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Lords marks Disability History Month

7 December 2020 (updated on 7 December 2020)

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Disability History Month (18 November – 18 December 2020) is a chance to consider the struggles of disabled people and highlight the work of those campaigning for equal rights. To mark the occasion this year, we spoke to members of the House of Lords known for their impact on disability-related laws and equal rights. Read on to find out what they had to say about how far we have come and how far we have yet to go to achieve equal rights for disabled people in the UK.  

Lord Blunkett

Former Home Secretary Lord Blunkett had this to say about access improvements within the UK:

‘A great deal more could be done to address access in the UK in the years ahead. This takes the form of forward thinking so that any physical construction or alteration, automatically builds in the requirements of those with a range of disabilities and special needs.’

We also asked Lord Blunkett for his thoughts on Disability History Month. He explained:

‘We must learn from history, not live in it, but one of the key lessons which Disability History Month might highlight is the fact that this is a continuing struggle.

I hope the people will take away from Disability History Month a willingness to examine what they think, how they react and why it is that what would be intolerable in terms of race, gender or sexuality, appears to be fine when it comes to disability.’

Baroness Masham of Ilton

Baroness Masham of Ilton, Paralympian and founder of the Spinal Injuries Association has similar views on access within the UK. She shared:

‘A lot more could be done by providing more housing suitable for people using wheelchairs.

There should be more suitable lavatories for people with disabilities and men’s lavatories should provide ‘Bins for Boys’ for those people who have continence problems and use pads.’

As one of the longest serving members of the House of Lords, we wanted to know how access had changed in her time as a member. This is what Baroness Masham had to say:

‘It has changed a great deal. Access to public buildings is an example; Leeds Town Hall had many steps and after legislation built a ramp that looked like it had always been there... One used to be carried onto trains, until trains became accessible with ramps many disabled people used to travel in the guards’ vans.’

Baroness Grey-Thompson

Speaking with Paralympian Baroness Grey-Thompson, we asked about the work that lead her to the House of Lords and how she thought access could be improved. She shared:

‘I was a Paralympic athlete… I sat on the National Disability Council which oversaw the implementation of the DDA [Disability Discrimination Act ] which was an interesting introduction to disability legislation.

‘There is physical access which can always be improved and then there is attitude. There are still many people who have a negative view of disability and impairment. One of the things that I find really frustrating is when a non-disabled person tells me that London 2012 changed the world for disabled people. The Games were amazing and inspired many, but the reality is that for many disabled people it didn’t change anything.’

Our last question to Baroness Grey-Thompson looked at Disability History Month and what she thought people should take away from it. Here’s what she said:

‘I hope that people will really think what the daily impact on disabled people is and how everyone can do something to make it better.’

Lord Blencathra

During his speech for the second reading – the main debate on the key areas – of the Disabled Access Bill, Lord Blencathra, former MP and Home Office Minister highlighted how much more work needed to be done to help improve the daily lives of disabled people:

‘The number of public buildings in the UK comprising, shops, fast food outlets, restaurants and pubs is about 355,000. In addition there are post offices, banks, churches and all the other buildings to which the public have access.

That Department of Work and Pensions and the Disabled Go study visited and assessed a massive sample of 30,000 shops and restaurants. Their findings were that 20% did not have wheelchair access and if wheelchair users did get in then 30% did not have disabled changing rooms nor toilets.

…If you extrapolate that 20% of 30,000 shops to the total of 355,000 public retail premises then you get a figure of 71,000 shops, pubs and cafes which wheelchair users cannot access.

That is a scandalous number.’

When asked about how access for people with disabilities had changed in his lifetime, he said:

‘A lot has changed in my lifetime but it has slipped back since the Equalities Act 2010. Before then disabled issues were top of the agenda in the relevant government department.’

Lord Holmes of Richmond

Speaking to Lord Holmes of Richmond, we found out about his time as Director of Paralympic Integration for the London 2012 Olympic games, and asked him for his thoughts on addressing access issues within the UK:

‘Before I came into the Lords, I was involved with the London 2012 Games as Director of Paralympic Integration… I’m so proud on what we did with London 2012, the way we hosted the Games and the work we did with Channel 4 I believe still makes the London 2012 the best Games ever.

Access is not just physical, it’s emotional and attitudinal. It is also not complicated. There are a series of simple steps that could make a huge difference in breaking down barriers for disabled people. In the public appointments recruitment process, for example, my 2018 review for the government made 29 recommendations: really simple practical measures such as collecting and reporting accurate data, making sure application packs and interviews were accessible, building networks and reaching out to identify and support disabled people who might want to apply for these roles.’

On Disability History Month, Lord Holmes shared:

‘I hope that Disability History Month gives us all an opportunity to learn more about each other and about ourselves.’


Stay up to date with the House of Lords this Disability History Month and discover more stories of members, committee work and watch as the Lords challenges government action and presses for improvements in legislation for disabled people across the UK.