Race, Disability and Human Rights

ThIs post was written by Berni Vincent.

The new Equality and Human Rights Commission was launched on October 1 2007 resulting in the merger of the Disability Rights Commission, Commission for Racial Equality and Equal Opportunities Commission.

One of the last events that the Disability Rights Commission held jointly with Equalities National Council was a conference looking at Race, Disability and Human Rights on September 12. The event from my point of view was about raising awareness, listening to others and gaining some understanding of the multi oppression that my fellow Disabled people experience.

It was good to see so many Disabled people from Black and Minority Ethnic Communities (BME) coming together to share common experiences and address ways of breaking down barriers of multi oppression and exclusion. 

BME communities are more likely to experience poverty and isolation.  For example among families that include a Disabled adult the risk of poverty is 36 per cent in white families, 52 percent in Indian families, 63 percent in Pakistani families and 83 per cent in Bangladesh families.

With regard to family members providing unpaid support; assumptions are often made that BME Disabled people’s support will be met by a close family member, with little consideration to the disempowering impact this will have on family relationships or individual family members’ right to develop their own potential and aspirations. Further more the meaning of Independent Living and the Social Model of Disability has yet to be fully understood in BME communities generally.

In a workshop led by the ‘Black Men Moving forward project’ that provides advocacy support across the Criminal Justice System, mental health service users gave personal testimony of surviving the institutional racism and neglect across the Criminal Justice system.  Disabled People generally do not have their needs met within the judicial system, and a high majority of people with mental health impairments receive no support or medical treatment. There were examples quoted of medical records not being transported to prison resulting in lack of vital medication or medical intervention at point of entry on release from the prison service.   

So what needs to happen if things are to change; the starting point has to be ensuring that public bodies grasp their responsibility to ensure BME Disabled People enjoy the same freedom, respect and equality as everyone else.  Time and investment needs to be made to adequately fund peer support organisations that can continue to lead the way offer support and influence policy design.  

The responsibility lies with us all – public bodies, service providers, and the voluntary sector. We must work together to break down barriers of isolation and mistrust and find ways to listen and understand each other issues and experiences. We must believe It is possible to break the oppressive chains that isolate multi oppressed groups in BME communities.  We need to actively work together to bring the barriers down. 

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