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A People’s Vote is a fight for disability rights

by Rosie McKenna | 29.08.2018

The EU has been massively influential in the development of the rights of disabled people in the UK. This barely gets addressed in the Brexit debate.

As well as strengthening our rights at work, accessing public spaces and against discrimination, the EU guarantees those rights for the future. Without the safeguard of EU protections, many disabled people are worried about our rights in a post-Brexit UK.

It is a simple truth that, thanks to EU legislation, the UK has had to implement measures to ensure disabled people aren’t discriminated against or disadvantaged – that otherwise we may not have.

For example, in 2000, the EU brought in the Framework Directive for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation, a more comprehensive set of protections for disabled people at work than the UK had previously.

In 2008 the EU had a further impact on our disability legislation, when it became illegal to discriminate against employees due to them being a carer or having a relationship with a disabled person, thanks to a ruling from the European Court of Justice.

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Other directives from the EU between 2006 and 2011 ensure that disabled people are entitled to assistance by trained staff when travelling, giving us greater freedoms to go places and do things without relying on carers, family or friends to assist us.

But this isn’t just about how the EU has helped disabled people. It’s about how much disabled people in the UK will miss out from leaving.

Former paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson said during the 2016 referendum that “leaving the EU would prevent British people with disabilities from benefiting from upcoming legislation on accessibility”.

She was referring to the European Accessibility Act, which will require minimum standards across the bloc for accessible products and services – including ATMs, transport and in public spaces. This is far more comprehensive than our current legislation. If the UK leaves the EU, it will not be bound by this upcoming legislation. As with many things in our exit from the EU, the UK is going to be left behind. And it’s disabled people that will suffer.

It may be hard for some to imagine, but the EU is seen by many of us as a last line of defence – a “break in case of emergency”. It forms a baseline for rights and protections for marginalised people, and the ability to challenge those human rights abuses in the courts. After Brexit, EU law would no longer prevent the government from rolling back disability rights measures if it wanted.

I’ve been called paranoid for my worry about this rollback on my rights, but why should I or any other disabled person have faith in the government to protect us, when in 2017 it was found to be in contravention of the UN’s directive on the rights of disabled people?  

I have no faith in that government – or potential future governments with less interest in disabled people – to protect my rights after Brexit.

That is why I am, as a disabled person, campaigning for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal. Disabled people’s voices cannot be silenced in this debate – we have too much to lose.

If you self define as a disabled person and want to campaign for a People’s Vote, please get in contact at [email protected].

This is the first in a series in which supporters of For our Future’s Sake – a youth and student-led organisation and part of the People’s Vote campaign – write about Brexit issues being left out of the Brexit debate

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

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