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The Disability Rights protests of the 1990s

In the early 1990s, a group of disabled people chained themselves to public transport because they felt a sense of injustice due to no form of transportation was accessible. The protesters were chanting loudly, blocking the streets having to be manually lifted out of their chairs by the police. The police tried to stop the protesters by lifting them out of their wheelchairs and laying them down on the street. Although buses were technically accessible at the time, many wheelchair users still couldn’t access them safely.

They wanted justice. This was a really powerful news story in the early 1990s. This was a bad representation on disabled people especially because disabled people weren’t on the TV at all.

The protests inspired and motivated disabled people who realised they could put pressure on the legislators.

Agnes Fletcher actually met his wife while being chained up at a direct action protest. Fletcher went on to become a director at the Disability Rights Commission and is now a trustee for Scope. Fletcher says part of the problem was that many, including the government and some charities, did not view the barriers facing disabled people as discrimination. People viewed arguments about disability differently from those about sex and race, two areas in which discrimination was better understood: "It was all about unfortunate disabled people who of course couldn't work, didn't need to use transport and all those things. It was viewed in a very different way.

Adam Thomas suffered a spinal injury at the age of 17 in 1981. He says he was fortunate enough to have experienced life as a non-disabled person first but that being a wheelchair user was "much much harder".

In July 1992 one of the movement’s first big protests took place which was against the ITV’s 24 hour tele-thon. They protested against this as the organisers of the protests which were called Direct Action Network for disabled people (DAN) were angry with the way disabled were portrayed. They were also angry because there was no law to protect disabled people against discrimination but nothing was in place until 1995.

After these protests the Disability Discrimination act 1995 was created which included protection against discrimination in many areas including education, employment, occupation, transport and the provision of goods. This was also one of the first acts to protect disabled against multiple types of discrimination including direct and indirect discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments, harassment and victimization. But in 2010 most of the original text written in 1995 was incorporated into the Equality Act 2010.

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