Archive for December, 2013

The Right To Ride

December 1, 2013

The Right to Ride
Why disabled people’s direct action was good for all transport users. I’m going to name check some significant players in the struggle for accessible transport. Well it is DHM!
I’ll start by quoting a song: with grateful thanks to Elaine Kolb who wrote “We Will Ride “which I then mangled to be relevant to a British Disability Rights scene.
“Far too many people have been locked away too long.
We won’t accept excuses, right is right and wrong is wrong. Still the state believes that we should live on charity.
But we’re not going to take this anymore, we will be free.

And we will ride, we will ride.
We have strength and truth and justice on our side.
For united we will fight, defending human rights,
we will ride we will ride.”

Defending human rights: The right to ride, the freedom of movement is a fundamental human right. It is also the key to wider participation and inclusion. If we can’t ride, we can’t take up education, employment, training, health treatments. We can’t exercise our democratic rights, we can’t build and maintain a family and social network, we can’t in truth be part of this world.

A functioning, affordable accessible transport system is the life blood of our country. It’s effectiveness governs our prosperity, amongst other things. I’m a Londoner, who travelled daily since I was five, on inaccessible and dangerous route masters, and from the age of 11, on overland trains and the underground too. As a partially sighted child, my biggest challenges were knowing which bus or train was arriving and knowing where to get off. Some people would say I still don’t know where to get off!

Maybe 1 in 4 of the population is disabled, many more are also older. It’s quite “normal” to travel with children in buggies or with heavy luggage. for All these people, using our transport systems can be a significant barrier, if not impossible.

In 1982 disabled people sat down in the road outside Stoke Mandoville Hospital. We were protesting against the participation in the Paralympics games of South Africa. Alongside me on the tarmac were Keith Armstrong, and the late Vic finklestein South African born disabled activists. I quite liked sitting in the road. about that time, I did it again and again as a woman at Greenham Common, protesting against nuclear proliferation. There was something about putting my body in harm’s way for a cause that mattered to me that made me feel like I was doing something. It was a visceral antidote to the feeling of hopelessness I felt over the hostility of the world towards disabled people, women, lesbians and all other marginalised groups. For I had recently discovered that being disabled wasn’t the problem, it was the way the world is designed.

Another comrade in struggle, the late wonderful Bryan Heiser responded to transport accessibility by developing a parallel transport system. Dial-A-Ride freed many people to ride who had never done so before. But free our people was one of the disabled people’s movement’s demands. We wanted to travel like ordinary people rather than witness the world, second hand through the window of a special bus. For us, this smacked of further segregation.

Keith Armstrong went to Denver and went on an accessible bus. He joined disability rights activists in further protests about accessible transport, meeting Elaine Kolb, who originally wrote “we Will Ride” as an anthem of that movement.

“The world is inconvenienced by disability.
But we have human rights and we are aiming to be free. Riding public transport is one way to get around.
So minister of transport hear us now, we’re freedom bound.”

Inspired by this, Ruth bashall, a transport campaigner, disabled dyke and mother, along with Tracey Proudlock (then Tracey Boothe) and the late Steve Crib decided enough was enough. This apartheid transport system had to go. They organised the campaign for accessible transport, and, getting bored of meetings went out onto the street.

I’d recently acquired a temporary mobility impairment. A badly broken leg left me having difficulty in walking any distance. Buses, tubes and trains were no longer accessible to me. But I was also fired by the justice of the matter. I joined Cat and we sat down in the road.
We didn’t just sit down in the road, we caught buses and held them captive. We bought central London to a standstill.

After a while, the authorities could not ignore what was going on. They nicked us. They carried us up steps into inaccessible police stations, and then inaccessible courts. This made for fantastic pictures on the evening news. charges were dropped but the transport planners were in a bit of a flurry. Our activity spurred on the legitimate crips with their campaigning who lobbied and agitated for fairer treatment.

Spinning on ten years. In 2000, Ken Livingstone was elected Mayor of London. Dealing with London’s transport system was high on his agenda. Initially waxing sentimentally about the iconicness of the route master, he was soon persuade to change his mind by his newly appointed transport advisor Bryan Heiser, his newly appointed board member me, and the vice chair of the transport for London board, another transport activist, Dave Wetzel. We suggested that the bus contracts should be changed and a commitment to an accessible bus fleet be a criteria for choosing the successful contractor.
In a matter of years, London had the largest accessible low floor fleet in the world. At last, Londoners had the right to ride. We altered contracts further to require that the buses talked and had real-time audio visual travel info on them. We also put in place a programme of accessibility to the tube and the over ground and worked with rail track and the train operating companies, via Alice Maynard and others to influence accessible train development. Anbd then Boris came along … and slashed the tube accessibility programme.

We’ve since had the buggy wars. Accessible buses helped those with small children ride too. But the ruling that wheelchair users have priority, for you can bold up a baby but you can’t fold up a wheelchair user has prevailed.
“We are here to tell you just exactly what we’ll do.
We’re fighting for the right to move in freedom just like you. Let every kind of people have the power to be free.
To live and learn, and move and work and love, and vote with dignity. Kirsten hearn November 23, 2013 for Mmoving On MOAT13 DHM event

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A brief history of activism

December 1, 2013

A brief history of activism
Disabled People have always advocated nothing about us without us. It’s been central to the fight to end our oppression that we are able to speak for ourselves and to be heard, no matter how we deliver our message or how hard other people find to understand us. So nothing about us without us is one of my themes tonight.

Darkness fell upon me at the age of sixteen! In those days, way back in the early seventies, disability rights were unheard of. It was definitely something about us without us.

The streets were paved with charity dolls with holes in their heads, “plastic Spastics” as we came to call them. Jimmy Savile was hyodling nd dying his hair stupid colours to help us poor benighted handicapped young people. Now we know what else he was doing at the same time. But it didn’t matter, those disabled kids, at least they were getting something?

I ended up in a special school where I got a sort of education. Torn away from my partying sisters, all in the sixth form of the school I had to leave, this was very dislocating. I was an instant convert to Inclusive education, even though my mainstream school’s inability to meet my access needs put me in the special school in the first place.
At this special school, we had five choices of career. We could be social workers, teachers, physiotherapists, secretaries or telephonists. Oh and the lucky ones amongst us could be wives! I didn’t do any of those things! After school, I became a student activist, which exposed me to the women’s movement and then I noticed I was a disabled person! The special school had worked hard to erase this fact from my identity.
I joined the Liberation Network of People with disabilities. Yes I know, doesn’t sound like the social model does it, but you know, we worked on the principle that the personal is political. Like our feminist sisters, we got angry and began to organise!
There was something so liberating about realising that it wasn’t me that was the problem, it was the world. It made it possible to look at barriers and campaign to remove them.

As a blind person of a radical bent, I realised that information was being censored. Through The Alternative Talking Newspapers Collective, we organised to put socialist and feminist information into accessible format. The Campaign for Braille, an access Trade union info campaign worked in the unions to make change and was instrumental in creating self-organised groups within unions that bought disability issues further up the agenda.

In the eighties, nothing about us without us became a lynch pin of how disabled people organised. We formed our own organisations and began representing ourselves. Rights not charity, became our slogan. We fought for the removal of barriers that disabled us being seen as a rights issue. At the same time, we had to bite the hand that fed us, and turn on the charities that had until now, been the only voice on disability.

Logically, having decided that being disabled isn’t the problem, it’s more the way the world is designed, we began to think that actually celebrating who we are as disabled people would be cool. It would challenge the negative stereotypes and make us feel a whole lot better about ourselves to boot. The disability Cabaret scene challenged discrimination, negative stereotypes and much more through poetry, music, film, drama, comedy etc.

But something else was also going on. Most radical movements reflect the wider society’s power structures. Disabled women, disabled lesbians and gays and later on disabled BME began to organise, celebrating our differences arguing for inclusion as people from marginalised communities within the disabled people’s movement; challenging discrimination within and without.

Some of us worked for law reform, some of us chained ourselves to buses. Some did both.
So spin on 20 years. This is a different world. Yes we have some protection in the law, but every day, a hostile government is dismantling all that makes it possible for us to survive. We battle things out in the courts & on the street, on social networks and where they allow us, in the media. And some we win and some we lose.

The social model of disability itself is under attack. So we have to fight back. The UK disabled people’s manifesto is a blue print for doing that. We have to unite to fight to stop the rot that will leave us caged and bound, prisoners of an ideology which would have us silenced, because we cost too much.

The concept of the useless eater is alive and kicking today. We have to fight back.
Kirsten Hearn, 19th November 2013 for Disability History Month Launch.

A life less valid

December 1, 2013

My comrade in struggle Anne Novis has asked me to post the below on my blog. Well said, Anne.
Kirsten A life less valid – When is a hate crime not a hate crime? By Anne Novis MBE

It seems that a hate crime is now not defined by the perception of the victim, his or her family or communities, as it should be in law. No matter how many times a victim has reported each and every time they are harassed, abused and attacked due to race and disability, or being perceived as ‘different’.

As has been highlighted by the case of Mr Bijan Ebrahimi, murdered by one man (assisted by one more), following years of abuse and hostility by many others who lived near him in various homes.

Let me list what we know happened to Bijan, a disabled Iranian man with mental health and physical impairments, bear in mind there is much we do not know yet;

Between 2008 and 2011 he reported harassment 14 times to police Verbally racially abuse
Physically assaulted by people in a shared house
House broken into
Hot water thrown on his chest and feet
Threatened with hostility and death
Property and possessions vandalised
Driven out of his previous home by an arson attack
Mobbed by up to twenty people hurling abuse, threats and calling him names Arrested when he called police for help
Falsely accused of being a paedophile
Beaten to death
His body doused with white spirit and set alight.

His family believe he was picked on as he lived alone, was disabled, vulnerable, and because “he was different”.
In a statement, the family said in one “callous act of unimaginable hatred” its entire world had been taken. …we are gravely concerned that the actions of those men may have been made possible by the failures of the police and others to protect Bijan.
So as a disability campaigner and activist on disability hate crime for nearly two decades, knowing how hard myself and others have worked to raise awareness, improve reporting to police, changing the way police and legislation promotes justice for disabled people myself and others expected the Police, Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to recognise this case as hate crime from the outset.

Why? First because the police have already admitted they let this man down by their actions and poor responses to his experiences, the family had made it clear they saw this murder linked to all the other hate crime Bijan had experienced, and lastly because we have evidenced that many disabled men get falsely accused as being paedophiles as part of a campaign of hate and horror against their victims.

As Katharine Quarmby, a journalist, friend and coordinator of the Disability Hate crime Network stated in one of her blogs:

‘In just over one year, in fact, I found five such killings related to false sexual offence charges, including paedophilia. These included that of Sean Miles, who was stripped, stabbed and drowned after being accused of being a paedophile. Steven Hoskin was similarly accused, tortured, targeted and murdered by so-called friends, who dragged him around on a dog leash before pulling him to a railway viaduct and pushing him off. Now Bijan Ebrahimi takes his place on that sad list of murders – a grim pattern of disabled men falsely accused of sexual crimes they didn’t commit, and then killed with overwhelming cruelty by a lynch mob.’

Katherine and I had worked together on a groundbreaking report called ‘Getting away with Murder: disabled peoples’ experiences of hate crime’, we had also worked with others, advising the Equality and Human Rights Commission on its inquiry into disability related hostility.

Its report ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, published in 2011, had stated that the false allegation of pedophilia against disabled people was a clear and present danger to their lives.

I have also produced reports cataloging over 70 murders of disabled people and hundred of attacks as evidence for this inquiry.

Through my own experience, work with victims of disability hate crime, and disabled peoples organisations I know any excuse is used to validate abusing, attacking and murdering a disabled person just because they are perceived as different.

From before birth, the abortion of disabled a foetus up to 40 weeks of pregnancy, to segregated education, euthanasia, assisted suicide, so called ‘Mercy killings’, the killing and segregation of disabled people has been justified for centuries and contributes to the attitudes disabled people face these days in society.

Add to this the current political and media stances about disabled people being a burden on the state, unsustainable, fraudsters and non tax payers we are facing vitriol and scapegoating for all the problems at this time.

In the media and in interviews about the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi interviewers have asked ‘Is it reasonable to expect at this time of financial cuts to be able to support and protect disabled people?’

My answer is absolutely Yes! for if we cannot support those in society who need support and protection what does that say about us as individuals and as a nation?

How much money does it take to do your job properly as a police officer, housing officer, MP, or judge?

No extra money at all for in this case, as in many others, it’s the poor responses to reports of hostility by disabled people to these agencies that can lead to deaths and a life of fear and abuse.

So the term used by the Nazi’s about disabled people having ‘ a life less valid’ echoes down the years as we face yet again the lack of justice for a disabled person who faced years of harassment, abuse and hostility before he was brutally murdered.

As for hate crime, I ask as many must do at this time, if Bijan’s experiences and murder cannot be recognized as a result of hate crime by the CPS and court, what can?

How much more evidence does anyone need to understand the lived experience of victims of hate crimes?

Shame on all the people who let this man down, who abused, harassed and murdered him, shame on the UK justice system for allowing such an injustice to occur and shame on those who try to ‘excuse’ such crimes by stating he was partially at fault due to making so many complaints which is what the prosecution used as a defence and shame on those who think it is unreasonable to expect such a victim to be protected.

So now across the country the question has to be asked: when is a hate crime not a hate crime