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23 September 2014
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Patricia Bray is Statutory Duty Officer for Disability Action in Londonderry Image of Patricia Bray

The main challenge on a personal and professional level working with people with disabilities is the fact that, historically, people with disabilities have been viewed as a health issue rather than a human rights issue. We have the women's movement, the trade union movement, the Civil Rights Movement, which fits in very well with the whole rights-based issue, but because disability is viewed as a medical problem and a health problem, it's very difficult to get it changed over to a human rights perspective.

We have to understand that it's not a person's disability, that's its biggest barrier. It's institutions and the environment which is challenging and therefore that is a human rights issue. Is it because a person is a wheelchair user that they can't board the bus, or is it the fact that the bus is inaccessible? So which way is it to go? And we need to change, and change people's attitudes and make them see that we, as people with disabilities, have certain challenges and are a bit different; but now as the time has come when we want equality and we want it through human rights.

How do you go about lobbying for these environmental changes which are so important to facilitate the everyday lives of people with disabilities?

We do have legislation in place with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and with Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act which places a statutory duty on public authorities. But the main problem that people with disabilities face on a day to day basis is other people's attitudes: you can put as much legislation in place, but without changing the attitudes of people of power, people who are making public policy decisions, then that legislation may never actually be enforced.

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