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|TX: 27.06.03 - WHAT DO DISABLED PEOPLE GAIN FROM THE EUROPEAN YEAR OF DISABLED PEOPLE CAMPAIGN BUS?|
PRESENTER: LIZ BARCLAY
A sweeping generalisation follows. People with disabilities need more money, more support and care, better treatment in the health service, a fairer deal on the jobs market and the workplace, friendlier access to transport and greater understanding from society as a whole. And the European Union has provided them with a bus - not a fleet of buses stocked with job vacancies, benefits advisors and suggestions about care - just the one bus!
It's already rolled into Greenwich, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow and it marks the European Year of Disabled People. It started its tour in Greece in January and will visit every EU country at some point during this year. Maria Eagle, minister for disabled people, backed by a samba band welcomed the bus to the UK earlier this month at an official party in Blackheath.
It's a facility that enables local organisations, who it's going to be visiting, to get across to people that they're talking to what the European Year's all about and what the demands for rights for disabled people are all about. So it raises awareness as well as being quite a good base for celebrating things from, so it should be quite good I think.
Maria Eagle. But not all disabled people are convinced it's such a great idea. Bus sceptics include disabled writer Allan Sutherland.
So the EU have sent us a state of the art campaign bus. A multicoloured leviathan which is trundling through our streets covered with politically correct cartoons of disabled people. But what exactly is a state of the art campaign bus? Well since you ask it's - and I quote - "A 13.5 metre long mobile exhibition pantechnicon which is touring all EU Member States throughout 2003." In other words it's actually a lorry carrying a stage and a couple of marquees. Oh it's full of high tech equipment but basically it's a brightly coloured empty space wandering around Europe and currently criss-crossing the UK to be filled up with whatever takes the fancy of local organisations. So what Brussels bureaucrat decided to call this vacuum a bus? And what does that mean? Will its driver greet disabled people with a cherry - Sorry mate the ramp's broken! - before driving off again? Did I mention that only 15 per cent of buses in the UK have wheelchair access? Under the Disability Discrimination Act buses don't have to be accessible until 2017. Good choice of name Brussels! Maria Eagle, minister for disabled people, welcomed the bus to the UK at a champagne and rights reception - champagne and rights - there's a combination I'd be happy to see a lot more of.
So what's the bus for? The official reasoning is that it's a symbol of the link between the 15 EU countries. And it should act as a focal point for the countries, cities, towns and events that it's visiting. What disabled people actually get is a facility which creates provision for one day, then clears off. Why does that sound strangely familiar?
Allan Sutherland. Rachel Hurst is director of Disability Awareness in Action, an international disability and human rights network and she's consultant to the European Year of Disabled People programme. For Rachel the bus is much more than Allan gives it credit for.
The bus is in fact not empty, it is covered in the UK with information about the way disabled people are treated in this country, all the cartoons by many of Allan's friends. The rights and freedoms bill that the UK disability lobby are asking for, which we're not going to get of course. And large banners saying Rights Not Charity. So it has a message that if you get on to the bus you can learn about.
It has a message but it's basically providing a facility for a day and then disappearing again, do you really think it's going to deliver?
Well I'd like to talk about the day in Greenwich which not only brought together the disability organisations but a lot of other people, like the police, the fire services, the schools, it has brought people together which has not stopped. I mean I know it's only two weeks but it has actually built up a relationship. Now it's absolutely up to the disabled people to make it work. You see none of these things ever work, no gimmick works, unless you make it work and as long as you keep on at it. I must say I'm getting rather tired of disabled people who say oh well we don't get anything, nothing ever happens, this lobby doesn't work, nobody went to it. It is actually up to every single one of us to make ourselves heard.
That may be but is there actually enough money around to enable people to do that? Would the money that's been spent on this perhaps not be better spent on other projects?
I don't expect a great deal but what I do hope is that more disabled people have become politicised, i.e. that they recognise that in order to get their rights they're going to themselves have to take action, they're going to have to, when they go into the voting booths, think about who they want to vote for in relation to disability rights. I'm hoping that governments, and not just the UK government, will have notched up slightly the priority of disability within their agendas. I don't expect much but it would be good if they could. But that's - you know Rome was not built in a day and rights movements have never attained their goals in one year but it's all a contribution to the slow, slow, drip, drip, we have to be seen as European citizens.
Rachel Hurst from Disability Awareness in Action. And if you want to see the bus for yourself it will be in Colwyn Bay on Sunday.
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