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Are we taking the Dis?

January 30th, 2006

Dr Petra

Today the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) launches a new advertising campaign – ‘Are We Taking the Dis?’ It’s aimed at highlighting serious levels of systematic unfair treatment, poverty and exclusion experienced by disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.

Disabled people and those with long term health conditions are likely to be in lower paid jobs. A non-disabled person with no qualifications is more likely to have a job than a disabled person with a degree.

The campaign explains that by 2020 the percentage of people with long-term health conditions will have increased across the general population, particularly in the over 50s. The World Trade Organisation predicts that depression will be the leading cause of disability by 2020. Currently 80% of those with mental health problems are unemployed, whilst 3/5 employers would not employ someone with a history of mental illness.

The campaign draws particular attention to the 1.5 million people with learning difficulties in the UK, of whom only 17% are in paid work. Since 1997 there’s been a 20% increase in admissions to residential and nursing care for people with learning disabilities and a 40% increase for people with mental health problems. Many disabled people are afraid of a return to the mass-institionalisation of the Victorian era.

Of the 250,000 parents with a learning disability in the UK, around 50% will have their children taken into alternative care. As the number of adults with a learning disability grows (projected to rise by 13% by 2021), the number of children in looked after care will also increase.

The DRC feels these issues are important to discuss and address, and have set up a website for everyone to have a say. The ‘Are we taking the Dis’ campaign adverts will also draw attention to the needs of those with disabilities.

Aside from the prejudices and exclusions mentioned above, there are additional inequalities for disabled people, those with learning difficulties or experience of mental distress around sex education and relationships rights.

Frequently basic sex education is not delivered to those with mental or physical health problems, either due to a lack of access to mainstream education, or an outdated belief that disabled people don’t need to know about sex. Those with mental health problems are often actively discouraged from pursuing sexual relationships by parents, and some healthcare providers. Relationship advice doesn’t mention those with disabilities nor account for their needs, whilst erotic materials are limited to those who have the money and abilities to access them.

Disabled people are cut off from many areas of life, so perhaps it’s unsurprising sex and relationships are on the list. However, there’s often another subtext that people are uneasy about sexual relationships or childbearing of those who are differently-abled.

Whilst there is a need to avoid the exploitation and abuse of those with mental or physical health problems, that does not mean professionals or the public have the right to deny consenting and competent adults the right to relationships. Sex and relationships issues may not seem as important as access to education, employment and fair treatment at work, but denying people sexual knowledge and relationships only reinforces the second class treatment of those with disabilities in our society.

If you want more information about relationships, sex, dating and disabilities visit Outsiders.

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