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Will Brexit disadvantage the disabled?

There has been little discussion on what Brexit actually implies for ordinary voters, especially the 11 million people residing in UK with a limiting long term disability, impairment or illness.

This is a serious matter and many initiatives have been taken in the past to have a positive impact on day to day lives of disabled people. We are living in a society which is said to be designed by and for non-disabled people. Right from our school textbooks to the design of restaurants, malls, museums and shopping centres we are given to the designing of these services. Finding a suitable home, access to workplace, getting educational qualifications are some basic human needs, but these are also challenges that disabled people face in their daily lives. The EU has acknowledged the scenario in many ways and always tried to make a difference.

Due to these EU directives and regulations, people with disability are protected from discrimination. Some of these regulations ensure buses, cars and lifts must be accessible and air travel. Basic building work should also meet the minimum standards of accessibility. There have also been steps taken to ensure that people are able to use telecommunications easily, including emergency services. Braille on medicine packets is a welcome inclusion.

If the UK manages to leave the EU, no one knows for sure on what the implications will be for disabled people. The decision will be left in the hands of subsequent negotiations and while it is not sure that these legal implications will disappear, there is definitely no guarantee that they will remain.

The Blue Badge Scheme for people with disability is an example. This has been in the system since 1970 and gives a concession to badge holders a concession on on-street parking. The concession is given to both drivers as well as passengers. When the Labour government announced its implementation of European Commission recommendation for a standard badge for European parking, it allowed the citizen to use the badge throughout Europe. This allowed the badge holders to use their blue badge throughout Europe. Leaving the EU can reduce the freedom of movement, independence as well as mobility of disabled people.

New standards and regulations adopted by EU in the future will not benefit the disabled people in UK in event of Brexit. As of now, the European Commission is considering a standard access to cash machines, ticketing, banking services, e-books etc. Will the new UK post EU do the same? At the moment the direction is uncertain.

Plugging a national gap

A report recently published by House of Lords mentioned that the government is failing terribly in its obligations to disabled citizens of the country. Taxi drivers are refusing to take users in wheelchairs, no reasonable adjustments are being made where necessary, disabled toilets are being used as a storage area, it is evident that progress so far is less than satisfactory.

EU directives however do not give a guarantee on success on the ground but the European Commission is an important mechanism for accountability. The requirements to act as a moral compass to check on the ways disabled people should be included in the society.

Millions of social funds are provided every year to support on-going and new schemes for disabled citizens, like help with work experience, subsidies on wages as well as support for those who are self-employed. There has been a provision of much needed funds for education as well as training and independent living. Most of these services are rendered by NGOs which are run by and for disabled people.

Social funds in Europe have been like a lifeline for voluntary organisations especially at a crucial time when government spendings are being cut. If UK decides to leave EU, these social funds will no longer be available.

Even today, people with disability are invisible from major debates and this has been more than evident in the lack of consideration which has been given to disability issues in EU referendum.

Leaving the EU will only make way for disabled people to be left out and the situation to deteriorate from those in rest of the region. Welfare reforms in UK are a proof that we cannot just assume the people with disability will automatically be considered as valuable citizen on the other side of Brexit.

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