Justin Tomlinson is MP for Swindon North and Minister for Disabled People.
Angharad Butler Rees is a young disabled person who was recently asked about her future and what she thought she could achieve as she began her adult life.
She said: “I am very optimistic and excited for my future, with a number of ambitions I’d like to achieve in my life and future career. I however expect to see faster progress on a larger scale so that disabled people like myself can have an equal chance at achieving these ambitions, through equal access to services and opportunities to succeed in life.”
Angharad was born in the year that the Disability Discrimination Act became law.
Had she spent the first two decades of her life in an era before this Act was in place, would she have been so optimistic? Would she have had the same opportunities to achieve what she wanted in life?
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the DDA, we have an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come in strengthening the legal rights of disabled people and the impact this historic piece of legislation has had on millions of lives.
For me, the Act really was a game changer and one of the most important achievements of John Major’s Conservative government. It tackled decades-old misperceptions and myths about disabled people and wrote into law many new rights we take for granted as existing today.
Introduced by William Hague, then Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, it was a clear demonstration that disabled people needed not just more protection, but more understanding of what it means to live with a disability.
The legacy of the Act continues to be felt today. It laid the foundations for the Equality Act of 2010, a natural development of the DDA which has further improved the rights of disabled people. Protections now exist across all aspects of life including the education that people with disabilities receive, the buildings they work in and the services which must be made accessible for them.
It is telling that Hague, who would go on to become Conservative Party leader and Foreign Secretary, calls the designing and passing of the Act in 1995 his “proudest political achievement”. As Minister for Disabled People I am working every day to bring about changes that will have a similar lasting impact.
What the Disability Discrimination Act and its successor, the Equality Act, have given us is a framework in which to work to make life better for disabled people.
It’s a framework we continue to use today as our efforts to make a positive difference to the lives of the UK’s 12 million disabled people continue.
It is clear that most people who are able to work are keen to do so. And as someone who ran a small business, I know from experience the huge talent that exists amongst the disabled workforce.
It is crucial that disability is not seen as an automatic barrier to work and, while we have made great strides over the past 20 years, real, genuine workplace equality is something we have not yet been able to achieve. As William Hague’s successor, I want that to be my legacy.
We have seen 226,000 more disabled people find employment over the past year, meaning more than 3.2 million disabled people are now in the world of work. It’s a start.
But disabled people are still being overlooked for roles they are more than qualified for and this needs to change.
This government’s determination is reflected by our commitment to halve the disability employment gap, working with employers to get around one million more disabled people into careers. This is the challenge I have been set by the Prime Minister and I believe it is achievable.
But work isn’t the be-all and end-all of life and it is just as important that we have equality when it comes to the enjoyment of free time.
As a sports fan, I take it for granted that I can go to watch my teams without worrying I will have to sit with opposition supporters or apart from my family.
For too long that has not been the case for many disabled fans, so I was ecstatic to see the football Premier League respond to our calls and those of other campaigning groups by agreeing to meet the required standards for accessibility in all grounds by August 2017.
Of course, there is much more to sport than just the Premier League and I will continue to hold sports clubs and venues of all levels and disciplines to account.
And, despite all the progress that has been made in changing society’s attitudes, we also still need to do more to tackle disability hate crime. There are lessons to be learned for the Police, Crown Prosecution Service and the Judiciary and I want everything that can be done to be done to make sure that the perpetrators of hate crimes face the full force of the law. The meetings I have had with campaigners on this issue have brought home the horrendous nature of these crimes and the absolute need to step up our fight against it.
It is clear that as time goes on, the march towards greater equality in our society and the erosion of the discrimination faced by too many people for too long continues. My job, along with my colleagues across Government, is to drive it to happen much faster.
The progress we have seen since the Disability Discrimination Act became law – and the goals and ambitions of young adults like Angharad – should remind us of the difference that we can make.
The foundations for progress have been laid. It is now up to us to build on them.