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Disabled History Month 2016

Tuesday 22-11-2016 - 09:49

It’s 22 November, which means that Disability History Month has begun! Disability History Month started in 2010 and since then has aimed to document the history of disabled people in the UK and the struggles for equality and human rights.

This year, the theme for Disability History Month is language and disability, and particularly the language used by disabled people to describe themselves and the language used by others, in the past and present.

Disability History Month UK, the organisers, have explained what this means:

“We will examine the language used where it comes from a disability rights perspective. We will examine the writing that disabled people throughout history have used to describe their position and their impairments and examine the largely mistaken way the news media talks and writes about us. Throughout all we will interrogate the past to learn how we can use this experience to achieve full and equal rights in society as disabled people.”

Whatever you’re doing this history month to celebrate our heritage and past, it’s important we reflect on the struggles of the present too.

Just two weeks ago the UN Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons found that benefit cuts and changes in the UK have led to "grave and systematic violations" of disabled people's rights. They cited the scrapping of the Independent Living Fund, the bedroom tax, and the hated work capability assessments as evidence of these violations - all policies our campaign has committed itself to oppose.

But crucially, for Disability History Month, the UN also picked up on language. The report found that disabled people were portrayed negatively as "dependent or making a living out of benefits, committing fraud as benefit claimants, being lazy or putting a burden on taxpayers”. Fighting stigma, discrimination, and getting language right is important in defending our rights.

These issues affect disabled people in further and higher education too. Many of the benefits that the UN cited, such as PIP, are available to students, while the cuts to Disabled Students Allowance are now having an impact on current students.

In order to help your student union celebrate Disability History Month 2016, NUS has produced a set of resources that you can request by emailing disabled@nus.org.uk.

The UKDHM website also has some fantastic resources around Disability and Language, so check them out here.

Myself and other members of the NUS Disabled Students Committee are speaking at various campuses across the UK this year, and if you’d like one of us to come and speak at your union, then please get in touch on james.elliott@nus.org.uk

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