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General Debate on Invisible Disabilities and Accessibility Challenges

Published Tuesday, June 4, 2019

On Wednesday 5 June 2019 MPs will hold a debate in the Chamber on invisible disabilities and accessibility challenges.

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On Wednesday 5 June 2019 MPs will hold a debate in the Chamber on invisible disabilities and accessibility challenges. The subject of the debate was decided by the Backbench Business Committee, following representations on 14 May 2019 by Martin Whitfield MP:

This application dates back to work I have done with a young student in my constituency called Grace Warnock, who suffers from Crohn’s disease. She created an invisible disability sign to go on toilet doors because she had a horrible incident when she was young, when people treated her very badly because she had no apparent disability. Grace has continued with her campaign in Scotland, supported by the Scottish Parliament and her MSP, and my colleague, Iain Gray, so that her sign appears in schools, airports, and train stations around Scotland.

Since my election, we have carried on advocating on invisible disabilities and the challenges that people face. I had the great pleasure of having an Adjournment debate when Grace won an award from the Prime Minister for her work. The stage has been reached that the sign has gone through different changes; indeed, we would like now to move towards it becoming the British standard. If it can become the British standard, there is very good reason to believe that that would then roll out across Europe, irrespective of changes in relationships with Europe, because the British standards are regarded very highly across the world, and this would be an example of a sign that has been tested, that works and that delivers what it says.

This is an opportunity to bring that before the House. I have frankly been overwhelmed by the support I have received from colleagues for this debate. It has fallen into three categories. There are people who want to raise invisible disabilities because they have constituents who face that issue. There are people who want to raise the issue of education—that some able-bodied people feel empowered by these signs to use toilet facilities and accessible facilities when they perhaps should not. It becomes a question of the empathy that society has towards people.

Finally, there is a group of people who have visible physical disabilities who, in the main, are completely supportive of this. Again, it files into that educational need for people to accept that… As a society, we should accept that they have a place and a right and that the facilities are there and should be used.

The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as a “mental or physical impairment” that has “a substantial and long-term adverse effect” on a person’s “ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. The term “invisible disability” or “hidden disability” is generally understood to mean any disability without obvious physical outward signs or the use of equipment such as wheelchairs or crutches. Examples include mental health impairments, sensory impairments, fibromyalgia, lupus and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Commons Debate packs CDP-2019-0138

Authors: Douglas Pyper; Bess Jap; Maria Lalic; Sue Holland; Stephen Haver

Topics: Disability discrimination, Human rights

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