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Disability Legislation

 History of Disability Legislation

Alf Morris campaigned all his life for the rights of disabled people. His father had suffered a long decline in health arising from gassing during World War I; after his father's death, Morris's mother was not entitled to a war widow's pension. Forty years later, Morris himself put the matter right by changing the law affecting armed forces pensions when he became Minister for the Disabled.

In 1970 he successfully introduced the Chronically Sick & Disabled Persons Act which was the first in the world to recognise and give rights to people with disabilities. In 1974 he became the first Minister for the Disabled anywhere in the world.  In 1991 he introduced a Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and he led campaigns on Gulf War Syndrome.

As an MP, Alf Morris was the architect of pioneering disability rights legislation in 1970 and became first minister with the disability portfolio in Harold Wilson's government from 1974, introducing benefits for disabled people and their carers; including a mobility allowance.

He became a life peer in 1997 after 33 years as MP for Manchester Wythenshawe, and remained a thorn in ministers' sides even when they were in the same party.

 The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 aims to protect disabled people and prevent disability discrimination. It provides legal rights for disabled people in the areas of:

  • employment
  • education
  • access to goods, services and facilities including larger private clubs and land based transport services
  • buying and renting land or property
  • functions of public bodies, for example the issuing of licences

The Equality Act also provides rights for people not to be directly discriminated against or harassed because they have an association with a disabled person. This can apply to a carer or parent of a disabled person. In addition, people must not be directly discriminated against or harassed because they are wrongly perceived to be disabled.

The definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act 2010

A person is deemed to have a disability if:

  • they have a physical or mental impairment
  • the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform normal day-to-day activities

For the purposes of the Act, these words have the following meanings:

  • 'substantial' means more than minor or trivial
  • 'long-term' means that the effect of the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for at least twelve months (there are special rules covering recurring or fluctuating conditions)
  • 'normal day-to-day activities' include everyday things like eating, washing, walking and going shopping

People who have had a disability in the past that meets this definition are also protected by the Act.

Progressive conditions considered to be a disability:

There are additional provisions relating to people with progressive conditions. People with HIV, cancer or multiple sclerosis are protected by the Act from the point of diagnosis. People with some visual impairments are automatically deemed to be disabled.

Conditions that are specifically excluded:

Some conditions are specifically excluded from being covered by the disability definition, such as a tendency to set fires or addictions to non–prescribed substances.

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