Just in case you haven’t noticed, there is a referendum on 23rd June – a very important one. And, with less than 4 weeks to polling day, I’m anxious. Anxious because one issue that hasn't been properly debated is how a vote to leave the EU would affect those with a disability. It's certainly not something you'll find on a beer mat in your local Wetherspoon.
Great progress is being made every day towards a more inclusive, diverse and sustainable society. The penny’s dropping in all sectors that disabled people have a voice that ought to be listened to, acknowledged and championed.
There’s still a long way to go though and to achieve the next steps we need more collaboration, discussion and transparency, not less! Thanks to us being in The EU, and the increasingly promising advancements in assistive technologies and accessible travel, our world is more interdependent. We need to highlight and champion thought leadership, creativity and innovation.
This leads me to the importance of research. The UK is expected to receive £8.3bn in EU research funding from 2014-2020. Recently funded projects include designs for accessible cities and buildings, and the development of prosthetics. In 2016 people are still shocked when I say I’m an undergraduate at Royal Holloway – young wheelchair users are only half as likely to obtain a university degree. This kind of research, funded by the EU, will hopefully help remove some of the barriers that prevent young disabled people fulfilling their academic potential.
I am a happy, content and independent man who’s been blessed with the right support network. That’s not just my family, but also the NHS and a range of government funding, both of which could potentially be impacted by a vote to leave. Mark Carney and Simon Stevens have spoken. And the point is I’m one of the lucky ones. Wheelchair users are more likely to be unemployed. So it’s reassuring that the EU’s 2020 Disability Strategy will help people with disabilities into employment and integrate accessibility into labour market policies through projects funded by the European Social Fund.
By UK law no person can be refused a job simply because they are disabled. The EU extended this protection to also include primary carers of a disabled person or child, and also made it applicable for small businesses. The more disabled people there are in work, the more they can contribute to the economy. The Purple Pound is estimated to be worth approximately £212 billion – a significant sum of money, which, as of yet, remains largely untapped.
Importantly though if every disabled person had the opportunity to work, it would have a revolutionary impact in changing perceptions. Disability is still taboo in some areas: a source of nervousness and confusion. We are not visible enough at present, due to in no small part the barriers with which society presents us. I’d say that that the EU realizes this fact.
Now, more than ever, we hold the future in our hands and need to be heard. As individuals we need to decide what we think and we should take pleasure in the process. I’m voting to remain. How will you vote? Please don’t stay at home.