LAW, RIGHTS AND DISABILITY

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People with disabilities have for many years been excluded from participating in society and denied the power to make life choices—choices that many of us take for granted. The attitude that has prevailed with respect to people with disabilities is one that is based on charity; we have been socialised to feel sorry for a person with a disability. The other side of that socialisation has been the disempowerment of people with disabilities. Towards the end of the twentieth century the social model of disability was developed. In Chapter One of Law, rights and disability we see Claire Picking’s analysis of the move from what has become known as the medical model of disability to the social model. This analysis focuses on the change that has taken place in respect of the relationship between the health and social care workers and people with disabilities. However, it is fair to say it is the move towards the social model of disability that really forms the basis for the book. The social model provides a theoretical framework in which to develop the civil rights agenda for people with disabilities.

The civil rights agenda is then the focus of the next three chapters in the book, each looking at different aspects of that rights agenda. Chapter Two reflects the position of disability law throughout Europe. Interestingly this chapter opens with an account of how quickly change has come about in disability policy in the European context. This position is reflected by the fact that events on the European stage have overtaken the provisions of this chapter with the introduction of the General Framework Directive—a point alluded to by the author. In Chapter Three there is a review of the legal developments taking place at an international level; Jeremy Cooper gives a general overview of the various international instruments which impact on the rights of people with disabilities. He notes the difficulties in enforcing international norms. However, that is not to distract from the impact these instruments may have on a national level when used by NGOs and other campaigners. Chapter Four contains an interesting overview of the developments in disability law, which are occurring throughout the world. The chapter briefly sets out the developments from a civil rights perspective in over twenty-five states throughout the world.

Chapter Five signifies the move from the international to the national, and the remaining seven chapters focus on different aspects of the legal developments within the UK. Chapter Five contains a fascinating review of the litigation which has arisen in respect of the powers and duties of the local authorities with regard to disabled people. This review, by Belinda Schwehr, clarifies what is often a bureaucratic minefield to the uninitiated. Chapter Six reviews the Disability Discrimination Act, 1995 and sets out how the tribunals have reviewed the various provisions within the Act; such as the definition of disability, or discrimination and, probably most importantly of all, reasonable adjustments. Chapter Seven reviews the position in respect of housing law and people with disabilities, including a very useful section on the adaptation of existing accommodation. Chapter Eight provides an overview of the Mental Health Act, 1983 in the United Kingdom and refers to the current proposals for reform in this field. Chapters Nine and Ten focus on the rights of children. Mairian Corker and John Davis utilise their empirical research to look at the attitudes that disabled children have about themselves. What comes across from this sometimes disturbing evidence is a perception that a variety of adults are competing to determine what is in the ‘best interests’ of the children, often without any reference to the children themselves. The chapter makes it clear that the social model of disability has yet to inform the debate in respect of children with disabilities. Chapter Ten reviews the Children Act of 1989, and points to the possible future direction of the law in this field. Finally, in Chapter Eleven all of the previous chapters are brought together and the author, Michael Preston-Shoot calls for a reappraisal in how we deal with disability in law, policy and practice.

To conclude, this book is an accessible and readable overview of the state of disability law in the United Kingdom, and more generally of international developments in this area. It will be a useful tool to those bodies working in the field of disability.

LAW, RIGHTS AND DISABILITY edited by Jeremy Cooper (2000). Jessica Kingsley Publishers (address above) Stg£17.95. ISBN 1 85302 836 3.

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