Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

More Access for Disabled in Society

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

More Access for Disabled in Society

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Shakespeare

BACK in January 2000, I founded Newcastle Caf Scientifique, a chance for the public to meet experts and discuss science and ethics. The event became very popular, attracting up to 150 people.

Later, we morphed into Cafe Culture, a fortnightly event at Dance City's Urban Cafe which alternates between science, current affairs, culture and philosophy.

Twelve years of meetings adds up to nearly 150 events, attracting in excess of 7,500 people. This makes Caf Culture the longest-running regular event of its type in Britain, probably the world. In all that time, I have never had a slot in the programme, so I'm delighted to be giving a talk on the theme "What's disability to you?" next Monday.

When I moved from my post at Newcastle University to work at the World Health Organisation in Geneva in 2008, it became my job to compile evidence on the lives of people with disabilities in developing income countries. I rapidly realised how much I had taken for granted. Even after recent cuts, British disabled people generally have access to healthcare, to education, to benefits, and most buildings and information are accessible. This is because Britain is rich and has the Disability Discrimination Act, which promotes equality.

I became spinal cord injured at the age of 42 in 2008, and have a very good chance of reaching my 70th birthday. In the developing world, lack of access to healthcare means that mortality rates for disabled people are much higher than for non-disabled people.

The life expectancy of someone with spinal cord injury in many African countries is one or two years. Whereas I was able to get months of rehabilitation at the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough - as well as a free wheelchair from South Tyneside Wheelchair Services - the majority of disabled people in developing countries lack access to these vital therapies and aids, and consequently are less likely to continue their education or employment. …

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