Disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. The Government’s primary objective in this area, as set out in the Department for Work and Pensions’ Public Service Agreement is to “improve rights and opportunities for disabled people in a fair and inclusive society”. DCMS is fully committed to supporting this objective, and to ensuring that disabled people are able to access and participate fully in cultural, heritage, sporting and leisure activities, including employment in these fields.
DCMS’ original Action Plan was published three years ago, and was developed as a result of a conference, ‘Towards 2004', which took place in July 2000. It brought together recommended actions for DCMS, the public bodies in its sectors, other public sector and commercial organisations and Government Departments. This first Action Plan noted achievements and set new targets, and provided a good basis on which to encourage DCMS Public Bodies to prepare to implement the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in time for 2004.
DCMS and its sectors have achieved a great deal since July 2000 – The Broadcasters and Creative Industries Disability Network (BICDN) launched a Positive Action on Disability Manifesto; the Arts Council Employment Programme includes an Apprenticeship Scheme to increase disabled people’s access to employment in the arts; and Culture Online will provide disabled people with wider access to arts and culture – to name just a few positive developments. However, there were areas in the original Action Plan which were not specifically for DCMS to take forward, and which DCMS had no direct influence over achieving, and a number of significant new initiatives have been developed since its launch. It is, therefore, time to review the original Action Plan and, in consultation with key partners, such as DCMS’ sponsored bodies and the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), to develop a more refined and focused document against which DCMS‘ contribution to the disability agenda can realistically be measured.
It has been decided that this new document should be in the form of a Framework for Action rather than an Action Plan. This shows that, while DCMS can and must act to achieve its own objectives in relations to disabled people, it is the Government Department responsible for a much larger constituency of non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) and, beyond them, a wide range of cultural, heritage, arts, sporting and business sectors. DCMS recognises that, while it cannot require these bodies and sectors to go beyond their legal obligations in relation to disabled people, it can show leadership and offer support to these partners in their efforts to develop their own plans for dealing with disability issues. The Framework, therefore, is a fluid document. It sets out a range of areas where DCMS, its NDPBs and others can act and offers an opportunity for all interested parties to join together to address a series of agreed objectives. This will ensure that the full scale of the DCMS family’s contribution to supporting and engaging disabled people can be seen in the round for the first time.
DCMS’ approach to disability is firmly placed in the context of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled people in employment (1996), service provision (1996 and 1999), and access to buildings and premises (2004). DCMS’ sectors are already doing much to ensure that they are meeting DDA duties, and many are leading the way in terms of good practice. It is vital that we continue to build upon this and share experience. However, while good progress is being made, access provision is still disjointed and there is some way to go before all DCMS sectors are able to meet fully the requirements of the DDA. For example, many still equate access requirements with wheelchair access, and tend to ignore audiences affected by sensory and intellectual barriers1.
DCMS recognises that its sectors should do more than simply meet the requirements of the DDA, and that they have the clear potential to improve their performance in this area, e.g. their role in promoting positive images of disabled people. DCMS also recognizes the importance of taking account of, and seizing the opportunities presented by, new initiatives and developing policies such as:
The European Year of Disabled People in 2003;
the related Council for Resolution on Accessibility of cultural infrastructure and cultural activities for people with disabilities;
a possible UN Convention on Rights of Disabled People;
the introduction of a duty on public bodies to promote disability equality.
DCMS’ disability strategy is also linked directly to its strategic priorities. These include opening up its institutions to the wider community to promote lifelong learning and social cohesion, and enhancing access to a fuller cultural and sporting life for children and young people, including disabled children, giving them the opportunity to develop their talents to the full. DCMS recognizes fully that it will have to ensure that disabled people’s needs are addressed from the outset of policy development if it is to deliver successfully against its strategic priorities.