Introduction to the Special Issue on Disability
This special edition of the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues brings together cutting-edge research in the area of disability law. The articles focus upon a number of key themes: health, employment, technology and culture. It is over six years since the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) came into force, requiring its Parties to promote, protect and ensure equality of participation for disabled people. This edition comes at a time when the extent and application of this influential convention can be assessed and many of the articles shed light upon its operation in diverse yet, at times, interlinked spheres.
Piers Gooding provides context in relation to the development of mental health law with an analysis of is historical development, leading to an evaluation of the impact of the UNCRPD. This approach demonstrates the importance of the Convention in bringing about a new era of reform, based upon international human rights law. Peter Bartlett draws upon the UNCRPD's approach to capacity and supported decision-making as he opens up the conversation on potential revisions to the deprivation of liberty standards. He places his analysis within the framework of relevant UK and Strasbourg jurisprudence with a call for clarification of aims behind the extent and application of safeguards. Tabitha Collingbourne's piece is a timely analysis of the provisions of the Care Act 2014 in the light the UNCRPD. She finds that this wide-scale reform falls short of completely fulfilling the requirements of the Convention's right to live independently.
A contextual analysis of the UK's law and jurisprudence relating to disability discrimination in employment is presented by Michael Jefferson. Through case law analysis, he tracks the application of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 through to the Equality Act 2010, making predictions for future developments. This piece is then followed by two which apply the law to specific aspects of disability. Speech disability is the focus of Philip Leith's work which applies the relevant legal framework in an analysis of discrimination in relation to those who stammer. This is then drawn into a consideration of "merit", with an evaluation of the failings of the tribunal system and a discussion of the potential role for arbitration. Obesity as a disability is the focus of Mark Butler's work which places the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU's Opinion in the case of Kaltoft into its wider societal context. The piece evaluates the Opinion in the light of UK jurisprudence, drawing conclusions as to the case's potential impact on UK law. Kaltoft is also the focus of James Marson's in-depth case commentary.
The social and political position of disability rights is evaluated in Abigail Pearson's work on the relationship between language and the development of the legal framework. Taking a philosophical approach based on an analysis of the UNCRPD, she demonstrates how the framing of key concepts can have a detrimental effect on public perceptions of disability and, in turn, the protection of rights. Pearson introduces her work with a discussion of the comments of Lord Freud, the minister in charge of welfare reform, in relation to disabled people and "worth", and it is welfare reform which is the focus for Catherine Easton's work. This presents an analysis of how the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act 2012's Universal Credit information technology system impacts adversely on disabled people. A background is given to the much-troubled project which leads to an examination of how, in practice, it affects disabled claimants and the organisations supporting them.
Technology is the focus of Heather Bradshaw-Martin and Catherine Easton's piece on the potential for driverless or autonomous cars to impact upon the lives of disabled people. This work analyses the law and the ethics behind the implementation of the technology, arguing that, with legislative change, it has significant potential to enhance independence. In the final article Shawn Harmon, Charlotte Waelde and Sarah Whatley examine the extent to which disabled dance can be seen as part of our cultural heritage. Placing the issue within its social context and drawing upon the UNCRPD, the piece highlights the importance of the right to equality of participation in the creation and practice of culture.
An overarching observation on the edition as a whole is that while, from a legal and policy perspective, significant advancements have been made in addressing societal barriers, there are still many spheres in which progress needs to be made. The UNCRPD provides a rights-based framework but its application within relevant societal, economic, health-related, technological and cultural contexts needs to ensure that, at a practical level, true equality of participation is achieved.