By Stephanie Harvey
The weekend of the 23rd February was one of anticipation, trepidation and exhilaration for this PhD student. It was the date of the first academic conference I had signed myself up to speak at and though I had probably over-prepared, the nerves were definitely present.
The conference was called the Oxford Disability Law and Policy Conference 2018; it was the inauguration of a project to launch an MSc in Disability at Oxford university. The conference highlighted the work of numerous disabled academics and campaigners to showcase some of the interesting questions that require on-going research in relation to Disability.
Professor Stein opened the conference by reflecting on his own journey as an academic and a wheelchair user in the USA. He spoke of the improvements that have been made since the days when he was a student; when classrooms and campuses were so inaccessible at Harvard that, although he was awarded a place to study, he went to Yale instead. He spoke about the progress that’s been made since then. For example, how the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) has prompted an explosion of disability focused law-making, globally. Overall his message was one of positivity; that although progress can seem slow, it is happening.
Next, Professor Lawson spoke, providing an overview of what disability law in the UK is. She gave helpful distinctions between various forms of legislation that focus on or impact disabled people. She also recommended an article called ‘The right to live in the world’, by blind academic Jacobus tenBroek, published in 1966. This article arguably paved the way for the development of the social model of Disability in the USA and the Disability Discrimination Act; a short video about Jacobus tenBroek’s and his work can be found here.
I spoke as part of a panel on disability at the intersections. The first speaker focused on education and disabled children, highlighting the concerning rates of exclusions in England and drawing a correlation between this and disincentives for schools to acknowledge a child as having special educational needs.
The second speaker looked at difficulties faced by disabled women and how they had been impacted by cuts to public services. My own presentation focused on the representation of BME Disabled people in the UK’s first review of the UN CRPD, setting two of the issues highlighted in the review, the context of other research.
Overall, the conference succeeded in its goal to highlight how much interesting research there is still to be done on disability. In his closing speech, Professor Stein spoke of the areas he felt still required considerable research globally. These included:
- Intersectional issues that include Disability, especially with race and sexuality;
- The way that poverty and disability interact; and
- Social exclusion and value-judgements made regarding disabled people.
Re-invigorated, I return to my own research!