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Chair of the UCU committee
For me Disability History Month (DHM) means a chance to heighten our organising for equality; an opportunity to demand change and a chance to come together to celebrate our lives, learn from each-other and share our struggles.

In DHM, disabled activists in trade unions get more resources and an opportunity to tell our stories and explain how discrimination shapes our lives at work and why everyone must fight with us for social model accessibility  —I feel really passionate about this as someone with mostly hidden impairments, who has often faced employers’ refusal to provide necessary adjustments.  DHM reminds us that disabled people’s protests and organisation have won many changes around the world and that we ourselves have the capacity to defeat the Tories austerity and make an equal world. 

I’ve used DHM as an organising tool in my union. When I became Chair of the Disabled Members Committee in the University and College Union, I used the role to push for the union to organise our first ever day of action on disabled workers and students’ rights in further and higher education. I talked to people in other unions and DPOs like DHM, Alliance for Inclusive Education and DPAC about getting involved and the #IncludeUs campaign was born, supported by the TUC disabled members committee.

 Meetings, briefings and Joint action by students and staff took place in universities and colleges and at the end of the day, a packed meeting in parliament launched a campaign to change the Equality Act 2010 so that reasonable adjustments must be made within a short timescale and to change building regulations to make all new buildings fully accessible.

We are currently signing MPs up to an EDM around this. We are gearing up for a second day of action this year, focused on local actions I hope that in the future the #IncludeUs campaign will become bigger and have its own steering committee.

Intersectionality is important to me as Chair of the UCU committee, and in this campaign, our Disabled Members Committee has become more diverse than ever before.

We have so many inspiring events in our history of self organisation to reflect on during DHM. I have been really inspired by the movement in Bolivia—which began with a roll and march of 1,400 miles across the country to the capital La Paz in 2011 as 75 disabled activists with their supporters and PA’s organised for a basic income and an end to discrimination. In the journey they challenged all the stereotypes around disability and won support, food and often accommodation from working class people along the way. In La Paz finding their way blocked by riot police, the disabled protestors fought back.

In 2016, against extensive state violence another long march took place—with increased solidarity in a society where attitudes to impairment have been changed by the protests. In repeated acts of civil disobedience activists blockaded roads, suspended their wheelchairs from railway bridges, and faced down water cannons, tear gas and batons to occupy a central square.

Their bravery eventually won a law giving job security, introducing a quota of disabled employees and a minimum income for unemployed disabled people. I sometimes think we might need to organise a disabled people’s roll and march to protest the cuts in our benefits and demand proper Access to Work provision in the coming years!

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