The history of Disability Rights in the UK

“Early history and institutionalisation. The history of Disability Rights in the UK can be traced back to the 18th century, when the first charitable institutions for Disabled People were established. These institutions. Often run by religious organisations, provided basic care and support for Disabled People who would otherwise have been left to fend for themselves.

However, they also perpetuated the idea that Disabled People were objects of charity, rather than equal members of society with the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. In the early history of the UK, Disabled People were often marginalised and stigmatised. They were viewed as objects of pity or even as a burden on society. The attitude was reflected in the institutionalisation of Disabled People, which was prevalent throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Institutions are not solutions!

What is the most effective way to realise one’s ‘right to have rights’ (Hannah Arendt) – explain and justify your answer?

Hannah Arendt’s theories were the first significant philosophical writing to identify totalitarianism as a political regime, emphasising the importance of an autonomous public realm (Benhabib 1999). Arendt argues that the ‘right to have rights’ means living in a society where one is judged by actions and opinions within some kind of organised community (Benhabib 1999). In order to explore this topic firstly human rights will be defined and the types of human rights available to a person identified. Following this there will be a discussion of Hannah Arendt’s theory about the ‘right to have rights’. Key themes from her theory such as statelessness and being displaced will be explained. Another theme that Arendt’s theory covers is disability. She discusses how one’s level of ability or disability can infringe on their rights or can determine to a certain extent, how much they are entitled to. Ones’ disability can cause them to either have more or less rights than everyone else.

According to Heywood (2014), human rights are defined as entitlements essential to all human beings, regardless of your nationality, where you live, sex, nationality or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other social status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all linked, free and combined. Historically, people have been denied human rights, both in the United Kingdom and internationally (Isaac 2017). Being denied human rights universally could mean being tortured in a prison or by dictators in certain places. Getting deprived of human rights in the United Kingdom, could mean stopping children from being allowed to go to school because of religion. It could also imply that illegal refugees in the European Union get forbidden basic rights to education and healthcare, even though governments have a legal obligation to respect them (Heywood 2014).

There are many types of human rights. These include the right to life, the right to liberty and freedom, the right to the pursuit of happiness, the right to live your life free of discrimination, and finally, the right to control over your own body and to make medical decisions for yourself (Smith and Van den Anker 2005).

In order to explore the ‘right to have rights’, it is important to recognise that, according to Arendt, to have these rights you must belong to a political community (Arendt 1967). This brings up the issue of statelessness. Statelessness comes from an intersection of status, where a political community makes you a minority and the state of origin has been withdrawn, like Palestine. They remain in a limbo if they cannot find another institution to be included in. According to Collier (2017), stateless groups and individuals raise many questions. Collier (2017) questions whether it is logical to treat people differently dependent on what side of the line they were born and questions the purpose of borders.

There is a contrast between a state and emergent form of territorial control. Borders are often geographical, but become more complicated by other factors. Is it to protect resources so that we have borders? Or is it that people believe they should have the right to those resources? Are you a citizen through blood or birth? Placing refugees in camps may prevent their right to free movement. Collier (2017) argues refugees suffer due to a lack of work and citizenship and those who get furthest do best. Diaspora communities are one of the biggest sources of income to countries of origin. On average globally, they send back 400 billion dollars. Collier (2017) advocates for tighter controls. Relocation is driven by income gaps and the size of a diaspora. This leaves questions of diversity, does it work?

It is important to consider what constitutes a community. For example Collier (2017) argues that the definition of indigenous Britain are people who are born there. He argues it is second generation. There is also the argument that migration is a process of absorption. Collier (2017) also argues the people bring their culture with them. In contrast Long (2013) makes the argument that there are dangers in assigning labels such as refugee, asylum seeker or migrant to people moving across borders, including for those properly assigned the label of ‘refugee’

On the contrary, Arendt (1967) argues against statelessness, suggesting that to realise one’s rights it is essential to be actively involved in society. The ‘right to have rights’, according to Arendt’s ideology, portrays human rights in light of the privilege to belong to a political group in which people are judged by their actions and opinions. Having social status ensures the acknowledgment of people as individuals. Failing to acknowledge someone as a human being is fundamental to the denial of human rights. Firstly, Arendt becomes aware of the necessity for a ‘right to have rights’ in her investigation of the consequences of totalitarianism. The rise of totalitarian governments in the main part of the twentieth century, she argues, made obvious the “established weakness” of European country states to ensure human rights, exposing the general destruction of the nation on a global scale (Arendt, 1967: 269, cited in, Siebers, 2007).

Totalitarian governments thought that it was advantageous to force their qualities on neighbouring states. For instance, when Nazi Germany deported its casualties, targeting them as ‘off-limits’, they were seen as foreigners wherever, on the conditions that their human rights had ceased without state intervention. Once removed from their homes, the casualties of totalitarian administrations found it was difficult to discover new ones. The main useful substitute for their lost country turned into the detention camp. Totalitarianism exposes an emergency in human rights brought about by “another international relations problem” (Arendt, 1967: 297, cited in Siebers, 2007).

Arendt clarifies, even though the answer for this emergency is not evident, this new circumstance, in which “humankind” had basically adopted the part once credited to nature or history, meant the right to have rights ought to be ensured by mankind itself. The argument here is that there is a responsibility on society to promote inclusion for all in order to realise the ‘right to have rights’.

However, it is not certain whether this is conceivable (Arendt, 1967: 298, cited in, Siebers, 2007). For Arendt, there is one universal right, which should be enjoyed by all, and which is not dependent on race, nation or any other measures, save for the standard of being human. This is known as the ‘right to have rights’. The central importance of this right for Arendt’s theory is “The Rights of Man: What are they?” with Arendt suggesting that ‘There is only one single human right (Arendt, 1967 cited by Benhabib 1999). Arendt argues that while other rights ‘change according to historical and other circumstances, there remains one right which does not come ‘from within the nation’ and which needs more than national promises’ (Arendt 1967 cited by Benhabib 1999:5).

The significance in realising the ‘right to have rights’ includes the right to belong to a community. Only within the boundaries of a community can the familiar range of human rights such as life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness, and so forth, be realised. In this respect, Arendt supports Burke and his argument that all rights, are the rights of Englishmen, Frenchmen and so forth, rather than to the advantage of their civilisation (Woods, 2015:306). Arendt, though, expresses this belief in a foreign language because relating rights to notions of nationality would be highly dangerous and problematic. According to Arendt, we ‘know even better than Burke that all rights materialize only within a given political community’, and that rights ‘depend on our neighbour and on a silent guarantee that the members of a community give to each other.’ The ability to agree and ensure rights, firstly requires access to a political community. This access is the ‘right to have rights’ (Sieber 2007).

This ‘right to have rights’ is important to Arendt, and, logically overrides other rights. Indeed, ‘man as an individual has only one right that supersedes his various rights as a citizen which is the right never to be excluded from the rights granted by his community’ (Sieber 2007).

The ‘right to have rights’ helps us think through this question by taking aim at the tension between universal human rights and sovereignty at the heart of the nation-state system.  The “right to have rights” has multiple meanings. Firstly, it includes the right to place, which since Hobbes has been acknowledged as fundamental to human freedom; the right to belonging, in relation to ethnic and cultural identity or national citizenship; being recognized as having legal personhood in international law; and exercising political agency by ‘claiming rights,’ whether or not they are recognized by authorities (Benhabib, 1999).

One’s ‘right to have rights’ means that a person has to belong to a political community. In order to realise these rights, one must determine their natural rights based on their general human rights. For example, everyone has a right to life, a right to liberty and freedom, the right to the pursuit of happiness, the right to live your life without discrimination, the right to control what happens to your own body and to make medical decisions for yourself. The right to life alone, gives a person, rights to everything else (Sieber 2007). To realise anything is to become fully aware of something as a fact and to understand clearly. The word realise also means to cause to happen. There are various ways to realise one’s ‘right to have rights’. For example, through education in school, dialogue with MPs, and debates in House of Assembly.

To assess the effectiveness of the method to finding one’s ‘right to have rights’, is based on the individuals’ needs.  There are also various ways to ensure rights, for example, through the court system, advocacy, protests, petitions and pressure groups. These are examples of demonstrating one’s human rights. There are many definitions and theories for human rights (Stammers 2009).

To further explain this subject, resettlement symbolises a core idea within ‘rights theory’ noted initially by Arendt, specifically the fact that rights are related to statehood (Gruyter, 2006). The 1951 Convention and 1967 UN Protocol came into effect for the protection of refugees for non-discrimination, freedom of religion and to work, rights to housing, rights to public relief and rights to move within territory. Refugees were also given the right not to be forced to be returned where it is still dangerous (UNHCR, 1934). Article 13 of the UDHR states that “everyone should have the right to leave any country and return to their own country” (UNHCR, 1934). According to the Article 14 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” (Liberty, 1934).

Paradoxically in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), you have the right to leave your country, but not to enter one. According to Article 15 of the UDHR everyone has the right to a nationality, or right to change their nationality. But there are no obligations required for states. The sovereignty of states is privileged in these circumstances. In Article 33, refugees also have the right to be protected from deportation (Liberty, 1934). The principle of deportation says that no state,

“shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion (UNHCR, 1934).”

Human rights, including the right not to be exposed to abuse, the right to a private and family life, the right to freedom of speech and protest, apply to all human beings. These rights do not depend on citizenship (Liberty, 1934). Being ‘displaced’ essentially means to be outside of a political community that might act as a means through which ones ‘right to have rights,’ according to Arendt, can be realised. This raises the question, once again, of how rights can be determined outside the framework of the nation state (Sieber 2007). Also being displaced could imply that one has no sense of belonging. They feel disowned. Despite the claim to universal personhood, regardless of national citizenship, many displaced peoples find themselves without means of compensation for blatant human rights abuses (Sieber 2007).

To justify the points discussed, according to Benhabib (2000), Arendt’s uncertainty about whether it is possible for humanity to guarantee human rights has two bases. Benhabib (2000) suggests first of all that, Arendt is insufficiently aware of the effects of globalization; global migration and the emergence of multicultural states make it difficult to base human rights on state-guaranteed citizenship. Arendt doubts universal human rights and clings to citizenship rights because she does not understand that globalization has made state-guaranteed citizenship old-fashioned. Second, Benhabib (2000) blames Arendt’s hesitation about universal human rights to a certain “melancholia”.  

The emphasis in Arendt’s concern on the weakness of human relationships and institutions reflects the theoretical perspective on human delicacy associated with disability as a critical concept, but Benhabib (2000) does not include disability within her human rights argument. While acknowledging the instability of human relationships and practices in the context of international relations, Arendt insists on incorporating citizenship claims into a universal human rights discourse in which one’s human status establishes one as a rights-bearing person. Benhabib (2000) aims for the possibility of an international relations membership wherein humanitarian interventions by NATO and the international human rights regime will enforce human rights.

Nevertheless, Benhabib (2000) admits a moment of hesitation where the presence of disability does pose an obstacle to the system of universal rights based on human status. Benhabib (2000) notes that the institution of civil society in the European context defines citizenship not by a hierarchical decision from above but by whether “individuals show themselves to be worthy of membership in civil society through the exercise of certain abilities” (Benhabib, 2000: 60). These “abilities” include, minimal knowledge of the language of the host country, civil knowledge of laws and governmental forms, and economic sustainability through either independent wealth or employable talents and skills (Benhabib, 2000: 60).

Benhabib (2000) is careful on numerous occasions to explain that people without these abilities should not be excluded from political membership, but she offers no specific arguments for their inclusion, and the difficult question remains how disabled people might fit into a model of citizenship or human rights based on the ideology of ability. In fact, closer attention to the philosophical fear of Arendt suggests that her hesitation about human rights, stems from this same difficult question. Once freed from international law and based solely on the idea of humanity, human rights become vulnerable, Arendt complains, to subjective conclusions about what is best for humanity and who the best kinds of human beings are. “For it is quite conceivable,” she writes, “that one fine day a highly organized and mechanized humanity will conclude quite democratically . . . that for humanity as a whole it would be better to settle certain parts thereof” (Arendt, 1976:299).

Arendt’s concern has its foundation, in the fear that human status will be summoned in the future as a principle of exclusion rather than inclusion. Revisiting her concerns as a positive foundation for the ‘right to have rights’, a goal that requires disability to play a universal role as the champion of human rights.

To acknowledge paranoia as a philosophical perception about the instability of human relationships and institutions is the same as acknowledging the vulnerability of human beings, a weakness long recognized by disability studies scholars, since the vulnerability of human bodies and minds triggers, as a first cause, that of human institutions. The catastrophes and calamities of history do not destroy human institutions without first striking down human beings. It is the person who is truly fragile, desolate of the sheltering embrace of political community. Human beings are reduced to “mere existence,” Arendt argues, “all that we inherit by birth and which includes the shape of our bodies and the talents of our minds” (Arendt, 1976:301).

Human rights and its various forms were discovered. It has also been established that Hannah Arendt argues that, in order to realise your ‘right to have rights’, it is essential to firstly belong to a political community, otherwise you will be displaced and suffer from statelessness. Hannah Arendt was specifically referring to refugees in relation to their right of movement. The theory of a ‘right to have rights’ stems from totalitarianism where there is one dictator telling you what you can and cannot do, but Arendt’s theory explains how to overcome totalitarianism by realising ones’ ‘right to have rights’ instead of being dictated to. Arendt argues that the most effective way to realise ones’ ‘right to have rights’ is by being part of a political community.

Furthermore, Arendt expounds on a person’s ‘right to have rights’ in relation to disability. Arendt expresses her concern about discrimination towards people with disabilities and explains that they also have a ‘right to have rights’.

Disability Rights are Human Rights!

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About Daniella-Jade Lowe

Hello, My name is Daniella Jade Lowe. I am a PURSUN researcher and I am working on marketing myself as an Accessibility Consultant. Journalism and Politics are my passion. I have a BA degree in History and Politics. What type of disability do you have? At birth, I was diagnosed with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus which are neurological conditions. As a result, I use a wheelchair for mobility. What is disability to you? The only disability is a bad attitude. I have a disability. It doesn’t completely define me; it just enhances me in a way which differentiates and strengthens me. My disability should be viewed as an ability: to see the world in a different way. I don’t really like the term because sometimes it indirectly implies someone is dysfunctional or helpless. The most important thing is to never make assumptions. Someone with a disability can be very, physically, fit and strong, highly intelligent and articulate. What has been your experience from the time you remember till now? - positive and negative experiences. My life as a wheelchair user has been generally okay. Wheelchair Accessibility is frustrating. I was teased a little in school. Other than that, life is great. How do you cope with: -daily activities - your disability, do you have times when you are down - people's reactions towards you. I have carers, a Social worker, District Nurses, a GP, and extended family in this country. I am also in contact with a local disability charity in Yorkshire. I also have a friendly landlord. How do you keep yourself motivated? I must stay organised and practice good time management. I also prioritise my plans. What is your word or advice - to those with disabilities? - to the society Don’t let people put you in a box. You have a voice, use it. 10. Tell us about your platforms if you have any- Blog: The View from Where I Sit Facebook: Daniella Jade Lowe Instagram: @daniellajadelowe/@theviewfromwheresitblog Thank you!