The Brexit Consequences Nobody Is Talking About
So two weeks ago it happened. Great Britian voted to exit the European Union. I immigrated to England 10 years ago for the exact same reason my forefathers made the reverse journey over 400 years before: I saw in the U.K. the chance to follow my dreams. For me that was being an actor and playwright despite having cerebral palsy.
Back in 2006 and even today, there are more opportunities for an actor with a disability to get work in the U.K. than in the U.S. Sure, when it came to accessibility the U.K. is a savage land. Old buildings, formidable staircases, and an abysmal public transport system for those of us who use wheelchairs meant I would be giving up a good deal of my mobility to chase my dreams.
But with London hosting the 2012 Paralympics, it was a given the city would soon become more accessible to those of us with disabilities. And indeed I was fortunate enough to work as a consultant to the London Underground, helping to make key stations accessible: Green Park, Kings Cross, Earl’s Court. For the first time ever, it seemed as if London was opening up to those of us with disabilities. We could be mobile, grants were made available for adaptations in the workplace, Paralympic athletes were interviewed in the mainstream media. And it seemed, for a brief moment, I had gambled and won. The U.K. was becoming one of the most progressive places in the world when it came to disability.
And then, cuts to disability services started happening. Wheelchairs paid for by the government were taken away by the same party who issued them, the Access to Work grants became next to impossible to get and benefits for those who cannot work due to their disability were slashed. The current government has been so aggressive in cutting the rights and programs meant to aide those of us with disabilities that the country has come under investigation by the United Nations for human rights violations.
And now, Brexit.
Most people don’t realize hundreds of regulations and laws go into making a country more accessible. Everything from the measurements of a door width in public places to the type of help a child with special needs gets in school, the systems that airports and airlines must have in place to help customers with disabilities to pavement widths, must be legislated.
And most of that legislation comes from EU regulations. Meaning when the U.K. leaves the EU in two years, I have no idea what rights I will have as a person with a disability.
The voters and politicians who wanted to leave the EU swear up and down disability rights won’t be affected by the vote, that if anything it will give us the opportunity to improve, not hamper, the rights of people living with disabilities.
These are the same folks who set up the administration now being investigated by the United Nations for human rights violations. I am not prone to believe they have my best interests at heart.
As a disabled immigrant to the U.K., my rights are now doubly in question. While people swear those in power will keep the current EU guidelines intact concerning disability (if not improve on them), I have no reason to believe this. Those same people also claim I am not the type of immigrant some want to see leave of the UK. After all, I create jobs, I pay my taxes, I am an American. And yet I remember one Christmas when the U.K. closed the doors to students applying for a post-graduate visa literally overnight. I remember how last year this very same government capped the amount of money you could receive from Access to Work without much warning to employees or employers. I remember how this government insisted the Bedroom Tax didn’t unfairly target the disabled, many of whom need an extra bedroom for either their carers to sleep in or their equipment.
And these are the same folks who demanded to leave all of those EU regulations behind and “trust” them that new ones will be written in our favor.
I have no idea what my rights will be in two years, and that is absurd. Few people, if any, are offering any answers regarding what we can expect or how we can influence the process. So much for Brexit being a “populist motion.”
Political volatility is rarely good for anyone. But when a country decides to rewrite the laws and regulations affecting the most vulnerable and disenfranchised population, there is little room for goodwill or trust. My hope is the country I once saw as my own land of opportunity does not someday become a place of oppression for those like me.
The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment where you experienced intolerance or inaccessibility. What needs to happen to change this? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.