Helping someone protest…

On May 11th the Hardest Hit campaign will be lobbying MPs in Westminster about cuts to disability benefits and services. I’ve already arranged to meet a few constituents there, although please, please, please, remember it’s the Tories and Lib Dems who need to be lobbied most – they’re the ones introducing these cuts.

While out campaigning today I called on a friend. He told me this rather topical anecdote about his involvement in a protest many years ago. He was involved in DAN, which I think is the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, and went down to London for a protest which culminated in him handcuffing himself to a bus in Piccadilly Circus.

He has severe cerebral palsy and therefore has a PA, who was with him on this protest. The whole concept behind PAs for people with disabilities is that they exist to enable the disabled person to do whatever he/she wants to do but are prevented from doing because of their disability. They don’t have opinions of their own, or make decisions of their own – they enact whatever the disabled person wants – which in this case was demonstrating in Piccadilly Circus and handcuffing himself to a bus.

And so it ended up with the poor PA being arrested by the police for helping my friend protest, and carted off to the police cells for the night – it was his birthday too! My friend was abandoned in Piccadilly Circus, presumably still handcuffed to the bus.

The PA wasn’t charged with anything, but it does raise interesting questions about whether he was entitled to just follow orders – surely if we accept that disabled people should be enabled to carry out their own wishes, and make their own decisions, then we somehow have to accept in law that the PA wasn’t in any way culpable for his own actions – presumably with a caveat that they would never be expected to facilitate criminal acts. If my friend had told his PA he wanted to lob a lump of concrete at the police, then obviously he couldn’t act upon that request. But if it’s a grey area, which political protest – as we have seen again this week – is, then how far should PAs go to help their disabled employers get their views across?

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