3 December is International Day of Disabled People, promoted by the United Nations since 1992. The Day is there above all to remind people that disabled people exist – we are one in four of the UK population – and deserve to be considered equally with the rest of the community. It is an opportunity to highlight the talents and needs of disabled people, as well as the social, environmental and attitudinal barriers that we face on a daily basis.
This year we celebrated International Day of Disabled People with a Paracarnival parade at Gallions Reach Shopping Park. Paracarnival is an organisation founded by Bettina Vine to enable disabled people from across impairment groups to learn about and participate in Carnival Arts. Together! 2012 has been working with Newham Carnival organisers Emergency Exit Arts since 2014 to engage disabled people with Carnival Arts, and this was a natural development of our work. Paracarnival were funded by London Borough of Newham’s Go for it! grant scheme to run a series of workshops in Newham over the autumn, learning movement and signed song as well as costume making and other Carnival Arts, culminating in Saturday’s parade.
Gallions Reach Shopping Park is deservedly popular with disabled people. It has an integral bus stop, large free carpark and nearby accessible DLR station, and is step-free throughout. Disabled people can only be visible when somewhere is accessible – often people think that there is very little need for accessible facilities because they see very few disabled people when they are out themselves, not realising that this is because disabled people have been excluded by existing barriers, rather than disabled people not existing or not wishing to go out. Together! 2012 does most of our local shopping at Gallions Reach, due partly to the wide range of shops but also because of the lack of Blue Badge parking in central Stratford and East Ham.
Twenty-five people took part in the Paracarnival parade, including support workers and organisers and two drummers. They paraded joyfully from one of the shopping park to the other and back, pausing to perform three signed songs in the middle of the park. Two ‘elves’ booked as a customer attraction couldn’t resist joining in, which added to the festive atmosphere. We also gave out programmes for the Festival, which attracted so much interest that we ran out before the end, and talked to shoppers about our work.
Disabled people locally are currently facing huge pressures: cuts to benefits and services; housing shortages – a recent survey found that 70% of those visiting Newham’s housing offices were ill or disabled; cuts to Access to Work support; and no local Disabled People’s Organisation to support them. The Paracarnival parade demonstrated that, despite this, disabled people refuse to be defined or repressed. The parade exuded joy, love and friendship, underlining the fact that, together, we can change our world.
Many thanks to Paracarnival; all at Gallions Reach Shopping Park; my PA Shirley Skinner; and our volunteer Kathleen.