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Richard fights disability barriers, brick by brick

01 November, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Richard Rieser: ‘I want to get people throughout the country to understand that disability isn’t just something that happens to you when something stops working in your body – it’s systematic oppression that happens over and over again in every society’

DISABLED people breaking down barriers put up by society is the core theme of this year’s Disability History Month which is celebrating its 10th year.

Former teacher and disabled activist Richard Rieser, from Newington Green, organises the month of celebration from his own home.

“It’s a coming together to examine the past and learn where we are now and how we can change what we’re doing to improve the position of disabled people in the future,” he said.

Mr Rieser set up the month in defiance of the way society discriminates against those with disabilities. He provides educational material to further education colleges throughout the country and hosts an annual launch event which is usually at the Houses of Parliament.

Last year’s event saw shadow chancellor John McDonnell make a speech as the guest of honour.

Mr Rieser said: “I want to get people throughout the country to understand that disability isn’t just something that happens to you when something stops working in your body. It’s systematic oppression that happens over and over again in every society.

“And it’s a form of social oppression which is just as strong as racism, or sexism.

The logo for Disability History Month

“But people don’t see disability like that. They look at the person say, ‘Oh, what’s wrong with you?’ And I say, ‘Well, what’s wrong with me is that this whole environment isn’t built for someone who uses a wheelchair, for instance, or you know, those who need information in different formats such as braille’.”

Mr Rieser, who relies on crutches to get around after contracting polio as a baby, described how he was part of a generation who were “brought up to overcome our impairment”.

He described feeling “very insecure” as a child who later “didn’t have very happy teenage years” after being segregated from his peers at school.

“But I found happiness in the Scouts who took everybody and integrated me,” he added.

The theme of this year’s month is “Leadership, Resistance and Culture” and focuses on how disabled activists have shaped the way the government and wider society now treats those with disabilities.

In 1992, Mr Rieser was part of a large group of disabled activists who demonstrated outside ITV studios to put an end to a 24-hour charity broadcast which used patronising images of disabled people who were portrayed as helpless.

He says he “put a lot of thought” into the logo for the month which features a visually impaired person and someone in a wheelchair ripping out bricks from a wall.

“It’s disabled people standing up against the rules that act as barriers in our society. That’s what the struggle is about – to break down the wall so we can just be part of society.

“But new barriers keep on being built,” he said.

Disability History Month runs from November 18 to December 20. Visit www.ukdhm.org to find out more information.

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