Tuesday, 21 June 2011

People Not Punchlines Campaign

I've decided to launch a new campaign.  Something that I've railed against unofficially for a long time so Learning Disability Week seemed an appropriate time.

Here is the press release which gives contact details. I truly hope people will want to get involved. 

More than than that, I hope people will see that hate speech, although popular is hugely damaging. Words can and do hurt and they are the first step down the road to discrimination. If we let them pass we are all to blame.

Hate speech isn't free speech.It's not upholding the values of a free society. It's denigrating a group who through an genetic incident of birth or an accident in life are then judged by some to be less worthy. 

People are not less worthy through their disability, they're not a justifiable, disposable target. Make jokes be funny but people are not anyone's punchlines.


As a disability rights campaigner and mum to two disabled girls
I’m launching a new campaign on 23rd June as part of Learning Disability Week, to have disability hate speech recognized under law in line with current legislation and protection.

Currently as the law stands it is illegal to communicate in a manner which is threatening abusive or insulting and intended to harass alarm or distress someone on the following grounds only:

Colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.

Disability remains exempt from this list and therefore disabled people are routinely harassed with no right of redress under law.

The language we use everyday underpins the rise in targeted violence and abuse towards disabled people.

Professor Ian Rivers from Brunel University conducted a survey of 185 children who had bullied others. He concluded that difference is a primary motivating factor.

In gathering information for this campaign I contacted Professor Rivers and asked him for his opinion on the issues around bullying and disability.

He explained “Children with Special Educational Needs and Emotional Behavioural Difficulties are often the target of bullying and ridicule. Where there is a hierarchy, teachers for example are bound by their policy on bullying. However in the cases of unofficial hierarchy, peer on peer bullying, the problem is rarely addressed

Recently these behaviours have transferred from the playground to the television. The comedian Frankie Boyle also finds it acceptable to use disabled people as the source material of his “jokes”, but as distressing and discrimatory as many disabled people and carers find his “humour”, we as a society allow these comments to pass unchecked. 

This campaign is not an attempt to curb free speech but rather to highlight the growing trend towards the normalizing of hate speech in respect of disabled people.

David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at learning disability charity Mencap, said:

As an organisation we strive to change the negative attitudes towards people with a disability in our society which is why we fully support this campaign. We believe that use of offensive language contributes to a culture where harassment and bullying of people with a learning disability is all too common.

“It is estimated that as many as 9 out of 10 people with a learning disability are verbally harassed or exposed to violence due to their disability.  The tragic deaths of Fiona Pilkington and Francceca Hardwick and David Askew are just two examples of where name-calling and low-level harassment was allowed to escalate into sustained abuse with fatal consequences.   

“Ignorant use of language contributes to a culture where people with a disability, and their families, continue to be regularly subjected to verbal and physical abuse. It is as bad as using racist or homophobic language and this needs to be recognised.

Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her disabled daughter had the word “retard” used against her and her family routinely.
The gang who hounded her, literally to death would stand outside her house and yell, ”We can do whatever we want and there is nothing you can do about it.”

As a campaigner and as a mother, I’m fighting to ensure that this ceases to be true. Therefore I'm calling on MP's to amend the existing hate speech law and ensure that disabled people are rightfully included in this vital legislation.

Nicola Clark

For more information please contact Nicky Clark at peoplenotpunchlines@gmail.com 


  1. i wonder if the omition of hate speach towards those with disabilities in hate speach legeslation is a deliberate, if unconcious act of the legeslature. surely when drawing up anti discrimination laws, hate speach should be the first thing to be outlawed. hatred often starts with speach, which leadson to more concrete forms of discrimination and vilification. this was recognised in the examples cited above, so why not when the disability discrimination acts were introduced, was a clause making hate speach illegal added to the bill.? i think this is a question which strikes at the heart of the human condition. disabled is what the able bodied person fears becoming above all else. the phrase, "i'd rather be dead than disabled," comes to mind, and is one which i have heard as a disabled person myself. disability is feared, and fear breeds hatred, and the first symptom of the fear is hate speach. hate speach must be stamped out in 2011.

  2. Thank you Bigpawedbear. I believe they may not have considered there was a historical imperative or evidential use of disability hate speech. Great post thank you Nik xx

  3. Hi Nicky

    Just came by your Guardian post and this blog via @BendyGirl on Twitter. Couldn't agree more with the points you raise in this and your other posts, and most definitely on use of the word 'retard' - Yeuk!

    To be honest the blogosphere seems hugely overcrowded with 'issues' material which, whilst heartfelt and often moving, doesn't really engage the reader or hammer home those key points, but your material has had me laughing out loud at times which, for me at least, gets your message across far more powerfully than yet another dreary dirge.
    Keep up the good work!

  4. Connor thank you so much. Your comment has made me very happy & cry. All love Nik xx

  5. Thanks for highlighting this issue Nicky. My gorgeous autistic son sends you a virtual high five xxx

  6. Jean thank you so much. Please give your gorgeous boy a hug from me or a high five whichever he'd prefer Nik xx

  7. Nicky,

    Fantastic and much needed, I sent an email. My daughter has been very fortunate not to have experienced any name calling or bullying, however I home schooled her for several of her younger years and now she is in a special needs college. Words hurt more than a fist - great campaign, thank you.

    1. Don't condone hurtful words or fist by the way.

  8. Nicky my email came back undelivered?