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