THE Equality and Human Rights Commission is investigating whether public bodies and public transport providers are fulfilling their legal obligations to prevent disabled people from being harassed.
Councils, police forces, schools and other public bodies as well as bus, train companies and other public transport providers found to be failing in their duties could face enforcement action.
Every working day at least one person on average appears in court charged with a crime against a disabled person, nearly half of which involve violence.
Evidence already gathered by the Commission suggests that many more incidents of targeted violence or hostility go unreported or are not dealt with properly by social housing bodies, social services teams, crime prevention units, public transport and other public bodies in Britain.
The inquiry is examining how victims of disability-related harassment, which includes name-calling, intimidation, bullying or violence, have been supported by public bodies and public transport providers.
It is also looking at what prevention measures bodies such as the police, social services, schools, or bus companies have put in place in England, Scotland and Wales.
Members of the public are being asked if they sought help from any public body or transport provider and what support they got, either as a result of being harassed because of their disability or because of their connection to someone who is disabled.
The Commission is working with organisations of and for disabled people or crime victims to help gather evidence.
Public bodies and transport providers are being asked to disclose what steps – if any – they are taking to meet their legal duties.
At the end of the inquiry, councils, the police, schools, social housing and other public bodies, bus and train companies found not to be doing enough to tackle the problem and to protect the human rights of disabled people could face legal action to force them to comply with their legal obligations.
Mike Smith, lead Commissioner for the inquiry, said:
“Harassment in public places and behind closed doors is an everyday part of life for many disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.
“This harassment is intimidating at best and terrifying at worst, and the fear it creates can limit people’s lives and opportunities.
“Media reports of the appalling treatment of disabled people at the hands of their abusers are horrific reminders of what can ultimately happen when public bodies don’t act or don’t know what to do.
“By highlighting the failures as well as learning from examples of good practice, the Commission’s inquiry will help public bodies try to ensure that future tragedies are prevented and transform the way that the people of Britain value and respect disabled people.
“We have taken two months to listen to the views of stakeholders and to get their support. The inquiry will be all the better for including disabled people in every stage of our investigation.”
Maria Miller, Minister for Disabled People, said:
“Bullying and harassment can all too often escalate into serious hate crimes against disabled people that we have all heard about.
“Harassment in any form is totally unacceptable. Everyone in society has the right to live life in safety and with security. For disabled people and for those people with long term health conditions, safety and security is a right that can’t be taken for granted.
“This is why I would strongly urge disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to become involved: to help inform the inquiry about the types of harassment experienced by disabled people and, to share their examples of positive work being done to tackle disability hate crime.”
The first wave of evidence will be collected until Friday September 10.
It can be given directly to the Commission via its website, email and helpline (telephone or textphone).
Evidence can be taken in disabled people’s preferred formats where required.
Thirteen evidence gathering events have already been organised and more are in the pipeline. These will be held around Britain in the next three months and will be publicised locally.
Disabled people, organisations of and for disabled people or crime victims will be invited to attend.
The Commission can also use its legal powers to call public bodies to account, either by compelling them to give evidence or by summoning witnesses. Hearings will be held from September.
England: Tel: 08456 046 610. Textphone: 08456 046 620
Scotland: Tel: 08456 045 510. Textphone: 08456 045 520
Wales: Tel: 08456 048 810. Textphone: 08456 048 820