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When Equal Opportunities Are Not Equally Legal (Or How My Right To Live As I Please May Not Be Equal To Yours)
Have you ever had an idea which you really wanted to get out but you somehow couldn't find the correct start to it until someone else started talking to you about something completely different???  Well, that happened with the following piece of writing.  I knew what I wanted to write about (the idea came to me whilst I was doing some gardening) but I didn't know where to begin.  Then I got into conversation with Helen (one of my friends from Twitter), who told me she really liked my blog post about the "Street Drinking" Law,  She started off by agreeing with what I had said about the possibililty of Laws being misinterpreted.  This provided me with the start of the piece of string which now follows.

Have you ever stopped to consider how crazy the overlap between different Laws, Acts of Parliament, etc, really is?

I must admit it is not something which crosses even my mind very often.  However, there is one area where the sometimes downright contradictions between laws is too crazy to even be a sick joke.

Whenever someone mentions "Equal Opportunities" in my presence a chill goes up and down my spine and I want to start singing "One" by U2 - with particular attention to the lyric "We are one but we are not the same.  We've got to carry each other".

If you read the original "Inkyworld" blog you will know exactly how much I hate "Equal Opportunity" Questionnaires.  For those of you lucky enough to never have come across these useless articles they are a way of Statutory Organisations (ie, Councils, Government Departments, Emergency Services, etc) and, usually large, companies to sift out the undesirables from the application process.  This is in case they actually passed all the criteria mentioned in the Job Description and the Person Specification whilst committing that great corporate sin of being Disabled.

Don't be fooled by the Disclaimer that says that everybody who meets the criteria stated in the Job Description and Person Specification will get an interview regardless of Disability - they won't.  (Well, that is not strictly true - I did actually end up getting an interview for a job as a School Crossing Patrol which kind of shocked me.  I am not entirely convinced that I wasn't interviewed to fulfil a quota.  However, nine times out of ten the "Equal Opportunities Questionnaire" lives up more to my - slightly more accurate - description of "UnEqual Opportunities Questionnaire").

Back to the point.

As a Disabled Person I am theoretically covered by the "Equalities Act" and the "Disability Discrimination Act".  If you take both of these Laws literally I should be able to do exactly the same as everybody else if I choose to do so.  After all, according to both of those Laws I am legally supposed to be treated the same as the able-bodied, normal-sighted, population.

Bearing that in mind I will now give you an example which - whilst it may sound like an exaggerated scenario - I think may accurately demonstrate my point;

My Dad owns a car.  He has a Driving Licence to go with it which legally entitles him to sit behind the steering wheel and operate the pedals - whilst the wheels near each corner of the car are turning at speed - propelling said vehicle along tarmac and concreted surfaces commonly known as roads.

If he hands me the keys to his car there is nothing legally stopping me from sitting behind the steering wheel whilst the car is stationary whether or not the ignition is on.

The Equalities Act - if applied literally - would legally allow me to actually drive the car (with his permission).  More to the point the Equalities Act - if applied literally - would allow me to take and pass a Driving Test even though my sight would make it dangerous for me to be behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.  This is because the above Act states that I cannot be discriminated against due to my disability.  (The fact that the "Disability Discrimination Act" doesn't recognise wearing glasses as a disability until you get to "Registered Partially Sighted" status is beside the point.)

This is all well and good until you realise that two more sets of Rules (or Laws) actually prevent me from legally driving a car.  The "Highway Code" being one of them and the other one being the Driving Test itself.

In order to stand a chance of passing the Practical part of the UK Driving Test you need to see a small yellow rectangle with letters and numbers on it from approximately 20.5 metres in good daylight.  (I say "yellow rectangle" because I think it is the rear number plate of the car in front which car drivers spend most of their lives being able to see as they follow it.  I could be wrong but I am pretty sure that reversing from Leicester to Market Harborough on any road (but particularly the M1) is illegal.  The only reason why you would be following a white number plate on a UK registered car would be if the car was going backwards.  (Yes - I do realise that differest countries have different coloured number plates - the Dutch have yellow front and back, Germany has white front and back.  I think France still has black front and back.  Australia seems to be the UK in reverse but I am not exactly sure.)

I am curious as to why you need to be able to read the number plate in the first place.  Surely it would be enough to see the vehicle itself???  Wouldn't the driver become distracted by the Number Plate and ignore things like cats, children, trees, etc???

In the miraculous event of someone finding me a Four Wheel Drive vehicle (like a Landrover Discovery) with a nice large rear number plate that I could read from 20.5 metres - Yes, those Chelsea Tractors all seem to have bigger than average Number Plate.  Two of my bosses in my last job had Landrover Discoverys at one point and those Number Plates were easy to read.  The number plates for those were easy to remember too - they always made me feel hungry (SLA not only being the last three letters on both Number Plates but also being the Dutch word for "Salad" or "Lettuce") - I would fail on the Speed to Distance part of the test.

Not only would my sight break over 75 percent of the rules in the Highway Code but the DVLA would have a collective heart attack if I even bothered to dream about considering going in for my Driving Test.

Here now follows a list of reasons why the DVLA would prefer it if my vision was limited to propelling me along a pavement on foot;

1)  Cannot read a Number Plate smaller than those found on a Chelsea Tractor at the required distance.

2)  Cannot judge Speed to Distance ratio even if I am standing on a pavement facing a car head on.  The addition of any form of mechanised propulsion - ie, moving wheeled vehicle (including me sitting on a bicycle) - just makes it even more impossible.

3)  Night vision with glasses??? What is night vision with glasses??? I have never experienced this strange concept.  Switch lights off and I get my own private silent disco (just add music) because of the multi-coloured spots in front of my eyes.

But the biggest problem as far as driving would be concerned is;

4)  Photophobia.

Put it this way - when I say my eyes do not like bright lights this includes fluorescent lights, car headlights (both when I am facing the car and when the headlights are reflected back at me from something like a visor or those things you pull down in a car to stop the sunshine getting in your eyes), and sunshine.

Photophobia is when your eyes are sensitive to bright lights.  Mine is so bad that entire buildings and buses have been known to disappear in bright sunshine.  To say I get easily disoriented in bright sunshine is an understatement.

Of course - there are other Laws which also contradict the Equalities Act and the Disability Discrimination Act.  The main one being the one regarding "Racial and Religious Prejudice".

If you have read this blog before you will know that there are two colours I have difficulty distinguishing shapes of - Black and White.  You will also know I live in Leicester - which has a high proportion of Muslims.  Don't get me wrong - I respect their right to practice their beliefs and dress in accordance with their faith.  I just feel extremely nervous around Muslim ladies who are dressed head to foot in black complete with a black niqab.  This is because I cannot tell if they are human until I am nearly treading on their feet.

Try explaining that to a Muslim lady and you had better hope they have got Photophobia as well (or very bad sight) otherwise they may decide that you are an Islamophobe or a racist.  I can still remember the time when I thanked a niqab-wearing lady for wearing a beige coloured cardigan - I don't think she quite understood the difference the cardigan made to how safe I felt.

So - this fuss about "Equal Opportunities" and equal rights for all is never going to result in us actually getting equal rights or opportunities for all.  The conflicts between the rights of, say, the Disabled and the barriers imposed by either our surroundings or other people's attitudes towards us are sometimes too great for people to truly understand enough to be able to help us.  Sometimes even the different sets of Laws regarding how we are treated and what we can legally do are more like a game of "Top Trumps" than any coherent strategy to help us live in harmony with the able-bodied people.

I am a lone voice in the wilderness - just doing what I can to raise awareness and trying to make you think in a different way from how you are used to.

What we really need is Politicians and Law Makers and/or Enforcers who have practical experience of what it is like to be different from the rest of the population - and who are willing to stand up for those of us who are being marginalised through no fault of our own.

Only practical interventions by people who have real personal experience of the legal conflicts will be able to go some way to getting proper equality for all.

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