A community of people with learning disabilities have designed postcards to help others better understand their rights and to stand up for them when dealing with public authorities. The group, which is part of Warrington Speak Up, an organisation that supports people with learning disabilities and people experiencing mental health problems to advocate for their rights, worked in partnership with the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR).
The postcards cover five rights protected by the Human Rights Act, namely the right to life, the right to be free from degrading and inhuman treatment, the right to liberty, the right to a private and family life and the right to be free from discrimination.
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Each postcard describes the story of someone who used the Human Rights Act to fight for their rights. One postcard highlights the story of Laurie, a 51-year old man with Down syndrome and dementia. Laurie was given a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order while he was in hospital, without him or his family being consulted . A ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order is an instruction to the medical team not to give medical treatment if a person’s breathing or heartbeat has stopped. He started a human rights claim against the hospital, based on discrimination. He said the order was based on assumptions about his quality of life due to his disability, rather than his chance of survival.
Using human rights to challenge authority
Pip Horne, the Senior Project Co-ordinator at Warrington Speak Up, worked with the community group to develop the postcards.
She said that making the cards had helped members of the group feel more ‘confident’ to advocate for themselves with public authorities.
“We think it will make a difference to people and help them know that they have an absolute right to challenge things that might be happening to them.”
We are very proud of the Speak Up Group who helped to create some postcards with @bihrhumanrights and @photosymbols Take a look here at the postcards https://t.co/f7hPdXN8J3 pic.twitter.com/5BxrZ4Mvs1
— Warrington Speak Up (@Warrspeakup) May 17, 2022
Annie Smith, who works at BIHR, said that it was important for the group to create a physical resource which people can take with them into meetings with public officials.
She said: “One of the big things, I think, that came out of the discussions with the group was that sense of there should be ‘nothing about me without me’. And people really wanted to have their say – to speak up where their rights are going to be potentially at stake, when they’re interacting with those public services, whether that’s social care or NHS services, or education or police, for example.”
The postcards aim to address a lack of education around human rights. Smith said: “We’re trying to make sure that people know what their rights are and also that staff [in public authorities] know what their legal duties are. Because that’s ultimately what leads towards a culture of respect for human rights.”
Speaking up for the Human Rights Act
The postcards focus on the Human Rights Act 1998 – landmark legislation to prevent human rights violations in the UK. But the government has outlined plans to scrap the Act and replace it with a new Bill of Rights.
Smith raised concerns that the Bill of Rights would reduce respect for human rights in the UK.
Speaking about the Human Rights Act, she said: “[It’s an] effective tool for people to make sure that their rights are being met, and for us to speak up when our rights are potentially at risk.”
At least for now, she said, the postcards can be used to help people protect their rights.
“This is the law that we have right now. And you can use this in your life every day if you are worried that your rights are at risk.”