Introduction:The recentdecades have witnessed the rise of neo-liberalism, which has spread across theglobe like a “vast tidal wave of institutional reform and discursiveadjustment, entailing much destruction” (Harvey, 2006: 145), substantiallyaffecting the evolution of cities. However, these neo-liberalist agendas havebecome subject to a number of contentions, most commonly in the form of urbansocial activities, campaigns, and movements, encompassing Henri Lefebvre’snotion of the ‘Right to the City’ at the core of their claims and struggles. Havingsaid that, the ‘Right to the City’ has become a popular debate among academics,with a great deal of focus on the working class, the homeless, the youth andthe immigrants. While the disability rights movement can be deemed andrecognized under each of these groups, there has been minimal allusion to theplea of this movement falling victim to urban exclusion, alienation andmarginalization. In retrospect, Lefebvre’s concept has extreme contemporaryrelevance to the disability rights movement, who continue to struggle for theirrecognized space and place in the city, and in asserting their fundamentalrights (Pierce, Williams and Martin, 2016).
Therefore, the disability rightsmovement will cover the ‘whose rights,’ cities throughout the United Kingdomwill cover the ‘what city’ and ‘what rights’ will be further explored in thiscase study, as there are currently over 13.3 million disabled people in the UK,representing almost one in five of the population (Disabled Living Foundation,2017).The definition of a ‘right’:Inits most rudimentary form, a ‘right’ can be defined as “a moral or legalentitlement to have or do something” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2018).
This,however, extends to how rights control contemporary perceptions of what actionsare legitimate and which institutions are fair, and signify inherent aspects ofgovernments, laws, and morals (Wenar, 2005). Rights can be categorized intonatural entitlement and legal entitlement, in which the former embodies rights whichoriginate from human nature, or God-granted, and are not dependent upon thelaws, customs, beliefs of a certain society, hence they are universal andunchanging over time (Definitions.net, 2018). The latter embodies human rights,which originate from human laws, customs, or statutes, and are constructed byman, with citizenship regarded as the foundation of legal rights(Definitions.
net, 2018). Furthermore,rights can be individual or group, where individual rights are generallyassociated with the natural right of being human, while group rights aregenerally associated with the rights of a nation or self-determination for agroup (Wenar, 2005). Ultimately, rights constitute an integral part ofcivilization, the backbone of society and culture, where the government’s purposeis to preserve these rights, which spans from the right to vote to the right towork and education. These are all innate across all races, sexes, ethnicitiesand religions.
The concept of the ‘Right to the City’:The concept of ‘the Right to the City,’ (RttC) conceivedby Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book ‘Le Droit à la ville,’ has become frequentlyexploited within debates of contemporary urban and political geography. ToLefebvre, the idea of the RttC parallels his deep-rooted fascination for urbanlife under capitalism, and signifies the events transpiring at the time, inparticular the May 1968 events in Paris, characterized by studentdemonstrations and workers’ strikes (Attoh, 2012). Lefebvre asserts that theRttC can exclusively be understood as “a cry and a demand” (Lefebvre, 19961968: 158) and “a transformed and renewed right to urban life” (Lefebvre,1996 1968: 158). In essence, Lefebvre’s concept perceives the city and urbanspace as an ‘oeuvre,’ a collaborative artwork of all city dwellers and theirdaily routines (Boer and Vries, 2009), or simply, the right to not bealienated, excluded or marginalized from the spaces of daily life (Mitchell andVillanueva, 2010). The ‘oeuvre’ conceptualization emphasizes how the use valueof space is the matter of the greatest importance, especially the socialinteractions and exchanges that take place. The framework of the RttCencompasses two key rights, the right to participation and the right toappropriation; participation enables urban dwellers to wholly partake indecisions that are responsible for the production of urban space (Boer and deVries, 2009), while appropriation involves the right to control urbanizationand urban transformations in order to make it fulfill the population’s needs(Purcell, 2002).
Nonetheless, Lefebvre uses the RttC notion to stress this eraas being the turning point in the city as an exchange value starting tooverwhelm the use value (Fraser, 2017), as a result of privatization,commodification and production, products of capitalism (Smith and McQuarrie,2012). On the contrary, in recent years, the RttC hasdeveloped into a slogan embraced by the youth, the lower classes, and theindividuals and groups globally who are experiencing alienation, exclusion ormarginalization from present urban life. Additionally, the catchphrase has beenadopted by human rights activists and development workers (Boer and Vries,2009), with a geographical perspective concentrated on the resistance to urbanneo-liberalization, in which Mitchell (2003) accentuates that it has deniedcertain individuals and groups access to public spaces in the city. DavidHarvey has even gone to the extent of elaborating Lefebvre’s theory as “notmerely a right to access what already exists, but a right to change the cityafter our heart’s desire” (Harvey, 2003: 393). The RttC has evolved into anurban social utopia, symbolizing a united claim for movements internationally(Isensee, 2013). Case study – the disability rights movement:The ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons withDisabilities,’ adopted by the United Nations in 2006, and ratified in 2008,defines a person with disabilities as “those who have long-term physical,mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with variousbarriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on anequal basis with others” (Un.org, 2018). This coalesces into the disabilityrights movement, an international social movement which endeavors to obtainequal rights and opportunities for the individuals living with disabilities, embodyingdisabilities of all kinds: physical disabilities, learning disabilities, visualdisabilities and mental health disabilities.
The movement’s focuses onovercoming the nature of the multifaceted barriers that exist, for instance,attitudinal, physical and social barriers in order to enable people withdisabilities to conduct their everyday lives in the same manner that everyoneelse does (Cdc.gov, 2016). The social model of disability puts forward thenotion that disabilities are products of the organization and attitudes ofsociety, rather than an individual’s impairment and difference in itself(Scope.org.uk, 2018). The model outlines the basis of the disability rightsmovement, encompassing the various barriers that the movement focuses onovercoming, in particular the attitudinal, physical and social barriers inorder to enable people with disabilities to conduct their everyday lives in thesame manner than everyone else does (Cdc.
gov, 2016):Attitudinal barriers: the most basicof all barriers, and perhaps the most prevalent in all other barriers, theseinclude the stigmatized, discriminative and prejudiced perceptions andbehaviors associated with people with disabilities (Cdc.gov, 2016).Physical barriers: the structuralobstacles in the natural or built environment that restrict mobility andaccess, impacting inclusion and participation (GSDRC, 2018).Social barriers:the laws andpolicies in place that discriminate against people with disabilities,preventing their access to education and employment (GSDRC, 2018). In parallel with Lefebvre’s analysis that capitalistsocieties have hegemonized everyday life and urban spaces, pursuing its agendaof eliminating the city of all difference, and transformed it into expanses ofconsumption, it can be argued that the disability rights movement becameimperative emanated from the social oppression people with disabilitiesencountered with the rise of industrial capitalism (Oliver, 1999). The post-industrialcity became a place widespread with social exclusion, particularly with thechanges in the mode of production and social relations. Furthermore, this eramarked the detachment from home and work, and saw the rise of mechanized formsof production, which “introduced productivity standards, which assumed a’normal’ worker’s body and disabled all others” (Gleeson, 1999). This is wherethe idea of a body of the site of production, exploitation and consumption, asproposed by Harvey (2000) is pertinent, and as bodies being social products ofcapitalism to serve the purpose of labor and productivity for the accumulationof capital for the market and State.
In addition, this is where ableism andcapitalism converge, undermining the ability for people with disabilities tobecome employed and fostering the perception of disabilities as a social problemin the new urban spaces, with the creation of a new class of ‘disabled’ leftfurther excluded, alienated and marginalized from society. In capitalist societies, people withdisabilities do not possess market or State power, but rather hinge on the”affordability of welfare and the altruism which capitalism can fund”(Johnstone, 2006). This, in effect, bounds disabled people to social controland regulation, which merely exacerbates urban exclusion, alienation andmarginalization and in worst-case scenarios, cons (Oliver, 1990). In the United Kingdom in particular, according tothe UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the government’scurrent legislation has failed to protect the disability movement’s rights,from rights to education, work, and housing, despite being a signatory. Thesefailures were emphasized in the lack of support for disabled people to work, tolive independently and to benefit from social protection without discrimination(Butler, 2017). The UK has witnessed increasing numbers of disabled childrenbeing educated in segregated “special schools” regardless of the reportappealing for disabled children to be educated in mainstream schools, to providethe absolute elements of inclusion rather than segregation. Moreover, theemployment gap and pay gap for people with disabilities has widened, with evenhigher levels of poverty for people with disabilities and their families as aresult of cuts and austerity policies (Bulman, 2017), where 18% of disabledpeople aged 16-64 across the UK were living in food poverty, in comparison with7.5% of non-disabled people (Bulman, 2017).
Pinpointing London in particular, the harsh reality isthat the majority of vast modern cities do not have the necessary inclusiveplanning in place, with the London Tube Map exhibiting the restrictiveness ofplaces to access if one cannot utilize the stairs (Pinoncely, 2015). There arestill many stops in central London that remain inaccessible, which canimmensely influence many disabled people’s decisions in seeking employment. Onthe other hand, a survey carried out by Scope in 2010 manifested the profoundnature of social exclusion of people with disabilities, where almost two infive people claimed to not know anyone outside of their own family who isdisabled, and only one fifth of the people partaking in the survey had everworked with a disabled person, in spite of almost one in five people todaybeing disabled (Coughlan, 2010). This is because the majority of employersperceive the disabled as individuals that will simply cost them more to employ.
Figure 1. London Tube Map showing stops withstep-free access (Transport for London, 2015) Conclusion:The disability rights movement can be understood interms of ‘the Right to the City’ as people with disabilities are among the mostmarginalized groups in society, with minimal progress being made to overcomethe different barriers that continue to exist in order to establish theirrecognized space and place in the city. This can be attributed to how thisparticular movement has been consigned to oblivion, deeply oppressed as aresult of capitalism, specifically its characteristics of production,exploitation and consumption which has ultimately deemed disabled peopleunproductive and spawned the stigma, discrimination and prejudice attitudesagainst them. The United Kingdom’s current legislations have been unsuccessfulin defending and preserving the disability movement rights, with austeritypolicies exacerbating the situation.
It is of utmost importance, in order tofulfill the demand for ‘the Right to the City,’ for inherent changes to takeplace, for the oppressed to seize back democratic control of the city and itsurban spaces, in order for disabled people to execute their day-to-dayactivities with the same accessibility as everyone else and to be exempt fromurban exclusion, alienation and marginalization.