Introduction:The recent decades have witnessed the rise ofneo-liberalism, which has spread across the globe like a “vast tidal wave ofinstitutional reform and discursive adjustment, entailing much destruction” (Harvey,2006: 145), substantially affecting the evolution of cities.
However, theseneo-liberalist agendas have become subject to a number of contentions, mostcommonly in the form of urban social activities, campaigns, and movements,encompassing Henri Lefebvre’s notion of the ‘Right to the City’ at the core oftheir claims and struggles. Having said that, the ‘Right to the City’ hasbecome a popular debate among academics, with a great deal of focus on theworking class, the homeless, the youth and the immigrants. While the disabilityrights movement can be deemed and recognized under each of these groups, therehas been minimal allusion to the plea of this movement falling victim to urbanexclusion, alienation and marginalization. In retrospect, Lefebvre’s concepthas extreme contemporary relevance to the disability rights movement, whocontinue to struggle for their recognized space and place in the city, and inasserting their fundamental rights (Pierce, Williams and Martin, 2016).Therefore, the disability rights movement will cover the ‘whose rights,’ citiesthroughout the United Kingdom will cover the ‘what city’ and ‘what rights’ willbe further explored in this case study, as there are currently over 13.
3million disabled people in the UK, representing almost one in five of thepopulation (Disabled Living Foundation, 2017).The definitionof a ‘right’:In its mostrudimentary form, a ‘right’ can be defined as “a moral or legal entitlement tohave or do something” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2018). This, however, extends tohow rights control contemporary perceptions of what actions are legitimate andwhich institutions are fair, and signify inherent aspects of governments, laws,and morals (Wenar, 2005).
Rights can be categorized into natural entitlementand legal entitlement, in which the former embodies rights which originate fromhuman nature, or God-granted, and are not dependent upon the laws, customs,beliefs of a certain society, hence they are universal and unchanging over time(Definitions.net, 2018). The latter embodies human rights, which originate fromhuman laws, customs, or statutes, and are constructed by man, with citizenshipregarded 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 conceptof the ‘Right to the City’:The concept of ‘the Right to the City,’ (RttC) conceived by HenriLefebvre 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 has developed into a sloganembraced by the youth, the lower classes, and the individuals and groupsglobally who are experiencing alienation, exclusion or marginalization frompresent urban life. Additionally, the catchphrase has been adopted by humanrights activists and development workers (Boer and Vries, 2009), with ageographical 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 with Disabilities,’ adopted bythe United Nations in 2006, and ratified in 2008, defines a person withdisabilities as “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual orsensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder theirfull and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”(Un.org, 2018).
This coalesces into the disability rights movement, aninternational social movement which endeavors to obtain equal rights andopportunities 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 the notion that disabilitiesare products of the organization and attitudes of society, rather than anindividual’s impairment and difference in itself (Scope.
org.uk, 2018). Themodel outlines the basis of the disability rights movement, encompassing thevarious barriers that the movement focuses on overcoming, in particular theattitudinal, physical and social barriers in order to enable people withdisabilities to conduct their everyday lives in the same manner than everyoneelse 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 and policies in place thatdiscriminate against people with disabilities, preventing their access toeducation and employment (GSDRC, 2018). In parallel with Lefebvre’s analysis that capitalist societies havehegemonized everyday life and urban spaces, pursuing its agenda of eliminatingthe city of all difference, and transformed it into expanses of consumption, itcan be argued that the disability rights movement became imperative emanatedfrom the social oppression people with disabilities encountered with the riseof industrial capitalism (Oliver, 1999). The post-industrial city became aplace widespread with social exclusion, particularly with the changes in themode of production and social relations.
Furthermore, this era marked thedetachment from home and work, and saw the rise of mechanized forms ofproduction, which “introduced productivity standards, which assumed a ‘normal’worker’s body and disabled all others” (Gleeson, 1999). This is where the ideaof a body of the site of production, exploitation and consumption, as proposedby 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 with disabilities do not possess marketor State power, but rather hinge on the “affordability of welfare and thealtruism which capitalism can fund” (Johnstone, 2006). This, in effect, boundsdisabled people to social control and regulation, which merely exacerbatesurban exclusion, alienation and marginalization and in worst-case scenarios, cons(Oliver, 1990).
In the United Kingdom in particular, according to the UN Committee on theRights of Persons with Disabilities, the government’s current legislation hasfailed to protect the disability movement’s rights, from rights to education,work, and housing, despite being a signatory. These failures were emphasized inthe lack of support for disabled people to work, to live independently and tobenefit from social protection without discrimination (Butler, 2017). The UKhas witnessed increasing numbers of disabled children being educated insegregated “special schools” regardless of the report appealing for disabledchildren to be educated in mainstream schools, to provide the absolute elementsof inclusion rather than segregation. Moreover, the employment gap and pay gapfor people with disabilities has widened, with even higher levels of povertyfor people with disabilities and their families as a result of cuts and austeritypolicies (Bulman, 2017), where 18% of disabled people aged 16-64 across the UKwere living in food poverty, in comparison with 7.5% of non-disabled people(Bulman, 2017).
Pinpointing London in particular, the harsh reality is that the majorityof vast modern cities do not have the necessary inclusive planning in place, withthe London Tube Map exhibiting the restrictiveness of places to access if onecannot utilize the stairs (Pinoncely, 2015). There are still many stops incentral London that remain inaccessible, which can immensely influence manydisabled people’s decisions in seeking employment. On the other hand, a surveycarried out by Scope in 2010 manifested the profound nature of social exclusionof people with disabilities, where almost two in five people claimed to notknow anyone outside of their own family who is disabled, and only one fifth ofthe people partaking in the survey had ever worked with a disabled person, inspite of almost one in five people today being disabled (Coughlan, 2010). Thisis because the majority of employers perceive the disabled as individuals thatwill simply cost them more to employ.Figure 1.
London Tube Map showing stops with step-free access (Transportfor London, 2015) Conclusion:The disability rights movement can be understood in terms of ‘the Rightto the City’ as people with disabilities are among the most marginalized groupsin society, with minimal progress being made to overcome the different barriersthat continue to exist in order to establish their recognized space and placein the city. This can be attributed to how this particular movement has beenconsigned to oblivion, deeply oppressed as a result of capitalism, specificallyits characteristics of production, exploitation and consumption which hasultimately deemed disabled people unproductive and spawned the stigma,discrimination and prejudice attitudes against them. The United Kingdom’scurrent legislations have been unsuccessful in defending and preserving the disabilitymovement rights, with austerity policies exacerbating the situation. It is ofutmost importance, in order to fulfill the demand for ‘the Right to the City,’for inherent changes to take place for disabled people to execute theirday-to-day activities with the same accessibility as everyone else and to beexempt from urban exclusion, alienation and marginalization.