Uuganaa Ramsay: Equality and fairness? People with disability are being judged before they are even born
I work with young people with learning difficulties and disabilities as part of my job as a career coach, advising and supporting them through career planning.
From applying to college and any employment opportunities, it is clear that many applicants feel discrimination. That is even before the interview stage, before coming face to face with the interviewer, and not having been given the chance to show how capable they are, how wonderful their personalities are.
More organisations should seek to access the support available to increase diversity and develop inclusive working environments, helping to bridge skills gaps and harness different experiences, backgrounds and approaches. A diverse workforce is a more creative and innovative workforce.
In this context, I feel that the proposed, new Non-Invasive Prenatal Tests for Down’s syndrome mirrors existing discrimination in society. People with an extra chromosome are already written off.
As we discuss this new screening test I have concerns, not only as a career coach, but also as a mother and also as someone who campaigns for equality, human rights and justice.
With the existing tests, more than 90 per cent of babies with Down’s syndrome are aborted before birth in Scotland.
But how can we make things equal and fair when society already accepts that before birth we are not equal? This attitude is programming individuals in society to see disabled people differently and influencing decisions about equal opportunities, and thereby screening takes place with respect to college, training and job applications.
At a time when we want to be seen to value diversity, we seem to be ignoring it in antenatal clinics, where a social model of Downs syndrome is being overshadowed by the medical one.
With the new screening tests the decisions to abort are likely to increase. I am not saying people should not have the tests. We chose to have a test for our youngest child, who was born after our late son Billy. We needed to know and be prepared.
What is important is that parents should be given balanced information about life with a child with Down’s syndrome. Information that is in line with UK and international disability guidelines and legislation while reminding us that we are more than the sum of our parts.
Surely, employers, training and opportunity providers need to know what incentives, funding and support is out there before closing their doors to disabled people and people with additional support needs.
When introducing new scientific tests, we need to be aware that they are carrying many messages to society.
This is the issue which concerns the Don’t Screen Us out campaign, which is campaigning to ensure that any future screening for Down’s syndrome conforms to the ethics with which a country is bound.
The consequences of screening remaining unfettered by ethics will have a profound long-term effect on the population of the Down’s syndrome community and how society accepts disability.
Uuganaa Ramsay is a guest writer for the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics and an award-winning author, campaigner and advocate.