Last month the Faculty of Law and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights hosted Oxford University’s inaugural Disability Law and Policy Conference. This was to launch the Oxford University Disability Law and Policy Project – established to generate exceptional taught courses and research on disability. The event, held in the Sir Joseph Hotung auditorium of the new Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, provided a platform for leading disability scholars from around the world. Harvard’s Professor Michael Stein and Professor Anna Lawson, Director of the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds opened the conference as its keynote speakers.
Professor Stein, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability (HPOD), in a reflection on Why disability law and policy matter in the academic space and beyond, said of the value of increased research and scholarship on disability:
It leads to more intelligent [government] policies. Students without disabilities, who are learning alongside students with disabilities, about disability law, become better at empathy and better thinkers in their scholarship.
Professor Anna Lawson spoke about the relevance of ‘Disability Law’ beyond anti-discrimination rights and across the taxonomy of the legal system. This was reflected by the academics who spoke across both days of the conference, together representing a wide variety of legal backgrounds.
From a paper by Lucinda Ferguson, outlining the prevalence of permanent exclusion for children with special educational needs in mainstream school, to Professors Sue Bright and Luke Rostill’s papers on Challenges for Inclusive Building Adaptations and the Right to Adequate Housing, the depth and breadth of material explored was fascinating. Rachel Clement, a DPhil candidate at Hertford College, gave an important, if troubling account of Criminal Law, Battery and Bodily Harm for users of Mobility Aids.
Professor Anne Davies, Dean of the Faculty of Law opened the conference with the following remarks:
This was an important milestone in getting disability on the agenda in the context of teaching and research at Oxford and I was pleased to see the Faculty leading the way on this area of curriculum diversity at the University.
Rounding off Day Two of the conference was an interactive workshop to discuss plans for developing an academically prestigious MSc in Disability Law and Policy – the long-term goal of the Oxford Disability Law and Policy Project. The Project’s Coordinator, Dr Marie Tidball, is to produce a follow-up paper detailing opportunities for developing such a course and option modules which could be integrated into the Faculty’s existing courses.
Organisers of the conference would like to thank the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, the Faculty of Law, Blind Veterans UK, St John’s and University Colleges for their generous support of this event.