Nothing about us without us – this slogan, as defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD), is being brought up time and again. In Germany, it is currently more at the forefront than ever before because decisions made at the political level experience heavy backlash. People with disabilities adamantly and loudly protest on the Internet and on the streets against the upcoming Federal Participation Law (Bundesteilhabegesetz, BTHG).
There is an uproar on social media: with hashtags like #nichtmeingesetz (#notmylaw), #alleinzuhaus (#homealone) and #ungehindert (#unhindered), primarily people with disabilities call attention to their stance towards the upcoming BTHG. Regardless of whether people use a wheelchair, are deaf or of short stature – they all agree on one point: in its present form, the BTHG is not a law that represents us!
Yet the previously mentioned hashtags are not just random rants against politics. In fact, these keywords on social networks repeatedly point to countless references to online petitions and examples of how the BTHG would affect the situation of people with disabilities in the future. The unanimous opinion expressed by all: this law no longer has anything to do with inclusion and a self-determined life as intended and outlined by the UN-CRPD.
Campaigns are not just taking place in the virtual world: especially the hashtag #nichtmeingesetz keeps pointing out demonstrations that take place offline or on the streets. Like the campaign in May 2016, when activists in Berlin chained themselves to railings near inscriptions of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) close to the German Bundestag. Or when they had themselves put away in a cage at the end of June outside of Berlin’s central railway station. As recently as September, countless activists expressed their anger about the BTHG with moving boxes and a large moving van at the Brandenburg Gate – and alerted the public some more about the issues and problems they are facing.
Having said that, Berlin certainly wasn’t the only place that was host to these types of protests. Even though it is generally the place that accommodates these demonstrations with the most participants, activists in other German cities are also very active. Whether it’s in Duisburg, Cologne, Hamburg, Kiel or Rostock – all over Germany, people with disabilities take to the streets to fight for their rights and emphatically claim them and make their presence felt.
During a demonstration on September 20, Ambassador for Inclusion Deike Ludwig of the Advisory Council for People with Disabilities and Chronic Diseases of the Hanseatic City of Rostock welcomed about 15 activists in front of the Rostock Town Hall. During her opening speech, Margit Glasow, Inclusion Representative of the German party Die Linke (The Left), emphasized the importance of calling attention to the BTHG since it exemplifies a huge and nationwide problem. "Even though there are many demonstrations in Berlin, we are also fighting here in Rostock. We too recognize this problem and want to actively take action against it," Glasow announced.
In his capacity as German Ambassador for Inclusion, Torsten Schumann voices his main criticism and concerns in a nutshell: "The Federal Participation Law is created by people who are not affected by it. They talk about people with disabilities instead of talking to them. This is against the intent of the UN-CRPD and flat out contemptuous of human rights."
"Actually, the Law is intended to promote improvements," says Ralf Orthmann. "However, it will only make the situation worse." The fact that the demonstration in Rostock takes place on such a small scale, is something Orthmann regrets but he concedes, "Even though there are only a few people here on location, these campaigns take place nationwide, especially in major cities – and there’s power in numbers! Besides, we don’t have any other options besides these protest campaigns!" He adds, that this subject concerns all of us. "You might still be healthy today but things might be very different tomorrow. Small-scale protests are always difficult to implement but they are necessary, like the major demonstration in Berlin, where activists chained themselves together for example. Though this is an act of civil disobedience, you essentially need to choose ways that cause a stir," says Orthmann.
Torsten Schumann agrees with Orthmann on this particular point. "Every protest is crucially important! If nobody says anything, nothing will ever change. We have been silent long enough. Inclusion means, involving everyone and not excluding anyone. I don’t want to be excluded anymore; I want to participate in society."
By the way, a #ungehindert demonstration also took place on the same day in Hamburg. People with disabilities came together to call attention to the planned BTHG in the Hanseatic City. As long as the nearly 100 amendment ideas have not been reviewed and included, the many activists across Germany will continue to stand up for their right to live a self-determined life with various protests.