Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the British Telecom Young Deaf Achievers Award, held at the Cafe Royal in London on the 12th December 1990.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Chairman, thank you very much indeed. I must let you into a secret that not many people are aware of – indeed, if they were, I suppose in a curious way it would not be a secret! But we do have in the House of Commons something of a trade union of former Ministers for the Disabled. It is a very discreet, very select, rather enjoyable trade union but in that trade union the Father of the Chapel, irrespective of anything to do with politics, is undoubtedly Jack Ashley and it is a very great privilege for me to follow him today and to thank him publicly for the extraordinary amount of work he has done not just for people who are disabled through deafness but for people who are disabled in a whole range of ways. He has done more in my judgement [Applause]. Well there you are, I need not say it because you know, so it does not need saying!
Jack was kind enough to say that minutes were precious and to thank me for coming. If I may say so, I think perhaps I should thank him for inviting me because the reason I was keen to come today is because there are many of us here who are very fortunate in that we have to face no disability in the normal journey through life that all of us have; but those who do need a very special courage to face that – not just the courage to meet the challenges, but the ordinary everyday courage to actually decide to take on those challenges in the first place, perhaps to go to a workplace or a university or to enter into a sport or to enter into the normal social contact that most people accept, anticipate and enjoy with no difficulty whatsoever.
Faced with a disability, whether it be deafness or perhaps some other disability or perhaps a myriad series of disabilities which alas is so often the case, it does take a very remarkable kind of personal courage to enter into that commitment into society and the young people that I had the privilege of meeting just before lunch today were people who have not only had the courage to enter into society in that particular fashion but have achieved very remarkable things as a result of having done so and for me, it is a very great privilege today to have had the opportunity of meeting them. A privilege but not a surprise, for having been Minister for the Disabled, albeit for the all too short time of just a year, I learned during that period across a whole range of disability, with what enormous courage so many people in this country face hurdles that many of us cannot imagine and perhaps would not be able to cope with if we were able to imagine them. For we ought not to pretend, as we see these young people receiving their well-deserved awards in a few moments, that what they have achieved has been easy or comfortable or without some difficulties, for it has not been and indeed, in many ways it simply could not have been.
Many of us might think what today’s finalists have done was almost impossible but I think if you do think that, that shows the failure of our imagination and not theirs, for the young people who receive these awards did realise what could be done, put themselves to do it and have succeeded in my judgement in rather spectacular fashion.
One of the reasons I regard this as an important occasion is to touch upon something that Iain Vallance said. In many ways, these young people offer a very considerable beacon of hope to other people who are disabled as to what they can achieve in their own lives and they have precisely the same right to achieve what they can in their lives that everybody else has and we have an obligation to assist them to do it, whether or not they be disabled, and to ensure that they can get the maximum possible out of their lives provided that they will put into it – as those we meet today and hundreds of thousands of others do – the effort and courage that is necessary to deal with the difficulties they often face.
I hope that those people who perhaps still have in their minds some form of prejudice or difficulty because somebody has one form of disability will realise that one form of disability does not disable people from the normal functions of life, the normal responsibilities of life, the normal duties of life and the normal pleasures that the rest of us are able to enjoy.
If there is one thing that has been happening remarkably in the last twenty years or so, but which still has further in my judgement to go, it is to open up the opportunities for people who are disabled that those who are not disabled have over the years come to take for granted and I hope that that is something we will all be able to take a part in doing in the years ahead.
The people who are disabled know from their own experience the will power that is necessary to achieve what they have achieved and I think in terms of will power and courage, if there are two attributes that the young people you will meet shortly have demonstrated to a very remarkable extent it is those. I hope that we will continue to encourage them and many others to achieve precisely the same things in the future.
I would, if I may, therefore like to thank most warmly both [indistinct] and Iain Vallance and British Telecom for sponsoring this event, for the enormous amount that they have done, are doing and I very much hope will continue to do in the future and perhaps I should also mention just as an example, the contribution that British Telecom has made to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf telephone exchange for the deaf, which it has been jointly funding with the Government. This does allow deaf people to telephone, hearing people by providing an operator with whom deaf people can communicate through text; the operator then passes on their message. British Telecom announced a grant of 4 million pounds this year to allow this service to continue and I would like publicly to express my thanks to Iain Vallance for that very generous and … [Applause].
I think, if I may presume to speak upon behalf of the award winners today and perhaps also a little wider on behalf of disabled people – people who have disabilities I might more accurately say – elsewhere in the community, there are, I think, some people whom they would wish to thank and whom I might thank on their behalf and that is their parents and friends who will have encouraged them and helped them throughout the vast majority – in the case of their parents, throughout all their lives – to deal with their disabilities and to make the most of their opportunities. On behalf of disabled people, I would like to extend those thanks most warmly for I think they are thanks well deserved by those who offer so much to people who have been treated so harshly in so many instances.
I think, if I may say so, Chairman, that the principal purpose of today’s meeting is to honour those young people who have won in a very in a very remarkable fashion these awards which are so difficult to obtain and so I will say no more except to say that in a few moments I hope you will give a very warm welcome indeed to a number of very remarkable young people who have achieved what few could have achieved and which all of us may look at with a certain degree of pride that young people in our country can do such things despite the handicaps that they face. [Applause].