Disabled people face a catalogue of unfairness, as damaging and discriminatory as that experienced by black people in apartheid-era South Africa, a leading human rights expert is set to warn.

Speaking on Thursday, Alastair Pringle, the national director of the Equality and Human Rights Commission will say that while Scotland has become more liberal and tolerant, with openly gay politicians, ethnic minority MPs and a woman first minister all unquestioned, equality for disabled people is still a "distant dream".

While the intention is not to exclude disable people from public life, practical barriers in the workplace, on transport, in housing are still too common, he will tell Scotland's first annual Disabled People's Summit in Edinburgh on T Thursday. Meanwhile modern developments such as the movement of services online can help isolate disabled people and social services cuts are removing vital supports which help people live independent lives.

"It would be lovely to think that Scotland could fashion a truly responsive 21st Century welfare system, but if it remains welded to a 20th century transport system or 19th Century ideas about what disabled people can and can't do - have we made any real progress?" Mr Pringle will say.

Drawing attention to the experience of black South Africans being banned from using 'white' beaches prior to 1994, he will add: "The struggle for emancipation of disabled people today is as critical as the struggle for the emancipation of black people in South Africa and Rhodesia. Disabled people today live with semi-apartheid. Noone says up front 'you can't go there' but the reality is you can't and the exclusion is the same."

An example is initiatives such as modern apprentices, he said, with only 0.3 per cent of apprentices being disabled, while disabled people make up up to 20 per cent of the population. "No-one in government set out to exclude disabled people form the modern apprenticeship programme, but then equally noone set out to include them," he will argue.

"Next month we will publish our Scottish state of the national report - How Fair Is Scotland? and I don't think I'm giving away any secrets by saying that for disabled Scots the answer is 'not very'."

The summit, being held at the EICC, was called by the Scottish Government to improve communication between disabled people and ministers. Community empowerment minister Marco Biaggio will speak at the event, which will encourage disabled people to respond to the Government's plans for disabled people. The Scottish Government is currently consulting on a draft delivery plan for the UN convention on the rights of disabled people.

Mr Pringle is also expected to say Disability will remain a top priority for the EHRC. "The consequences of inequality, of exclusion, and of dependence for disabled people are all too evident," he said. “While we’ve seen greater cultural understanding and acceptance of disabled people’s rights, these positive changes are masking increased social isolation for many disabled people as our society and economic life undergoes significant structural changes.

“Far from enjoying increased visibility and being able to participate more fully in every aspect of life, there is a risk that disabled people will become more invisible as both consumers and participants, with organisations losing out on their valuable experiences and custom.”

The event is being held on the UN international day of persons with disabilities, and the UK human rights commissioner Lord Holmes will call for similar summits across the UK to tackle the "virus of social isolation" in a speech to MPs at Westminster tomorrow. The London Paralympics may have been a false dawn, Lord Holmes, himself a paralympic gold medallist, will suggest. “Three years ago, London 2012 was seen as a turning point for the visibility and inclusion of disabled people in our society, and with an expected legacy of improvements. Since then, Britain has made progress on many fronts but there is increasing evidence that disabled and older people are being locked out or left behind," he said.

"While we’ve seen greater cultural understanding and acceptance of disabled people’s rights, these positive changes are masking increased social isolation for many disabled and older people as Britain’s society and economic life undergoes significant structural changes,” he said