I was asked if I could do this, linking to http://tinyurl.com/BADday2014
by my wonderful friend Virginia Moffatt. http://giniamoffatt.blogspot.co.uk I hesitated, partly because I have so much to do, and partly (the real reason) because I was frightened of writing the wrong thing. How embarrassing if I inadvertently revealed myself to be disablist – how awful if I wrote something which would offend. I don’t think it is a ‘simple’ subject to talk about. How can I avoid sounding patronising, or annoying or naive or ignorant or unwittingly prejudiced…
And then I thought – that’s not good enough, Anne. You know it isn’t. Try your best, and do something. If you do get it wrong, apologise and learn from it, but don’t not do anything, because, (as quoted in an earlier post on my blog).
‘All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’.
I am not physically or mentally disabled. I am lucky. But that does not give me permission to pity or patronise anyone who is. Not does it make me lucky and strong in every other aspect of my life, or self confident, or immune from hurt.
I had a very severely physically and mentally disabled brother who died at the age of 40 in 2007, and I have other members of my wider family who I could talk about, but I don’t want to or feel I have the right to. It is too painful for me to talk about my brother at this time, and I don’t think it is my place to talk on behalf of others’ personal experience. Either I am not enough part of their everyday lives for me to have a right to share their experiences in order to write a compelling blog post or it is not my part to tell their story when they could do it themselves.
However, I think I can still say something, both about what I can’t say and what I SHOULD be saying, no shouting, from the rooftops today about Disablism. I can also share how I have tried to do something through writing a children’s book: ‘Girl with a White Dog’
So, I’ll begin, and hope I get this right. Apologies if I say anything wrong.
Each person is unique. I have a friend who is registered as disabled, who is a more confident and much braver person and much more gifted at sport than me – not because she is disabled, but just because she is who she is. That’s all I can say – I know and like this one person with a disability, and it is only one part of who she is, and not the first thing I think of at all when I think of her. However, knowing this one person who has a disability doesn’t tell me any more about all the other millions of people in the world with disabilities, and it doesn’t ultimately affect how I relate to other people I know. Having a – or multiple – disabilities doesn’t make you automatically kinder, or more unselfish or braver or more to be pitied than the next person. Every person – disabled or not – is unique.
HOWEVER. It does seem to me, as someone who is not disabled, that there are experiences that I can see disabled people are having in our country today which are not unique to them as individuals – that as a group people with disabilities are suffering something that people without disabilities are not. This is disablism. There are some obvious things in our society which should not lead to pity for the disabled but should lead to outrage and anger alongside them – solidarity rather than pity – and a determination to fight disablism and to demand fairness and equity. Because it’s a pretty rubbish society which doesn’t acknowledge that some people DO need things and services non-disabled people don’t have to worry about – like medicine, or expensive special diets, adapted wheelchairs and computers and cars and houses, or parking spaces, or more time in examinations, or long-term psychological therapy, or supported living, or simple access to public buildings, or a host of other things (and this is where I worry I will offend people if I haven’t listed things they need – please forgive me – I don’t know all the things people need – I just know that if they need them a decent society should just provide them and stop making a fuss).
I read about how working disabled people are losing jobs because of the STUPIDITY and CRUELTY of taking away an allowance which enables them to pay for help to go to work and, ironically, to then become tax payers.
I read about people with chronic, incurable conditions who cannot work, being tested by ignorant people who judge them as fit and withdraw their benefits. And I read about tragic suicides because of this.
And what disabled people need is what everyone needs – just to be able to get on with living life and not be singled out, talked about in a patronising way, or, worst of all, stigmatised and made to feel ‘worthless’ or a ‘burden’. What a cheek, to put it mildly.
And sadly, it IS putting it too mildly. I have just had my first children’s book published. It is called ‘Girl with a White Dog’ and I have written extensively about why and how I wrote it on my blog. In it I look at the atmosphere of 1930s Germany, and how Jews and immigrants, gypsies, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals and yes – the disabled – were all stigmatised by the Nazis. I have read too much about how the disabled were targeted and scapegoated and derided for me not to feel very angry when I read any disablist rhetoric in our press today. I am not just angry on behalf of ‘the disabled’ – I am angry for my own sake – I don’t want to live in such a mean-minded, threatening, society and disabled or not, I have a duty to speak out for my own well being as much as for anyone else’s.
In my book ‘Girl with a White Dog’ one of the main characters in the book is called Kate. I am especially proud of a review comment here on the Book Trust site : http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books/view/33535 where it says at the end: ‘Cleverly, the book also features a very positively depicted disabled character in the form of Jessie’s good friend Kate, a sporty, opinioned and extremely likeable character, whose wheelchair is largely irrelevant to the plot.’
For me, that is part of what defeating disablism is about. Disabled or not, we should all fight and openly challenge any cruel legislation and any prejudice against the disabled. As a society we should simply just give the necessary support to people so that as far as possible their disability becomes irrelevant and they can just get on with life. Disablism, on the other hand, is sadly not irrelevant at all.