Disability: Identity and Political Change

Welcome to my 200th post and its a big one! Did you all manage to read my guest blog post a couple of days ago? HossyLass was able to articulate a perspective of disability I am unable to. Not because of a moral or principal disagreement, but because our impairments (the correct word to use for someone’s medical condition) affect us very differently. I have always been aware of different impairments – my cousin is deaf, my other cousin has Down’s Syndrome, I work with a blind man and a dyslexic guy, I know wheelchair users with different impairments, even within SMA (my impairment) the spectrum is massive. Also my aunty has had ME (chronic fatigue) for many years and a uni friend is tussling with this at present too.

Since I have been speaking out through my blog my aims have been: to inform, to inspire and to change. I believe the power to any blog is personal experience. However when an individual speaks out against government decisions or societies discrimination, it has to become a collective. The disability community is a clever, articulate, politically aware and economically savvy bunch. With the increased cost of living, government cuts and welfare reforms disabled people are becoming scared and rightly vocalising this. While the cost of living affects a whole economy, disabled people face additional costs. While the cuts are affecting many groups, cuts for disabled people can mean no food, hygiene or shelter. While welfare reform are largely embraced to simplify a complicated process, it is actually scare mongering and scape goating disabled people.

The feedback I have had alongside this terrible political economic state has been:

  • From people with very different impairments to my own
  • Impairments that can cause so much fatigue and pain, getting out of bed is not possible
  • People so fearful of the governments ‘Back to work’ initiatives
  • Individuals questioning how the social model is valid to them
  • Questioning how a government can be so callous in their narrow views. An example of the new tests for 1.5 million on incapacity benefit (a benefit for people unable to work due to disability or long term illness) is as silly as if someone can hold a pen. Its clear to see someone could hold a pen, but have multiple reasons why work is still not possible

I do not pretend to have the answers. I want to just share my opinions on this. I see this in 2 strands – the identity of the disability community and the identity of the government policy changes.

Medical v Social model – A big part of the disabled communities identity stems from which overarching model they use. Despite its limitations I do back the social model. To my mind the medical model was where disabled people were ‘the problem’. Their impairments were to be cured. They were shunned away from society and received awful medical treatment such as electric shocks to remove their impairment. The idea of the social model is liberating. Disabled people are not the problem, it is the construction of society. I do concede its inclusivity for different impairments has its limits. However please do not suggest the medical model is right.

Medical treatment is a necessity, but this is wholly different from the oppression of the medical model. Surely it is about understanding an individuals limitations physically and mentally, receiving physio, spinal fusion operations, pain relief etc. Then in understanding what could still be achieved despite medical limitations learning how to remove any additional societal barriers in the way. Employment could mean encouraging businesses to offer more part-time jobs and working from home. Socialising could mean open minded friends being creative around social settings. I still maintain the world is everyone’s oyster, with the right medical and technological advances, government support and societies inclusivity.

If the disability community can reach a rigid stance on its collective identity, there is greater chance of change. If segments of a minority group stand for conflicting needs, the government will struggle to satisfy its needs. With one collective loud voice, how can the government ignore 10m people?

The government policy – I believe if the common needs are sieved out, we can offer solutions and not just problems. At a top level this could be:

  • An understanding of different impairments and their implications on a person
  • Disabled people, even with similar impairments, have different personalities and views. There is no such thing as one size fits all
  • Once understood, listened to and included in decisions, disabled people just want to get on with living life. We are not trouble makers or fraudsters.
  • It will take money, time, innovation and learnings to get to a perfect policy. However with affordable medical treatment, equipment and care; disabled people will achieve their own potential

Mr Osborne and Mr Duncan Smith – If you invest in disabled people the way you are encouraging the world to do in your economy, you will see a massive ‘rate of return’. In contributions to the economy, in increased employment through social care, in tax revenues from both of these, and in healthcare savings from improved welfare and happiness. Open your eyes!!!

Please retweet, email and post this anywhere. Raise the awareness that this is a complex issue with complex answers. Only collectively (through healthy debate) can we find the answers. I hope this sparks some thoughts, passion and change to at least one of you.

Twitter: @martynsibley