Every once in a while something comes along which gives one a rare opportunity to celebrate. It may seem as if the celebrations have stopped now that the Olympics is over but I feel that there is more, far more, to come. When the Paralympics begin on 29 August there will be greater reason to applaud because disability will finally be showcased in a favourable light and presented in terms of ability.
You see, people with disabilities have it harder. They have greater odds to overcome and society does not make it an easy for them. This is why I cannot wait for the games to begin. It is time to present the positive reality after the bad publicity that the disabled have received this year through being portrayed as benefit scroungers during the welfare reform debate.
I have a social investment in raising the profile and awareness of disability issues because I am CEO of a charity called Powerhouse. It is a charity for women with learning disabilities and was the first of its’ kind to be set up in England. I joined it because I was motivated by wanting ‘to give something back’ and specifically wanted to work with women. Little did I know or realise how much I would learn from the experience and I have only been with Powerhouse for a year.
The Powerhouse women are courageous and aspirational. The charity is a lifeline for them because it provides a safe space from the so-called mainstream world where disability hate crime is on the rise. Disabled women as a subset group of disabled people suffer the most amount of abuse. They face inferior access to education, employment, health information and public services. They also face a higher risk of sexual and physical abuse. In fact, many women at Powerhouse have stories to tell that range from incidents occurring in everyday situations to crimes being committed against them in their own homes.
As examples, one lady had her hair snipped off while walking on a main street because a bunch of teenagers thought it would be fun to do so. Another was facing a forced marriage by her parents. The police were called in both instances.
What angers me the most is that disabled women are often excluded from the discourse around issues that affect ALL women such as sexual health, domestic violence, education and feminism. The feminist issues of work life balance, fighting the porn industry and discussing whether plastic surgery is part of a modern woman’s life is irrelevant to the women of Powerhouse. As a result, the visibility of their existence is diminished.
Charities such as Powerhouse are crucial in terms of advocating for disabled women and injecting their interests into debates so that they are recognised as individuals with individual needs who exist within the larger society. There are 3.2 milion disabled women of working age in the UK. There is much work that needs to be done and the austerity cuts have made this task harder.
In a capitalist society where a return on money given is expected to be a monetary one it is a challenge to prove that capacity building of humans sometimes does need a financial investment but without a return of money profit. We need funds to be able to open the centre for more than 2 days a week as we do at present (Mon and Weds). More than anything else though we need to build at micro level a group of women who feel confident and positive about their lives and the world that they inhabit.
The Paralympics will be a wonderful showcase of strength and endurance. It will also show the world that disabled people are as diverse and varied as anyone else.