When the Paralympics was being staged it seemed quite reasonable to expect that a golden moment had arrived given the accolades, excitement and enthusiasm shown towards the athletes. Disabled people, finally, could expect to be treated with respect and accepted as being ‘one of everyone’.
It hasn’t even been six months since the Paralympics ended. The Special Olympics are being held at the moment in Korea. Is change detected in the air? Not a bit as evidenced this week by Panorama which exposed how a company called Triage that is handling the Government’s work programme refers to disabled people as ‘lying, thieving, bastards’. So, rather than some sort of superb legacy coming out of all the efforts that went in last year to raising disability awareness the pendulum has swung back to the old fashioned channel of name calling.
‘Lying, thieving, bastards’ is now to be added to the list of horrendous adjectives already used to describe disabled people. One wonders what it will take for humankind to possess some sort of basic decency. ‘Lying, thieving, bastards’ are words that, for me, describe bootleggers and not honest citizens.
Francesca Martinez is a stand up comedian, writer and actor. I had the privilege of watching her during the summer in 2012 when she did an act at the Southbank. Francesca suffers from cerebral palsy. Her act was funny. She was witty and after the first few awkward moments when people gasped softly and looked uncomfortable when she walked on stage they soon rolled about with laughter.
The politics of disability is something that affects me both professionally, as CEO of Powerhouse which is a charity for women with learning disabilities, and as a Christian. What intrigued me on that day I mention was how much people enjoyed her act after getting through the an obstacle of self-discomfort. It is the ‘disability’ versus ‘the person with the disability’ approach that many policy makers have ruminated on.
The attacks on disability benefits and the WCA judges the disability and not the person behind it. The ‘Social Model’ of disability attempted to change this mindset by attributing the disadvantage suffered by the disabled person to limitations in society, NOT the limitations within the person. However, the current policy has reversed this. Disabled people are being made to, as it seems, atone for their conditions by being made to go through WCA and being told that they are fit to work. The capitalist model of work is seeking to to level the playing field between an able bodied or disabled person without life inhibiting traits and a person with a disability who is having a life inhibiting condition. Institutional discrimination is targetting disabled people systematically and the outcome is, as As Francesca said: “It’s a Scary Dark Time for Disabled People”.
Many have already committed suicide, many have become even more ill because of WCA and many more will suffer. The most heart breaking story I read was on Michael Meacher’s blog by a woman called Marilyn Sainsbury who left a moving tale about how a student of hers who is deaf and blind had to undergo WCA without fully understanding what was being asked of her. The student was so traumatised by the experience that she started to blame herself for being dependent on ‘government handouts’.
There isn’t a ‘fault line’ with disability. It disturbs me greatly when I hear disabled people blame themselves. This battle of the welfare state will carry on for sometime but I sincerely hope that eventually there will be a realisation that people’s lives cannot be the political football in a quest for a small state government. Fault does not have a place in the politics of disability.