International Day of People with Disability (December 3) is an international observance promoted by the United Nations since 1992. It has been celebrated with varying degrees of success around the planet. The observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
In 2005 the Office of Disability Issues jointly between DWP published a paper. Department of Health and Department of Education. It was 212 pages long and I listened to every single word – several times.
The title of this paper was: – ‘ By 2025 disabled people in Britain should have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life and will be respected and included as equal members of society’.
I never understood whether the ‘dream’ was that all disabled people should be equal within themselves or equal within the non-disabled world. Which ever it was – this was never going to work.
Every one of us could name at least 5 barriers we face every day of our lives. Some many more but let’s not be greedy. Probably the top of every list would be how others see your disability. Those who are ‘experts’ of all things medical.
Those same people have a fixed stereotype of what a disabled person looks like. Put someone in a wheelchair or give them a Guide Dog and they are immediately recognisable as having what is their opinion of what is classed as ‘disabled’, If you are having a very good day and don’t want to use your chair they will definitely see you as a cheat. The minute you set one very unstable and painful foot outside that chair you become able bodied in their eyes.
We all know these experts opinions are fuelled by media and TV programmes. Interestingly – how many of those who do cheat the system are truly disabled trying to get a little extra cash? There are some non-disabled people who think it is so easy to pretend they can’t walk or see. Put them in a wheelchair or blindfold them for a week and then they may have some idea of what we go through month in month out for the rest of our lives.
Public opinion is most definitely barrier number one.
Ignoring all these so called schemes the government is trying to run. Trying to squeeze us the square pegs into their very neat round holes. Ignore cuts to every allowance, benefit and every disability payment known to man. Ignore cuts to every service known to man. Ignore them all and think positive.
You find yourself being invited for a job interview. Months of form filling have paid off. You have worked out the safest and easiest way to get to said interview. Maybe a friend is taking you. Arriving you find there are no ramps for your chair. There’s a bell to ring to gain entry. Too high to reach your friend has to press it. Someone comes to the door where you explain who you are. The lady looks at your chair and says sorry the job has gone – clearly by her expression she was not expecting a disabled person.
Over the last 7 years since that ‘dream’ paper was brought out – life has got even harder for us. You’d be lucky to get an interview now. In a wheel chair or tapping a white stick is the biggest visual give away.
But what about those who have invisible ill health or disabilities? Chronic pain sufferer’s mental health, where even getting out of the house can be that barrier? I live with a chronic pain sufferer who also has reactive depression. The more he hurts the worse his depression gets. It is an eternal cycle. On a less than worse day he may have 2 hours of, what is to him, quality time. Any employer want to give him a whirl? It’s not doubtful – it’s an emphatic NO.
As disabled people. or their carers, we have learnt the art of survival. Humans are pack animals and in the wild anything, which is weak or cannot defend itself is cast adrift from that pack. Humans are supposed to be the most intelligent of life form. (I’ll argue with myself about that later.) We don’t set the weakest of our pack adrift. We help each other. We survive.
Sadly this is no longer true and a new breed of life form has emerged – stronger and more able to fight. We have had to evolve – society and its barriers have forced this on us.
Mr and Mrs Joe Public don’t need to face barriers or equality they don’t need those survival skills we have developed in this jungle called society.
But we have. We fight and we will survive.