As someone who was born with cerebral palsy, I discovered the old ‘disability movement’ when I went to University at 18 in 1992. I quickly saw this unelected and unaccountable body as a way for a minority to dictate to the majority. I quickly understood the Solidarity others find so precious was actually quite oppressive. The needs, voice and rights of so many disabled people have been excluded, especially those with severe impairments and learning difficulties. But the movement’s actions won us civil rights, if nothing else, that we have all benefited from. I however always seen myself as an individual who has a right to think for myself and escaped from the self segregated oppression demanded from me by the movement.
The old movement has been all but dead for a number of years as its generation of activists have been institutionalised into the system they supposedly once fought against. But in 2010, the welfare reforms created a new ‘sick and disabled’ movement where we were now called to stand together to fight against ‘cuts’ that are yet to materialise in any meaningful way, and help sick people to, well, have the right not to work. This movement is very interesting as for the most part it does against everything the old movement was asking for. Inclusion and liberation has been replaced by exclusion and victimhood. I know it is hard to see but let me explain.
I fundamentally believe everyone should get what they personally need to be active and equal citizens able to fulfil their social responsibilities, which could include paid work. In this context someone with a mild form of diabetes will need less resources to support them than someone which severe cerebral palsy. Further, as the built environment, attitudes and policies improves some people with impairments, and we all have some kind of impairment, will become less disabled on a minute by minute basis, and some will no longer be disabled, compared to 20 or 30 years ago.
But this is not good news for sick people or those with minor impairments, because it is likely the current system of benefits means they get more than what they really need. I have tried to find out what some sick people really need and told to mind my own business as they avoid my questions and so leading me to conclude they do not need much. They need solidarity and a collective identity because they need to piggyback on the public perceptions of disabled people to cash in on the higher average need of disability. Since disability is so hard to define, it is so easy for people to cash in to what they see as people receiving benefits, cars and so on. But they do not want the real prejudices and discrimination that comes from being disabled, being outraged at what is normal for us.
The main trick of many sick people who do not wish to work is to imply they face the discrimination of the so-called average disabled person in terms of inaccessible transport, employer’s attitudes (apparently) and cost of living when they do not actually personally face these barriers. Since the identity of sick people is often created by medical professionals and many have not come to terms with their conditions, they will believe impairment is a negative thing and transfer that onto other disabled people, making sick people a big problem to the positive inclusion of traditional disabled people.
The situation is made worse as many sick people are mollycoddled by health professionals telling them what they can not do and so they are then not ready to face the hard nosed world of DWP and Atos, who are simply interested in whether they are fit for work rather than their emotional journey to work. This is where they need to piggyback on the collective identity of disabled people, pointing at people with cerebral palsy and others saying ‘I am like them and they can’t work’.
And this is where I am a problem for so many sick and disabled people, because I do work in my own way as a disability consultant. And while they may not see it, I am ‘sick’ from a nerve virus four years ago as well as having mild bipolar. So I show there are no excuses, especially when they are unwilling to explain how they are personally and specifically unable to do ANY kind of work, despite blogging 20 hours a week that they can not work!
So I say it is time to end the illusion of solidarity of disabled people and let us be the unique and wonderful individuals we are, who can all work in our own ways, rather than being chained together wallowing in the doom and gloom of self-segregation.
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