Independent Living has been hailed has one of the greatest achievements of the Disabled People’s movement, but has it failed to deliver for the majority of dysabled people in 2016? While there is no doubt independent living policies have benefited those who had the determination to live independently, like myself, I am unsure if it has changed many of the attitudinal barriers that creates social and emotional institutionalisation.
I believe that having a personal assistant, relevant equipment, good housing and everything else people need as ingredients of inclusion does not automatically make someone emotionally and socially independent. 38% of Independent Living Fund packages were managed by parents, as opposed to just 28% being directly managed. It is also worth noting that only 0.67% of users were in paid employment. While it is difficult to make any major conclusions on these facts, it has to question the rosy and defensive picture many activists still paint about the fund.
We should never stop fighting for the ingredients mentioned above, and people often assume I am suggesting they are not needed, but this is not enough for real inclusion. The final ingredient comes from within in terms of self-motivation, self-belief and personal responsibility. I believe it is rarely the case that people lack this ingredient, but that due to the often institutionalising environment around them, it has become deeply buried within levels of learned passivity. They may need support to find themselves and reach their hidden potential.
I would argue that the environmental ingredients, like an accessible built environment, are in place, or at least the moral argument has been won. Endlessly fighting for better environmental factors will not stop dysabled people from learning to be passive, especially when they lack the barriers of yesteryear. It is time those who claim to care about dysabled people’s inclusion focused more on empower individuals, upskilling them to grab the opportunities around them in accordance with their personal story and journey.
The individualism approach seems very obvious to me, and I remain bemused by those who criticise me heavily for wanting individuals to succeed and to celebrate success. If I am not selfish and look after myself, as no one else will, how can I help others? I believe their concerns come from a collectivist ideology that it is easier to play the role of the downtrodden, sometimes decades after the fight has been won.
My belief in the power of the individual may stem from being brought up under Thatcherism, but for me, this is not about politics. While my viewpoint may seem harsh to many readers, I genuinely want every individual to succeed in the way their inner-selves would define that. Just throwing money at the problem is unlikely to help people to become and feel truly empowered. Happiness, the assumed goal for everyone, does not come from wealth or health, but from being in control of your own destiny as far as possible.
I believe to move forward and achieve full meaningful inclusion for everyone, we need to be honest about the failings of independent living, as well as its achievements. This may require a new generation of believers who can take a fresh approach to what is needed to get the job done for everyone to have a meaningful place in society.