I used to equate independent living for people with impairments as the end of Black slavery in terms of liberation politics, but the sad reality is it was merely a small colony of slaves who broke free, which I myself followed as a young man, leaving everyone else behind still enslaved. The recent debate in the House of Lords on ESA, led by Tanni Grey-Thomson, was the equivalent of debating the living conditions of black slaves and how they should be improved by their masters, not the abolishment of slavery.
Society understands it is wrong to treat someone differently because of their gender, the colour of their skin or sexual orientation, even if not everyone agrees with that, and punished accordingly. So why does the fact my speech is naturally slurred cause society to treat me so different? As soon as I open my mouth, often before, my personhood and intelligence is questioned and undermined. From the day I was put in an incubator I had to prove I had a place in society. My bipolar has provided me with an overactive mind and a deep frustration when I feel directly or indirectly my self-worth is being undermined, causing me to challenge those who do, including Tanni and many others who believe they are doing the right thing.
When I hear people like Tanni, the many middle class white fat cat charities proclaiming themselves ‘disability right campaigners’, and a disabilist media who endlessly scream loudly that ‘you can not harm the disabled’, I have to work very hard to stop myself becoming Darth Vader on a mission! A colleague recently made the problem clear to me when they stated a belief people with additional or changing needs should be assumed to be able ti access social mobility, which links into my enablement and empowerment agenda.
Living, true living, is about taking risks and ‘not harming the disabled’ is about denying people with additional or changing needs that right to take risks, which is harmful to their place in society. While people suggest they accept I can work, because I fought so hard to prove the case, we still live in a society where it is assumed having slurred speech means I need to be excluded from society. While people like Tanni may rightfully oppose assisted dying, and that people like me should not be pushed to end our lives, it does not mean we are yet seen as equal members of society.
In almost 42 years lived experience, I have viewed impairment from every possible angle and I know that it is complex. I am still learning and trying to understand issues, which my articles here are a part of. My vision is a world where having a different form of speech makes no difference. However impossible that may seem, it is no more impossible than how gay marriages have become acceptable in my lifetime, emerging from an era where in the UK I could have been arrested for my sexuality.
People with additional or changing needs need respect, support and understanding as equal citizens capable of social mobility, not protected as the runt of modern society, tolerated because of political correctness and paternalism until a solution can be found.