It is rare for the media to be talking about people with impairments without referring to them as being vulnerable, especially in terms of being part of ‘the most vulnerable members of society’. I would argue their use of the terms in a strong indicator of the general deep rooted prejudices towards people with impairments, more than any support for welfare reforms. However, rather than rejecting the use of the term of the patronising nonsense it is, many so-called ‘disabled’ activists have used the term in its intended meaning to justify the campaign against welfare reform.
Vulnerability is a state of being where someone is at greater risk of harm or abuse. Anyone can become vulnerable at specific times for specific reasons. An example would be that women more than men may be more vulnerable walking home alone at night because they would be less able to defend themselves physically if they were attacked.
Where there is a vulnerability, there is an opportunity to reduce it through changing behaviour and having ‘active’ safeguarding procedures in place. A woman may decide to ensure she chooses a route to walk at night that is well-lit and not too quiet. This means that vulnerability can be seen as a moment by moment state of being that is highly dependent on the situation.
So it is factually as well as morally incorrect to portray people with impairments as being naturally vulnerable every moment of their lives. It is a portrayal that denies them the personhood and respect other people are afforded. While many activist claim the media is portraying people with impairments as benefit scroungers, a claim that appears increasingly to have been manufactured by these activists themselves, its impact on personhood is far less significant. The label of a benefit scroungers indicates an assumption of personal and social responsibility that being vulnerable does not. I would therefore prefer to be unfairly be labeled as a benefit scrounger than being vulnerable!
I fully acknowledge that I can be truly vulnerable at times for a whole range of reasons. But I also know that when I am writing an article, email or tweet. where the written word is my preferred weapon of choice, those who are on the other end are in the vulnerable position since they have to squirm out of the questions I am asking. Any person with impairment can be vulnerable to abuse, but they can also be an perpetrator of abuse themselves.
The V word, vulnerable, should be as seen as offensive, divisive and politically unhelpful as the N word. People with impairments need to stop being the pawns of welfare activists and politicians, who compare as to the welfare of animalos when they endlessly label us as ’the vulnerable’, making us the ‘other’ of society. Our personhood, the ability to have rights and responsibilities, is ignored as we are simply used for politicians and activists to score points from each other like school children.
This is not a new problem but it is a problem which has become far worse since 2010. This is not because of the actions of the government, who has a more positive view of people with impairments, but rather than actions of many disabled activists, who have taken attitudes backwards with their attempt to keep as many people with impairments on benefits, sometimes unnecessary, as possible. I do not know where this is heading, but I am tired of being called vulnerable for the sake of others.