How do we change attitudes

Disabled people are not another species

I started this Blog with no clear idea of exactly what I was going to write about. The idea was that I didn’t want to be defined by my disability. The thing is, I have since realised that it is so much a part of my life – it IS my life – that I write everything from the perspective of a disabled person.

When I read the newspaper to gain ideas and information for my writing I am instantly drawn to disability issues. Inevitable? Probably.

Photo by Matthias Diesel on Unsplash

Two news stories caught my eye today. Although they are different, they both relate to how disabled people are commonly regarded.

The first was about a benefits claimant. She was being assessed for her Personal Independence Payment (a monthly benefit awarded to help the disabled with daily living) and she was turned down because it was thought that her mobility was not as compromised as she claimed. She appealed. During the appeal, It emerged that she had been referred to as a ‘lying bitch’ by a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) official in his report. She sued the DWP and won her case. To read more go to https://www.theguardian.com/society/

The second story comes from a disability rights group, Disability Rights UK (DRUK) In their Newsletter they report that they were part of a high level hustings organised by a consortium of disabled charities during the recent General Election campaign and not one single MP from any party attended. Read this at https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/

Both of these articles highlight in different ways attitudes towards disability in general and disabled people in particular. There are many types of disability, some obvious, some not so and some which are hidden completely. This latter category includes those with mental health issues which can be as disabling as physical disability.

It is well known amongst the disabled community in the UK, that assessment for benefits, particularly Personal Independence Payment (PIP) can be terrifying, stressful and gruelling. There are conditions like MS and other neurological diseases which can manifest themselves in ‘good’ days where mobility may be quite manageable and a claimant can be viewed as being not as disabled as they are really are.

This will often lead to an award of PIP at a lower level than what is actually required, leaving people already struggling even more disadvantaged. There is a right of appeal as in the case of the Claimant above. Many people are put off appealing their claim because it involves further stress. A solicitor from the firm involved in the court case commented:

“Although the facts of the case are unusual, it does highlight a general issue that disabled people are experiencing a hostile environment in the benefits system.”

Robyn Taylor

Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to just the benefits system. Attitudes are not always hostile, but just as bad – patronising.

We are part of the human species

What disabled people dislike most is being patronised. The view from a wheelchair is always waist height! This immediately makes people think you need:

  1. Ignoring
  2. Pitying
  3. Patting on the head
  4. To be spoken to as if you were a child
  5. Sympathetic looks

………..the list goes on.

Wheelchair users are full of anecdotes about being treated this way, some very funny, others extremely irritating. Somebody once suggested that I ‘learn Spanish, it’ll be a challenge’ as if life wasn’t challenging enough! Or ‘I could really do with one of those’ referring to the wheelchair. These things are thoughtless and crass. Sometimes I say something back, mostly I don’t

It’s understandable that people who have had no direct or regular contact with disability find it difficult to comprehend. If you can’t think of something to say that doesn’t sound bad, probably best to say nothing at all.

There is a serious conclusion to be drawn here though, and it goes back to the two news stories above. It’s clear that professional services like the DWP need to provide proper training to their staff who are going to be dealing with disability issues such as PIP and other things.

Being disabled does not turn you into a sub-human species, or mean that you only have half a brain cell. Different disabilities need to be treated in different ways, according to their various levels and limitations.

It would be good if attitudes could change so that life when you are disabled gets easier not harder. The world needs to look beyond the disability and see the person who is there.

Pnhoto by Dan Meyers on Unsplash