Friday, 23 November 2012

We will always think of disability in the same way.

Hello and welcome to my blog. It's lovely to see you again. Now this is a long blog so I’ll get straight down to business.
     The last few blogs have been connected by Lord Coe's statement at the 2012 Paralympics that, "We will never think of disability in the same way."  Marc Quinn's famous sculpture of Alison Lapper dominated the end of the closing ceremony so I asked our local MBE, artist and campaigner what she thought of Lord Coe's statement.

"The Paralympics were amazing and it was about time that disabled athletes were treated with the same respect as their able-bodied counter parts, but for society to never think of disability the same way we have to be accepted.
     We have to be allowed to have the same wants and needs as able-bodied people.
     We have to knock physical attributes and virility off the pedestal and think about what else people can contribute. The Paralympics was all about celebrating and elevating physical achievement so acceptance cannot be achieved on the back of that, but it can be achieved if there are some fundamental changes to the way our society thinks.
   Disabled people should be thought of as contributors to society rather than takers.
     I work and most of the people I grew up with, as far as I'm aware, work. We pay taxes.
     A lot of the disabled people I know are self-employed. I'm self-employed and work at home but because I don't drive a van advertising that I'm a disabled artist, millions of people assume I don't work.  
     If they are not self-employed my disabled friends are employed in jobs to do with disability such as raising awareness and acceptance of it. We're experts in managing our disabilities but talking about it is often viewed as our only employable skill.  It’s not.
     Either way we’re not high profile workers so it’s easy to falsely assume that most of us are unemployed and doing nothing except sapping money from social services.
  We have to be integrated into the workforce.
     For us to be looked upon as contributors we have to be integrated, I hate that word, but integrated to such an extent that it's no longer unusual to see somebody with a disability in a job.  And we need to be seen as capable of doing more than the bare minimum of what people would consider employment.
     We’d still be stared at. There would still be comments and assumptions made like if you’re in a wheelchair you can’t have a brain in your head, but eventually we’d be accepted. I saw it when I went into a school a year or so ago. I was working with a very cocky, tough group of lads who knew it all. I taught them to paint with their mouths and feet. They had to sit down and think how they were going to get their palette to the sink and wash it with their hands behind their backs. It was fun and they got into a right mess but at the end of the day one of them took off his T-shirt and they all signed it and said that I’d changed their attitudes towards somebody with a disability.
     You're always going to get that one person who will never think you are good enough but eventually we’d be accepted.
   We have to stop being viewed as helpless charity cases.
     Technological and medical advances mean that more disabled people are surviving. If there aren't the funds available from Government to support us it has to come from charity and this is the catch.
     Charities are fighting to get you to put your hand in your pocket so they will use the clich├ęd image of a disabled person, be they young or old, in a wheelchair and unable to help themselves without charity. Yet with charity some of us are enabled to help ourselves, or a child locked into their own world can enjoy lots of sensory stimulation.  
     But charity costs the recipient too because charity cases aren’t allowed to have any dignity. Where’s the dignity in holding out the begging bowl?
   Society has to stop thinking that we are abnormal.
     We all bandy it about but we really don’t know what normal is yet somewhere out there there is a very clear picture of what is normal. We try to fit into the definition by saying look I work therefore I’m normal but that’s rubbish. We don’t fit in.  Even before we’re born mothers are offered a termination in case they can’t cope with us.  
     If we don’t fit in, not only are we excluded, we’re also somehow asking to be mocked, despised, abused, tortured or killed and society seems to tolerate it.
  Stop thinking we cannot be proper parents.
     We were brought up to believe that we would never be attractive to anyone unless it was to another disabled person and then that was kind of dirty. We were told we were never going to be parents and we were not supposed to want, to need, to be allowed to have that kind of normality.
     As a disabled parent you know there are certain things you cannot do. I can't play football with Parys. Parys doesn't even like football but that's irrelevant, people still remind me that I can’t. Even your child's friends let you know about it!
     Parenting is about more than seeing to the physical needs of the child but where the disabled are concerned, that's the only thing that seems to count. If we can’t tend to those, we can’t be proper parents. That’s rubbish.
 We are not God’s punishment, blameworthy or unclean.
     We are just ordinary people who happen to be born with a disability. I am an ordinary person who just happened to be born with Phocomelia yet I still have the same needs, wants and aspirations of able-bodied people. Most of us do.
     Lord Coe’s statement was bold and brave and I wish it were true but it’s not. 
     For society to never think of disability in the same way, it has to stop thinking of us as stupid, sexless, blameworthy takers. It has to accept us and one amazing Paralympics cannot do that. It can only be done if we challenge some of the foundations upon which Western Civilization is based. Now that would be a competition worth watching."

Next time I'll be looking at the work of Professor Colin Barnes in an attempt to find the origins of society's attitudes towards disability. Good-bye for now.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Age shall not weary them.

Hello and welcome to my blog. It’s lovely to see you again.

Today is Remembrance Sunday so whilst I finalise the blog on Ali Lapper, I want to revisit a blog published in November 2009 on William Bushrod.

William has lived in Shoreham for over 50 years and was a wireless operator in the Second World War.

1945. William, leading wireless operator.

In 1942 he was working in Southdowns Bus Company in Portslade. He was already in the Home Guard and Sea Cadets so it felt natural to enlist to join the Royal Navy. Thus on 13th March Bill joined around 20 other 17 years olds from all over the country to train as a wireless operator.

It was a happy time as the men got on well, despite their varied backgrounds, accents and attitudes. Sadly for Bill though, it was short-lived. He suffered from tonsillitis between the final exams and being drafted, so whilst his classmates left for their ships, he was stuck in hospital and lost contact with them. In October Bill was finally drafted to HMS Europa, but it was on HMS British that he spent most of his naval career.

HMS British was the senior vessel in a group of four minesweepers on patrol between Cromer and Flamborough Head when Bill was there. The minesweepers were responsible for clearing mines dropped in the shipping lanes. They did this by trailing gear behind them that severed the wires connecting the mines to the seabed. As the mines floated to the surface, they were sunk or exploded.

Bill, as wireless operator on the senior vessel, was responsible for organising the watch for the entire group. Nine out of ten orders were for a silent watch because their patrols were at the top end of E-boat alley. The E stood for enemy and the boats were the German equivalent of allied Patrol or Motor Torpedo Boats. Their official name was Schnellboot, (fast boat), and they had a formidable reputation in the Royal Navy. They dominated night warfare in our coastal waters. Elusive, stealthy and fast, they silently sought out allied vessels and ambushed them. Bill witnessed their effectiveness first hand when an E-Boat ambushed one of their minesweepers. Only the nameplate was left, HMS Cap D'antifer.

After being briefly drafted to a Drifter, Bill returned to shore and at HMS Mercury trained to become a leading telegraphist (wireless operator). In September 1944 he returned to sea, joining HMS Barcley Castle on convoy escort and anti-submarine patrol. She patrolled the western approaches, picking up the convoys in the Atlantic and escorting them back to England. With customary understatement, Bill says, "It wasn't so dangerous then as things had quietened down."

It was whilst HMS Barcley Castle was close to the Channel Islands, that Bill picked up the broadcast to the Germans telling them to prepare to capitulate. He took down every word and sent the message up to the Skipper. War had ended and the ship's company was jubilant. At the end of their escort they were ordered to go to a Loch in Scotland. When they arrived they joined 14 other naval vessels escorting 8 German submarines down to Belfast. It was an impressive sight.

He says of his war experience, "it taught me a lot in so many different ways. How to get on with people of different backgrounds, ways, outlooks and opinions. I enjoyed it to a great extent and I appreciated the service part. I gained promotion. I learnt how to act in charge of other people."

Now approaching 90, William was one of the hundreds of local people who gathered at the town’s Cenotaph this morning to remember the dead. He may also be at Shoreham Fort tonight for a candlelit Remembrance Service. I will be there reading “Taking a Stand” by John Bailey.

Next week, I'll return to the series of blogs on disability.

Good-bye for now.