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.

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