Sunday, 4 December 2011

Vulnerable

(I'm a day late with my post for the International Day of Disabled People, and some people may have seen this before in other places, but I think it bears repeating)

I sail, I fly gliders, I go white-water rafting. I did draw the line at jumping off a mountain (even with parascending chute attached), but there are few things I won’t try if given the opportunity. I’m also that proverbial forty-something, middle-class, white guy who is least at risk of anything of any part of the population. And yet in the past fifteen years or so I’ve been physically assaulted once, had one false accusation of benefit fraud and been verbally abused about once every year to 18 months (and I don't actually get out that much). You wouldn’t think I was an obvious target, all of the attacks have been in broad daylight on well travelled streets, and in the main I’ve been taller and heftier built than most of my abusers, not really someone you would attach the label ‘vulnerable’ to.

Yet mention that I walk with crutches and that whole assumption changes.

To judge from the viewpoints we hear parroted by the police and the authorities, as a disabled person, and therefore inherently ‘vulnerable’, I am some frail, ethereal, slip of a figure, risking serious damage just by daring to be out in public, never mind actually interacting with society. And there is something to that, no attacks on me until I reached thirty and started to use crutches, then about one every couple of years since – and I don’t spend much time on the streets compared to many. But ‘vulnerable’? Let’s not be shy, ladies and gentlemen, let’s call a spade a bloody shovel and label it for what it really is, hatred of me for having the audacity to be out on the street as a disabled person.

I am not ‘vulnerable’ because I am disabled, I am targeted because I am disabled. Each attack has specifically and deliberately singled out some aspect of my disability to focus upon. As I said, I have been taller and heftier than pretty much all of my abusers, but taller and heftier doesn’t count for much when the bigots run in packs. If I was ‘vulnerable’, then it would have been me who was injured when a bigot thought it would be funny for he and his friend to knock me to the ground, rather than the reality that left him gasping for breath around bruised ribs. With one exception, and he was drunk out of his mind, every attack on me has involved two or more people. There isn’t a person in the country who isn’t vulnerable when facing odds of two or more to one, so why apply that label specifically to disabled people?

Or does that ‘vulnerable’ label reveal more about the people conferring it than the people it is applied to? If we are ‘vulnerable’ to them, then are we not, inevitably, seen as less than adult, less suitable to be out on the street unsupervised, flying in the face of good sense, responsible for our own downfall? Doesn’t this label suggest someone who thinks that opening the locks that kept us safely shut-away in society’s collective attic was a bad idea, who, deep down, is profoundly uncomfortable with someone who doesn’t meet his definition of ‘normal’. We know those attitudes predominate in the community at large, it is unreasonable to expect that they aren’t also present in the deeply socially conservative police and legal authorities.

So when someone listens to our experience of hatred and catalogues us as ‘vulnerable’, they aren’t being part of the solution, but establishing themselves as part of the problem. If we want to solve the problem of disability hate crimes, then we need to stop the crimes, but that means routing out the fear of disability wherever we find it. And when someone labels us ‘vulnerable’, that’s undoubtedly the language of fear.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

38 Degrees: Getting the Message Out

I challenged 38 Degrees with failing to support disabled people in my blog almost a month ago now, to which David Babbs, head of 38 Degrees, replied both here and via phone and email discussions, and today 38 Degrees have carried through on their promise to publish a guest blog from me, giving disabled people a chance to be heard, a chance to say that we desperately need their support, but that 38 Degree's democratic model serves us poorly.

I have to praise 38 Degrees for that, how many organisations would have the courage to invite someone to put up a guest blog on their website after calling their basic honesty into question, a blog that points out the flaws in the model at the very heart of their own structure? 38 Degrees gave me that opportunity and its members are now talking about the fact that disabled people haven't been able to access their support, that we need 38 Degrees and other mainstream groups to take action in support of us, but that's just the start and it doesn't address the major issue, simply puts it up for debate. Talking is good, but we need that talking to lead to action, or all it will have done is prove our point that we are so disenfranchised and demonised that even the most overwhelmingly liberal of mainstream campaign groups won't support us.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Why the PCC Has to Go

The Leveson Inquiry into the press is drawing a fightback from the media, trying to claim, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, that the Press Complaints Commission is an adequate body to police the press from within.

@Latentexistence has just blogged the reply he got from the PCC into a complaint he made over a recent attack on people with ME/CFS and a bunch of other disabilities by the attack columnist Rob Liddle writing on the Spectator's website.

Liddle claimed that ME is not a 'real' disability. The PCC admit this is inaccurate, but claim it is an acceptable view to publish because it is clearly his opinion. By extension journalists can get away with any kind of offensive assertion by making clear that it is their own opinion. The problem here is that people read columnists like Liddle precisely because they consider their opinions to have weight. Effectively the PCC have granted journalists complete immunity from telling the truth.

The PCC then looked at whether the claim was discriminatory, and their justification why it isn't just beggars belief. They don't deny it is discriminatory, they just say that only individuals are protected from discrimination by the Code and that groups are fair game. Because discriminating against the group someone belongs to is clearly nothing like discriminating against them.... Again the PCC are granting immunity to journalists by creating a simple way for them to work around the Code.

Nor is this the only instance where the PCC have articulated similar views. A stream of complaints from disabled people about the concerted attacks on disabled people over the past year have drawn near identical responses. Essentially the PCC's view is that minorities can legitimately be abused in any way, shape or form, using any made-up fact, just so long as it isn't directed against a named individual. When the only arbiter of press standards openly considers minorities to be fair game for press bigotry, then it is clear that it not just time to get rid of the PCC, but to impose regulation on the press from outside, because clearly they are not fit people to impose it from within.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

On Being an Uppity Crip

"Mong-gate" rumbles on, with people now taking positions for and against Ricky Gervais' latest TV series 'Life's Too Short', which revolves around a talent agency for actors with restricted growth run by Warwick Davis, himself a dwarf. Friday's Guardian featured an article in the Comment is Free section interviewing Kristina Gray, mother of a child with one of the several forms of dwarfism, about her opinion of the programme. It's probably fair to say she's seriously less than impressed.

Now I haven't watched 'Life's Too Short', I'm not a fan of Gervais' style of humour, and my personal opinion is that whether he does a good job of it or not, the attitudes of the audience will overwhelmingly interpret it as just another message that people with dwarfism, and other disabled people by extension, are perfectly legitimate targets for attack. So essentially I think the idea is fatally flawed, even if he has done all the research needed, unfortunately 'mong-gate' makes it clear he hasn't.

The first I knew of the article was a tweet on Friday linking to it, with a comment that the trolls were out in force. So I went over to read the article and picked my way through the comments replying to some of the more egregious ones, particularly those which didn't seem to have any understanding of the level of disability discrimination out there. I was looking at the Guardian website again this morning and noticed I'd gotten a couple of replies after my last visit. Comments on the article are now closed, so I can't reply to them there, but I think one of them is interesting for the attitudes it reveals. Particularly as it got 11 recommendations, more than most comments in the thread.

"In a series of posts you have made a number of vague and tantalising claims about the physical and verbal abuse you claim to have suffered at the hands of the general public and organisations. If your claims are true"

Why the 'if'? Why report something if it isn't true? Is the reality that disabled people are being abused on the street so horrendous that it must be denied? Perhaps a more open interpretation would be 'I don't like your point, so I'm going to imply you're making it up.'

"If we are to have a worthy debate and if you want to be taken remotely seriously start giving detail."

So that would be strip yourself bare or be held a liar?

"Let's hear exactly what the nature of your disability is and a bit of substance on the attacks you claim are so frequent."

Again with the implication I'm a liar, and there's that attitude, so prevalent in modern society, that every detail of our disabilities is public property. It's an example of the way in which society interprets us as less than fully adult; because we're disabled, society believes that we haven't earned the right to privacy, but must instead be treated as small children, whose every thought can be pried into by any passing adult.

"I myself am not disabled but someone very close to me, my girlfiend, is disabled (wheelchair) and as such through her I have a pretty good knowledge of the day to day realities of disabled life in this country. And guess what? While there are often struggles that she faces on a day to day basis they in no way tally with your depiction of a nation where verbal and physical abuse against disabled people is a daily occurence. Not even fucking close."

Well that's me told. Or maybe not, maybe my friendly troll isn't so well informed as he would like to think. I mean it's not as if I was one of the disabled people asked to front a major report on the rise in disability hate crime with our personal experiences - oh, wait a minute, yes I was.

"Could it be that instead of sitting on the internet being a professional victim and whining on message boards she just gets on.and enjoys life and has a sense of humour? Perish the very thought."

So if I campaign then I must be a whinging professional victim. And if my disability means I have to do it online it's clearly because I don't have any real life or sense of humour. Or maybe I just don't like the attitudes I see in society and think that behooves me to do something about it. As for sense of humour, I'm afraid I prefer my biting social commentary to come from Pratchett, not Gervais.

"Oh and while you're at it perhaps you would like to substantiate the thinly veiled insinuation you made that a show like LTS could potentially increase backward attitudes towards the disabled. I can't wait to hear that one."

Thinly veiled? Damn, I thought I was being bitingly obvious. As for substantiating my views, I would have thought that was the last thing I needed to do when our acceptance in society has slid back so desperately far through the constant attacks on us as scroungers and frauds in the tabloid press, and with my critic being so closely connected surely he must have noticed too? Or maybe not.

What makes the post so striking is that in one of the posts he takes issue with I'd already talked about disabled people being attacked for daring to make themselves heard, clearly the inherent irony of his reply went straight over his head. I'm not sure I can say it any better here than I said it there:

Attacking the campaigners is always the first response in a campaign for equality - Afro-Americans were written off as 'uppity n&**^s', Suffragettes as demonstrating ‘the explosive fury of epileptics’, and so on. Dismissing us as failing to understand the humour, as having a chip on our shoulder, as being bitter over our disabilities, we've heard them all. We do understand the humour, we campaign precisely because we have accepted our disabilities don't make us any different, and if there is a chip on our shoulder, then it's there because the actions of non-disabled people have put it there, and isn't that something any decent person should take action over?

And if that makes the trolls on Comment is Free think I'm an uppity crip, then clearly I'm doing something right ;)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

38 Degrees – Negotiating the Avalanche

I’ve just had a very positive chat with David Babbs of 38 Degrees on the problems with how disabled people have perceived what has been happening with their voting mechanism.

David addressed the issues really openly and I’m happy to agree with him that the problems are cock-up, not conspiracy*; meanwhile he has had the opportunity to take on-board our message that, after years of demonization in the media, disabled people just won’t win popularity contests, and that therefore 38 Degrees’ vote-driven campaigning mechanism is a real problem for us.

That’s a problem 38 Degrees will have to wrestle with, everything they stand for says they should be standing up for the most marginalized and discriminated against in society, but the democratic model at the heart of everything they stand for also means that the demonized can’t access that support, because the population has been brainwashed by the media over how we should be regarded. 38 Degrees depends on its membership telling it what to vote for, the membership depend on the media to identify issues, and the media portray us as frauds and scroungers living a life of luxury.

There’s a real tension in how 38 Degrees deal with that, I understand the difficulty of working with two ideas that don’t play nicely together. Cognitive dissonance barely starts to cover it. And I think that David has offered us a way ahead on that which should hopefully hell leach away some of the anger people in the disability community are feeling towards them. But it is also a discussion 38 Degrees needs to have with itself. If they remain wedded so tightly to their democratic mechanism, then how do they ensure they don’t ignore those in the most desperate need? They also need to look at their own behaviour and decide if it is truly consistent. David admitted that opposing DLA changes should have been on their latest poll and was left off accidentally, but he doesn’t feel they need to do anything about that. I’m not so convinced and I suspect that others will feel the same.

So we’ve made progress and I hope we see more, but things aren’t entirely resolved and as disabled people we’ll be watching to see that 38 Degrees does take a hard look at how it makes sure disenfranchised minorities aren’t beyond its help. After all, no vote told Wilberforce to support the abolition of slavery, no vote told the Pankhursts to lead the Suffragette movement, and no vote should stop 38 Degrees from doing what is right.

* You can see that DLA issues have been on the past votes by scrolling done on the Future Campaigns page , but they aren’t on the current one and you can also see that our votes are falling – people simply don’t understand the depths of the attack on us, and if they don’t understand that, how can they vote for us? It really is a textbook example of disenfranchisement in action.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Disabled People, Betrayed By 38 Degrees?

You may detect a slight hardening of my language since Friday's blog, that's because I've been looking into the matter in more depth, and the more I look, the uneasier I become about attitudes within 38 Degrees towards disabled people.

Shortly after publishing Friday's blog, a friend tweeted and pointed out that disabled people had actually won the previous campaign vote, but that 38 Degrees had then shelved that vote and staged another at which the NHS won. Obviously that's a very serious allegation, the problem is that the facts seem to back it up.

If you go to 38 Degree's Campaign Suggestion forum, and order all suggestions by popularity, which this link will do, you'll find a list of the most popular campaign ideas.

Sitting at number 6 is "A campaign to stop the abolition of Disability Living Allowance - the measure of civilised society."

Sitting at number 9 is "The coalition "are considering" assessing children in their DLA shake up." But attached to that is this note:

  • "We're looking into a technical problem with the suggest a campaigns system. Last night we merged this with another DLA campaign after being asked to by the people who had originally created the suggestions. This follows on from previous problems we had with merging campaigns.  Unfortunately last night there was a problem with the system and when we merged the campaigns thousands of votes were removed from the total. I'm really sorry this happened. We're looking into this and trying to sort it out."
If we assume the minimum possible value of 'thousands', i.e. 2000 votes, then that would have been sufficient to boost this to just over 4000 votes, making it at a minimum the 4th most popular campaign suggestion.

But 'that's okay' you say, 'the problem just happened last night, 38 Degrees will fix it on Monday'. Which would be fine if it was true, but I know for a fact - having seen it myself - that that message has been there for months with no action being taken, and all but a handful of the comments attached to it are 8 months or more old. Months with no action, months of wasted inactivity during which the Welfare Reform Bill has been trekking through Parliament side by side with the NHS Bill. Look at everything 38 Degrees have achieved in trying to stop the NHS Bill, look at everything 38 Degrees haven't done to stop the Welfare Reform Bill. The suspicion that disabled people, and the votes and activities of the 38 Degrees membership, have been sacrificed to concentrate on the NHS Bill is impossible to shake. In fact I can't find any sign that 38 Degrees have lifted a finger to oppose the Welfare Reform Bill or defend disabled people.

There's a word for treating disabled people as second class citizens, that word is disablism, or two words if you aren't familiar with the one, disability discrimination.

I don't want to believe that of 38 Degrees, but their own polls show opposing the disability related provisions of the Welfare Reform Bill at numbers 4 and 6 in their own members lists of suggested priorities, combine them together and they are the 2nd most popular suggestion with a minimum of 7,243 votes, within 350 votes of the most popular suggestion and nearly 1,500 votes ahead of the 3rd most popular suggestion.

Sitting down at number 18 is opposing badger culling, and yet that's currently splashed all over the 38 Degrees front page as one of their successful campaigns?! I can't help wondering if the problem is 38 Degrees HQ thinks crips aren't as cuddly as badgers.

So, opposing DLA changes has got more votes on the 38 Degrees website than any idea but fairness and equality for pensioners (and we all know the strength of the pensioners lobby), but when 38 Degrees put out 17 suggested campaigns, including issues as diverse as powerstations, tax avoidance, the Murdochs, and benefits for pensioners living abroad, disability issues don't feature at all? Forgive me, but something's not just rotten in the state of Denmark, but stinking to high heaven of disablist discrimination.

If you think I'm writing this to shine a light on 38 Degrees and shame them into treating disabled people as the equals this government is determined to ensure we aren't, then you're damned right I am.

So what's it to be, 38 Degrees? Do you really believe in democracy and equality, or is it just a sham to trick people into campaigning for your own hobbyhorses? Are you for disabled people, or against us?

Friday, 4 November 2011

Has 38 Degrees Abandoned The Hardest Hit?

The campaigning group 38 Degrees has been one of the features of the ConDem regime, challenging government policies on things as varied as the plans to sell off the forests and the NHS.

Yet there has been one glaring and continuing absence in their policies, any attempt to fight for the rights of the Hardest Hit of this recession.

Disabled people have asked them for support, we've posted on their fora, we've even received substantial voting support there from other followers, but somehow we never seem to be amongst the campaigns they propose they adopt.

38 Degrees just sent me an opportunity to vote on their latest proposed campaigning priorities:
  1. Continue the campaign to stop Lansley's NHS plans
  2. Run research and local campaigns to expose cuts to the NHS
  3. Continue to campaign for planning laws which protect the countryside and local communities
  4. Stop rip-off increases to gas and electricity bills
  5. Support proposals to make gay marriage legal
  6. Continue speaking up for our forests and challenge future attempts to sell them off
  7. Make sure that every child from a poor family receives a free school meal
  8. Continue to push for a Robin Hood Bankers Tax, a tax on banks that would give billions to tackle poverty and climate change
  9. Stopping the building of new coal power stations
  10. Step up the campaign to ban secret lobbying
  11. Push the government to do more to tackle climate change
  12. Continue to demand a real clamp down on tax dodging
  13. Campaign for British pensioners living abroad to get increases to their pensions
  14. Speak up in support of the British government continuing to give aid to poorer countries
  15. Show support for the "Occupy London" protests outside St Paul's Cathedral
  16. Campaign against government plans to scrap some employment laws
  17. Reform media laws to stop media moguls, like Rupert Murdoch, ever getting so much power again
I support the vast majority of these (the powerstation issue is presented too simplistically for me to take a position on), but the Welfare Reform Bill is almost law, 700,000 disabled people who even the government acknowledges are not fit for work face losing potentially all of their benefit, 20% of DLA recipients face losing their benefit by fiat, unknown numbers of families with disabled members face being forced out their homes because of the housing benefit changes, and the horrors of WCA continue unchecked, while support cuts mean disabled people are being told by the courts that it is perfectly acceptable for a council to let them lie in their own waste. Yet not one of these is addressed in the proposed campaigns, disability is simply not mentioned at all.

I'm forced to the conclusion that 38 Degrees have abandoned us, that the horrendous assault on disabled people and the benefits and support we depend on is beneath their notice. And if that's the case, why should I support an organisation that believes what happens to disabled people isn't important?

So come on, 38 Degrees, convince me that you value disabled people and recognise that what is happening to us needs to be fought against by the entire country.

Or are disabled people simply not trendy enough?

And that's why my response to their poll reads simply: "I'm sorry, I can't continue to support an organisation that refuses to recognise the assault on disabled people and the benefits and support they depend on."

Addendum:

In the short time since writing this, I've been reliably informed that supporting disabled people actually won the last 38 Degrees poll, only for it to be shelved and a second poll taken which opted for supporting the NHS. I'd really like to see an explanation of that.

Monday, 24 October 2011

30 Pieces of Silver - The International Paralympic Committee and ATOS Origin

The following is the text of a letter I have just sent to the International Paralympic Committee (info@paralympic.org) regarding their partnership with ATOS Origin - they of the appalling record for disability assessments and cavalier attitude toward disability rights, not to mention freedom of speech. If you aren't familiar with ATOS, you can read the full and unpleasant story of my encounter with them here, and mine was a relatively positive example in comparison to many of the tales of abuse out there. I literally cannot think of a worse company for the International Paralympic Committee to partner with, yet there they are, taking their 30 pieces of silver, kicking disabled people and everything the Paralympics movement stands for in the teeth.

If you don't think this is good enough, if you think the IPC should know better than to partner with a company that promotes the perception of disabled people as scroungers, refuses to meet our most basic access needs and rolls out the lawyers when disabled people complain, then I urge you to write to the International Paralympic Committee at info@paralympic.org and copy it to your national paralympic committees (see here). Feel free to borrow from what follows, but the message will be stronger in your own words and experiences.


Dear Sir,

  As a disabled person I have no option other than to write and express my utter disgust that the International Paralympics Committee have entered into a partnership with ATOS Origin. With less than a year to go to London 2012, the worldwide disability community is increasingly focused on the United Kingdom, but it is in the United Kingdom that ATOS Origin are known to every disabled person for their disablist activities. Awarded the contract to assess disabled people for disability related benefits, ATOS Origin have left a massive trail of distress and a string of suicides behind them, as their contempt for disabled people results in assessment after assessment at which not even the ‘facts’ reported by their assessors can be taken at face value

I can perhaps best illustrate the repellent attitudes of this company towards disabled people by describing my own experiences with them, and I write as someone who passed their assessment rather than as someone who failed it, meaning I have no axe to grind for being rejected. Their first attempt at an assessment for me got no further than the door to the assessment room, they had failed to provide the reasonable adjustments to my disability needed to get me through the assessment – adjustable seating, nothing too outrĂ© – adjustments that they were required by law to provide. When questioned over this, the ATOS doctor admitted ‘We have complained about the seating before, but regional management just tell us to make do with what we have’. This clearly indicates an utter contempt for the needs of disabled people existing at higher levels of management within ATOS Origin. ATOS then proceeded to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that I had failed to attend the assessment, resulting in my benefits being frozen. I leave it to you to judge the attitudes to disabled people this less than honest report reflects. The stress this caused led to a massive flare-up in my disability that lasted for months. When I was finally able to challenge the decision DWP immediately accepted my points, they had heard them far too often before, and a second assessment was arranged.

The second assessment was a clash of wills, between an ATOS doctor who clearly wasn’t prepared to listen to yet another disabled person annoying him with facts and my own refusal to be browbeaten. I was criticised for not giving ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, even when neither would have been true, I was criticised for knowing the structure of the assessment, I was criticised for insisting on giving the information that indicated I automatically qualified for my benefit, even though he had failed to ask for it, even though the information to say he needed to ask for it was on the form in front of him, I was even criticised for my description of the effects of my disability, a description shown to be completely accurate just a few minutes later when the still inadequate seating left me unable to continue other than by balancing on one leg in the middle of the room, hanging desperately onto the back of the chair. I was even criticized for being unable to bend my knee so that he could test my reflexes. I have met bad doctors before, but only at ATOS have I met doctors who criticised me for my disability. Surprisingly I passed the assessment, but many, many disabled people would not have been able to override the opinions of an abusive, close-minded doctor in the way that I did. As an engineering professional I understand the legal duty of care when acting professionally, in each of my two assessments ATOS Origin aspired to a level of professional competence and care that was utterly farcical.

And yet my assessments were far more professional than many that are reported. Outright falsehoods in assessments seem positively common, while ATOS personnel have been caught in homophobic rants, abuse of their patients as scroungers and a whole range of other abuses that would seem absurd if they weren’t demonstrably true. Even if we disregard the many, many reports of outright disablist behaviour, their true attitudes towards their disabled patients (though their staff are urged by ATOS management not to think of disabled people in those terms, even as they conduct medical assessments and delve into the most intimate details of their disabilities) can be illustrated by the fact that many of their assessment centres, centres whose entire clientele will be disabled, do not have on-site disabled parking, are not wheelchair accessible and lack even such basics as accessible seating.

The statistical results of ATOS Origin assessments demonstrate that their professionalism towards disabled people is clearly questionable, in any other industry a failure rate of 1 in 8, as demonstrated by successful appeals at independent tribunals, rising to almost 1 in 4 with representation from advocacy groups, would be an utter catastrophe, never mind in an industry where each of those failures represents an individual disabled person put through intolerable stress at considerable risk to their health, but ATOS Origin continue merrily onwards, not just refusing to acknowledge that they have a problem, but actively trying to stifle debate by bringing legal actions against disabled people who dare to complain publically.

ATOS Origins have demonstrated their attitude towards disabled people in tales of abuse stretching from one end of the UK to the other. If they chose to associate themselves with the IPC, it is not to demonstrate that they care for disabled people, that they do not is demonstrated by their refusal to admit that they have a problem, but because they see the goodwill that people around the world hold for the Paralympics Movement and hope to leech away some of that for themselves, hiding their disablism by wrapping it in the Paralympic Flag. Is the IPC really willing to sell the reputation of the Paralympic Games to whitewash the abuse of disabled people? Are ATOS Origin's 30 pieces of silver really worth the betrayal of everything the International Paralympic Committee stands for?

As a disability rights activist, if the IPC choose to retain their connection with such an actively disablist firm as ATOS Origin then I will have no option than to throw my weight behind the protest campaign at London 2012 and stand in line with other disabled people saying ‘Not in our name’. Disabled people picketing the Paralympics in a stand against disablism, could any sight be more disturbing?

Yours in sadness,

David Gillon

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Flattened

I've just had a forcible reminder of how disabling my back problems are, and seeing as the flying monkeys reminded me how little of disability many people understand, I thought it might be interesting to describe how it's affected me the last couple of days.

For someone with disabling levels of back pain, I actually manage fairly well most of the time, so long as I don't do more than potter around the house and spend most of my time flat. It's just the parts of life that involve getting out and doing things that I have problems with.

I woke up on Friday with a touch of back ache, roughly over my right kidney - no idea why, but these things come and these things go and I'm used to being in pain, often far more than this, so I didn't pay it a great deal of attention. This one didn't go, it was still there on Saturday morning, but by this point I was ignoring it, or at least I was until I popped out for coffee with friends - which is often enough the only time I get out of the house during the week.

We meet in town, so that means a five minute drive and a short walk to the bar where we meet. I don't use my crutches in the house - the distances are shorter than my unsupported endurance, but they aren't shorter by much so I'm absolutely dependent on them outside. Almost as soon as I walked away from the car, that niggling pain over my kidney transformed itself into a stabbing dagger of pain running from shoulders to waist, my spine locking itself so rigid that even breathing becomes interestingly different, and it was patently obvious that it was using the crutches that was causing the problem. For someone else that level of pain might be completely disabling (especially as this is what I'm feeling past the opiates!), but I'm used to it, so it's extremely unpleasant rather than absolutely catastrophic. Coffee was a welcome distraction, but the walk back to the car was more of the same and I knew that I needed to get off my feet.

Back at the house I spent a couple of hours flat on my back listening to the football, which seemed to calm things down. With things settled I thought I'd go and finish downloading some software I'd just bought. My computer seat is oddly suited to me, wide enough to sit in cross-legged, which always helps, and with the tilt lock left open I can constantly adjust the way I'm sitting. I'm still severely restricted in time upright (I've hardly been able to touch the artwork I use the computer for this year), but not as badly as in other seats. This time it didn't help, that dagger of pain down a rigid spine set in again within just a few minutes, not even reclining as far back as the chair allows made any difference, leaving me wishing I could convince someone to fit me with a particularly restrictive full-length back brace (there are very good reasons I shouldn't use one all the time, but some days it would be nice to have the option to let me do stuff even if my spine objects). So back to the couch.

I did get as far as putting the oven on, planning on pizza for dinner - anything more elaborate would have been too long on my feet, but once I was flat again waiting for it to heat up I realised I wasn't about to move for the night. 'dinner' ended up as a packet of crisps when I finally forced myself to get up and turn the oven off. Lying flat meant the pain mostly went away (though of course lying flat brings its own set of minor and not-so-minor pains), but I have a bizarrely varying reaction to severe pain. Either I all but collapse and sleep it off, or it goes, but I can't sleep. So there I was all night, laptop perched on my chest, playing Angry Birds until the dawn chorus joined them for real.

I think I finally got to sleep about 8AM, waking up groggy and disoriented at about 3PM. I was finally up and running in something like a normal state of mind by about 6PM, so went to finish downloading that software, and there's the pain again....

I did manage to cook something today, so I'm not quite living solely on crisps, but the art of cooking while perched on one leg for as short a period as possible doesn't leave much room for culinary innovation....

It's 3AM, I'm typing this with the laptop perched on my chest, and I give it about a 50:50 chance I'll see the dawn, and I've no idea how long the elevated levels of pain will last, might be gone tomorrow, might still be here 3 months from now, I've learned to live my life making up my plans as I go along, because it's simply impossible to plan around a disability as random as mine. Meet me on the street and you simply see someone with crutches, that doesn't even give you a reliable indication of what kind of disability I have, you certainly don't see all the ways that it affects my life; the complexity of disability is utterly invisible, unless you're the one living with it. And the more people we can help to understand that, the better.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Attack of the Flying Monkeys

I've just had a flying monkey call me 'a spineless cunt'.

Yes, really, though I should point out that these aren't the pro-Wicked Witch flying monkeys of Wizard of Oz fame. Flying Monkeys are what Nicola Clark (@MrsNickyClark on Twitter, and one of the good guys of the disability rights movement) calls the rabid fans who attack her on-line when she criticizes their heroes for using disablist language.

The latest celebrity she has challenged is Ricky Gervais (@RickyGervais), who has set out to single-handedly repopularise the use of 'mong', a word disability groups have spent a long time trying to eradicate from the language of abuse. In many ways 'mong' is Britain's 'retard', the disablist insult that's an all purpose term of abuse for disabled and able-bodied alike. But at the heart of it, the source of its power, is the implication that to be a 'mong', to be born with Downs Syndrome, is to be reduced to some kind of sub-human village idiot, worthy of nothing but being the butt of jokes, a figure of fun, and hate.

Gervais tries to claim that 'mong' no longer has this meaning, but its sole power comes from the abuse of disabled people, and that abuse continues to this day, with many, many disabled people having faced it on the streets for no reason other than their disability. I actually haven't, 'scrounger' seems to be the term of choice when complete strangers confront me for daring to be disabled in public, but that's close enough to tell me how deeply that assault on your identity, your equality, your basic membership of the human  race, cuts, and to teach me how easily those words can turn into physical assault. So when I hear that someone isn't just using the term, but is encouraging others to use it, and that man is someone with 400,000 followers on Twitter, then I understand exactly why @MrsNickyClark needed to challenge him.

Nicola Clark can make her argument better than I can, and she does it eloquently in her Guardian article, but Gervais's response hasn't been to sit back, think about the issue, and admit that he was being unwise. No, instead he's upped his use of the term, complete with gurning pictures that make his real intent very clear, and urged his followers to rally against (and I quote) 'the haters and mentals' - by their words shall you know them....

Earlier this evening I saw one of his followers post a tweet "Let's try to get 'mong' trending" - for the non-Twitterati, this means having a notably high number of occurrences in current tweets and it can draw a lot of attention beyond those who follow the original poster. Not wanting that kind of post to go unchallenged I put up a counter-tweet, pointing out that he was calling for an attack on disabled people. It rapidly became obvious that hadn't even occurred to him, and that illustrates the danger of what Gervais is trying to do. By popularising the use of the word, he makes it socially acceptable, which means firstly that disabled people are being regularly demeaned by people who don't even know they're doing it when they use it against non-disabled targets, and secondly it gives aid and succor to those who do use it as disablist abuse by robbing their crime of any social sanction. Disabled people lose on all fronts, Gervais laughs all the way to the bank.

I'd barely managed to convince the first poster that what he was calling for was wrong, when a flying monkey arrived and, as flying monkeys are wont to, demonstrated his outrage with a display of faeces-flinging, amongst which was the choice accusation I opened with, that I'm a 'spineless cunt' for wanting people not to abuse disabled people - which apparently also makes me 'an aggressive bully'. Not being one to shrink from an argument, I tried to give as good as I got without resorting to faeces-flinging. I think the thing that came through most (and this went on most of the evening, ending with him swearing he's not done with me) was the sheer inability to empathize with someone with a disability. Challenged for protesting on-line, not in person, I pointed out that on-line campaigning is the only kind of activism open to me, only to be repeatedly taunted that real activists are out in the streets, the implication seemingly that those who can only take issue on-line are some kind of dilettantes without any real right to protest.

That's actually worrying beyond the Gervais issue because it suggests there are a lot of people out there who don't value anyone whose disability restricts them to non-traditional roles (not really a surprise, but it's not nice to have it confirmed to your face), but it's specifically worrying over the Gervais issue because it demonstrates just how dangerous the ability of celebrities to manipulate their fans can be, and that's why Gervais can't be allowed to go unchallenged. So kudos to Nicola Clark for having the resilience to go head to head with people like him, knowing full well that the flying monkeys are out there and ready to unleash a shit-storm of hate.

If you aren't already one of @MrsNickyClark's followers, I thoroughly recommend her for sensible comments on disability rights. If, on the other hand, you're a follower of @RickyGervais, why are you siding with the person who wants to make the lives of disabled people worse?

Returning to the opening faeces-flinging of 'spineless cunt' to close, if that's the cost of challenging disablist language then I'm happy to embrace being spineless (not to mention that it would likely mean being in a lot less pain!), but when it comes to being a cunt, sorry, I just haven't got the right equipment for that one.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Is Britain the Worst Place to Live in Europe?

The Guardian asked today if Britain is the worst place to live in Europe.

Is the UK the worst? I don't know, but it certainly isn't an ideal place if you're disabled.

A media that claims on a near daily basis that we're all frauds and scroungers (the Guardian is a near lone exception).

People who overwhelmingly believe that 'they're all at it' and simultaneously that if their relatives fall ill the state will instantly meet every need (they're in for a rude awakening).

People who openly state that we'd be better off dead, who urge us to go to Switzerland and use Dignitas, who attack anyone who tries to argue that our life is just as valuable as anyone's else.

Complete strangers who attack me in the street as a benefit fraud, without knowing whether I am working or not, revealing it as an attack on me simply for being disabled.

Politicians who proclaim that we are the 'vulnerable', demeaning us as less than adult, but that we are safe in their hands, then turn around and cut the benefits the most disabled of all of us depend on, proclaiming all the time that only the fraudsters have anything to fear.

I don't know if Britain is the worst, but it could be a hell of a lot better, and a hell of a lot more equal.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Another Train Journey From Hell

- Or the nightmare of travelling with a disability when plans fall apart.

I’m just back from a visit to my family in the North East, it was good to see them, and the journey back was okay, if exhausting; it’s just a pity I can’t say the same for the trip up.

I always travel by train, the problems my disability causes with sitting mean I can’t drive for long enough to get there (or even to get out of town!) while coach journeys are just too long to tolerate (air travel too once you add in connections). Train seats are verging on the edge of intolerable, but at least I can limit the exposure, I just have to plan on not necessarily being able to do anything for up to a week afterwards. (1)

The plan was 11:24 from Chatham  to St. Pancras, walk over to King's Cross, get the 13:00 to Darlington, then pick up the local train to Bishop Auckland where my parents would collect me at 16:20. Planned elapsed time, about 5 hours. The saying is no plan survives contact with the enemy, but precious few survive contact with reality and this one was no exception.

I was having real problems walking at all even before I got to the station, reduced to a swing-through gait that uses my shoulders and crutches rather than my legs, and just glad I was travelling light with only a small rucksack, which meant I could use both crutches as opposed to having to tie one to a larger pull-along piece of luggage. My first thought on getting down the stairs to the platform was ‘There’s an awful  lot of people here’, the second thought was ‘Oh, shit!’ rapidly followed by a check of the announcement boards, which confirmed that we were still waiting for all three of the trains that should have come through in the last hour (and the antique boards only have room for 3 entries…). I was over 20 minutes early, so I thought at least I’d get to know what the situation was before my train was due, fat chance. The best I heard was a garbled announcement on the opposite platform that there were emergency track repairs happening somewhere.

11:24 arrives, no sign of my train. Five minutes after that we get the announcement that the train now approaching is the late running 10:28, it’s only going to Dartford, but anyone wanting any of a long list of London stations should get on and follow instructions at Dartford. St Pancras isn’t mentioned, and there’s no one on the platform to ask, while the booking office is back up a long flight of steep stairs (I’ve no idea how someone with a hearing impairment was meant to cope with all these instructions delivered solely over PA). This is a problem, there are three lines out of Chatham to London, the fast line to Victoria, the slow line to London Bridge and Cannon Street, both of which need underground trips to get to King's Cross, and the very new, very fast line to St Pancras, which is right next door to King's Cross. Taking anything other than the St. Pancras line might mean I missed my connection at King's Cross, but given there had been no mention whatsoever of the St. Pancras train, and everything else was over an hour late, I decided I had to get on and risk it; otherwise I might not get out of Chatham at all.

I’d packed really light, and decided that my hard collar didn’t make the cut as I’d only worn it a couple of times in the past month, and it isn’t exactly a convenient shape to pack. Purely on impulse I’d grabbed my soft collar because there was just about room for it in my rucksack. Within a couple of minutes of sitting down I was cursing myself, it felt like I’d been stabbed in the shoulder and I really needed the hard collar, the soft one just about stopped the situation becoming intolerable, but I wasn’t a happy bunny.

We crawled to Dartford, even stopping at some stations they had claimed we wouldn’t stop at. At Dartford several hundred frustrated passengers poured out of the train to announcements telling them that trains were waiting at platforms 1 and 2 and to follow the directions of staff. Platforms 1 and 2 were over a footbridge, with another set of steep steps, and by this time steps were the last thing I wanted to deal with, I was doing well to be vertical at all. There was a sign saying a lift was available, but with trains waiting and no staff member in sight I wasn’t certain I would make it if I took the time to find someone and say I needed to use it. So I struggled over the bridge, last one of several hundred, and yelled ‘King’s Cross?’ at one of the guards, who pointed me onto the Cannon Street train and said to get off at London Bridge.

I was no sooner on than the train was off, and needless to say the train was packed, with people standing everywhere, but someone stood up to let me sit down. Unfortunately it so crowded there was no room to take off my rucksack, which just served to amplify the pain coming out of my neck and shoulders. By this time the only thing stopping me from packing it in and going home was that the trip back would be just as much of a nightmare. The trip to London Bridge was another stopping crawl through every minor station in East London, finally getting me into London Bridge at about 12:35 – umm! I think I’ve been to London Bridge precisely once before, so I’m not exactly familiar with it, but I can navigate these places given time, unfortunately that wasn’t something I had a lot of. I followed the signs for the Northern Line, glad I didn’t need to use the Jubilee Line (‘Jubilee Line is currently not running due to a person on the track’). Now the signs were clear, the concourses wide and brightly lit, and I don’t recall any steps, but what I do recall is a walk from platform to platform that took me 10 minutes when I was struggling to stand at all. Of course I just missed one train, so when I finally got on a tube it was with 10 minutes to make my connection – not gonna happen! And I was right, we were a couple of stops short of King’s Cross when 13:00 ticked around.

Once at King’s Cross it was another 10 minute trek to get to the Main Line station – even if TfL are making efforts to make a token few stations accessible to disabled people the reality seems to be that they’re turning them into airport-like concourses that are inaccessible due to the distance to be covered even if step-free access is now provided. And is it really beyond the wit of man to put distances on the direction boards? A few hundred metres may not seem significant if you aren’t disabled, but if you are then knowing the distance may give you some indication of whether you can make it to a platform or need to ask for help.

At King’s Cross, the announcement board confirmed that the 13:00 had already left, so I squeezed through the crowd to the Information Booth to ask what I should do. ‘You need to go to the booking office,’ they told me, ‘you’ll probably need to buy another ticket’. Yeah, right. So I went to the booking office and found a nice long queue, with no provisions for disabled customers that I could see. When I finally got to talk to a booking clerk it was over a wide chest-high counter. I struggled to hand my ticket over to him with crutch attached to my arm, god knows how someone in a wheelchair would have managed. ‘You’ll need to buy another ticket’ he said, too bored to listen to anything I had told him. I pushed my voice up to insistent and pointed out I had done exactly what I was told and taken the only train running and it was his responsibility to fix it, not mine. So he grudgingly turned to his monitor and started trying to confirm what I had told him. After a couple of minutes he turned around again: ‘This is a St. Pancras ticket, it’s a different company, you should have got on the St. Pancras train’. Arghh! Which part of ‘I took the only train’ was he having difficulty with? Crank in another level of insistence and repeat the story for at least the third time… After a couple more minutes fiddling with his computer he decided that he needed help and went off to talk to a colleague; by this point I was hanging onto the counter just to remain upright and any more objections were going to be answered with a demand to 1) speak to his supervisor and 2) do it somewhere I can sit down. I was at the point I was seriously considering sitting on the floor. After several minutes of peering at on-screen logs of what services had actually run with his colleague he came back, pulled out a pad and ignored me while he started scribbling on a voucher.

 “You can get on the 13:30” he said, stapling it to my ticket and handing it back without really looking at me.

By this time it was after 13:20, just physically getting to the 13:30 before it left was questionable, which I pointed out to him, I also pointed out that I absolutely needed a seat, which isn’t always guaranteed on the East Coast Line.

 “You’ve got plenty of time!” he said repeatedly, oblivious to the fact I was wearing a collar, using crutches and hanging desperately onto his counter lest I fall over. It wasn’t just questionable whether I could get to the train in time, I also needed to phone family to let them know about the change of plans, didn’t have a mobile on me, and would much rather have caught the 14:00 at that point, but he clearly wasn’t interested and I couldn’t face arguing with him any more, so I headed for the train, trying to make the best of a bad situation. I did get there before it was due to leave, barely, but the train guard took one look at me and said I had better get onto the first carriage and walk through the train to Standard Class, she at least realised I couldn’t walk that far before the train was due out.

Fortunately there were plenty of seats for once and the journey up to Darlington was fairly straightforward, apart from the bit where I missed my connection there by 10 minutes, on a service which is less than hourly, and couldn’t phone my parents to let them know. I finally made it to Bishop Auckland at just before 18:00, my father having sat patiently waiting for me in the station car park for over an hour and a half. Three trains and five hours had become six and a half hours, four trains and a tube, none of them ones I should have been on. I had a quick bowl of soup, told my parents ‘I’m sorry, but I have to go to bed now’, and was in bed (shaking!) by 19:00, sleeping through until 08:00 the next morning. The only good side to it was that I slept the effects off, rather than being completely out of it for several days.

I’ve had train journeys like this before; it’s why I never go into London if I can avoid it any more. You can plan your journey around your abilities, but if things go wrong then you can rapidly find yourself in a situation where you don’t know where you are and don’t know whether the route to get you out of it is either accessible or manageable (two different things entirely). And then you can find yourself facing staff who clearly don’t have the first idea that someone with a disability may not be able to sprint for a train, may even face difficulties just in talking to them over a counter. I have this horrible feeling that TfL, Network Rail and the Train Operating companies are going to turn the Olympics, and particularly the Paralympics, into an embarrassing farce of inaccessible transport and tens of thousands of disabled people from all around the world who simply can’t get to where they need to be, and can’t get the help they need, because we have a rail system with Victorian levels of access, and Victorian levels of disability awareness in the customer-facing staff.

(1) Necessary caveat to make it clear to DWP that suffering through a train journey doesn’t mean my disability has changed!

Friday, 23 September 2011

How the Papers Help Make Disability Hate Invisible

I've just been on a visit to my family in Durham and while I was up there the Northern Echo, the main regional daily, reported on a rise in hate crime statistics. I wanted to comment on the figures then, to compare and contrast the way that the Echo had treated race hate and disability hate crime, but I couldn't get online, so had to wait until I was back home and could look the two articles up on the net. That made things even more interesting, because instead of the two articles, one on race hate stats taking up the top quarter of page 5, and a tiny two paragraphs on disability hate stats buried on page 7, there was only a single article, still entitled  'Rise in Race Hate Incidents', but with disability given nearly 50% of the coverage and the quotes and background to show that the reporter had actually gone out and done a good job of it. Somewhere between his writing a good article, pointing out that even if race hate incidents are up 4%, disability hate crimes are up over 20%, and the paper going to press, someone in the Echo's editorial staff decided that disability hate crimes just weren't worthy of the same degree of coverage, chopped them out of the article and buried the facts on page 7 without the context to say the reality is likely even worse because we can't get people to pay attention. I'm not sure whether that counts as irony, or tragedy.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The 100% Income Tax

Imagine the outrage if a government proposed a 100% income tax stretching across all income.

Imagine how much worse the outrage would be if that tax was proposed purely to fund one minister's pet project.

Now imagine the outrage if it was targeted solely on a disadvantaged minority.

Never happen? Let me introduce you to Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Time-Limiting of Contributions Related Employment Support Allowance, and the 100% of 700,000 disabled people's income he proposes to take away.

Iain Duncan Smith is on a mission, he wants to transform the UK benefits system through Universal Credit and the Work Programme. Universal Credit is bad enough for disabled people, because wrapped up in it is the replacement of DLA by PIP and an absolutely arbitrary 20% cut in those eligible (worse, the supposed justification for this, an 'inexplicable' rise in DLA claims, turns out to be totally explicable once you account for minor things like people retiring and children being born, but DWP managed to hush that up for 3 months while they got the Welfare Reform Bill through its second reading in the Commons). But new welfare systems need years to put in place, so Universal Credit is something for the future, the Work Programme is the flagship programme IDS can implement right this moment.

The one problem in IDS's plan to leave his mark on benefits is that that nasty George Osborne at the Treasury won't give him the money for it, and has told him he has to find it from the existing Department of Work and Pensions budget. So IDS cast around and settled on the perfect victims, disabled people who are too sick to work, after all he already had his allies in the tabloids hard at work convincing the public, which has always been in two minds about disability, that disabled people were universally lazy benefit cheats and fraudsters as part of the justification for the Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance migration, so why not take advantage of that twice over.

The ESA Work Capability Assessment is a success in the DWP's eyes, it discourages 36% of claimants, rejects 39% (though an awkward 30% appeal, and c40%, 70%+ with advocacy support, of those have the audacity to win their appeal), leaving 17% going into the Work Related Activity Group and 7% into the Support Group. Now it's a bit difficult to hit the Support Group, because these are people even DWP recognise are too ill ever to work, and there is too much risk they'll get the sympathy vote from the media, but the ones in the WRAG, they may be unfit to work at the moment, but DWP have managed to get the media all confused about that, to the point that they largely think those in WRAG actually are fit for work, and so they make a nice, ripe target for cutting. You can't cut them entirely, there has to be some pretence of support, so why not give them a year of benefit, because if they can't find a job in 12 months, then clearly they can be spun as not bothering, to lazy to go out and help themselves (and icky little details like their not being fit for work can be glossed over). Of course it can't be called a cut, that would be too blatant, but 'Time-Limiting' has such a nice ring to it, not remotely negative, and doesn't it really sound like the kind of thing the responsible person would do?

And so there we have it, if you're in the ESA WRAG, no matter you are too disabled to work, no matter DWP admit you are too disabled to work, come 12 months into your claim, Time-Limiting will kick in and if you have a spouse earning a few thousands pounds, or a few thousand in savings or pension fund, then your benefit will be stopped in its entirety, taxed at 100% to fund IDS's darling Work Programme.

The changes leading to Time-Limiting aren't some future fantasy, they are part of the government's Welfare Reform Bill and they are going for their second reading in the House of Lords in just a few days time.

So where's the outrage?

Friday, 2 September 2011

A Day of Infamy

(This is the piece that should have gone up yesterday, 1st of September, and prompted my move to Blogger. I deliberately haven't changed anything to reflect the delayed post as it is talking about the specific day)

LatentExistence wrote an excellent piece yesterday for Where’s The Benefit, entitled Godwin’s Law Must Die, discussing how people’s horror at Nazism actually gets in the way when 1930s Germany really is the only historical parallel for the situation you are experiencing.

It had slipped my mind what today is the anniversary of until I was reminded by someone else’s tweet, but it is an anniversary that brings that post by LatentExistence into sharp focus and reminds me of the things we must never allow ourselves to forget, whether disabled people or not.

Today is September 1st. Although in Great Britain we usually remember the start of WWII as the 3rd of September, based on our own declaration of war in support of Poland, it was on the 1st that Germany executed Fall Weiss, the invasion of Poland, having used commandos the night before to manufacture an incident of ‘Polish’ provocation. Attacked from three sides - Slovakia invaded with Germany, while Russia stabbed Poland in the back on the 17th - organised Polish resistance soon collapsed, although many Poles slipped away, coming to Britain and France to continue the fight. The end of organised resistance did not bring an end to the killing, it just provided freedom for the massacres and the men of Einsatzkommando 16 moved through the mental hospitals of Western Poland, slaughtering the disabled patients: 7,000 at Gdansk, 10,000 at Gdynia, and hundreds at Poznan in the first example of mass gassing, a process Himmler came to see in December of 1939. The organised extermination of disabled mental patients then spread back into Germany itself, clearing the hospitals of the ‘useless’ to free them for war-wounded: 1,400 in Pomerania, 1,600 in East Prussia, 8,000 of their own people in this wave, killed for the crime of being disabled.

The organised killing of disabled Germans had actually started before this, with children, or, perhaps more precisely, a single child. Part of Nazi Party ideology, a creed which in some cases literally became a religion, was a fetishizing of racial purity, the cult of the inherent superiority of the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Aryan German, destined to rule over the untermensch, eugenics taken to its ultimate conclusion. That some Germans might be less than ‘perfect’, might actually be disabled, was problematic for the Nazi Party’s racial purity zealots, and in the confrontational politics of 1930s Germany problems were simply something to actively pour your hatred onto. They took the passive concept of racial purity and developed it into the active concept of racial hygiene, planning to purge the German Volk of undesirable elements, such as people with disabilities.

Eugenics run rampant wasn’t actually unique to Germany at that time, both the US and Sweden had programmes for sterilizing those with disabilities considered inheritable or who were judged to show anti-social behaviour, but Germany turned to sterilization with all its national fervour for efficiency and in June 1933, almost as soon as the Nazis were in power, passed the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, which mandated sterilization for disabilities such as epilepsy and ‘social deviances’ such as alcoholism. Hereditary Health Courts (Erbgesundheitsgerichte), conducted a witchhunt through the German mental hospitals, asylums and other institutions, choosing those to be sterilized, a number estimated to have run to 360,000 Germans by 1939. Perhaps the only reason the programme did not progress to physical disabilities was that the senior Nazi Joseph Goebbels had a club foot. And all the while the Nazi propaganda machine was churning out films and posters intended to portray disabled people as a drain on the state and worthy only of euthanasia.

In 1939 Hitler asked Brandt, his personal physician, and Bouhler, head of his chancellery, to look into the case of a disabled baby, Gerhard Kretschmar, whose parents wanted him killed – the father’s letter to Hitler apparently referred to his son as ‘this monster’. In July 1939 the killing was carried out and Brandt was instructed by Hitler to proceed on the same basis in other cases, leading to the systematic classification of disabled German children by the Committee for the Scientific Treatment of Severe, Genetically Determined Illness, authorised on 18th August 1939, with doctors and midwives required to report all births of disabled children and preparatory measures being made to extend the process to adults. With the outbreak of war the need to proceed cautiously diminished and in October 1939, Hitler issued the Euthanasia Decree, bypassing the Health Ministry in favour of Brandt and Bouhler, his own men:

Reich Leader Bouhler and Dr. Brandt are charged with the responsibility for expanding the authority of physicians, to be designated by name, to the end that patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health, can be granted a mercy death.

And so Aktion T4 was born, a programme that ultimately killed over 200,000 disabled Germans and started a full two years ahead of the Wannsee Conference and the decision on the extermination the Jews. But the killing had already started, and so Hitler backdated the decree to ‘legalise’ the actions that had already taken place.

The date he chose was September 1st, 1939, a day of infamy.

Why Flat Out?

Why Flat Out? Because I often am!

That shouldn't be taken as meaning I hurtle through life, all hurtling on my part is done in a thoroughly uncontrolled manner and strictly inadvertently.

Flat Out is more literally descriptive, I have a disabling spinal condition, actually I have two disabling spinal conditions, quite possibly two disabling spinal conditions and a separate and more general disabling joint problem, and that means I spend much of my life flat on my back.

I've been blogging for a while as dwgism on LiveJournal - 'dwg' being me and 'ism' reflecting that no one party seems to reflect my views, but the vast majority of my output is now for Where's The Benefit, where, as DavidG, I'm one of a collective of disabled people blogging on the current savage attacks by the ConDem government on disabled people, and I was already thinking of moving my non WTB-blogging over to Blogger to share my account here when I hit some issues with the LJ editor on a post that really needed to go up yesterday, and so here I am.

I'll still be blogging at WTB, I'll still be keeping up my LJ account to keep track of all the friends there (and as a Shadow Unit fan LJ is an essential part of the experience), but my non-WTB blogging should be here from now on. That's likely to be stuff on living with disability, crip-politics stuff that doesn't fit on WTB, and some technology/aerospace and defence stuff related to my sadly now former career, possibly some reviews as well. I'll try and keep stuff tagged so that people can steer around the stuff that doesn't interest them.
So, onwards!