A new piece from Disability Rights UK outlines the position they took when speaking from the floor during the Fabian Womens Network event on disability and barriers.
Frankly I'm stunned by this piece. It declares that DR-UK doesn't want to talk about inclusion or demonisation, because those are passive and don't show our (Thatcherite) contribution to society. Surely just a moment of analysis would have shown that a major element in the discounting of our contribution to society is the overwhelming demonisation as lazy scroungers that we face in the press? It is quite literally impossible to demonstrate 'our contribution to society' without simultaneously challenging that demonisation. Turning to inclusion, 'our contribution to society' is surely dependent on our actually being able to be part of that society! Unless we fight the battle for inclusion, and the fact is that we are fighting the battle for those whose need for inclusion is absolute, because they cannot survive without it and the support implicit in that inclusion, then we can never claim to be an inclusive movement, because we will have sold those who need our support most down the river.
By trying to frame the debate in terms of 'our contribution to society' DR-UK are acquiescing to the demands of IDS, DWP and the Coalition en-masse that disabled people must demonstrate that they are worthy of being considered 'hard working people', or be justifiably condemned as lazy, idle, faking scroungers. It's as if DR-UK had looked at 'Nothing For Us, Without Us' and said, 'ooh, Iain won't like that, better find something he will like.'
How on earth can a disability rights organisation be resistant to talking about barriers, the one constant in our experience of disability? The author dismisses barriers by saying 'Look at the Maginot Line'. If he was more of a military historian he would realise the Maginot Line rendered the entire Franco-German border inaccessible, forcing Germany to sneak in through the Belgian back door - in other words it is actually the perfect example of the half-cocked, add-on, make-do-and-mend access provision that forces us round the back to the servants' entrance on the rare occasion there's even that much thought given to allowing us to get inside. His other example actually enshrines the existence of barriers by saying 'if something is inaccessible, let's not challenge that, lets see if we can find a way round to the servant's entrance'. Barriers are there, they're real, and they stop disabled people from achieving more than a fraction of what they otherwise could. For a disability organisation, particularly DR-UK, with its self-appointed claim to represent us all, to claim that challenging barriers is negative simply beggars belief. In fact with their stated determination to focus on 'our contribution to society' the idea of not challenging barriers is even more ludicrous, because, unless we challenge the barriers we face, that 'contribution to society' will be forever compromised.
Disturbingly the author also adopts the divisive position that as disabled people we can be divided into those of us with huge support/inclusion issues and those of us with little to no support/inclusion issues. The truth is, of course, that there is a whole spectrum of levels of exclusion faced by disabled people, spread across multiple areas of disability, access and support issues such as independent living, physical access, online access, workplace discrimination, discrimination in the street, educational provision and so on. Each of us has an individual position on that spectrum of exclusion, but the overwhelming majority of us are somewhere in the middle, facing significant exclusionary barriers in one or more aspects of our daily lives as disabled people.
Equally disturbing, and clearly dangerous, is the likening of the experience of people whose disability has perceived lower levels of exclusion to the experience of people who are temporarily ill with the flu. The author attempts to justify this analogy by pointing out the difference between long-term and short-term needs, but given an ongoing DWP strategy of obfuscating the difference between short-term illness and long term sickness/disability in order to justify benefit cuts it is breathtakingly reckless for DR-UK to adopt the same strategy of likening the two.
The author states he is driven to these positions by the danger that "disabled people" is not understood to include "the many people who live with pain, fatigue, severe confusion, depression, the most significant learning disabilities and autism and also other challenges from homelessness to alcohol or drug problems." Speaking as someone living with pain, fatigue and neurodiversity, not in my name! If people don't understand the full range of disability, then that is a problem of inclusion, and refusing to address inclusion will not fix it. Only by getting out there into the streets and into Parliament and talking about the sheer inclusive breadth of disability and the barriers we face will we manage to make any progress at all.
Ultimately this DR-UK piece reminds me forcibly of DWP's Disability Confident scheme, which purports to address workplace disablism by reframing it as employers not understanding disability and therefore never actually gets around to challenging workplace disablism. DR-UK know that we face huge barriers to participation in society, and huge cuts to the already fatally strained care/support budget through the closure of ILF and the slashing of council budgets, but rather than get their hands dirty fighting in the trenches like the rest of us, they want to reframe the problem by showing what good little crips we are. Again, not in my name!