BBC BLOGS - The Ouch! Blog It's a disability thing
« Previous | Main | Next »

Does disabled have to always mean old?

Post categories:

Vaughan | 16:07 UK time, Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Anyone remember Celebrity Blind Man's Buff and Celebrity Wheelchair Challenge? Go on, cast your mind back ... yes, it's coming back to you now, isn't it? Various 'celebrities' (ahem) experiencing a few days as either a blind person or a wheelchair user, and from this experience discovering empathy with - and understanding of - disabled people. Frankly, it still gives me nightmares.

Well, now we have a journalist from The Guardian writing about spending a few months on crutches over this summer, as a result of breaking a bone in her foot, and how it's opened her eyes to the problems that "old and disabled" people face, and the reactions they receive.

To be fair, it seems quite a thought-provoking article, but I'm always uneasy about exactly what able-bodied people learn from these brief experiences of temporary disability. That's the important thing - the experience is temporary, and they know well enough that once their injuries have healed, they'll be back out in the world as a non-disabled person. And the big question is: will the experience stay with them then? Will their attitudes towards disability have changed permanently? Will they retain their knowledge of what life is like for us on a daily basis? I remain to be convinced.

But I've got a further bugbear with this article, and that's the journalist Jackie Ashley's identification of being old with being disabled - even the title describes "an edifying trip into Oldie World". Of course there are many older disabled people, but there are many younger ones too - including lots of readers of Ouch!

This summer, Jackie Ashley has been using crutches to get around. I use crutches too. I'm 37 years of age. I may be able to clearly remember the lyrics of obscure early '80s pop songs better than I can recall what I was doing this time last week, but I don't yet regard myself as old. Disabled, yes. Old, no.


  • Comment number 1.

    Being Jack Ashley's daughter, I'm amazed it's taken her this long to gain even a crumb of Disability Awareness.

  • Comment number 2.

    Much identification with this one. Using a mobility scooter blurs the disabled/elderly boundaries somewhat and causes much confusion. Indeed there is a flicker of 'how do I react to this not old person on this scooter?' in many of the faces on my high street. I would seriously prefer a power chair, and I think my medical condition would too, but I can't get an NHS one because I'm not old. Sometimes I sense that people may be wondering if I'm only temporarily incapacitated, like the journalist you write about, because well it's just wrong seeing a 35 year-old on a maroon scooter isn't it? It really clashes with my hair that's for sure.
    Then there was the recent bus ticket nonsense. I paid for my son's child ticket. Then I showed my disabled pass and the machine gave me an OAP ticket. Yes, it annoyed me although I too have nothing against older people.
    But I too am not old. Yet. Social services are working on it though. They are causing me to age quite quickly.
    So, as my final observation, how come the only gardening services I've found locally are for the elderly, and not in my area? I enquired further and someone suggested ringing Age Concern, as I think they felt bad that us disabled types aren't catered for. So I did, and there is a grant available. My OT even got as far as filling out the form, as all concerned agreed it was wrong to discriminate against those with disabilities where gardening (or indeed fuel payments...but that's another story) is concerned. The result? I got turned down of course because I'm too young. And perhaps they think I'm only like this temporarily. I'm young you see. Plenty of time to bounce back. Yeah, right.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm 26. But sometimes, just sometimes, I feel that the accessible world is aimed at older people.

    A good example is transport to the doctor's surgery. My surgery offers free door-to-door transport to and from appointments for all over-65s regardless of ability or condition. Disabled people under 65, even with blue badges and so on, are not covered. Not even if you ask really nicely.

    And don't get me started on the Age Concern activities and services that look so good, until you read "over-65s only".

  • Comment number 4.

    I am 26 and use a power chair. Last weekend a little boy asked me if I was old. I didn't twig straight off what he meant, I just smiled and said that I was older than him, yes. My able-bodied friend, who heard the question, said that she and I were the same age. She laughed and said, "we're both old!" The little boy then asked, "so, why aren't you in a wheelchair?"

  • Comment number 5.

    It's not just ageism - my wife uses a stroller and we have lost count of the times that people have assumed over the phone that mobility problem = wheelchair.

  • Comment number 6.

    Old and Disabled meant in this case Old People and Disabled People.

    Stop trying to make news by deliberatly misinterperating someones words.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.