- 3 Feb 08, 7:48 PM
My, what a year 2008 is already turning out to be for disabled people. The British Government condemns two-thirds of Incapacity Benefit claimants as fraudulent. Another mother with mental health problems tries and fails to fight against a decision to remove her child from her. It begins to become more and more apparent that social care provision in this country is inadequate for many disabled people’s needs. A writer for a national newspaper encourages – maybe ironically, maybe not – his readers to commit acts of violence against wheelchair users. And national newspapers finally begin to highlight the dramatic and terrifying rise in hate crime, over the last couple of years, against disabled people in this country. All that from just the last week or so.
I wonder if I can be forgiven for wanting to give up and leave the country at the moment. It’s not my usual response to such news. I’m an activist – if a rather rubbish one – and when I hear things like this, I usually want to do something. Even if it’s not much. Writing a letter or contributing ideas to an anti-discrimination forum can have a powerful effects: it can inspire others and lead to group action, which is always more effective than campaigning alone, and it can help me to stop feeling like a victim and start acting like a human being. So why am I finding all of these news stories so overwhelming now, and why does it suddenly feel like ‘resistance is futile’?
The clue might be in the word. Activism. You can’t complain about poor services, congratulate for good ones, push for changes, raise consciousness or challenge inequality without doing something. That can be a lot to contemplate, when you’re disabled. I’m tired out by just living life at the moment. Over the past few months I’ve started working, acquired a new diagnosis (with everything that goes along with that), acquired a head injury by falling backwards off a bus ramp in a powerchair, got used to a manual wheelchair, applied for a uni course, experienced a ‘flare’, seen quite a few nightmarish doctors and consultants and psychologists (how patronising can they be?), had three physiotherapy assessments which all led to absolutely nothing, been signed off sick for a few weeks, and returned to work again… And that’s with a condition that causes, among other things, fatigue. Fun.
Anyway. Tired. So I avoid doing things. And suddenly we’re into a spiral of guilt and inaction that helps no one. I have at least three little ‘actions’ I want to take about some of the things I’ve mentioned above, and I’m not doing them because the mere thought is exhausting.
This is why I think that, perhaps for disabled people more than for any other minority or rights-focused group, it’s really key that we work together. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing all the same things at the same time, though. It can mean telling our stories and keeping others informed about the action we’re taking, and not getting too bogged down in whether it’s *enough* or not. The most useful 'action stories' I read are at places like the Ouch! Talk messageboard and the forums at butyoudontlooksick.com, where the tale of one person’s complaint that led to a small change can be just as important as the recounting of a landmark DDA court case. Some might dismiss this storytelling as nothing but ranting or chattering. I wouldn’t. Action inspired through discussion is powerful, even if that action goes on behind the scenes, on a small scale, quietly and without any fuss.
Tell me about the action you’ve taken that has led to change for disabled people – on any scale, local or national. You never know whose activism you might inspire. You might even persuade me to get out of bed and write a few letters. Now that would be a triumph.
• Visit Through Myself and Back Again, where I may or may not be doing useful things this week.