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The disability meal ticket

by Jamie Beddard

24th June 2003

"I have no tear ducts" has been one of my more successful opening gambits when engaging members of the opposite sex.
For some mysterious reason, these five words illicit great outpourings of enamoured sympathy, which can - if manufactured correctly - develop into the sweet plucking of delicate heart strings and the blossoming of overnight love. Unfortunately, the cold light of day soon arrives, and I have developed a touch of hay fever; all good things rapidly disintegrate. I am swiftly given my marching orders, and the swelling dams behind my eyelids are burst as tidal waves of tears stream forth. At this point, my desperate cries of "The Lady doth do miracles! You are my Love Doctor! Cure me more!" are drowned out by raging torrents of supreme anger - and flying objects. Thus, I am cruelly exposed as a conniving cad and promptly shown the door of solitude, whereupon I retire to the pillow of grief at my regular lodgings of Heartbreak Hotel.

I wildly jest, of course. But such a metaphorical tale is a salutary reminder of how disability may be used and abused when thrust into the wrong hands, legs or appliances. Disability can be an object of supreme beauty - I, myself, have been compared to a ballerina following the consumption of a sweet bottle of Lambrusco - but can also fall foul to the ill winds of exploitation. Whilst at university, I laboured long and hard over my dissertation (and now legendary publication) - Disability - is it a meal ticket? Extensive research uncovered some unpalatable home truths about the currency of disability.

I once shared a few liveners with a charming chap who had a physical impairment, in a salubrious drinking den in London's Soho district (after a stint at the British Library). Only later did I discover that he used his 'special problems' to gain concessionary rates at a chain of massage parlours in the East End. I was, needless to say, highly shocked, and set about disentangling myself from this unwholesome friendship immediately.

Similarly, I heard disturbing reports of certain depraved members of the disabled brethren being bought drinks, given preferential treatment at ticket barriers and securing front row seats at soccer matches. Unfortunately, I was met by a conspiracy of silence when I made further enquiries, but there is seldom smoke without fire. It does not take a great leap of imagination to convert the harmless blue parking badge into a licence to so shamelessly 'take the piss' (their words, not mine!) out of all of humanity.

But who would make such a shameful hurdle across the chasm of decency? What is it in the upbringing of these people that breeds such contempt for their fellow beings?

It simply beggars belief, and I can only look back at my own formative years and thank my lucky, lucky stars. There, by the Grace of God, go I.

My path into adolescence was spent under the manipulative hands of therapists as they courageously fought to 'normalise' my busted body. "Talk proper, and walk straight". Tendons were snapped, legs and arms pummelled, nursery rhymes reduced to meaningless phonetic exercises, lessons given in correct telephone manners, and football replaced by endless games of Simon Says: "... touch your toes with the nape of your neck"; "... run on the spot for five days"; "... sing Amazing Grace very beautifully" and so on.

Surprisingly, such admirable - and increasingly desperate - attempts at freeing my tortured body failed. However, great inroads into my tortured soul were made as I was taught the value of uniformity, convention and standards. No Mohicans for me.

Just as common mythology suggests that most citizens have, at one time or another, broken the law, so I am afraid some disabled people callously use their impairments for selfish gain. I am not impressed by their flimsy excuses that since the dice of life are loaded against them, they are merely attempting to tip the odds slightly. By redressing the balance somewhat, a sense begins to pervade over their tragic existence. A kind of 'crip payback time'.

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