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Tanni Grey-Thompson

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Tanni is Britain's most successful and best known wheelchair athlete. She has won countless gold medals and blitzes the London Marathon almost every year, amongst other events. In recent years she has been branching out into writing and broadcasting.

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Disability is the reason

4th April 2005

Lately I have experienced some of the best and oddest moments of my life and they have led me to think about what makes disabled people tick. When did it change where having a disability was the reason that a person was not able to do something, to the point where it is now a ready excuse for some to get away with things?
Perhaps this has always been the case but it is only in the last few weeks that I have seen it plainly in real life.

I remember a time when disability absolutely was the reason that disabled people weren't part of society. Everyone knows that it was because the 'normal' people didn't want crips out and about and mixing with their families, so they were locked away.

Then, gradually, disabled people were allowed out and we had lots of years where we were treated like second class citizens. I am not entirely sure Whether we have moved away from this but what I do know is that while the world I live in is still fairly inaccessible, there are more accessible toilets and lowered kerbs than I ever thought possible!

I grew up in a world where, if I wanted to pee when I was out, I had to use ordinary toilets because there weren't too many options; sometimes this meant peeing with the door open. I've also had to get out of my chair and crawl up stairs to get somewhere I wanted to be. None of it was pleasant, none of it was easy, but it meant I always got to do the things I wanted to do.

I may sound harsh, I may be turning in to a grumpy old cow, but it is time that some disabled people just grew up.

Talking to a young disabled lad the other week (who can walk with crutches) I heard him say, "I can't transfer myself because I am disabled". What does that mean? To me, that isn't a reason in itself. I wouldn't mind hearing that he couldn't transfer because he didn't have the functional ability, or he had tried and it hadn't worked out but he was just offering: "I am disabled".

Many disabled children/people are not allowed into a situation where they might fail at something. This is because many non-disabled see impairment as failure to start off with so they think that anything more would be too negative to cope with. But shying from tougher experiences is never going to help you expand and grow. The poor little crips can be applauded for any effort they make but they also need to fail sometimes. Failing is part of growing up and learning... You have to do one to appreciate the other.

I am tired of seeing some disabled young people use disability as an excuse, when what they really mean is that they can't be bothered and they don't want to be seen as failing. Let's face it, nobody wants to fail but they have an in-built excuse that they can use if they choose to, and that no one around them will argue with because many believe that it is valid.

I am not completely hard, though, because I see the reality of what disabled people have to live with. Disabled people still get a raw deal out of society. Disabled people live every day with discrimination. I am a 35 year old mother and an athlete and I don't appreciate either being patted on the cheek or having my hair ruffled - both have happened to me in the last couple of weeks. Why don't they do that to someone who is non-disabled? I'm going to stick my tongue out at the next person who does that to me. If they are going to treat me like a 3 year old I may start behaving like one.

It can be wearing but, now, rather than being the reason, disability has become the excuse for some people because it is easier than trying. How can you possibly know what you can and can't do unless you try?

So who is to blame for all this? Is it the case that the parents are wrapping kids in cotton wool and not letting them have a go at new things. My parents had no other option than to let me loose, unless they wanted me to live at home forever, and that was never an option. Is it because parents no longer have to fight for some of the basic rights that the fight has gone out of the parents?

I don't know any of the answers to this, but what I would like to see is that more disabled people have the opportunity to be all that they want to be, but also that disabled people take all opportunities to be the best that they can.

Is it really because we still live in a discriminatory society that means that things are not getting any better for disabled people. Or should we look more at ourselves?

For all those disabled people who face discrimination every day of the week, who live a tough life because of their impairment, this is not meant for you. For those disabled people who could have so much more but can't be bothered, then you are the only ones losing out.


    • 1. At 11:26pm on 01 May 2009, keithandvix wrote:

      I have to say I can't agree more. Although my husband is not disabled in regards to losing a limb he has become severely ill over the last year and is awaiting a kidney transplant. Where as my husband feels it is very important to live as normal as possible, others in his situation are sitting back waiting to die and it is so frustrating. Yes life can be tough but life is what you make it, if you don't sit back and let disability/illness run your life, life is still very fulfilling

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