Sunday, 3 May 2015

#BADD2015: Don't shove me into your stereotypical box.

The other day I felt really angry, for me at least because I’m not a person who angers easily. However when I was younger, there were periods in my life when I felt really angry. My Auntie taught me that the things I was getting angry about may not be as simple as they seemed and to find out what the truth was. As I got older I questioned more and endeavoured to understand. I shied away from anger believing that it had no place in my life, that it would only bring negativity and pain. And although I still believe that anger is best kept in small quantities, anger can push us forward, it can prevent us from accepting the inequality within society and instead motivate us to fight for change.

The last five years have been especially hard on the disabled community and there have been many times when it would have been easy to be consumed by anger. Even before the last general election, the tabloids had increased the disproportionate amount of articles that falsely claimed or gave the perception that benefit fraud was sky high. And not only has this continued but it has steadily worsened.

Over the last five years society has been bombarded with an underlying ideology that disabled people that claim welfare are a problem and are not part of society.

This negative ideology is only further perpetuated by the Government. With a speech on the fairness of seeing the “closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits” and the near constant references to those who “work hard and get on” and “hard working families” to name but a few.

But this simplistic and discriminatory view implies disabled people who are not in work are simply choosing not to do so because of the perception, that a life on benefits is an “easier” life. This shows an absolute lack of understanding about those who can’t work and of how restrictive disability can be.

But with this being portrayed as an injustice to the rest of society it is easier for politicians to form a regressive welfare policy if people believe that those in the disabled community are fraudsters. Because the perception then is of a government that is simply righting a “wrong” and not the truth, that this causes society to stagnate and discrimination towards the disabled community to worsen.

You would think with a government and the media that is so eager to criticise the disabled for not working it would be shredding away the barriers to work to enable those that could, with the right support, variety and flexibility in the work available but alas no. This Government that is so eager to criticise has not only failed to remove any barriers to work and social inclusion as a whole but it has closed or reduced existing schemes like the Independent Living Fund and Access to Work.

The prime minister only days ago stated “a life on benefits, is no life at all.”

This goes back to the same perception that a disabled person without a job, has no purpose, no life. It also implies that a disabled person’s value simply rests on their ability to work or not and belittles the huge contribution that disabled people have made in society. In the same way as the rest of society, the disabled community pursue interests and contribute to society as others do outside of their employment.

When highlighting the Government and the media’s position with the public and with people I know, it is obvious to see how much this distorted perception of the disabled community has influenced many peoples’ opinions.

In its more milder form it is not unusual to be told that the “Government are obviously not talking about you, you're obviously genuine”

I know I am but given that the vast majority of people claiming disability benefit are genuine, chances are however much this person may perceive me as genuine, another member of the public who doesn't know me may not and may discriminate against me. This feeds into the public's belief that benefit fraud is 34 times higher than reality.

For anyone that has read my blog you will know I have psoriatic arthritis and hypermobility alongside additional conditions and that I deal with pain every day. Although I walk with a stick and have had to use a wheelchair at times, I may look “normal” to an outsider that doesn't take more than a second to glance at me or get to know me.

I have had my disability questioned and have faced discrimination by passers by and those who even know me. I know that isn’t helped by the fact that stereotypically, arthritis is seen as a mild condition and one that only affects people in their old age. But the real crux of it is, that not only is the reality of my condition further from the public’s often misguided perception, I often receive discrimination and less understanding than someone who has the flu.

This is what I find truly ludicrous. I would love to say that this is uncommon but I and so many who live with invisible conditions have our validity questioned just because we don't have a snotty nose. It is even more ludicrous when you factor in that my arthritis can create a immune response that is equal to a severe bacterial infection or even burns.

Not only do disabled people have their validity questioned by society and even by people they know, they often are excluded from social gatherings and if invited the lack of an accessible venue or seating may mean they are unable to join in when they otherwise could of.

I have learned since the onset and the gradual worsening of my disability that friends that knew me well accept that my disability is just another aspect of me and that if they enjoy my friendship, they will make time for me as they did before. There are friends that care after every hospital stay and friends that will wait with me whilst I sit and rest, and there is the friend that has done all she can so I could be at her wedding.

Because of those friends and when I meet members of the public that give me their seat before I stumble, for those that don’t glare at me and instead open a heavy door, and for those that ask me questions with a thirst for understanding, you are the reason I do not submit to that anger.

The discrimination has been completely engineered to pull the public's attention away from the real causes of the inequality in other sections of society to easily blame those in the disabled community.

Society has gone backwards and peoples' perceptions have worsened. But this is not an problem created by the disabled community, it is one of a complete lack of acceptance. It is so hard for the disabled community not to be blinded by rage from the injustice experienced. The realisation that this shouldn’t be up to the disabled community to fix. There are those in society that will judge the disabled and do not want to change their ignorance and to those people I do not need to justify myself or spend time on you. To those that ask questions and want to reach out to understand, I am here.

(I know im late this year but better late than never)

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