Reading one disability campaigner’s blog yesterday, The Big Benefits Row by Sue Marsh, I was, amidst the tale of her truly woeful treatment from our national media, laughingly surprised at one paragraph. She said:
Having only needed to use a wheelchair for just under a year, the reality of disabled access has shocked and appalled me too. Did you know for instance that most trains only have ONE disabled space and so can only take one wheelchair user? No, I had no idea either. And did you know that you can’t get in to most restaurants and shops despite access being a legal responsibility? Nope, nor me. Or that supermaket aisles often make it impossible to get around a shop independently? Or that you can’t use almost any of the London Underground?I didn’t know any of that stuff …
I am only hoping that she is exaggerating her lack of wheelchair awareness to make these points to the thousands of non-wheelchar users who follow her. She is, and has been for some years, an outspoken advocate for the sick and disabled in social and other media.
Wheelchair users are also out there, in our thousands, in social and other media, writing about the discrimination and difficulties we face in trying to engage with the outside world – many of us having done so for years going on decades!
And yet, I wasn’t surprised that a campaigner who speaks for ‘all’ of us, is unaware of the very basic wheelchair issues mentioned above. There are many examples of such a lack of awareness … and not just about wheelchair issues.
The reality is more that, as for most of us, it isn’t until we personally become affected that the reality of constraint and difficulty, of any kind, hits home along with shock, then righteous anger and indignation. This is why there are so many passionate but partisan disability campaign groups, no?
And why it is so incredibly difficult for the sick and disabled to act as a cohesive protest group. To each, individual or support group or campaigner, our own issues are the most important. There is so much that separates us rather than unites us when it comes to campaigning priorities.
So, even as we might come briefly together on a national issue – say poverty, PIP or the NHS – our general actions are doomed to dissipate in strength, both internally and externally.
What is true for one disability campaigner on wheelchair issues, is similarly true for wider society on disability issues. Hence, the extreme difficulties of effecting change – as has been the case for almost any minority issue. Racism, sexism, sexuality and gender issues. Always the same problems in understanding and acceptance.
Do we really have to feel the leather chafe as we walk in someone else’s shoes … or squeak the wheels in their chair?
You’d think not but the evidence suggests otherwise.