Disabled people: ‘second class citizens’ or ‘superhumans’

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It is an interesting time to be a disabled person.  Lately, I have been told I am a ‘second class citizen’ by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, whilst disabled athletes have been portrayed as super human.  Meanwhile, shouty disability campaigners DPAC tell me that welfare to work companies are out to get me!  What am I to think?

For me, it comes down to two things: context and nuance.  Of all these representations, my own personal lived experience (I can’t speak for anyone else!) is that the reality is somewhere in between.  Context is really important.  Similarly, nuance tells us we need to take care to look at the broad spectrum of disability and the experiences that people have, and that ‘one size’ doesn’t fit all.

In reality, am I a second class citizen?  Generally it doesn’t feel like it.  It is true to say that life can be much harder,  I have to be good at problem solving, and find workarounds to things.  It is also true to say that as someone who is working full-time and owns their own home, the impact of austerity policies like the ‘bedroom tax’ hasn’t really been directly felt.  I know that this isn’t the case for everyone though.

Am I a super human?  No.  I should declare an interest here though as someone who has been involved with disability sport for a long time, and who is a passionate advocate of it.  The super human tag is a bit of a mixed blessing for me.  On the positive side, it promotes the positive abilities and capabilities of our world-class athletes, of whom we should rightly be proud.  However, not every disabled person aspires to be or will be a Paralympian.

In terms of the assumption that every disabled person is a Paralympian, let’s think about this for a second.  Applying this logic  would mean that, for example, everyone who played football, at whatever level, aspired to play in the premier league.  This is simply not the case, and would neglect that people play football for a wide variety of reasons in a wide variety of contexts (there is that word again!)  Similarly, I wouldn’t expect every person who was not disabled, to aspire to be an Olympian.

A much wider exploration of disability, to harness the positivity around the Paralympics, is needed.  To explore how each person can be able to be the best version of themselves and achieve their aspirations.  There is much more to be done to address this, and to examine the various ways in which disabled people can reach their potential in all areas of their lives, be that work, love, travel or whatever else.

Lastly, I must turn to  so called disability rights activists.  Are people out to kill me?  No.  Does campaigning which purports to speak for all disabled people, and in reality speaks for a minority help me?  No.  There are some of these so called ‘campaigners’ that present a really distorted view on disability.  One driven by bitterness, negativity, frustration and quite frankly, having a chip on both shoulders in some cases.  Is this the kind of thing we really need to help take disabled people forward?  Not at all.  Much more balance is needed, to carefully assess and address issues.  Do things need addressing?  Of course they do.  Making shouty, hyperbolic claims just isn’t the way to go about it.

So..i’m neither a second class citizen or a super human.   I’m not a shouty disability rights activist either.  I do though try to negotiate life in a constructive way and try to focus on the positives around disability, and life in general.  I’d encourage you, dear reader, to do the same.

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About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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