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Monday, 25 April 2011

Equality for All?

Equality is a very controversial subject for many disabled people, because there is a general feeling within the disabled community that they are not treated equally. Equality will only stop being a problem when people stop having an uneducated, inaccurate opinion on what it means for people to be treated equally as this is how disabled people want to be treated. We want the same opportunities as our able bodied peers. For this to happen society needs to be educated to allow an understanding of what it means to live with a disability, as the hashtag on twitter goes, '#disabilitynormal'. For disability to become normalised we, as disabled people, need to be treated in exactly the same way as our able bodied peers, as mentioned above we need the same opportunities to live a 'normal life' without man made restrains due to accessibility needs and societies ability to hide behind the phrase 'reasonable adjustment'. 

 The biggest limitation of being a disabled person is not the fact that I cant walk, yeah that is a pain but at least I have a wheelchair that provides me reasonable independence similar to that of someone who is able to walk. Opinions of the wider society and restraints that society puts on to me and many other disabled people. As a disabled person I always have to think about where I am going in more detail than my peers, which has been true all of my life. If I want to go out with my friends, I have to think about whether there is access for me and then if there is, what about a toilet I can use. I can tell you, its not much fun going somewhere and knowing that I cant have much to drink because there is not a toilet that I can access.

I come up against physical access restraints on a regular basis, some of which shouldn't have been a problem as there are ways around certain problems that I face (if a small amount of thought is put into it). Recently I wanted to go on TUC March 26th, I intended to attend with my fellow union comrades. This should have been simple because I provided plenty of warning that I would like to do this and I know it is possible to get coaches which are wheelchair accessible. I was told that someone would look into it and that it shouldn't be a problem hiring a wheelchair accessible coach. The weeks went on and although I kept trying to find out what was happening, still I didn't hear anything. I had to formally complain before anyone spoke to me about this issue. By this point there was only a couple of days left before the march and so had to sort out transport quickly. I was hurt and disgusted by what had happened and felt that it didn't have to happen in this way. For all my fellow comrades the journey was very straightforward and didn't have to pay a penny towards their transport, unlike myself. Then there is the problem of a very inaccessible transport system in London. Some of the tube stations we had to go through, are classed as wheelchair accessible but there is no way that I would have coped on my own on this journey. Again these are all things that able bodied people don't have to think about and they are all aspects of why disabled people feel trapped and unable to live full lives, just adding to the feeling of inequality within society. I understand that there are times when it can't be helped, some buildings and transport links are so old that the changes that are needed are just not plausible. Having said that there are times as I have already mentioned when organisations and individuals hide behind the phrase 'reasonable adjustment' because it is seen as too much like hard work and extra expense that why should they do it for a so called minority. The fact is there are become more disabled people who require accessibility to be addressed.  If some of the physical accessibility constraints were addressed disabled people could become more independent making it more possible for them to work and put back into society. Disabled people do not want to claim of the state, they just don't have a choice. Disabled people are seen by the wider society as a drain on resources. We are only a drain because society has made it so for so many disabled people. Disabled people just want to be given the opportunity to show that they 'can do' with the right support.

So I have spoke about the physical constraints of living in this society with a disability, but the lack of equality goes much deeper for many disabled people. Peoples attitude and behaviour towards disabled people can be the most disabling of all.  All my life I have had people treat me discriminatory, it is something that I have learnt to brush off, and put a mask on how I am feeling. But how people have treated me has affected me and how I feel about myself and my position in society. There are times when I find it hard not to react to something someone has said, but I am always the bigger person. I find myself making excuses for people, but why should I? The things that people say have come from somewhere whether they are a true view or not.  Imagine that a man and a woman are sat together in a pub, you don't know either person, you would quite like to know the woman's name so you ask the man. Now, that is clearly a stupid thing to do but this regularly happens to me people talk to someone with me instead of talking to me directly. There is also issues around the language people use. As a scenario you are in a restaurant and your waiter comes up to you and asks if you want a bib (you would expect napkin). Both these examples are stupid things to say to someone but I face things like that on a regular basis. Recently, at a conference, I was in a lift and someone asked if my "pushchair" counted as a person in terms of weight. I don't own a pushchair, I use a wheelchair! Straight afterwards when coming out of the lift people around me were asked if I needed any help, I was not asked and I got myself into the lift without any problems at all! These are just 2 recent examples, I could list endless examples where people have said things that they don't understand as being insensitive and actually very rude.

Misconceptions need to be challenged, people need to be educated and a negative disability picture needs not exist for there to be equality for all. Recently I read a blog by a fellow twitter activist where she explained how she had got a t shirt printed, which sent a message out about disability and challenged negative views of society. Every disabled person needs to challenge society beliefs to ensure that disability becomes normal and every is treated equally. So I suggest that we all follow in  Crimson's steps and challenge negative behaviour and opinions. To read crimson crip's blog follow the link below - 
You can also follow her on Twitter @crimsoncrip and me @sazzyactivist

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