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Disabling Attitudes

The reaction I get when someone realises I am disabled is usually one of three

The patronising sympathy attitude

Recently in a café a man came up to me and said I was doing really well. He asked if I had spina bifida, which was rather a personal thing to ask, none of his business and wrong. I explained I had a hip replacement. He then went on to tell me he used to work in a special school with people like me and I was doing really well. I know he meant well, but I found it annoying. Firstly ‘people like me’ just labels me as special needs and does not give me any credit as an individual person. Secondly how does he know I am doing really well? I was in a café with my mum, nothing remarkable in that. What is a disabled person supposed to do? Either I carry on with life like everyone else or roll over and die. I guess I could sit at home all day, everyday and get very depressed and lonely, lamenting woe is me I am disabled or I could go out and have some kind of a life. Also being disabled physically does not make me stupid. The man in the café may have thought I was doing well to be so functioning. Well I chose my own drink, ordered it and paid for it, and do this kind of thing on a regular basis. In fact I live alone and do not have a carer.

The fact he used to work in a special school with that kind of attitude annoyed, but did not surprise me. I spent three years in a special needs school as a teenager and this was something that annoyed me on an almost daily basis, the patronising attitude of some of the staff. I think I may have acted up a little bit less perhaps if the staff had expected more of me. Thankfully my parents were never patronising and never let me use my disability as an excuse to not make an effort or learn things. I can do a lot more for myself now thanks to my parents making me learn than I may have been able to do otherwise had it been left up to school.

The super human Paralympics attitude

I watched the Paralympics opening ceremony earlier this month. I like the Paralympics; they are fun and help promote disabled issues around the world. On phrase I dislike that was also used a lot in the 2012 Paralympics, that disabled athletes are ‘superhuman’. I admit that they achieve some incredible things, but why are they superhuman? Disabled people are only joining in sport like everyone else. Sport for some people seems to be something natural, an instinct, why is it so amazing that a disabled person would also have this? Yes it is often harder for a disabled person to be able to join a sport, but it can be tricky for anyone to join sports, especially at an Olympic level. Sometimes the Paralympics can make it harder for the disabled with people thinking that if the Paralympians can achieve so much why can’t all disabled people. For example someone once said to me that if the disabled athletes can do that, why I can not even get a job. When it comes to work my physical issues are the least of my problems, like all disabled people I have more going on in my life than just my disability. Every four years it is like we are all suddenly expected to be superhuman. Well I will win a Paralympic medal the day all my non-disabled friends win an Olympic medal. Rob Crosan in the Telegraph puts it well, ‘The Chances of most disabled people becoming a world class athlete is roughly the same as it is for able-bodied people (i.e. nil).’

The scrounger on benefits attitude

I would love to have a paying job and not be on benefits, but that does not seem to be an option for me right now. There is only a brief three month period of my life I can remember being totally off any benefits as an a adult when I had part time temp job. I was on job seekers allowance for a number of years before changing to employment support allowance for health reasons. At first on job seekers everyone seemed supportive, but the longer I remained on it the more the support seemed to decline. People who understood my situation less well started to say not very nice things. Apparently I was lazy, not trying hard enough or too fussy about the type of work I would do. If only they knew how hard I was trying to get work, attending interview after interview and getting rejected over and over. I ended up having to remove a couple of people who I thought were friends from social media for saying very negative things about people on benefits.

The media do not help with the scrounger attitude some people have. There are so many newspaper articles about benefits cheats that it must seem to some that the vast majority cheat the system. For example if you type the words disabled or disability into an internet news search, you nearly always get at least one article on someone who has been caught cheating benefits. Yes, a few people do lie and claim benefits falsely, but the vast majority do not. ‘Official data shows that there is nearly twice as much error as fraud in the benefits system’ (www.disabilityrightsuk.org). Less than one percent of people are benefits are said to be fraudulently claiming. The media often muddle up fraud statistics with system errors making the fraud look much worse than it actually is. The government have also made things worse by constantly banging on about cutting disability benefits and catching benefit cheats. However if I was to come off ESA I would have no income coming in at all apart from housing benefit which gets paid straight to my housing association anyway.

I am not a scrounger; I volunteer a lot in my local community. I am not super human, I am rubbish at sport, but I also do not want your sympathy. I am simply me, a human being, but as Penny Pepper writes in the Guardian, ‘It truly seems that the only acceptable disabled person is a Paralympian – and then only for a few weeks’. All disabled people just want to be accepted as themselves and not just during the Paralympics, but all of the time.

References:

Rob Crosan, Telegraph, 15.09.2016
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/we-disabled-people-arent-super-in-any-way-i-couldnt-care-less-ab/

15.05.2014
http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2014/may/benefits-fraud-less-one-cent

Penny Pepper, the Guardian, 06.09.2016
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/06/paralympians-superhumans-disabled-people

A little consideration for the disabled goes a long way

When you are disabled life already gives you a plenty of challenges and problems, the last thing disabled people need is others making life even more tricky.  These issues may seem trivial to some, but to the disabled they affect they are very important.

 

Misusing a disabled parking badge

A blue badge is issued to disabled people who can not walk far or find it painful.  However some people seem to think that it is issued to the vehicle not the person, so feel free to use it when the disabled person is not even with them, but this is actually illegal.  The idea is that the disabled person can take the badge with them in any vehicle they get a lift in, not that the entire family can use it.  The other excuse disabled people have pointed out in a Facebook group for disabled parking badge abuse is when a carer says they are shopping on behalf of the disabled person.  If the disabled person is not with them, they can not use the badge and it makes no difference why they are shopping.  Also the disabled person does not just have to be in the car, but getting out and going somewhere.  The badge is to help disabled people get out more, not to sit back and watch others have the life for them.

 

Using a disabled parking space without having a blue badge

Then there are those who use disabled spaces without even having a badge at all.  There are only a few disabled spaces in a car park and if they are all taken up it can prevent a disabled person from being able to park and they could miss out on doing what they wanted.  The excuse, ‘I am only going to be a minuet’ is not valid, what you are doing could end up taking longer than intended or just happen to be the  minuet a disabled person arrives.

 

Parking in front of a drop down curb or on the pavement

Drop down curbs on pavements are put in to help people cross the road.  Whilst most people could walk around a car parked in front of a drop down curb, a lot of disabled people can not.  The disabled person would have to go back to the last drop down curb, which could be a very long way back and in some cases there is only one drop down curb on and off the entire pavement.  On the road where I live there seems to be a lot of parking half on the pavement, with no room at all to get past the car unless you walk onto the road, which is not only unsafe, but impossible for some.  I do realise that sometimes there is not much parking space and it is the only option, but even so I often see cases when the car could have been parked with more space left on the pavement to get past.

 

Businesses using disabled toilets for storage or blocking access

If a disabled person can not use the toilet whilst they are in a restaurant, café or place of business they are highly unlikely to give the place repeat custom and may have to leave early and go elsewhere.  I have come across disabled toilets used to store cleaning equipment and empty bar kegs.  Whilst I could still get to the toilet, I doubt that some people with large wheelchairs or walking frames could have.  A person in a wheelchair may need turning space, which can be tricky if there is other stuff in the way.  Even worse is when you can not even get to the disabled toilet because access is blocked.  I was once seated in a pub restaurant at a table right in front of the disabled toilet.  For someone to use the toilet we would have had to shift the table to the side and stand up and wait.  They had crammed far too many tables into the place anyway and it just made for a loud, unpleasant atmosphere.

 

Poorly designed disabled toilets

A good disabled toilet design should take into account the fact that not all users will be wheelchair bound and that not all wheelchair users are in the same situation.  I used to use crutches and the disabled toilet was easier as it had more space for them and after my hip replacement I found rails helpful to sit down and get up again.  However the sink in a disabled toilet is often lower than normal with the thinking that wheelchair users are lower down, while this is often true, for those who use other walking aids this is actually not helpful as bending can be tricky.  The best solution I have seen to this is in some Costa Coffee branches that have both a sink at average height and another one at a slightly lower height.  Although in one branch the soap dispenser was only reachable for the higher sink user and for those who could not reach up they would have had to go without.  Another problem is when the toilet is too small for the user to turnaround in a wheelchair, forcing them to reverse out which can make opening the door tricky and has the risk of bumping into someone.  Plus some disabled people need to go with someone for help and this is tricky if the toilet is small.  Quite often the baby changing facilities are put in the disabled toilet, which I can understand as it has more room, but if the changing table does not fold against the wall it can just get in the way.

 

Shops that cram in too many rails or display units

As the expression goes ‘pile them high, sell them cheep’.  I do love those bargain discount stores, but they do like to pile things to the point there is not much floor space left.  If I have trouble walking through some of them without a walking aid; imagine trying to get through in a wheelchair.  Cheep clothing stores often cram in so many clothing rails there is not room to get a wheelchair through or the chair knocks half the clothing off the rails as it goes.  Knocking things off can be embarrassing and bending down to pick them up can be tricky for some.  If you do not make a shop floor plan with the disabled in mind not only could you lose customers, but you could damage or dirty stock as disabled people try to get through.

 

Shops with heavy or awkward doors

A lot of disabled people rely on automatic doors.  Whilst some can get through pushing the door open using their wheelchair, if the door opens towards them this is not possible and it is not possible in either direction with crutches.  It is understandable that some smaller independent shops do not have automatic doors as they cost a lot to install, but bigger stores should have them.  If it is not possible to have automatic doors, using doors that are not too heavy or stiff will at least help some.

 

Poor disabled entrances to buildings

When the disabled entrance to a building is around the back or side it can be annoying.  Once on a college trip to a museum with several disabled people on the course we had to enter through a side door.  The door took a while to find as it was rather hidden, then we had to ring a bell and wait for someone to come and let us in, which seemed to take several minuets.  We had to go through a fairly dark corridor somewhere in the museum that was clearly not generally public access and then we came out in the middle of the museum no where near the main entrance, which if you wanted to go to reception left you with something of a trek.  It felt somewhat like using the servants’ entrance to a grand house, rather embarrassing.  I understand that sometimes it can be very costly to change a building entrance and some listed buildings may not allow any change.  However when possible it is always best to make the main entrance assessable to all.  The best idea is to put a ramp to the side of the main steps.  I have also seen a small lift solution used when it is not possible to have a ramp.  If you can not make the main entrance wheelchair assessable at least add a rail so as many people as possible can use the steps.  Then have decent signage to the disabled entrance, or you could lose visitors or customers who give up on finding the way in.

 

Cafes with joined together tables and chairs

Mostly seen in the greasy spoon type cafés, these tables and chairs come as one joined together.  Climbing over the bar to sit down can be tricky for some, even if they can walk.  I used to find it hard myself due to a hip disability.  The seats cannot be moved for wheelchair users to pull up to the table, and although they can sit at a table end, two wheelchair users can not sit together at the same table if they wanted.

 

Benches left broken long term

Not all disabled people use wheelchairs; I used to use crutches or no walking aid at all before that.  However I could not walk very far before I got pain in my bad hip.  When having a day out I would need to sit down now and then to rest.  A lot of places have a good number of benches which really come in handy for this.  What annoys me though is when you see benches that are left broken for a long time.  I have been to places which have caution tape over a broken bench, then gone back weeks or even months later to find it still exactly the same.  If it is a busy place this can be annoying when all the other benches are taken up or the next bench is not that near by.  I have also seen when a bench is no longer able to be repaired, the remains taken away and the bench just not replaced at all.  I get annoyed when a bench has clearly been broken by vandals, they have no idea how much a simple bench can mean to some people, making the difference between a good or bad outing.

 

Most of these issues can be solved simply, often by just having some consideration for others.  For businesses thinking about disabled customers using your building could actually increase custom and make you more money.  A lot of these things also can affect people with pushchairs or the elderly, so just think how many people you would be helping if you made some simple changes to your life.

Myths and Facts About Mental Health

 

Living in low support housing for those with various mental health issues and dealing with my own issues I know a lot of the myths surrounding mental health are wrong.  This is my view on why some of those myths are wrong.

Myth: Only certain types of people experience mental health issues.

Fact: Anyone can experience them.  Although it is true that certain events or lifestyles can trigger mental health issues, for me this is not the case.  I come from a loving, stable family, and did not grow up with violence around me or major addiction issues in the family.  It could be that my problems are genetic, I have no idea.  I have met people from all kinds of backgrounds with mental health issues.

Myth: Mental Illness is not as bad as a physical one.

Fact: It can be just as bad as a physical illness, hence suicide and self-harm in some cases.  Mental health problems can sometimes lead to physical problems.  Such as eating disorders, not looking after themselves properly and smoking.

‘People with depression are twice as likely to smoke as other people. People with schizophrenia are three times as likely to smoke as other people.’ (Mental Health Foundation).

Myth: You can tell someone has a mental illness just by looking at them.

Fact: Often you will have no idea if someone has mental health issues or not.  People you work with, friends and even family may have issues you do not know about.  It is hard to know what is going on inside someone’s head.  However just because you cannot see the problem does not make it any less real for the person experiencing it.

Myth: People with mental health issues can snap out of it if they try hard enough.

Fact: If it was only that simple!  It is not being lazy or weak and it requires help to get better when really mentally ill.

Myth: People with mental health issues are usually violent and unpredictable.

Fact: According to Time to Change, a campaign to end mental health discrimination, more than one-third of the public believe that people with mental health problems are more likely to be violent.

‘Violent crime statistics tell a different story, though. One survey suggested that only 1% of victims of violent crime believed that the incident occurred because the offender had a mental illness.’ (BBC Future).

In fact according to various surveys mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.

Myth: Mentally ill people need to be kept in hospital.

Fact: With treatment and support most mentally ill people live independent lives in the community.  Although I have been to hospital appointments for mental health help, I have never been hospitalised overnight for it.  Some people may need a stay in hospital, but this is much rarer than it used to be and often for very short periods of time.  There is no need for the confinement and isolation that was commonly used in the past.

Myth: Men with depression or anxiety are weak, lack masculinity and asking for help is an admission of defeat.

Fact: Asking for help makes you stronger, not weaker, it shows you are gaining strength and want to beat it, rather than let the anxiety win.  A strong man is honest with himself and others about it.

‘Anxiety has nothing to do with courage or character. Nothing at all.’ (The Mighty).

Myth: Children do not experience metal health problems.

Fact: Even very young children can show signs of mental health concerns.  I experienced mental health issues as a child.  Although not diagnosed till I was about twelve, I definitely showed signs of mental health issues way before that.  Sadly less than twenty percent of children and adolescents receive the help they need.

Myth: All young people go through ups and downs as party of puberty, it is nothing.

Fact: One in ten young people experience mental health issues.  As a teenager some people would say to me ‘most teenagers get angry from time to time’, but trust me I was more than your average teenage angry.  I think my problems may have been made worse by puberty at times, but I already had mental health issues before puberty hit, so it was clearly not just that.

Myth: A mental illness is the same as being learning disabled.

Fact: A mental illness has nothing to do with how smart someone is.  Steven Fry is known for being very smart, and he has bipolar disorder, which can cause huge mood swings.

I believe ignorance and fear keep mental health stigmatised.  If people understood what mental health really is and how it affects people it would be easier for some people to admit to having problems and to get help.  Those who can need to speak out about it so others can feel that it is not something to hide and be ashamed of.

References

http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/physiucal-health-and-mental-health

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150723-the-myth-of-mental-illness-and-violance

Themighty.com/2015/07/loving-someone-with-anxiety-what-t0-know/

 

The Disabled and Other People

I am an avid user of Facebook, I have found it a great way to connect with other disabled people who have similar disabilities to mine.  I am a member of several groups and pages for various disability issues.  I find that it helps to have a place to share our thoughts and issues regarding our conditions.  Often we ask each other questions that only others in the same kind of situation will understand  or be able to answer.  It can be very handy for example to ask a group of people who have already had the same surgery you are about to undergo what things we might need to consider taking with us to the hospital or to have ready at home for afterwards.

Whilst I am on these groups I see a fair number of posts about the way disabled people are treated by others.  Some posts are just people using the group as a place to vent and then move on from the situation.  Some people are trying to raise awareness and see if it has happened to anyone else.  Sometimes we even come up with ideas to help deal with some situations.  I decided to try to find out what annoys the disabled most about other people’s attitudes towards them.  Then I hope we can help raise awareness of these things and show the public how we would in fact like to be treated.  The results were interesting and varied.

Question: When it comes to being disabled in any way, what annoys you most about other people’s attitude to you or your disability?

  • They think that if you don’t look disabled or ill then you must be faking it.

You can’t always see signs of disability in a disabled person.  I had a bad hip and sometimes I used a walking stick and then people knew I had mobility issues, but during periods when I did not need the stick people would often not believe me about my hip hurting or not being able to walk very far.  Someone asked me once if I fake it for attention and some people seem to think you would fake it to get a disabled parking badge or benefits.  These people are very annoying.

  • When they pass judgement on you without bothering  to check for facts.  Like parking in a handicap space and having people giving you filthy looks because you are not old or decrepit, so you obviously have no need of the space, regardless of the fact you can’t walk far!

There seems to be a certain type of older person who think that just being older gives them more rights to things than the rest of us.  The ‘I’ve worked hard all my life and paid my taxes, so I deserve this hand out’ brigade.  Being old does not automatically mean you can have a disabled parking badge or certain benefits.  If you can not walk far without severe pain regardless of age you can claim a blue badge.

  • When someone takes something out of my hands and says they’ll do it for you.  If I wanted help I am capable of asking.

Just because a person has mobility issues does not mean their arms and hands do not work.  A person who has a missing arm can still use the other arm and their legs.  It is kind of insulting to have people automatically assume you can’t do something as if you must be brain dead as well as unable to walk or whatever it is.

  • It’s annoying when people say they understand as they had a sore leg the other day.  Not really the same scale of pain.

When I explain my hip issue to some people they say how they once broke their leg and know what I mean.  A broken leg can heal, a hip that grows undersized and deformed and has not regrown by adulthood into the right shape will never mend.  They did not end up needing a whole new body part like I did.  The pain before my replacement was every single day only varying from painfully sore, but I can walk, to so painful I can not move.  Unless you have had chronic pain you have no idea what it is like knowing that the pain is not going to end any time soon.

  • Patronised, being told I am brave.  (I am not brave, I am just living my life like everyone else, no one has a pain or stress free life.)  Or worse, ‘It must be nice for you to get out’.

If you are born disabled you have only ever lived that way so it is not brave it is just living.  If you have an accident is it brave to want to carry on living?  No, it is a natural human instinct to carry on living.  As for being nice to get out, well depends, maybe it was not nice to get out as you were feeling lazy that day or tired or hate the place you are going, just like everyone else.

  • Once you need to use a wheelchair you become invisible.

People start talking to your carer rather than you or fail to even notice you are there.

  • Ignoring me when in town with hubby.  Then asking him how is Debbie doing.  Hello, I’m here ask me.

Unless the disability specificity affects the voice, most disabled people can speak perfectly well and in fully formed sentences too!

  • People moving or pushing my chair without asking.  You don’t grab an able-bodied person and move them, why do that to me?

‘I am just going to move you over here out of the way’ says the woman in the cafe to my friend in her chair.  Err maybe she does not want to sit right in the corner pushed up against the wall.  If she was in the way of the queue or another table, if the woman had asked her politely if she would not mind moving and explained the situation I am sure she would have moved as she is sensible and kind like that.  That way she could pick her own spot to move into and keep her dignity.  If a chair has self-propelling big wheels, there is usually a reason, as they are perfectly capable of moving themselves.

  • That I can’t be a single mum and disabled.

Alison Lapper the disabled artist is a good example of how you can be both a single mum and disabled.  She is clearly a wonderful mother to her son, despite having no arms and truncated legs, as shown on the BBC’s Child of Our Time.

  • Because of bad media coverage on benefit cheats the constant need to justify my disability to strangers and authorities.

Having to constantly prove that you are disabled enough to warrant your disability benefits or disabled parking badge can get very wearing.  A person does not get given these things very easily, it takes considerable effort and time to get benefits, sometimes having to go to medical assessments miles from home.  A very few people do somehow manage to cheat the system, but the other 99% of people on disability benefit are genuine.  These few people are very annoying as they make the genuinely disabled or sick look bad and the fact that the press make a huge deal out of benefit cheats does not help.

  • Being told I can’t be in that much pain as you are smiling.

When in loads of pain every single day you try to find ways to distract yourself from the pain and the fact that you are smiling for all of ten seconds does not mean the pain has gone away, it means you just for a few seconds managed to not think about it quite so much.  Also some smiles might be fake to please other people in a certain situation, but inside the person still feels lousy.

  • When people say well done to us for doing everyday things.

Wow I managed to read a book that won the Man Booker prize and was considered a reasonably hard read!  Could the classroom support worker have been any more patronising at college?  I love to read and have done from a young age.  Having a learning disability does not necessarily mean I can not read and write.  Unless you know the disabled person has managed to do something they have been struggling with for a very long time, it is best not to praise them like you might a dog or a small child.

  • As a job seeker the law says not to discriminate however I get the impression that potential employers see me as a liability.

You can’t prove the employer did not hire you due to your disability, they will come up with some other reason if questioned, but sometimes it is obvious what they are really thinking.  They ask you how you would manage certain tasks and start to question your health during the interview.

  • When someone says ‘well you look OK to me, stop making a fuss’.

Most disabled people only make a fuss when they feel they are not getting fair treatment or really, really need help with something.  Most of us are not attention seeking.  As stated before not all disability or illness is obviously visible.

  • I have been turned away on public transport as buggies are using the disabled spaces.  One bus driver refused to lower the ramp as he could not be bothered.

A child can be more easily lifted out of a buggy than a full-grown disabled adult from a wheelchair.  By law buses have to provide disabled spaces and they can only let the space be used by buggies if there are no disabled people wanting to use them.  Parents who refuse to fold the buggy and make space are just down right rude.  Not lowering the ramp is denying a disabled person access to services which is illegal.

  • No disabled toilets in eating establishments and those with steps to them.

How little brain power do you have to make a disabled toilet with a step up to it?!  Well I have seen this done more than once, idiots.  Restaurants and cafes that seat over a certain number of people have to have toilets and they have to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled people have access to a toilet.  If they do not have disabled toilets they could be breaking the law.  What also annoys me is disabled toilets being used for storage or blocked so you can not use them.

  • It’s the tuts that get to me more than anything.

Tuts as if a disabled person should not be there and should be hidden away out of sight, how old-fashioned is that view!  Or the tut that says this is typical of a disabled person, making a fuss, when all they want is the same access to something as everyone else.

  • I remember someone telling me I was lucky to have a mobility scooter as it meant I did not have to walk anywhere.

I doubt the person chose not to be able to walk far.  I also bet they had to pay for the scooter themselves, and I do not call having to fork out hundreds or thousands of pounds just to be able to cope with a trip to town lucky.

  • People who say you are too young for a total hip replacement.

How do they know, have they had any medical training?  If a surgeon has agreed to the operation I can’t be too young, it is kind of obvious.

The answers of-course relate to the groups the question was asked in.  The group with the largest number of responses was Want my space? Take my disability!   The group campaign against the misuse of disabled parking spaces and blue badges for the disabled.  So quite a few of their answers related to parking and transport issues.

I also got a fair number of responses from Perthes Disease in Adults, a page I run myself.  This page relates to the hip condition I had as a child and is about what happens later in life when we grow up, but still have hip pain.  So the answers from them were often mobility and hip surgery related.  I also asked the question on my own wall as I have a few disabled friends and got a couple of responses.

 

How accessible is theatre to a disabled audience?

Recently I went to the theatre to see a piece by students from the University of Exeter as part of the Exeter Ignite Festival of theatre.  The piece was called Shakespeare in Hell, which was basically the dark, bloody, evil side of Shakespeare’s plays.  The idea was that Ariel from The Tempest leads the audience through the various circles of hell.  The show started conventionally with us the audience sitting in the auditorium seats watching the show.  Then they raised the curtain and had us enter the second circle of hell, by getting us all to come over and join them round a long table.  It made for a very intimate scene which was brilliant for that particular extract, but then they expected us to keep standing for every scene.  These days I am fine with that, having had a total hip replacement over two and half years ago and being able to stand better than ever in my life.  However it got me thinking afterwards about the time before my replacement or just after when there was no way I could have stood for that long, which was just over an hour.  I started to wonder, just how accessible is theatre to a disabled audience?

Lets start with the basics, the conventional type of theatre where the audience sit in the auditorium in a specially constructed theatre building.  These days disabled people can in most good theatres enjoy the show much like everyone else.  I used to be a volunteer steward at a local theatre and know that we could deal with disabled customers well.  When booking tickets some disabled customers could request we had a wheelchair space for them, which would require us to take out one of the normal theatre seats in advance, which I gather could be done very quickly and easily.  Most theatres will be able to do this or some will have a box or side seat area for disabled customers to sit in with their companion.  For hard of hearing people most theatres now use induction loops which send audio signals to hearing aids.  This works best for shows that use microphones, musical instruments or recorded sounds.  Sometimes a show may have a sign language interpreter that stands at the edge of the stage translating everything that is spoken or sung, but not all companies do this and mostly they only do it for one or two shows, but it should tell you in the theatre brochure which performances have this.  Occasionally a show might use captioning where the text is displayed on an LED screen right above or beside the stage.  I have only seen this done with the English Touring Opera, and this is mainly to translate or make the opera clearer.  However I gather some London and West End theatres caption shows every now and then for deaf audiences.  For blind or partially sighted people theatres sometimes have an audio description.  Using a headset a description of what is happening on stage is relayed from a specialist describer usually sitting in the technical box or somewhere where they can see the action clearly without being heard by the rest of the audience.

The advances made for disabled people to enjoy theatre thanks to modern technology are brilliant, but what if you go and see something a little less conventional?  The above mentioned show Shakespeare in Hell is a good example of what is sometimes called promenade theatre, where the audience are expected for the most part to stand, walk and move about.  This can be brilliant to help immerse the audience in the action and encourage interaction, but often fails to take account of disabled audience members.  Personally I do not mind this sort of theatre if they give you some kind of advanced warning that this will be the set up.  Having looked again at the advertising for Shakespeare in Hell I see it made no mention that there would be standing and walking about, and when I brought my ticket this was not mentioned to me.  Sometimes a wheelchair user would be OK in this situation as they at least had a seat and can move about, although in this case they would have come unstuck when it came to the stairs right at the end.  Then there are those disabled people who do not have a wheelchair, but can not walk very far or stand for very long.  Sometimes a seat can be left in the corner of the performance area out-of-the-way for the disabled person to sit down as and when they need to, but in some shows this is simply not possible or the disabled person has no idea they would need to even ask for it.  There is a growing trend in younger companies to do this kind of theatre, especially student based companies, who have often learnt about promenade theatre as part of their studies.  I spent a number of years studying performing arts and found that it was often tutors trying to inspire students to think outside of the box who pushed this trend, well this is all very well, but not once did they ever think to mention how this affects disabled audiences.

Then there is site specific theatre which takes place outside a traditional theatre building, somewhere that was originally not intended to ever hold a performance.  This can include buildings such as hotels, disused factories and car parks or outside spaces such as forest clearings, parks and gardens and shopping precincts.  The idea of site-specific theatre is to exploit the space so that it becomes part of the experience, with the history and context of the building helping to make up a complete concept for a show.  This means most of the time this kind of theatre is not transferable to any other space.  The trouble for disabled people is that a lot of these sites are not so accessible, as often companies use spaces that are abandoned or about to be demolished or re-purposed, which mean that they are often old and built before disability access was much of a consideration. However all venues are subject to the same legislation as more conventional theatre buildings, which have to comply to the Disability Discrimination Act.  The act requires ‘reasonable adjustments’ are made to make your product or services available to people with a wide range of needs.  In some cases the adjustment needed to provide disabled access is not reasonable as it would take too long or cost too much to do, such as some outside spaces which could require a whole new landscaping job.  However in a lot of cases the adjustments are much simpler and cheaper to do than some people may think. For example a building with just one step might simply need a hand rail and a small ramp, which are fairly easy to source and install.  An alternative route for promenade performances may need to be planned out, but could easily be done for some shows to avoid steps or hazards. For some shows I have seen just thinking about the technical side of things such as where electric cables are going to go would help.  Rather than trail across the side of the stage could the cable be tacked to the bottom of the wall or tapped down better.

When the company Talking Birds were using a 14th century monastery for a production, they faced the problem of a lift that was broken beyond repair.  Wanting to be as inclusive as possible they came up with a solution for people who could not use the stairs. Which ‘was to provide an alternative view of the performance downstairs in the evocative cloister space, via a video and sound link, enhanced by visits from the three actors when they were “off-stage” for the upstairs audience. It was relatively inexpensive to carry out with the aid of technicians already working on the gig’ (Talking Birds).  This shows that with some creative thinking disabled people need not necessarily miss out on these types of experiences.

In  conclusion I think that theatre has come a long way for disabled people, partly due to new legislation meaning theatres have to comply with disability law and partly due to new technologies making it easier for disabled people to access theatre.  A disabled person needs to make it clear to the box-office staff when booking a ticket what extra help they will need.  Some theatres require booking in advance for equipment such as audio description headphones and for a disabled space to be made available, however they should be happy to help.  Box-office staff also need training in inclusiveness and to be fully aware of the theatre policy on disability issues  that could arise.  Sometimes the box-office staff seem to have no idea what the disability policies are  and that could result in someone wrongly assuming a show would be unsuitable for them.  This seems to happen a lot more for concert venues when they often use out-sourced ticket booking lines and the call handler has never even been to the venue concerned.  A good idea would be to ask other people who have been to the venue how assessable it seemed to them.  Disabled people should be made to feel welcome at performances of all kinds.  Not only does this help disabled people feel more included in society, but potentially theatres have a chance to boost box-office numbers.

Some Disability Myths Dispelled

There are a lot of myths I hear about disability and people who are disabled.  I would like to dispel some of those myths and explain how I see things from my point of view as a disabled person.

All disabled people are sick or even dying

This is not true for all disabled people.   Some are born the way they are and the condition will never get worse from some sickness.  Some are sick, but are far from dying, well no more than the rest of us are dying.  My condition did get worse over time, my hip got more and more arthritic, but arthritis in my left hip was never going to kill me. The use of wheelchairs in hospitals for sick people may have contributed to the way  people view someone as being sick if they use a wheelchair.

Someone in a wheelchair can’t walk at all

There are many reasons a person may use a wheelchair and not being able to walk in any way at all is actually quite rare.  Mostly people who are disabled use them when they go out as they can not manage to walk very far before they experience pain or exhaustion.  In my case I could walk short distances and mostly went out without my chair if I knew I would not be walking all that far or I could break up the walk with plenty of rest stops on benches.  Some days I could actually walk further and rest less, but on bad days I could not walk very far at all.  I used a wheelchair for longer distances as crutches could often get tiring or hurt my hands after a while.  Another reason people use wheelchairs may be that they can walk, but only very slowly and they need the chair to help them keep up with their friends and family when out.  It might be that the person is only using a chair for a short time due to being weak after surgery or an illness or whilst a broken bone heals.

Disabled people are brave and inspirational

Well this might be true for some disabled people, such as say Steven Hawking, but only to other scientists and people who aspire to work in science and it has nothing to do with him as a disabled person.  If I inspire people that is great, but I doubt I do, unless people aspire to be still jobless and living with their parents aged twenty-eight.  I do not see myself as brave at all, I am wimp when it comes to an awful lot of things, in fact sometimes I was too afraid to try things in case it hurt my hip.  Disability requires adapting to a lifestyle, not bravery.

Disabled people need pity

While I do not see myself as especially brave, I also do not see myself as someone to be pitied.  Disability is often seen as a tragic unending burden.  OK so many disabled people need extra help with things, but everyone needs help sometimes.  Pity is not the same as understanding and sympathy, which just shows you are being thoughtful.  Where as pity as this disabled person puts it  ‘is generally a reminder that somebody else thinks you’re screwed,’ (Disabled Don’t Want Pity).

Disabled people only want to hang out with other disabled people

This assumes that disabled people are all a one-dimensional group, all having exactly the same interests.  I have a range of friends both disabled and non disabled.  I do not automatically get along with every other disabled person, that would be like every green-eyed person getting along just because they have the same eye colour.  My disability means I may have some things in common with some other disabled people meaning we can bond somewhat, but I do not have things in common with every disabled person.

Disabled people don’t have sex

It is sometimes assumed that disabled people are not interested in or simply can’t have sex.  Well in some cases sex maybe more physically limited in the number of positions they can use, there is normally at least one way they can manage sex quite comfortably.  People with learning disabilities are sometimes assumed to never understand or think about sex, but as with everyone else the ranges in sex drive varies.   As Terri Couwenhoven of Woodbine House publishers of books about special needs points out, ‘the initiation of puberty is not dependent on social or emotional maturity or many of us would never have matured!’ (Woodbine house) Which makes the case that all children need sex education of some kind no matter what type of disability they have, be it physical or learning based.

Curious children should not ask a disabled person about  their disability

Children tend to give into their natural curiosity more than adults, which in this case in a good thing.  When they ask a disabled person about them being different it is obvious they do not mean them any harm.  I think if we educate them young about disabilities and expose children to disabled people they will grow up to be less negative and ignorant about disability.  Parents sometimes tell children it is wrong to ask a disabled person about their condition, but if a child gets told off they may see disability as something bad, that all disabled people are to be avoided.

Having a type of learning disability means you are stupid

No, it just means your brain processes information in a different way.  You still have the ability to learn.  I have dyscalculia which means that I am bad at maths, I can’t calculate sums in my head very well, I am rubbish at directions and can’t judge distances very well.  It is like my mind is made up of filing cabinets and the maths draw got stuck, it will open a tiny bit to reach in and pull out the very beginnings of something, but I can’t seem to reach the files further back.  However my English file for reading and writing fully opens, as do most of my other files.  Having trouble in one area does not mean you have it in all areas.  However some times at school it seemed to feel like people thought you must be all round stupid if you have any type of learning problem, then when you said something intelligent they look at you with a sense of shock or assume you must be wrong.  Most people with learning disabilities are good at other things, hardly anyone is good at everything.

People with Learning Disabilities are just lazy

I have heard it said more than once that a learning disability is just an excuse to not put in any effort and to be lazy.  In most cases this is simply not true, I did try very hard at my maths for years, but it was very hard to be motivated by a teacher who called you lazy.  OK, so yes sometimes people with learning disabilities can use it as an excuse to put in less effort than they should, but it does not mean this is the case all the time.

All mentally ill people are violent or unpredictable

Most are no more violent than anyone else.  In fact people with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.  When violence does occur it is mostly for the same reasons as it is with everyone else, either they feel threatened or had excesses use of drugs or alcohol.

People with disabilities are only able do simple, repetitive work

As with everyone else people with disabilities have a range of skills to offer, which differ from person to person.  If you stuck me in a factory job that was exactly the same simple task every single day for hours at a time, I would probably end up having some kind of break down from the shear boredom.  I do not mind work that is mostly the same each day, but at least give me some interaction with other people or something that makes me use my brain somewhat.

Disabled people need protecting from failing

Disabled people have a right to experience a full range of human emotions including disappointment and failure.  No one likes to fail, but sometimes it is the bad times that make us stronger and make the good times better.  Often it seems to  come from people thinking that a disabled person has enough of a burden to deal with and they could not cope if they failed.  However never letting a child fail because they are disabled may in fact just set them up for a much  bigger failure when they grow up and realise the world outside of home or school won’t protect them from it.

Are there any other disability myths you sometimes come across?  It would be interesting to hear how other disabled people react when someone makes a wrong assumption about them as a disabled person.

 

Disabled people are not all one homogenised group we are individuals

Disabled people are not all one homogenised group, we are individuals

Crippen, Disability Cartoons

 

 

 

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Ableism

Words such as sexism, racism and ageism are now in common usage and help people understand that discriminating against people due to their differences is wrong and often offensive.  However a word to describe disability discrimination is not so well-known.  I had to do an internet search to find such a word as I could not think of one of the top of my head.  The word Google came up with was Ableism.

According to Wikipedia ableism ‘ is a form of discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities.’  Often also known as disability discrimination.  Ableism has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, which traces the word back to 1981, yet the word is still not well-known.

So what is ableism?  For a start ableism is against the law.  In the UK disability discrimination became unlawful when the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 came into being, which was later updated in 2005.  Since then the Equality Act of 2010 has formed the basis of anti-discrimination law in Great Britain.  The European Union Equal Trade Directives are implemented in the Equality Act, meaning it is illegal to discriminate against disabled people in both UK and European law.

The Equality Act outlaws discrimination in access to education, public services, private services or premises, renting or buying property and in employment regardless of age, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and disability.

This means that disabled people have the same rights as non-disabled people.  Children should be able to access a good education regardless of disability.  Public and private service providers can not refuse to serve disabled people, nor can they give them an inferior service or charge them more.  Employers and service providers must make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to overcome barriers disabled people experience.  The disabled person should not have to pay for the adjustments, but the adjustment must be reasonable.  What counts as reasonable varies depending on the size of the organisation, the costs of the changes, how much the change would really  help you and other disabled people and how practical the changes are.

Ableism is also harassment of a disabled person.  Behaviour that is upsetting towards you and often continuous could be considered harassment.  Upsetting behaviour could include jokes about your disability, teasing or even illegal things that could be called a hate crime.  A lot of hate crime is violent and very nasty.  Some harassment can be online via social media or in the form of text messages.

Social Prejudice is a form of ableism, by prejudging disabled people or forming an opinion about them or their condition before being fully aware of all the facts.  Prejudice can lead to stereotyping, which according to Merrian-Webster.com is to ‘believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same’.  For example assuming someone with a learning difficulty can not live independently or someone with a mental health condition would be a danger to themselves and to others.  Stereotyping disability is not good because most disabilities can vary a lot, even for people with the same condition.

Social Prejudice can hold a disabled person back from being able to join in fully with society, not because they can’t or do not want to, but because society will not let them.  Sometimes disabled people struggle to get a job as the employer assumes they may be slower at the job, or will be off work more either sick or having hospital appointments.  Some disabled people find joining a club or society hard as the club leader may assume the person can’t join in most of the activities or that the person would struggle to fit in with the group.

Social Prejudice often stems from lack of knowledge or experience of spending any time with a disabled person and only having seen disability as depicted by the media and from what other people have told them.  Sometimes the media makes out that disabled people are either tragic and need sympathy or that they are getting a free ride from government benefits.  Some social prejudices could be argued to stem from the fear some people have of becoming disabled themselves and not wishing to be reminded of that fear every time they see a disabled person.

My advice to help people understand the needs of a disabled people better is to talk to them.  An employer should ask a disabled person at interview about the disability the person has if they are worried about how the disability would affect their work, then they would find out that in a lot of cases it would have very little effect on the work if any.  You could try some volunteer work with disabled people as that can be very enlightening to show how much a disabled person can do.

I think  the word Ableism should be used more.  Giving things a label does seem to help some people understand what they are doing is wrong.  If we could say ‘that is such an ableist thing to say’ or ‘that person was very ableist’ it might at least start to help society become more disability discrimination aware.

To find out more about how the Equality Act effects you as en employer, employee or service provider the Citizens Advice Bureau have an online guide at Adviceguide: Disability discrimination

For a more in-depth guide to the Equality Act the government publish a full guide at Equality Act 2010: guidance