Tag Archive | special needs

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

Wrapping in Cotton wool

I have a lot to thank my parents for, they have been wonderfully supportive of most  aspects of my life over the years and done so much to help me achieve what I have in life.  Looking back one of the things I am most grateful for is  that they did not wrap me up in cotton wool and try to shield me from the harsh realities of the real world or treat me as precious object that would break if I was left alone to do my own thing.   They never once tried to dumb things down for me and treat me as stupid.  When I was diagnosed as disabled aged seven my parents rightly saw it as a physical thing and knew it did not affect my mind or my ability to learn.  Then some years later when we found out I am high functioning autistic and OCD they still did not treat me any differently.  It was also clear I had some learning difficulties, mostly with maths and logic, but they could see that I was not stupid at everything and it did not mean I had to give up trying and still could learn things.

I am sad to say that this is not always the case.  I spent three years in a special needs school for disabled children, but this was not my parents first choice for me, it was the only school left  that would take me at the time.  I met some lovely people, but it was often very frustrating how they were treated.  If you talked to some of my class mates they could come across as very bright people, but some of them could not do much for themselves.  Part of the reason for this I think is that they were wrapped up in cotton wool.  Firstly some parents seem to get scared when they learn their child has a disability or is sick in some way and then are afraid to let their child do anything for themselves just in case they hurt themselves or get more sick.  I am sure it is very hard for parents when they learn their child has a problem, but that is no reason to start treating the child radically differently from how you may otherwise have done.  Some parents may not even realise they are doing it, but there has to be a point when they think they are doing more for the child than they normally would surely?

Then there was how the kids were treated in school, in some classes it felt like I had not moved up a year, but gone backwards.  I was doing things I had done already in my previous school, but was supposed to be in a higher year  class.  I realise that some children got behind  somewhat having been off sick or in hospital, but some of my class were clearly smarter than they were being given credit for.  We took Entry Level Certificates for most subjects, which is basically a useless qualification in terms of getting on to a decent college course or jobs wise.  As an Entry Level Certificate is worth fourteen school attainment points at its highest level, which is less than the lowest grade at GCSE which at grade G gets you sixteen points.  I would have liked the choice to do more GCSEs in certain subjects and am sure some of the others in my class could have done them too.  I admit in some subjects I think Entry Level was about right, but we were given no say in the matter.  I think children, even special needs ones need a say in their own life in some way, especially at the age of fourteen and fifteen.  To be fair some teachers were good and saw that some of us had more potential and gave us slightly more challenging work.  I always enjoyed those classes more when I felt I was learning something.

For someone with special needs learning may take a little longer.  For me this includes practical tasks such as learning to tie my shoe laces which I took me till I was about nine or ten or learning to tell the time which I never fully mastered till I was about eleven.  However my parents, especially my mum, never gave up on me and refused to let me give up either.  If you do not have patience with special needs children and give them the extra time they need to learn things, they will end up very dependent for the rest of their lives.  All children need help and support, but they also need to learn independence and the  skills that will help them achieve that.  I realise that not all special needs children can grow up to be independent, but if given the chance when young to learn I feel a lot more could.  Special needs people are not always as vulnerable and incapable as some people may think.