(Bear with me for the vaguely disjointed writing style. Brain kittens are extra active today and it’s been difficult to keep a train of thought.)
With two recent headlines about disabled access to public services, the audit of shop accessibility and the wheelchair space on buses case, there has been a lot of talk recently in non-disabled spaces about the rights of disabled people (and what they should or shouldn’t complain about or campaign for).
On a discussion on a friend’s Facebook page where they posted up the latter story, a non-disabled person commented with something along the lines of “disabled people have privilege because there are special measures made for them” (not exact wording because my friend got upset and deleted the whole post before I could copy it).
I would argue that there is a privilege structure within the model of disability itself, but that disabled people as a section of society do not have privilege. Having special measures put in place, such as ramps to shops and a reserved area on the bus for wheelchairs is not a privilege but a means to access the same public services as the majority of the population. It’s not a privilege to have laws protecting you from being discriminated against; it’s a sad fact that these laws don’t seem to stop disabled people from being on the receiving end of abuse and anger from others anyway.
Disabled people are a protected minority and this affords us the privilege of being shat on from all sides. The government cut our services to save money instead of increasing taxation (only one hearing aid for bilaterally deaf people, cuts to local travel passes, social services care hours cut…), but try to focus the disenfranchised rage of the working class masses onto the disabled population by scaremongering about the amount of fraudulent disability benefit claims (as opposed to, I don’t know… MPs’ expenses?). In turn, disabled people are viewed as “scroungers”, “spongers”, a “drain on resources” by the rest of the struggling population. And if you are disabled and CAN work? Why are you even claiming any extra money at all then? If YOU can work (as a disabled person) then why can’t every other disabled person?
The link to the BBC news site’s article about the recent bus rulings is at the start of this ramble. I read the comments (never read the comments). Here are some (unpalatable) gems:
“If disabled people can do olympics they can wait for next bus. A child should always come first !”
– ah, the legacy of the Paralympics continues to haunt those of us with disabilities who are not also athletes (I believe that’s most of us)
“Whilst sympathising greatly with wheel chair users where will it end?”
– aka “i’m all for equal rights but they’re getting a bit too noisy about it now”
“Can’t they just use their mobility payments to use cabs?”
– not entirely sure this person realises that mobility DLA/PIP component is not really enough for an on-call chauffeur
Then there’s the usual slew of “but they get free cars” (I don’t think you understand how the Motability scheme works), “they wanted equality, this is equality” (no, it’s not. not when a non-disabled person could have gotten onto the bus and sat down – equality isn’t about everyone being treated exactly the same, it’s about giving marginalised groups the tools they need to achieve equality), “loads of people who use mobility scooters aren’t disabled just obese” (cause and effect mix-up here – when you can’t exercise due to disability or illness you do tend to put on weight).
And my favourites: “confined to a wheelchair”, “wheelchair-bound”, “stuck in a chair all day” *screams* that’s for a rantier post about disability binary that many people have already written much more effectively than I ever could.
But despite the “privilege” of having complete strangers being able to judge us on just about any aspect of our lives, from “helpful” dietary advice (no it will not make one iota of difference to my shonky collagen if I went gluten free) to whether we are REALLY disabled or not based on their extensive medical training and knowledge (which seems to trump any actual specialist opinion), we are a protected minority – like a flock of rare bats nesting in a crumbling old church that the council really wants to demolish but can’t because BAT PRIVILEGE.
And now I’m stuck on the bat simile and can’t write sensibly any more.
Alexandra Roumbas Goldstein said:
I love everything about this except that it was necessary to write it. Thank you for doing so.
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“Equality isn’t about everyone being treated exactly the same, it’s about giving marginalised groups the tools they need to achieve equality” – spot on! Those “special considerations” granted to those of us who need them are not “special.” Until the day comes when I can leave my house, at any time of day or night, and know every sidewalk will have a curb cut, every building will have an accessible entrance and a working accessible rest room, and I will be able to fully engage in the activities of my choice we still have work to do.