Ignorance, Exclusion and Invisibility: the reality of being disabled in the UK

This post is written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014. There are lots of excellent contributions for you to read, so please take a look.

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It’s the feeling of being completely invisible.

From the people who step around you in queues, or those who look the other way when you’re doubled over crying in pain in the middle of Next, or the people who don’t look down as they walk, and you’re saying, “Stop!” but they walk into your wheelchair anyway, and exclaim, “Oh, I didn’t see you there!”

It’s sometimes down to ignorance, a feeling of it not being their problem, or the person simply being lost in their own world.

38% of people believe disabled people are a burden on society.

But these attitudes spread quickly, and seep into all parts of life.  That mindset becomes casual and mainstream, and people feel they can share their thoughts with friends, in public, or even in the workplace. Take one of my managers who said dyslexic people were just stupid, or another who after someone who had two children with Autism asked for support, received a response of, “You should keep your children under control.”  Or after an office-place visit from a group of servicemen who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder got a comment afterwards stating, “Well, they all looked fine to me.”

It also means that despite the Disability Discrimination Act being introduced 19 years ago, and strengthened in the Equality Act in 2010 – so much of the country remains completely inaccessible.  Shops, facilities, services and buildings still haven’t complied with the law, and continue to get away with it. 

47% of disabled people currently work compared to 77 % of non-disabled people.

I’m a wheelchair user, along with 1.2 million other people in the UK.  Last week I had an appointment at my new doctor’s surgery.  Their website proudly states the following on the front page: “We work from a purpose-built surgery with good parking facilities at the front, with wheelchair access.”  Yet I was faced with three problems before I even reached the treatment room.  The front door was really heavy, and swung back to smack my chair while trying to get in.  The receptionist, who had watched this struggle, was behind a high desk which meant I had to call up to her.  Luckily I was just telling her I’d arrived, but had I wanted to have a conversation privately, it wouldn’t have been possible.  The treatment room is at the end of a long corridor, and just before her room was another door propped open.  As I got there, the door suddenly swung closed onto me.  I tried to open it and push forward, but the doorframe was so narrow – I couldn’t get through.

More than 1 in 4 disabled people say they frequently do not have choice, or control over their daily lives.

My doctor eventually heard the bangs and came out, and it turned out the door had an automatic opener – which for some reason had suddenly failed.  That alone was annoying, but I then had to dismantle my wheelchair part by part, with my GP watching me.  I have never had an issue getting my wheelchair through a standard width door before.  I then had a very awkward drive into her room, trying to hold everything, control the chair and navigate the packed room.

I was mortified.  I thought, ‘She’ll think I’m a bad driver!’

Only later did I think – that was their fault.  Why should I now be afraid to go to see my GP as I can’t face it happening again?

This happens time and time again.  I can’t get into the vast majority of the shops in the town I live in.  Those I can have difficulties – narrow sections, steps, are too packed, put displays in the aisles, don’t have a lift, and so on.

65% of people have admitted they avoid disabled people because they don’t know how to act around them.

Over the past few years it hasn’t been possible to pick up a newspaper without finding a story on the welfare state within.  Quite often these stories have focused in on people with disabilities, painting a picture that many are claiming fraudulently.  How often do you see headlines such as ‘Disability benefits cheat caught out when she was spotted walking the Great Wall of China’ from The Express, or ‘Benefit cheat who claimed £21,000 in disability benefits while working as a boxing instructor spared jail’ on the Mail Online.  Or vague headlines that cast doubt on the system itself, such as another by the Mail Online, ‘ Disabled benefits farce: 94% of new claimants have never been assessed by a doctor.’

180 disability hate crimes are committed every day in this country.

While obviously every case of fraud is one too many, the fraud rates of disability benefits are very low.  The scrutiny over benefit claimants has had consequences.  It has become quite clear that certain sections of society feel that because some people with disabilities receive a form of state assistance, funded by the taxpayer,  they should then get a say over their lives.  A judgement, a decision over who exactly fits into the category of ‘disabled’ and who does not, and how they should be living their lives.   Also over the last few years the support systems available to people with disabilities have been slashed – within the NHS, Social Services, charitable funding and the benefits available to them.  Yet the public outcry to this has been minimal.  Perhaps they’re too busy reading stories of the lavish lifestyles of benefits claimants, and mainstream documentaries portraying a vision of exactly what these ‘scroungers’ get up to behind the scenes, which increases support for further cuts.

The reality of the situation is completely different – the vast majority of claimants are genuine, and live in fear of the brown envelope arriving from the Department of Work and Pensions saying their support is being reassessed, causing stress and anxiety it may be lost entirely, or reduced.  This fear isn’t unfounded – it’s a stated aim by the government.  The money is vital in paying for care, transportation and all the high costs associated with having a disability, of which there are many.  The Joseph Rowntree Association has found that people with a disability should be receiving at least £200 more per week just have to have an acceptable quality of life, with the rate increasing significantly depending on their needs and disability.

The poverty rate for disabled adults in the UK is twice that for non-disabled adults.

Disabled people shouldn’t feel dehumanised, excluded and invisible.  But how do we stop this trajectory from happening, and make inclusion a priority?

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6 Comments

  1. That is an excellent rant, and quite rightly so, having worked with individuals with disabilities for years I have seen a tiny bit of what happens, it gets me angry, when I’m out with an individual and a person approaches and totally ignores the individual and asks me what to answer for them, or the dr that doesn’t know how to work with an individual with disabilities

    Keep ranting, and write to that dr’s explaining your situation and maybe even demand a house call till they fix their mess

    I’m so glad we have people like you Jade that are highlighting how it is for the minority of people

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Thanks very much, Lisa. I went back to the doctors surgery this week and spoke to the practise manager. Their excuse was it was rented, and then tried to point to my wheelchair being electric – to which I said it gets through all standard width doors, and the door in question is very narrow. They’re going to take it up with whoever makes the decisions.

      So we’ll see!

      And thank you for being so caring. :)

      Reply
  2. This is a great post. Thanks for contributing to Blogging Against Disablism Day!

    I’m just stunned when I find doctors and hospitals have accessibility issues. You’d think these would be the one place where all variety of bodies would be accommodated. And like you, my gut instinct is to be embarrassed and apologise when all I’m doing is trying to get around like everyone else.

    Reply
    • Thank you, and thank you for hosting it!

      It is just that little bit more galling when it’s a healthcare provider – and even worse when they state it’s purpose-built. For who? Obviously not those annoying wheelchair users.

      Reply
  3. Two years ago, I attended a convention for ppl who have the same neurological condition I do. When I walk long distances (hotels, hospitals, shopping malls, etc) I need to use a rolling walker with a folding seat. My roommate at the convention has CP, so she’s confined to a power chair. When I reserved a room at the convention hotel, I specifically asked for a handicapped-accessible room. I arrived before my roommate did, and discovered that our original “accessible” room had a regular bathtub as part of the shower enclosure, and no seat in the enclosure. My roommate would not have been able to bathe, so after she arrived we asked to be switched to a different room. The next room they gave us did have an open enclosure with a seat. However, the actual room itself was very small, and my roommate had great difficulty navigating the room in her power chair. I’m fortunate in that I can walk short distances without my walker, everything in the room was crammed so close together I would not have been able to use my walker in the room. When I discussed that with the hotel associate who helped us switch rooms, she said that anything built prior to 1990 (when the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, was passed) only had to be “retrofitted” to comply with the accessibility laws. That’s what happens when able-bodied ppl make the laws without input from those of us in the disabled community! *Facepalm*

    Reply
    • Aaah, it’s awful isn’t it? I had this exact issue at a hotel I went to recently – we’d booked disabled rooms, and they’d moved us. When we challenged them it was very much an attitude of ‘can’t you make do?’ Um, no?

      And the law is also similar here – buildings have to make reasonable adjustments, but if it’s an older building those adjustments will probably cost a lot, so they don’t happen. Also the law only get enforced if you sue, which is now pretty much impossible: (written about here: http://www.chronicchronicles.co.uk/blog/2013/09/24/justice-for-disabled-people-vanished-overnight-but-not-many-people-noticed/).

      Do they ever ask for our input? If they do it’s a tick-box exercise, to say they have, but no notice is actually taken.

      Thanks very much for your comment!

      Reply

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  1. Pity, quiet asides, fakers… and ‘microaggressions’ - [...] disabled blogger wrote about the reality of being disabled in the UK, including their inaccessible local [...]
  2. Pity, quiet asides, fakers… and ‘microaggressions’ | DisabledGo News Blog - [...] disabled blogger wrote about the reality of being disabled in the UK, including their inaccessible local [...]

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