Disability and worth
In this post-Capitalist society where you are judged it seems on purely monetary and aesthetic terms what are you worth when society deems you to be invisible?
Since becoming wheelchair bound this is a question that I ponder a lot. The way disability is portrayed by the popular press in recent years is one that leads to an “us” and “them” mentality. One where the disabled are heroes (Paralympic winners) or scroungers (think common stereotypes portrayed in comedy such as Little Britain) where everyone is on the make.
I have noticed a growing trend for divide and rule in Government policies and rhetoric. This can be seen across many minorities but none more so than in policies and portrayal relating to those disabled through birth, accident, or ill health.
Being disabled you are already at a disadvantage. Even when you are taken seriously, if you have an illness which makes regular contact with people, or a “normal” job, impossible then you are curtailed in your endeavours. Although online networking through sites such as Shape, Outisde In and platforms like twitter make things far better than they were. It is still near impossible to establish yourself.
I had the horrid experience when I asked during an interview with a particular artist for something the other week if due to my son’s autism and my illness I had to cancel meetings etc at the last minute would that be ok (remember this is something I have no control over)? The answer shocked and upset me. My words were twisted into a suggestion that this would be an everyday occurrence and that due to this my dedication was under question and I should really not be doing it . What do you do when remarks like this are levelled at you. Despite my reassurances this was in circumstances that would be out of my control and only in extreme conditions (I have been battling my health for years and dealing with my son’s autism since he was 2 (when behaviours became more noticeable)), their mind was already made up.
The sad thing is though, that in my heart of hearts I was not surprised by this attitude. I have grown up in a family where disability was rife (most my extended family are dead now) and I watched them battle every day, particularly my Aunt who due to polio had a severe life long disability and who was constantly reminded that she was “different” she was the “other”. She died alone and childless, although we were like her children and my dad was always there for her. The loneliness I know she felt at times was indescribable but she kept on battling, kept smiling.
So what are we worth then? Where we live in a world where despite our best efforts to contribute to society we are labelled by the mere fact that we are disabled. I seem to spend as much time fighting to be taken seriously as I do creating/setting up my charity/working on business etc. On the rare occasion I manage a social engagement people don’t take me seriously, they see the wheelchair but due to my sunny disposition in these environments, do not see that I am ill (though I do not want pity I would like an understanding that things are harder for me and that I have to try with everything) and just think “well she seems fine”.
I have recently become very interested in the bedding out project by Liz Crow. A project she is taking to the Edinburgh Fringe to question people’s relationship to disability and how it is viewed. From the tweets she is getting under the #bedding out hashtag it seems that this search for validity, this questioning of acceptance is not a new thing and something that many of us experience. It just saddens me that in this day and age where there are laws regarding discrimination it seems that people’s personal prejudice are just as rife, if not more so, than ever.