You’re frightening me

// 4 December 2011

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a photograph of handmade print next to one of the stencils. They read It started with a blog post, where David Gillon challenged 38 degrees about why, despite a disability benefit cuts campaign receiving lots of votes, it never reached the ‘call to action’ stage.

Then there was an article (now amended) which described an athlete’s move from Paralympic to Olympic competition as a “move up”.

I then read in Jezebel about a sex worker who is awesome because she works with disabled clients, which apparently makes her intriguing.

And I started to wonder, what do you think of us? Of me? In these three stages, the mainstream, and the left-wing, tell me that I am inferior, and I am other. So very, very other.

Then Lisa Egan wrote a post (trigger warning) about suicide, and her despair at the lack of support from even campaigning organisations, and I still, somehow, didn’t cry.

Then, finally, the article that did make me cry, in which I learned that 2/3 of people avoid disabled people because they don’t know how to act around us. In addition,

A third of those questioned demonstrated hardened negative attitudes towards the disabled. Reasons cited for this ranged from disabled people being seen as a burden on society (38%), ill feeling around the perceived extra support given to disabled people (28%), and the personal worries and sensitivities which rise to the fore during a recession (79%).

It went on,

Some 60% of Britons admit to staring at disabled people because they are different, with more than half of people (51%) admitting they feel uncomfortable when they meet a disabled person for the first time, with more men (54%) admitting to being uncomfortable compared to women (50%).

At a time when cuts are actually killing disabled people, we are also experiencing more negative attitudes, perceptions of being a burden, an additional cost, especially during a recession. How very inconsiderate of us to not wait to attain crippled status until the economy is fixed.

If you’re questioning whether this is a feminist issue, then the point is being missed. I am a woman who 38% of people polled consider to be a burden. I am a woman who 2/3 of people polled admit to avoiding for reasons of prejudice. I am a woman who 50% of women polled admitted to being uncomfortable to meet. I am a woman who is witnessing her friends become more and more afraid to leave the house, for fear of government- and Daily Mail-inspired abuse in the street. I’ve experienced it myself.

There are so many issues at the moment which are putting us all into a state of crisis. This is one of many: people are starting to frighten me. Is the person I’m talking to one of the 38%? Or the 50% Or the 65%?

Given that women are the hardest hit by spending cuts, and disabled people are the hardest hit by spending cuts, disabled women are being overlooked, avoided, resented, marginalised and othered. It takes non-disabled people, at this stage, to make some of the changes that need to happen.

[The image is a photograph of handmade print next to one of the stencils. They read “FEAR MORE HOPE LESS”. The photograph and artwork are by Ben Murphy and are used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

Vicky // Posted 4 December 2011 at 3:29 pm

What frightens me most about all this is the attitudes of people who seem to think they’re on our side in all of this, but who manage to be equally bigoted in their own way:

“Caroline Waters, BT’s Director of People and Policy, said: ‘It’s very sad that, in the 21st Century, with the London 2012 Paralympic Games less than a year away, so many people still fail to see the potential behind the disability.'”

No. You don’t have to make a special effort to see the potential ‘behind’ the disability. The disability is not a locked door. It is not an obstacle course. I am not hidden away behind it. It’s just a simple part of me. My potential is also part of me, and nobody should have to make this herculean effort to see it.

And then this comment from Perdue on the Jezebel article:

“I’m in favor of legalizing and regulating the shit out of sex work for a variety of reasons, and I can get behind the fact that some disabled individuals have an extremely difficult time finding sex partners who aren’t paid.”

Yes, I’d forgotten that disabled people don’t get laid. Who would sleep with us? We’re icky. (And this is the implication, even when the qualifier ‘some’ is added – the exact same statement could be made about ‘some non-disabled individuals’, but I don’t notice anybody making it.)

And there I stopped reading. That’s all I can take in one sitting.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 4 December 2011 at 3:33 pm

Thanks Vicky. I had a similar reaction to both those things! I’m also not ‘behind’ my disability. And yes, the whole Jezebel post and comments were based on the assumption that disabled people can’t possibly have sex without paying – who on earth would sleep with us if we didn’t pay them?!

kjosie // Posted 4 December 2011 at 9:38 pm

I feel the same way; scared.

I’m nervous of telling people i’m ill, in case people judge me, or particularly assume i’m lying about it because i look well. Mainly i’m frightened as a result of being a sick/disabled benefit claimant. I’m almost paranoid what with all the recent tabloid articles about “scroungers” – i’m worried me looking well and sometimes having a life will mean people assume i’m fraudulent. I’m just about to start my third benefit appeal this year; the possibility of being plunged into total poverty is scarily near, and i’m not sure i could cope.

Laura // Posted 5 December 2011 at 10:09 pm

What horrible, horrible statistics. I think part of the problem is also that people buy into the disability as tragedy narrative and many people don’t know what to say when faced with tragedy. So they avoid and dehumanise. It’s just awful.

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