(I'm a day late with my post for the International Day of Disabled People, and some people may have seen this before in other places, but I think it bears repeating)
I sail, I fly gliders, I go white-water rafting. I did draw the line at jumping off a mountain (even with parascending chute attached), but there are few things I won’t try if given the opportunity. I’m also that proverbial forty-something, middle-class, white guy who is least at risk of anything of any part of the population. And yet in the past fifteen years or so I’ve been physically assaulted once, had one false accusation of benefit fraud and been verbally abused about once every year to 18 months (and I don't actually get out that much). You wouldn’t think I was an obvious target, all of the attacks have been in broad daylight on well travelled streets, and in the main I’ve been taller and heftier built than most of my abusers, not really someone you would attach the label ‘vulnerable’ to.
Yet mention that I walk with crutches and that whole assumption changes.
To judge from the viewpoints we hear parroted by the police and the authorities, as a disabled person, and therefore inherently ‘vulnerable’, I am some frail, ethereal, slip of a figure, risking serious damage just by daring to be out in public, never mind actually interacting with society. And there is something to that, no attacks on me until I reached thirty and started to use crutches, then about one every couple of years since – and I don’t spend much time on the streets compared to many. But ‘vulnerable’? Let’s not be shy, ladies and gentlemen, let’s call a spade a bloody shovel and label it for what it really is, hatred of me for having the audacity to be out on the street as a disabled person.
I am not ‘vulnerable’ because I am disabled, I am targeted because I am disabled. Each attack has specifically and deliberately singled out some aspect of my disability to focus upon. As I said, I have been taller and heftier than pretty much all of my abusers, but taller and heftier doesn’t count for much when the bigots run in packs. If I was ‘vulnerable’, then it would have been me who was injured when a bigot thought it would be funny for he and his friend to knock me to the ground, rather than the reality that left him gasping for breath around bruised ribs. With one exception, and he was drunk out of his mind, every attack on me has involved two or more people. There isn’t a person in the country who isn’t vulnerable when facing odds of two or more to one, so why apply that label specifically to disabled people?
Or does that ‘vulnerable’ label reveal more about the people conferring it than the people it is applied to? If we are ‘vulnerable’ to them, then are we not, inevitably, seen as less than adult, less suitable to be out on the street unsupervised, flying in the face of good sense, responsible for our own downfall? Doesn’t this label suggest someone who thinks that opening the locks that kept us safely shut-away in society’s collective attic was a bad idea, who, deep down, is profoundly uncomfortable with someone who doesn’t meet his definition of ‘normal’. We know those attitudes predominate in the community at large, it is unreasonable to expect that they aren’t also present in the deeply socially conservative police and legal authorities.
So when someone listens to our experience of hatred and catalogues us as ‘vulnerable’, they aren’t being part of the solution, but establishing themselves as part of the problem. If we want to solve the problem of disability hate crimes, then we need to stop the crimes, but that means routing out the fear of disability wherever we find it. And when someone labels us ‘vulnerable’, that’s undoubtedly the language of fear.