Wednesday 1 May 2013

#BADD2013 Behind the Mask

It’s Blogging Against Disablism Day 2013, and that’s driving my thoughts to where we stand, and how society views us.

Ten years ago things were looking if not good then at least hopeful, society was starting to think about our position and our right to be equals, rights increasingly recognised in law. Today, things aren't even hopeful. The language of politics is turning against disabled people not just in Britain, but throughout much of the English-speaking world. Where we were shifting from ‘the disabled’ to ‘disabled people’ (or ‘persons with disabilities’ in the US), we are now increasingly portrayed as ‘skivers’, ‘layabouts’ and outright frauds. Disability hate crime is up, disability benefits have been slashed, and disabled peers have just narrowly won a battle to prevent the Coalition removing the General Equality Duty of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, its legal mandate to try and make us a more equal society. Not so very many years ago I was able to get the Minister for Disabled People to intervene on my behalf when the Department of Work and Pensions was refusing to acknowledge my disability, now we increasingly talk about ‘the Minister Against Disabled People’, while even more senior ministers, such as her boss Iain Duncan Smith, a man who once hoped to be Prime Minister, rant about how there are a million of us who could work if we really wanted to.

In the US, there are similar attempts to portray disabled people as benefit scroungers, while Congress refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – that’s right, the country that prides itself on being the ‘Home of the Free’ refused to ratify a treaty enshrining disabled people’s right to equality. In Europe and elsewhere in the world it is more difficult to keep track of disability rights across the language barriers, but there are disturbing stories out of Greece of hospital staff having to raid their own supplies in order to provide back-door medical care to those cast adrift by the savage austerity cuts demanded as part of their country’s financial bail-out.

We can talk about insurers and disability denial mills, and about how their twisted seed of hate, that we were too lazy to get better, fell on fertile ground with the institutionally disablist Department of Work and Pensions, we can talk about ministers who would rather target disabled people than a more powerful lobby group such as pensioners, or, god forbid, the bankers who fund their personal offices and their party coffers, we can even whisper about the likely impact of certain religious positions amongst those who write policy, but all that may be missing the point. To deny a disability insurance claim, to see disabled people as inherently lazy, to be willing to take advantage of disabled people’s status as a minority with little political power, to view disabled people as paying a penance for past sins, and to take these vicious lies as true and label disabled people as scroungers when prompted by tabloid headlines, all of these things require that you first hold disabled people in contempt.

Have we slipped backwards, or has the mask of progress simply slipped aside, to show us the disablist contempt still lurking within society?

[Photo: Nazi pro-Eugenics poster of a disabled man being supported in a twisted position on a chair by an attendant with a hand on his shoulder. To their side a legend in German states: '60 000 RM kostet dieser Erbkranke die Volksgemeinschaft auf Lebenszeit. Volksgenosse das ist auch dein Geld. Lesen Sie Neues Volk, die Monatshefte des Rassenpolitischen Amtes der NSDAP.' Which translates as 'This hereditarily disabled man will cost the community 60,000 Reichsmarks in his lifetime. Citizens, this is your money. Read 'New Race' , the monthly of the Racial Policy Office of the NSDAP.']

(One of my two posts for #BADD2013, the other is here)

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