Wednesday, 14 May 2014

I Am a Crip, and I'm #DisabilityConfident of that

A disability consultant just put out the following two tweets under the #disabilityconfident hashtag

Disabled people - lose the 'c' word ('crip')! It doesn't empower, it undermines & reinforces neg stereotype. #noCword #disabilityconfident


'Crip' is as damaging to disability equality as the 'n' word is to racial equality. Language is the dress of thought! #disabilityconfident

I'm fully aware that 'Crip' is a controversial term for many disabled people, I fully accept people's right to feel uncomfortable with it, and its use, but when they start trying to tell us what we can and can't call ourselves, then I have a problem with them. I've self-identified as a Crip for the last decade, basically since my time on the BBC's Ouch bulletin board, which was the political awakening for many of today's online disability activists. By calling myself a Crip I put myself in the face of those who would denigrate us and tell them that they can hurl disability epithets all they like, because I'm proud to claim those terms for my own. Equally, calling myself a Crip is a form of group self-identity. It aligns me with every other disabled person who confronts those who would put us down, and turns the language of hate into the language of our resistance. So, yes, calling myself a Crip is part of who I am, part of my identity, and my identity is important to me, because denying our ability to self-identify is historically part of the infantilisation of disabled people that kept us as a 'pitied', 'childlike' minority for all but the last 50 years of our history.

So when someone in a self-appointed position tells me how I'm allowed to self-identify, I tend not to see that as remotely #DisabilityConfident (yes, it's one of those 'disability consultants'), and yes, I damn well have a problem with the arrogance of it.

It isn't even particularly well informed criticism, as we see with the statement 'is as damaging to disability equality as the 'n' word is to racial equality'. The reclamation of the N-word (I can't use it, I'm not entitled), is a huge part of the reclamation of Afro-American (in particular) identity from the forces of segregation and hate. The reclamation of the N-word, and the reclamation of language in general has been the subject of considerable academic research, which you can find in papers such as Linguistic Disarmament: A Philosophical Analysis Of Hate Speech And Reclamation Efforts, Not all are in favour by any means, but we are dealing with the assertion of rights by a victimised minority and we oppose or criticise that at our peril.

As 'Wobblin Wilma' notes in this Ouch thread there is an essay by Nancy Mair 'On Being a Cripple', which articulates a slightly different pro-Crip position and around which there has been considerable commentary, as here, but I actually prefer Wilma's own analysis which notes that the aggressively negative use of 'cripple' is a comparatively recent development that is ripe for reclamation. Or there's Chris Page in this thread saying '"Crip" is most used by confident Disabled people who refuse to be judged by outdated stereotypes of the benign, subservient disabled person.' which I absolutely agree with. But using the term doesn't imply we should use it to all and sundry, as is discussed in this thread. I'm in those threads as DavidG, but my position has moved on since the earlier posts and I've gone from being neutral around Crip to overwhelmingly positive about it - there are far too many people who oppose us and will hurl our disability in our faces as an epithet for us not to reclaim their language of hate. Having said that, sometimes I got it right: 'When someone else says 'Crip' they focus on our disabilities and what they imagine we can't do, when we say 'Crip' we parody their beliefs and emphasise our belief in our rights as an oppressed minority. By pre-empting their usage we remove the word's power over us. We turn insult into shared identity and experience.' And 'I'd say that, for those of us who choose to use it, it recognises our individual political identity. I loathe the term as a physical descriptor, but I love it as a political one. It says that I recognise the disablist society that discriminates against me and that I'm not going to take it.'

The offending tweets noted 'Language is the dress of thought!', which is absolutely true, language shapes the way we think, and that is what makes reclaiming language so important. Before the Civil Rights Movement, the N-word was hate speech, a term of utter disdain, reminding Afro-Americans that they might no longer be slaves, but that they were still regarded as barely second class citizens by the white power structures of the Southern States. But once the Civil Rights Movement took hold, once the language of hate was reclaimed, then the N-word became something different, it became an expression of identity, an expression of equality, and a statement that power was no longer something wielded against the Afro-American community, but something wielded by them.

If you try to stop me asserting my chosen identity as a disabled person, then all you're doing is declaring yourself as part of the problem, not part of the solution. That says it is time to take a look in the mirror and decide whether you stand with us, or against us.

So, yeah, I'm a Crip, deal with it.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Disability Confident and the Elephant in the Corner

Blogging against Disablism Day (#BADD2014) was back on the 1st, so I'm more than a little late, but I struggled to settle on a theme until interactions on the #DisabilityConfident twitter hashtag focussed me back on to disablism in employment. And by the way, do follow the #BADD2014 link for one of the most important collections of disability essays you'll read all year.

For more background on Disability Confident, see my earlier blog So What's Wrong With Disability Confident.

When we come to disability employment, it's clear that the main issue limiting disabled people achieving equality in the workforce is open disablism (ableism for those in the States). Either we can't get through the recruitment process because our applications get inexplicably filed in the wastebasket when we mention our disabilities, or we don't mention them and they get inexplicably filed in the wastebasket when we turn up for interview with crutches, a wheelchair, a white cane, whatever. On the off-chance we get through recruitment, which for many of us only happens because we didn't happen to be disabled at the time, we then have to navigate the process of explaining to management that we now need reasonable adjustments, which can far too often trigger a full blown crusade to force us out of the company, and god forbid your disability changes and you need to change your adjustments - 'Please sir, I want some more.' Even if you get the adjustments in place, you may find yourself facing jealousy from your peers - 'why should she get out of stacking shelves just because she has a wheelchair', or transferred into a post where the new manager takes against you - 'I believe anyone who becomes disabled should be medically retired' to quote one of my annual appraisals. And when it comes to taking on even a small company to enforce your rights, the company usually has better resources, go up against a multinational and you can find yourself facing hot and cold running lawyers, and even if you win may find yourself subject to a gagging clause which means you can't discuss the censored .

So when it comes to staging a major two year campaign to challenge the lack of equality for disabled people in the workplace, you would have thought that challenging open disablism would have been at the forefront of the campaign. Unfortunately Disability Confident is a Department of Work And Pensions campaign, and DWP thinks disability is our fault for not trying hard enough (sadly I'm not joking), and god forbid they might even dare to contemplate enforcing the Equality Act ("I am not somebody who would want to tell somebody what they have to do. We have to work with business.” Esther McVey, then Minister for(?!) Disabled People). Instead Disability Confident has focussed on the low hanging fruit of companies who are willing to have disabled employees, but aren't very good at it. Unfortunately Disability Confident isn't very good at it either. Scope have basically done a better job in the first week of their 'End the Awkward' campaign, which isn't even an employment focussed campaign, than Disability Confident has managed in a year. Almost half-way through Disability Confident's two year campaign and we're still seeing the same 'how inspiring' tweets from the people attending their events.

One thing that disturbs me deeply about Disability Confident is the number of disability consultants willing to get up on stage and say how wonderful it is. Forget the campaign's figurehead, Simon Weston, he's there because he's a mate of Mike Penning, the current Minister for Disabled People, and doubtless picked as someone well known for being disabled who company directors would probably quite like to have their picture taken with (and even better, he's not a political crip). Focus rather on the disability consultants, the people who deal with the issues of employment and disability on a day by day basis. If they are disability consultants, then pretty much by definition they need to know about things like inspiration-porn, and the real nature of the employment market for disabled people, they can't do their job if they don't. All the time they're singing the praises of Iain Duncan Smith for his crusade against the inherent idleness of those damned, faking crips, they have to know just how bad Disability Confident is, and that the elephant in the corner is sitting there, staring at them, and wondering when they are going to get around to dealing with the real issue - employer disablism. And what goes for the elephant in the corner also goes for us out here, the actual disabled people, the ones who want jobs, or who have jobs and need adjustments, or who had jobs and lost them for no reason other than our disability and the disablism of our employers. Like it or not, the disability consultants taking part in Disability Confident are representing us, and they're doing a piss-poor job of it.

DWP don't want to challenge disablism, the disability consultants don't want to challenge DWP (that would be biting the hand that pays their contracting fees), and our voice, the voice that says 'I want the same chance to work as anyone else', goes unheard. For disabled people, Disability Confident is worse than a failure, worse than nothing, it's the disability equivalent of Uncle Tom's Cabin, actively designed to make employers feel good about themselves and think they need do nothing more to make us equal than hold up a handful of inspiring (sic) examples.

I'm never going to be a saintly Uncle Tom, held up as an example of how a good little crip should behave, I'm cut far more from Uppity Crip cloth, and when I see an elephant in the corner, I'm going to shout it to the hilltops, and get Jumbo to trumpet it alongside me. Disability Confident is not just bad, it's dangerous, it's explicitly designed to reinforce the status quo, rather than persuade employers to live up to their legal obligations to treat disabled people as equal to any other worker. Employers have had 70 years to do that, since the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944, if they haven't done it yet, they aren't going to do it without being forced, no matter what Esther McVey or Mike Penning might bleat. And if a programme is designed to reinforce a disablist reality, then that programme is by definition itself disablist.

Either we challenge disablism in employment, or we're on its side. Disability Confident has picked its side, it is there to reinforce the status quo of disablist employers having nothing to fear. The elephant in the corner is sitting there at every Disability Confident event, forced into the corner as the interests of disabled people always are, and waiting for one of the invited disability consultants to finally find the guts to look it in the eye and say: 'Oh, sod this, let's talk about the real problem.'

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

It's about ability, AND disability

A message that keeps being recycled at every Disability Confident event (See 'So What's Wrong with Disability Confident?' here) is that 'It's about ability, not disability', this is the kind of half-cocked phrase that sounds like a good thing from the non-disability perspective, but promises to be a nightmare for actual disabled people. It is right to a very limited degree, you shouldn't be looking at my disability during recruitment, in fact you are legally obligated under the Equality Act 2010 not to consider my disability until after you offer me a job. But once we pass that stage it is very much about both my ability and my disability, because my disability brings obligations and entitlements. I, and every other disabled person, need to know that the particular needs we have around our disabilities, whether that be an individually fitted chair, the ability to take a break as needed, or whatever, will be addressed without negative consequences, and our rights to these 'reasonable adjustments' are enshrined in the Equality Act. Unless I know these needs are addressed, I can't have any confidence in you as an employer; and in any case making reasonable adjustments is good business sense, it allows your workforce to perform at their peak. But 'It's about ability, not disability', tells companies that if they focus on my disability, at any time, then they are doing it wrong. The difference is only a word, but 'It's about ability, and disability', together with a careful explanation of obligations under the law, would transform the message of Disability Confident into something far more useful.

(This is broken out from my larger essay 'So What's Wrong with Disability Confident?' for ease in pointing it out to the people who come out of Disability Confident events twittering that 'It's about ability, not disability' that no matter how much DWP may be pushing that tag line, it actually isn't remotely helpful to disabled people. It isn't their fault they're being misled, but someone has to tell them, and seeing as 'Nothing for us, Without us' is anathema to the DWP we're forced to do it ourselves.)