I would be lying if I argued there was never a disabled people’s movement and that in its time, it achieved a dramatic increase in the public awareness of disability issues. Whether it represented as many disabled people or was as united as ‘they’ claimed, is however something we can debate for ever.
Now disability has got much more complex and there is far more disabled people claiming to be disabled then there was 15 years ago for a number of reasons. It would therefore be foolish for individuals and organisations to claim disabled people are a single group of ‘oppressed’ people who all want and need the same thing, but this does not however stop them trying.
I see disabled people, individuals working with disabled people, and all the organisations involved in disability issues as a huge map where there is a whole range of viewpoints and understandings. And as a ‘consultant’, I see my role is to assist customers with understanding and navigating this map.
The biggest problem is most individuals and organisations on the map do not see the bigger picture and they believe what they think is how everyone else thinks the same way they do. With 10m disabled people, this means there is potentially 10m social movements and that does not include carers, families and anyone else who wants a view of the issues.
I would argue however there are 2 large movements amongst others, which needs explaining here. The first is the ‘old’ movement, which was made up of the activists from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Made up of mainly people with lifelong physical impairments, their social model thinking is the cornerstone of the civil rights we have now. However, the movement is very hostile towards non-disabled and disabled people who do not follow their strict rules on rights and wrongs. My dealings with them has led me to believe they have a real problem with disabled people being positive about their situation as they demand a level of pleasure from feeling miserable and believing everyone should ‘hate them’. Since younger disabled people were never welcomed, the average age of members have increased to a point where they are no longer relevant.
Then we have the ‘new’ movement. Based on the government’s welfare reforms and fuelled with scaremongering from charities and others, this movement is based solely on labels, money and so-called rights. In the 1980s, the UK Government shifted many unemployed people to sickness benefits and with the DDA, long-term sickness is now seen as being labelled ‘disabled’. Therefore a whole new generation of people, mainly with far less needs than disabled people previously, as cottoned on to what they see as the benefits of being disabled as they ‘enjoy’ services designed only for those who needed them. With the threat of losing their benefits, this movement is clearly and unshameablely financially motivated and very much based in the medical model. With a ‘smash and grab’ attitude to what they see as their rights, it is a very selfish movement as people appear to have little respect for the diversity of needs and I fear people with significant impairments are being pushed out of ‘being disabled’ as it gets crowded.
There is also the autism movement, the neurodiversity movement, carers movement, hidden impairment movement, Deaf community, People First movement and so many others, it is certainly very complex.
So the key is never let someone tell you “we” when they mean “I” and it is important to dig deeper to find out where they are on the map.