Disabled People Can Work, Rest and Play

I might be showing my age when I say I remember the Mars bar advertising slogan “a Mars a day lets you work, rest and play” but I think it is a perfect way of describing what a balanced lifestyle is, in terms of mental wellbeing. I would like to propose that disabled people need and deserve to have this balance, in the same way as anyone else.

The first and probably most controversial of these in terms of disabled people is of course work. While many disabled activists claim they wish to work, the evidence is very different. This can be highlighted by an astonishing article on a disability blog I read on Friday that claimed that many disability activists were offended that the Conservative Party used the term “hardworking people” at their party conference, which suggests to me these activists believe disabled people can not and should not work, seriously insulting the many disabled people and their families who are hardworking in the widest sense of the meaning. I think this desire to write off disabled people as unemployable is demonstrating these activists are like the racists who hide behind the issue of immigration to justify their belief system.

Work for me does not necessarily mean paid employment or indeed any employment but also education, training, parenting and so on. For so many, work is therapeutic, and often the best way to manage something like depression is not to sit at home stewing but actually being at work for a whole range of reasons. If you really want to work, you will find a way of doing so, even if there are a lot of barriers. Once again, those who are complaining that the government is not doing enough or public transport is terrible, despite often having a car, are simply making excuses that I am tired of hearing.

Those who work clearly deserve a rest and therefore deserve a stress free holiday, which is currently more easily said than done for many disabled people. A holiday is something that has to be earned and I am afraid if you are too sick to work, then you are too sick for a holiday. Holidays are not so much a luxury as an important way to balance the left brain with the right brain, and ensure people can relax and keep good mental wellbeing. While doing nothing, or just less, may be great for a few weeks in the year, it can be very stressful if it is forced onto people.

I believe one of the biggest problems for disabled people who do not work, is the unnecessary stresses and strains of not working on the mind as boredom can be much more damaging than any amount of hard work. If I was told I could not do any more work ever again, like many people, I think I would feel my life was not worth living. This is why it is so important mentally and emotionally to have the right balance between work and rest to have a good quality of life.

Play is the poor relation of Rest, especially amongst adults. While people can get the need for a holiday, the gaps between them can be too long and therefore we become burnt out before we reach our holiday. Play is those little fun and exciting things we do on a more regular basis to keep us sane. These may include going swimming, going to the theatre, going Whitewater rafting and so on. There are as important to the mental wellness of disabled people as much as anyone else, but it is often what gets the least attention.

I feel that like holidays, it is right that the state does not generally pay for play as it must be earned through work financially and emotionally. This means those who prefer not to work, in the widest sense, are excluding themselves from play, and having a balanced lifestyle, probably exacerbating the stresses and strains they are experiencing. While people understand the Paralympics, access to grass root mainstream sport and other activities for disabled people is still not as accessible or inclusive as it should be. This means many disabled people are not attracted to play activities and therefore are denied the opportunity of a balanced lifestyle.

We must look at changing welfare and social care policies to ensure all disabled people, and indeed everyone, have access to the three components that make a balanced lifestyle, if not just for their benefit, then for the benefit of the whole of society as a solution to addictions and other vices. Hard work is something good for the health of the nation, not a form of stigma to be avoided.

 If you like what I say, have a look at my website at http://www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

We Must Expect More From Disabled People

I think one of my biggest frustrations with society in terms of disability is the naturally low expectations the public has for what disabled people can and indeed should achieve. While everyone talks about the equality of disabled people, the reality is we are perceived as inferior beings, less capable of achieving what most people want in life. I am often asked about aspects of my life, like if I like to go out, as if I was a child, and these are by my non-disabled professional peers who apparently know I am their equal.

An example of what I am talking about is the recent news about the supposed plight of James Sleight, a young man with Downs Syndrome, who went to a mainstream school, and is apparently being evicted from ‘his home’. His home is in reality, from what I can understand, a residential group home, a care service he is not a tenant of, where the one achievement that has been highlighted is the fact he lives with a flatmate of his age, who will be another service user who neither of them would have had a choice over. And now because his family are upset, we must all sign their petition to keep him in a service that we do not even know he is happy about. The media seems not to be interested in his quality of life, his aspirations or his goals, but just what his family wants. The most shocking comment I read was in The Independent, which implied he was too stupid to know who David Cameron was, despite wanting to meet him, or was that his family?

I have personally fought all my life to explain that despite having cerebral palsy and needing support from a personal assistant with everything I do, I lead as normal of a life as anyone can and in whatever normality is. I have the same level of choice as anyone else, which means I have the same level of responsibility as anyone else. Despite all the wonderful images of independent living promoted by the social care sector, it does not mean I have free choice, because no one has that. I can only go to the theatre if I can afford the tickets, have the time to go and so on.

The biggest mistake many social workers and other professionals make with me is when they tell me I can do anything I want within a service, since the reality is they have specific and low expectations of what I will want to do, and therefore they will be horrified when I actually do something they was neither expecting or willing to let happen. Professionals assume for disabled people, ‘going out’ means something like having a cup of coffee in town, but for me it means going whitewater rafting or seeing a musical in London.

Why must we assume disabled people expectations are limited and indeed good. When I lecture social work students, I like to challenge them to see how far they are willing to accept the true lifestyles of disabled people, even if that includes being a gangster. We will not have achieved true equality for disabled people until we can see them inspiring to achieve in all aspects of life, even if it is as a criminal. People must imagine what disabled people could achieve, and then take it a step further, and still further, until we can truly see disabled people as having the opportunity to do absolutely anything.

Unfortunately right now, this kind of equality is not on the agenda, as the 2010s will sadly be remembered as a period where the portrayal of disabled people as incapable inferior beings was strong and the damage that this was doing, in the name of fairness, was high. The fashionable hatred of ATOS is being used to justify the systematic prejudice of disabled people, often by disabled people themselves, in the same way racists use the fear of immigration to justify their prejudices.

Until we can see all disabled people as bundles of potential and assume with the right assistance and support, they can achieve or not achieve in the same way as anyone else, we should stop pretending that a fair society, in terms of looking after people deemed to be too weak to be considered full citizens, as anything to do with true equality and equal opportunities, as to achieve that, we must demand the most of everyone.

– If you like what I say, have a look at my website at http://www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74

Sickness and Poverty Are a State of Mind

For many people, Sickness, in terms of people with long term health conditions, as well as Poverty have become the central issues and concerns as a result of this government’s welfare reforms. There is not a day that goes by without some news article or piece of research that explains the apparent woes of people on low incomes and/or those with health conditions. While I do not wish to dispute there are people who are struggling financially, or have health issues which affect their function or quality of life, I would like to suggest that the way someone approaches these challenges and responds practically and emotionally to them is about their state of mind.

Before going further, let me explain my own situation so you understand I am talking from personal experience on both issues. As a self employed person, I rely on work coming in which varies greatly from month to month, especially as I never know where my next piece of work is coming from. I am thankful for Working Tax Credits although as it assumes some level of weekly income which does not always exist, I often have less income than if I was on ESA. This means I have periods of the year where I do struggle and I have to be smart to manage as anyone else does.

In terms of sickness, as well as cerebral palsy, I experience chronic persistent pain as a result of a nerve virus in 2009, requiring four types of painkiller to be taken every day throughout the day. I have bouts of chronic fatigue and lots of other minor issues that I simply manage. While I work, at home a good 40 hours a week as a minimum, there is no doubt that in terms of WCA, I am unfit for work as anyone can be, which just proves to me how flawed it is, in a way opposite to most people assume.

So I am poor and sick by most people’s standards, and yet I feel as positive about my life as anyone can be. I am very rich in my experiences of life and feel healthy as I am happy with my situation and what I am striving for. The usual response to this statement is that I am very exceptional but why? Because I am and feel successful, why is that such a big deal just because I have cerebral palsy?

I would like to propose that for anyone in the media with a sob story about not coping because of supposed poverty or sickness, there is at least someone else in the same situation who are not just coping, but being successful, quietly getting on with it. The middle class and their associated media does not want to hear this, since they prefer to see people appear disempowered and dependent on them, because of poverty or sickness. If people realised that with the right attitude and frame of mind, they may not need the apparent assistance of all these charities, then there would be a lot of well paid charity workers unemployed and actually experiencing poverty for the first time!

While there is some specific need for Foodbanks, they are the fashion statement of this government as they have ensured the unnecessary revival of Victorian values, namely the poor should be dependent on the rich. I fear Foodbanks have made the mind set of poverty popular and that this is just the start of a drastic reversal of the opportunities of social mobility my generation had under Margaret Thatcher. By teaching people it is okay to depend on charity, as oppose to cutting their cloth appropriately, people will never gain the right mind set to be successful.

The same with sickness is happening, as charities and the media wish people to wallow in self-pity rather then gritting their teeth and just get on with it. And I am not saying having little money or being long-term sick is easy, but who said life had to be easy? It is our struggles that make us stronger people and I have never waited for the government or charities to improve my life, as I know the only person who could do that was me!

Poverty and sickness had always existed and I sometimes feel so embarrassed how soft this generation sometimes appears to be. If some charities and indeed disability activists were around when we were living in caves, we would have all been deemed unfit for work and would never have invented fire, being extinct a very long time ago. This is why I am convinced that both poverty and sickness are a state of mind we can all overcome.

– If you like what I say, have a look at my website at http://www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74