Can Disabled People Work Together?

Disabled people are a collective of individuals who have nothing in common other than a label imposed on them by society and being human beings. ‘We’ will experience difficulties, prejudices and discrimination in our own ways and limited by our own experiences, and we will assume every other disabled person shares our experiences, feelings, frustrations and desires. But maturity has shown me that like everyone around the world does not celebrate Christmas in the way Hollywood has made us believe, that disability is a complex map of experience and opinions.

In the past and behind closed doors, from my experience, disabled people working together has been hell, a dangerous cocktail of egos and buried emotions. People often talked about a hierarchy of impairments, including myself, but everyone had their own ideas of where they fitted in. Different impairment groups over the years have strutted their feathers, proclaiming themselves as more discriminated or misunderstood as anyone else, to the annoyance of other disabled people.

While the current political situation in the UK has united many disabled people, it has caused new divisions and new issues of contention. Various impairment groups, who were previously politically inactive for the most part, has been the focus of current government policies and this has meant they have rebelled and often for the first time, become politically identified as disabled people, a process of coming out that is similar to people’s sexual identity. But when a new housemate comes to join the already crowded house of disability politics, its makes Big Brother look dull.

So the past has not been great in terms of disabled people working together, but what about the future? A few weeks ago I had an eureka moment when I realised I could no longer personally let my frustrations about how I felt people did not understand my issues, my impairment or my experiences to stop me working with other disabled people, many whom I have offended in my efforts to be heard, and I am publicly sorry for that. If we are going to build together the brighter future for all disabled people I know we can achieve, I had to start by being the bigger man and offer an olive branch to those I may not always agree with.

I believe that the only way disabled people can work together is by getting personal and learning about each other’s unique experiences, and understand how that shapes our relationship with society and each other. Disabled people need to stop assuming other disabled people, and indeed anyone else, understands or does not understand how they are feeling, and actually share their experiences with each other in a constructive manner, that remains respectful to other disabled people’s experiences.

This is not as easy as it sounds, letting people in without being hostile or point scoring, but I truly believe that if we can build a new collective understanding of impairment as a map of experience and opinion, as oppose to creating a single mythical disabled person, we can lay the foundations to working better with each other, making disabled people a powerful force for good.

I feel social networks, particularly twitter, is a great tool for this process, although for the novice tweeter, it is a forum where the subtlety of opinions can be lost in frustration as I have discovered from experience myself. But if more experienced disabled tweeters, like myself and many others, can support them not to fall into the trap of hostility, again not as easy as it looks, and be the bigger people, then getting to know each other in a new and exciting way is a good start to working together.

With the next election less than 12 months away, this generation of disabled people have an opportunity to move forward and work together to make a positive difference for the benefit of the next generation, and I for one will do my part to make this happen.

from Simon Stevens


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s