Most Disabled People Just Get on With Their Lives

I think an important route to changing social behaviours and therefore attitudes is how people and issues are portrayed in the media, and this is why I am somewhat fixated by how disabled people are being portrayed by the media. Just last night I caught a piece on local ITV news from a family member who claimed that someone committed suicide because they had mental health issues and were found fit for work, basically blaming the government and demanding anyone with any mental health issues is written off and parked on benefits! Would someone like to suggest to someone like Stephen Fry that he is unfit for society because of his bipolar?

Disability is portrayed as a welfare issue, but for the majority of disabled people, their welfare benefits or lack of is probably the least of their problems on a daily basis. Whether disabled people work or not is irrelevant here, because the thing we need to focus on is they are getting on with their lives. I am not suggesting for one minute that their impairments are not causing them difficulties in terms of both their health, and in terms of environmental and attitudinal barriers, but that their immediate priorities may be far more simple than portrayed, like what is for tea or what are they doing tomorrow, just like anyone else.

Here is an example; I have just come back from a Caribbean cruise going from Florida. I would suggest that out of the 3000 guests that 10% had some level of mobility impairment. I would also like to suggest that very few of these guests on the ship that were worrying about their benefits or using Food Banks. Admittedly 80% of the guests were American and a large proportion of them were in their old age, but the principle is there. Also, most of the older guests did not fit into the frail vulnerable portrayal the media so often uses when they talk about health or social care issues.

Most disabled people, like most people, are not political or angry at the Government since they have more immediate issues in their lives like daily living, managing their health, education, employment and having fun without being portrayed as a superhero. Having fun and being happy in however individuals define it for themselves must be the ultimate goal for everyone, and yet the media currently seems to portray disabled people as living lives that are beyond the reach of happiness, which is absolute nonsense.

It is hard to properly describe what ‘getting on’ looks like because it is very individual and those who are getting on are silent in terms of expressing their views to the media, leaving it to campaigners and activists. On a personal level, I very much get on with living, it is just that I have chosen a career that involves campaigning and activism. I have however learnt to switch off from disability in my personal life, just sorting the issues that immediately affect me as they arise as oppose to spending my limited free time going to political demonstrations or other events. When I am on holiday, I like to actually be on holiday, and I try to save up any complaining I need to do until after I have enjoyed myself.

While disability will obviously remain portrayed as a welfare issue, full of ‘needless suffering’, for the foreseeable future until we tackle the deep rooted bigotry that exists, it is worth remembering like the rest of us, most disabled people are just getting on with their lives. The voices of disabled people apparently being heard in the media, often through the viewpoint of others, are from those who are motivated to be heard because of issues that directly affect them and their agenda, rather than being any representation of what all disabled people think, and that includes myself.

from Simon Stevens


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