Inclusive Education is not enough

Most disability activists support the idea of inclusive education in principle, but I would question how sincere they are. If activists, often with a pro-welfare bias are calling for many adults with impairments to be deemed naturally unable to work, what is the message being given to young people about their prospects? Why provide people with a proper education if it is simply not intended to be used?

I believe that if we wish young people with impairments to be empowered to break through the stereotypical expectations placed upon them by society, including many activists, then inclusive education, even if it is properly implemented, is not enough. We should rather be talking about providing young people with impairments an inclusive childhood.

By this, I mean that formal education is only a part of their development any child needs to be a fully rounded adult. Other parts of a healthy and positive childhood include after school activities, participation in immediate and extended family activities, having friends of the same age, the appropriate uptake of responsibilities within a family setting, opportunities to travel with family and others, and much more.

The point is that a child with impairments should have the same opportunities as a child without impairments. It is also, more importantly, enabling them to develop into adults with genuine autonomy who have not fallen into the conveyor belt of passivity and victimhood.

The later seems still to be so true, especially for people with significant impairments and/or learning difficulties. Two decades ago I was too often the only person with a significant impairment at meetings and conferences, especially one so outspoken. I knew I was ahead of my time, but I assumed I was the start of a new generation.

But in 2016, I am not seeing many people following my footsteps whether as activists or people who are proactive in their field of work. It appears the case that the opportunities to be more included in society as made their life feel safe and enabled them to be passive. These possibilities are also still controlled by non-impaired professionals unwilling to let go of the social and economic power they have over people with impairments.

A key outcome of any inclusive childhood will be the opportunity to experience emotional upset from the meaningful interaction with their non-impaired peers, as well as the chance to be naughty. These are the activities that will generate creativity and passion, combating blind obedience to social norms.

Inclusion is on the agenda although it needs to share the platform with welfare, which has taken centre stage since 2010. I am however concerned that because the deep-rooted prejudices towards the inclusion of people with impairments in society as people able to make a meaningful contribution, which is made acceptable in the name of dignity and compassion, real inclusion is unlikely to be achieved without a significant shift in thinking.

While many adults with impairments may be permanently stuck in a medical model desire to stay as passive victims, which has been fetishised by the often ignorant media, we can offer children with impairments the chance to break free from these chains.

A Greater Anglian failure

I have been using trains throughout the UK and Internationally for 25 years from a time I was walking to now as an electric wheelchair user. I am the type of impaired rail user who never books assistance because I have found that with a smile and a friendly attitude, staff are often 99% happy to assist you if you just turn up, which should be my right to do so. So when I encounter a situation like I faced on Saturday, I am really not amused.

I went with my volunteer to Lee Valley Whitewater Centre to try Hydrospeeding and Hotdogging, which is in Waltham Cross, London. Before I went, I spent some time on Google Maps finding the most accessible I assumed and quickest route possible, deciding to stick with trains as well as giving me plenty of time to arrive on time and hopefully early.

Getting from Coventry to Euston with Virgin Trains was easy as I know the route very well. We walked to St Pancras and caught the Southeastern Javelin train to Stratford International, a 6-minute journey. Then a quick and interesting walk straight through the Westfield shopping centre to the original Stratford station. And this is where it all started to go wrong.

We needed to catch the Abelilo Greater Anglian train to Waltham Cross, a 20-minute journey. Due to poor signage, it firstly took us a while to find the right platform and only with assistance. Once on the platform, the train was late and when it arrived the staff appeared frozen for a few minutes before getting the ramp for me to board the train. As we were boarding, a member of staff suddenly said: “Oh, you need to get off at Tottenham Hale because Waltham Cross is unmanned”!

At Tottenham Hale, a brash duty manager said she booked a special accessible taxi as there were none at the station and we just had to wait. Looking outside, I could see that there were plenty of taxis that would take my chair. I explained this to her, and her reply was “not one that we are prepared to pay for”.

We waited almost an hour for the taxi, which was just a black cab that was nothing particularly special but still ok. The journey then took a good 40 minutes, but we managed to convince the driver to take us straight to the watersports centre.

The Hydrospeed was booked for 1.30pm, and it was now 2.30pm! We had missed it but luckily we could go on the next session at 3.30pm! We had a great time and finished up, changing out of wetsuits, etc., around 6ish.

We were a bit at a loss to how to proceed to get home. So we firstly walked to Waltham Cross station. No staff but there was a lift and a ramp (locked) on the Platform heading towards Stratford. A train arrived and with help from our passengers; the driver was alerted that I needed assistance which he, for his wisdom, point blank refuse to do. I know other train operators would be far more helpful!!!

So we walked to the bus station and caught the bus to Tottenham Hale that took 1 hour before 1/2 mile to the station. We came back here before I had assumed since we had been dumped here originally, it was accessible, it was modern looking enough. Upon arriving at the station, I went from relief to confusion to total annoyance as it dawned on me there was no lift to the platform we needed! This is the point I lost it, demanding if there was no lift the station must close on the grounds of health and safety since it had been the law for over 20 years!

The same brash duty manager, who was now booking another taxi to Stratford, made the excuse it was a Victorian building. As we were waiting another hour in the waiting room, I was impressed at seeing the modern escalator, glass walls and ticket gates were apparently a part of the original Victorian design, as it would have needed the assistance of Doctor Who to achieved this!

Waiting another 15 minutes outside for the same taxi as before, we slowly realised the last Virgin Train home was at 9.43pm and at was now 9pm, and basically we missed it and were now stuck overnight in London. I could not consider a coach because my wheelchair did not collapse.

So back to the relevant safety of St Pancras and the Euston Road, we had to book a room at the Premier Inn, costing £223 with breakfast! With no access to my evening meds, it was a painful night. We finally returned to Coventry 10.30am on Sunday, a full 24 hours since we left.

The mess was not because something went wrong but because Abelilo is a train operator who feels until now it has been acceptable to discriminate wheelchair users, but with my assistance, whether they want it or not, this is about to change so watch this space!

Does Scope’s #endtheawkward makes things worse?

On Friday, Scope launched its 2016 divisive campaign called #endtheawkward. The basis of the campaign is that based on its own dodgy research, two-thirds of non-impaired people find interacting with ‘disabled people’ awkward. So a bunch of non-impaired people as Scope’s campaign staff with ‘consultation from impaired people’ have decided they are qualified to teach the general public how to treat ‘disabled people’, i.e., with kid gloves.

My first question is what do they mean by awkwardness and ‘disabled people’, and how exactly do people find us awkward? The whole basis of the ‘two-thirds’ headline is meaningless as it ignores the complexity of impairment and disability. Individuals may have felt awkward because the disabled people they have encountered are loud activists with large chips on their shoulders!

Different levels of impairments have a different level of acceptance within society and those with speech impairments who drool are indeed awkward looking. Scope have however avoided using anyone with an awkward impairment in the campaign. Last year they had a video of someone stressing about which hand to shake when confronted with someone with one arm!

My main criticism of the campaign is that it is actually creating an awkwardness where it does not already exist and puts the general public on political correctness red alert, requesting them to ‘act normal’ in a manner that is totally artificial and well awkward. One example is this is that the campaign’s guidance suggest that it is incorrect to ask someone in a wheelchair to ‘go for a walk’ because it is insensitive! I do not know any impaired person who would find this offensive and for me, this shows how unqualified Scope’s non-impaired campaign team is.

No majority group (white, male, straight, non-impaired) has the right or experience to design training material on how to treat a minority group (black, female, gay, impaired). The fact members of the minority group may be consulted and involved as individuals does not mean that consultation is likely with the groups and organisations that have curved their cultural history, and so it is an invasion of their cultural norms which is patronising and offensive.

We can all tell ‘light-hearted’ horror stories based on assumptions made about one or more of our identity labels (gender, race, sexuality, impairment) that have some interest to our friends and family. However, I am uncomfortable when people use this in a public setting as a form of oppression humour, often with an undertone of bitterness towards to majority group’s ‘stupidity’. This type of humour, widely used within the disability movement, often makes too much light of the many problems they and others face.

In reading Scope’s long-term strategy, you will believe they were the one and only voice and campaigner on disability issues when this is very far from the case. This latest campaign mocks people with impairments, labelling them as the awkward freaks from society who must be treated especially normal so you, the dumb general public, don’t look like fools to the Guardian readers type watching your every move.

In 2016, most impaired and non-impaired people know how to interact with each other, if they indeed want to, without Scope wasting money on this kind of nonsense.

The oppressive roots of the paralympics

I have not been watching the Paralympics, not because I do not have admiration for our athletes, but simply because I have never enjoyed watching any kind of sport. I have always enjoyed taking part in a range of sports, knowing I may not be good at it as it is about having fun for me.

Since London 2012, and Channel 4 making a greater effort to televise the event, the Paralympics has been portrayed as a celebration of athletes with impairments. The use of ‘body beautiful’ imagery to promote the games has been divisive, causing vocal resentment from those with impairments who do not fit this media-fuelled excitement.

However, behind the razzmatazz and ‘coolness’ of the games, the Paralympics is just a sporting event. The game’s past shows the real original purpose of the games was a tool to manage people with impairments in a very different era.

The games are a British invention and were originally just for people with spinal injuries, where now it is for all people with a physical impairment. This fact is made clear because the birthplace of the games is Stoke Mandeville, connected to the hospital of the same name, which is one of the leading spinal injury units in the UK. As well as a well-equipped sports centre, the complex still has the first Paralympic village, which was a very institutional place when I visited it in the 1990s.

In the 1960s and 70s, impairment was a much bigger taboo, and people with impairments had far fewer opportunities. Rehabilitation was the keyword and people with spinal injuries would spend months in a hospital, followed most likely by a lifetime in residential care with no opportunity to be fully included in society.

So how could the professionals keep these unwanted of society occupied; sport? This form of rehabilitation was the real birth of the games, a form of distraction for those unfit for society. While things in the UK may have changed, this attitude and practice may still exist in other countries, where attitudes towards impairment are less developed.

Behind the scenes, the games are still dominated by non-impaired officials, coaches and so on. It is also worth noting, without undermining the achievements of athletes, that the route from grass roots disability sport to the Paralympics is shorter than mainstream sport, because there are fewer people competing, and because of the impairment-specific classification system. This means athletes with impairments are more likely to reach the top of their game.

Even now with British Paralympians, for many young people with impairments, their sporting career can be an only few years gap between the realities of needing a longer term career, etc., as competitive sports are mostly a young person’s game for the most part.

The Paralympics may be currently hailed as the blueprint for people with impairments place in modern society, but underneath the covers of its new fashionableness than you will see that it is a symbol of segregation and the power non-impaired people still have over people with impairments, even when it is not so obvious.

Is the third sector making a mockery of research?

While I was in the hospital over the summer, I started to watch BBC Breakfast, out of boredom as opposed to anything else. Around 8.40am each morning, they had a ‘general information’ piece which often involved someone important from a charity talking about their latest research, backed up by a few personal stories from individuals who appeared to confirm the findings of the investigation, with no one challenging it.

The research piece of my day would likely be selected because it had sparked the interest of the journalist responsible for the segment as they trolled through the 100s of news releases sent to them by charities each day, especially from those charities with dedicated press officers.

The research itself, whatever the topic, is likely to conclude directly or indirectly that their organisation has the solution to the problem, leading to hopefully government funded ‘after work’.

The problem is that it is now so easy for anyone to claim to be capable of conducting research, often without any academic understanding. You just produce an online survey with a few questions, promote it on social media allowing anyone to fill it in, wait until you reached the necessary 100 marks, and finally, make a song and dance about the headline figures.

The notion of sampling and validity, the foundations of credible research, are lost and probably unheard of by the researcher. Since the research is conducting in the name of campaigning, it is likely to bias before it even started, because the charity knows the answer it is looking for, even if this is unconscious. So rather than researching ‘people’s household incomes’, the research is ‘the impact of poverty on households’, so immediately framing the research in a biased way.

Allowing anyone to fill out surveys, as oppose to having a controlled sample based on gender, location, relevance to the topic, etc., means those who have something to say, usually negative, are more likely to be attracted. This means that any research that provides an opportunity for people to complain about a topic that has affected them will attract those with negative experiences more than anyone else.

The questions may be simple but used by the researcher to jump to conclusions because the reasons have not been explored in a full interview. So if you ask ‘have you missed a meal in the last 28 days’, there may be many reasons why someone would say yes, including the fact they were simply not hungry. But if the research has been framed in terms of poverty, the researcher may unduly conclude that it is because of a lack of money.

The worse kind of research is ‘feeling based research’. It may be easy to ask ‘are you worried about losing your benefits’, or ‘do you feel you are worst off than 12 months ago’. But what someone’s feel may have nothing to do with what has happened and will happen. And simply asking these question in the context of indirect party based political campaigning may easily lead to charities getting the results they desire, and the ‘evidence’ to prove their existence.

I, therefore, propose everyone looks more carefully at research conducted by the third sector and asks who is really benefiting from it? Their mockery of an important academic discipline may not be able to be halted, but it can be ignored and discredited.