It is often said generally that it is wrong to judge people with impairments, or indeed anyone else, solely in terms of ability to do paid work as the method of contributing to society. While I completely agree with this, I also feel this should not be used as an excuse not to push people with impairments to reach their potential. This means that paid work should not be simply ruled out because of assumptions made about what someone with specific impairments can or can not do.
We also need to be honest about the fact many people with impairments will not see paid employment as their central purpose in life, which is perfectly normal. For those who do not regard paid employment as their calling, the lure would be the income it provides them to enable other aspects of their life. Being dependent on benefits as the sole method of income can only ever afford people a level of poverty in comparison with others.
What appears to be broken is the desire of have an improved quality of life, and society’s willingness to afford this ability of betterment to all people with impairments. The focus of many welfare activists is to assume that paid employment, in all its many forms, is outside of the possibilities of many people with impairments, and therefore the focus of the state should be to provide them with a comfortable level of acceptable poverty as people excluded from the rights and responsibilities of mainstream society.
This low expectation of the contribution of many people with impairments is without doubt discriminatory, despite the fact it is currently positively framed in terms of human rights. Those who wish to push people with impairments to achieve their full potential are accused by welfare activists of labelling them as ‘benefit scroungers’ as a method of discredited the inclusion into paid employment. It is disheartening when the United Nations has ruled against the government’s efforts to support more people with impairments into paid employment, arguing it is their legal right to be thrown on the scrapheap, and labelled as worthless!
We should have the same expectations of people with impairments as we have for everyone else. If paid employment is not the end goal, than it is the means to enjoying other aspects of life. It should not be a case of wanting to work, but more about having a responsibility to work, and reaching your full potential. While I am aware that the practicalities of doing this is not fully in place currently, we should ensure that the right attitude exists, which I believe is not the case.
While it is the responsibility of individuals to achieve their potential, it is the responsibility of society and the state to support individuals to do this. The start of this happening is an unconditional belief that everyone has something to positively contribute to society. The problem is that in terms of people with impairments, this simply does not exist, and there is little encouragement for it to exist. I do not know of any other activist or organisation, other than the Government, who is willing to proudly state all people with impairments have a contribution to make. This fact shows the real prejudice people with impairments face in 21st century Britain.