There are two things disabled activists tell me when I tell them that all people with impairments can contribute to society in one way or another, ideally in terms of paid work.
The first thing they say is ‘disabled people want to work but …’. My response to this is that if people really want to work, they will. For everyone with a specific level of impairment who is not working, there is likely an example of someone who is working.
Therefore the issue is attitude as people either choose for themselves or they are educated by others to believe a level of ability that is irrelevant to their impairment.
Disability is increasingly a learned political identity used to justify exclusion, especially for people with long term health conditions. The media continues to pour out cases of people with health conditions being rejected for disability benefits, and so the inferiority identity, to ignite pity and anger from a public who fears their own frailty which seeing people with impairments portrays.
The second thing activists say is that ‘of course they believe disabled people should be supported to work if they want.’. This appearing to be a begrudging statement as it does not challenge their belief most people with impairments are unfit for work/society.
They appear to argue people with impairments are not socially responsible citizens but still demand the parts of equality that suits them. Everyone indeed has the ability to do or not do anything they are capable of doing so long as they take responsibility for the consequences.
If anyone else refuses to work or look for work then they will not financially be supported by the state. They may indeed have the legal right not to work but they may have a moral responsibility to work for their families and others to provide a good income.
The only real way route of poverty on a personal level is to obtain paid work. If we continue to allow a self-definition of disability to permit a culture of lifelong state dependency and reward for passivity, the world becomes an unfair place. I believe in the principle that work should play but I am also aware it is often not that simple.
Having an impairment should not by default give disabled people the right not to work. When society and the media argue for ‘mercy’ for people with minor impairments, consider them, in kindness, burdens of society. we must wonder how they regard people considered to have severe impairments.
Some activists see paid employment as the enemy of disabled people and supporting people into work as an abusive practice. I believe employment can instead be a liberation as it fulfils people’s need to be valued. It is therefore both a right and a responsibility.
If people really believe in the inclusion of all people with impairments, the notion of the responsibility to seek employment as a goal to seek for everyone must be a norm. Right now, the assumption is often most people with impairments can not work unless proven otherwise, and this is what we need to challenge.
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