Disabled people can be worse off if they return to work

People with disabilities, whom the government urges to return to work, find that doing so often means they end up being financially worse off.

It’s all because for many sick and disabled people, including those of us with multiple sclerosis, self-employment is the only realistic option. Regrettably, this is because they face heavy discrimination in the employment market. Even though such discrimination is illegal, proving it is another matter.

Benefits guru Steve Donnison, of campaigning organisation Benefits and Work.co.uk, said: “Yet again, they are being punished by the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) for the offence of being sick or disabled.”

The problem appears to stem from the way in which the self-employed are being treated under universal credit.

Writing on the benefitsandwork.co.uk website, Donnison explains: “A report by Policy in Practice has revealed that, if universal credit had already been fully rolled out across London, the average self-employed household would be £344 a month worse off than under tax credits and housing benefit.

“The huge drop in income is caused by the DWP using a ‘Minimum Income Floor (MIF)’ which minimum wage for every hour they are deemed to have worked.

“In reality, 91% of self-employed households in London, where the study was carried out, earn below the MIF,” he added.

Some years ago, I was self-employed, as a freelance consultant. From experience, I can say that not only are working hours liable to have lower income than the minimum wage, but that self-employment hours are likely to be fewer than a traditional working week.

Welfare reform rethink urged

universal creditAccording to The Guardian daily newspaper, the report’s revelation has led MPs and campaigners to call for a rethink on the government’s flagship welfare reform. It said:

Frank Field, the Labour chair of the work and pensions select committee, said it was ‘another razor cut at the vulnerable human underbelly of the labour market’. The government has already been forced to slow down the roll-out of universal credit and overhaul how claimants are paid after complaints that some waiting weeks for their payments and falling behind with their rent.

However, serious problems have now emerged in the treatment of the self-employed because of the way their earnings are recorded under universal credit. The issues have arisen because a “minimum income floor” (MIF), based on the national living wage, is used to calculate universal credit payments each month.

Because self-employed workers’ earnings fluctuate from month to month, they sometimes fail to meet the minimum figure and lose out compared with salaried counterparts. They are also only given a year to get their businesses off the ground before the MIF kicks in. Using analysis of cases from 19 London boroughs over two years, Policy in Practice found that 78% of self-employed households on low-income in London are set to become £344 per month worse off under the new system.

Ministers argue that the system has been designed to encourage people to increase their work and move into better jobs. However, the new report warns that some people (such as those with disabilities) have little choice other than self-employment.

Simplify the welfare system

But who, or what, is Policy in Practice, publisher of the report?

Its director, Deven Ghelani, “Policy in Practice believes the welfare system can work more effectively. It can help people towards greater independence if we make it simple for people and organisations to understand.

“We simplify the welfare system by showing people how policy affects them.

“We show local authorities how individual households are affected by all policy changes, now and in the future.

“We talk to government on a national level to influence policy.”

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Unexpected fall in disability benefit paid to older people

Fewer older people are today paid attendance allowance (AA), a disability benefit, despite an increase in the UK’s elderly population.

Government figures show that the number of people over retirement age who receive the benefit has plummeted since 2011.

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Sarah Newton MP, minister for disabled people.

The figures were released by minister for disabled people Sarah Newton, in a written answer to a question from North Wales Labour MP Chris Ruane,

They say the number of recipients of AA has fallen from 1.6 million in 2011 to 1.435 million in 2017. That’s a fall of more than 10% in just six years.

This has alarmed campaigners because the growing population of older people suggests the number of AA claimants should be increasing.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in 2017 that the share of the population aged 65 or older was growing. It said the sector was “projected to continue to grow to nearly a quarter of the population by 2045”.

ONS added that the 65+ sector rose from 15.9% in 2005 to 17.8% in 2015.

It seems likely that all the controversy over personal independence payment (PIP) replacing disability living allowance (DLA), and the associated reassessments, has prevented much attention being given to AA.

Astonishing dramatic fall

Co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, Linda Burnip said: “At a time when we’re constantly told we have an ageing population it seems astonishing that the number of people getting AA has fallen so dramatically.

“The only reasons I can think of to explain this phenomenon are that for the first time in decades people are dying younger due to austerity and that secret changes to the qualifying guidelines have been sneaked through somewhere at some time.”

Charity director of Age UK, Caroline Abrahams said: “Given that longevity is increasing, it is surprising to hear that the number of those claiming attendance allowance has fallen.

“We are concerned that many older people who should be receiving this vital support are missing out and would urge anyone who thinks they may be eligible to get in touch with Age UK to arrange a benefits check.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “The government has made no significant changes to attendance allowance rules over the last few years and has no plans to cut spending on it.

“Expenditure on attendance allowance was £5.6 billion in 2016-17 and is forecast to rise to £5.9 billion by 2021-22.

“The number of people claiming AA can fluctuate due to demographic and other societal changes.

“Also, people over 65 with care needs can continue to receive DLA or PIP, so it’s not right to just look at AA in isolation.”

While that last point is true, I’d say we need to remember that the change from DLA to PIP is also cutting the numbers of people being paid a disability benefit.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, or another festival – disabled or not – let’s all be happy

Season’s greetings to one and all, family, friends, neighbours, acquaintances, and all my readers alike.

If you are disabled and find this season a challenge, be sure to pace yourself. As almost 17 years have passed since I received a diagnosis of having MS, I understand it can be difficult. It is easy to get caught up with enthusiastic family members and friends. But, your health matters, so please stay in control and don’t do more than you can manage.

Papa Noel.

This time of year is full of festivities, not just Christmas which, although supposedly marking the birth of Christ, has become a secular celebration. I say ‘supposedly’ because scholars of history say he was actually born in April. Christmas was only put in December by the early church to take over from the pagan festival of yule and the birth of the sun king.

Other holidays that are celebrated widely in December include: Judaism’s Hanukkah, Buddhism’s Bodhi Day (day of enlightenment), and Kwanzaa, which is a Pan-African festival popular in the US.

And here in Spain, the 12th day of Christmas – January 6 – is the main fiesta. It is the Dia de Los Reyes, or Three Kings Day.

Three Kings Day

This is the day that the children of Spain, and other Hispanic countries, traditionally get presents for Christmastime.

While children from other parts of the world eagerly await Santa Claus on Christmas Eve night, children here look forward to the evening of January 5. Then, children leave shoes by the door in the hope that the three kings will leave gifts for the morning. Does that sound familiar?

These days, though, Santa Claus seems to be displacing the traditional Three Kings at Christmastime in Spain. Santa Claus is becoming more common, but even families that choose to embrace “Papa Noel” also tend to wait for the Kings.

three kings

Three Kings parade.

The arrival of the Three Kings on the evening of January 5 is marked throughout Spain. Melchor, Gazpar and Baltasar (the African king) appear in parades through villages, towns, and cities. These also feature floats from which locals throw handfuls of sweets to the children waiting in the streets.

Just as it is traditional for nativity scenes not to include the baby Jesus until Christmas Day, the wise men, or three kings, are added later. The images of the wise men are moved closer to Bethlehem over the Christmas season. They arrive at the stable on the 6th.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.  

Disabled politician condemns government’s ‘suffer and die’ policies

New Labour MP Jared O’Mara, who has a disability, has accused the Conservative government of introducing policies in the hope that disabled people will “suffer and die”. It is a view with which I find it hard to disagree.

O’Mara is now one of just a few disabled MPs, he has cerebral palsy, in the UK´s House of Commons. At the general election, he won Sheffield Hallam from former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Clegg was also deputy prime minister in the 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

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Jared O’Mara MP.

Speaking to Disability News Service (DNS), O’Mara said he knew that his comments would be controversial. But he said he firmly believed that Tory ministers had “completely torn up the welfare system” which had previously supported disabled people. He particularly criticised cuts and reforms to disability benefits, the decision to close the Independent Living Fund, and cuts to social care.

“They want disabled people to suffer and die. That’s literally what’s happening.

“Disabled people are out there suffering and dying because they have not got the financial means and financial support and nor have they got the legal means to lead an equal life, or even to lead a satisfactory life.

“I’m not going to shy away from it, people might say I am taking it too far, but as far as I am concerned, what I have seen and what has happened across the board, it’s been eugenics1.”

He promised that he would be “taking no prisoners” as an MP, and would “call them out on this”.

He said: “There are people just like me and people who have got conditions that make things even worse for them than mine does, and they are dying and they are suffering.

“I am in it to shine a light where the mainstream (media) do not shine a light and where the Tories (Conservatives) are turning their backs.”

He said he “absolutely” endorses efforts by user-led anti-cuts groups such as Black Triangle to secure a criminal prosecution of Duncan Smith and fellow former work and pensions minister Chris Grayling.

In December, Scottish authorities decided not to investigate the refusal of the two ministers to improve the safety of the government’s “fitness for work” test. This was despite evidence that the refusal caused the deaths of at least three benefit claimants with mental health conditions.

Coroner warned DWP about disabled tests

This evidence mirrored flaws uncovered by a coroner in January 2010, following an earlier suicide. The coroner passed his findings, as a warning to the Department for Work and Pensions.  This was a few weeks before Duncan Smith and Grayling took up their new posts following the 2010 general election.

Duncan Smith and Grayling failed to act on the coroner’s warning.  Campaigners, and families of some of those who died, believe this failure led to further deaths.

O’Mara said: “The legal system is ‘innocent until proven guilty’. We need to ascertain that (innocence or guilt) with what Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling did.

“If they’ve not done anything wrong then they can walk free. If they have done wrong then they can be punished.

“I believe there is a case to answer and they should go there. I support that campaign without reservation,” he said.

1 Eugenics is the idea that society can be improved by selecting those who are allowed to survive and breed (definitions of eugenics vary).

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

Awards for good attendance discriminate against sick and disabled

It’s time to take my hat off and salute the eminently sensible views of a mother who talks about her two sons. One chronically disabled with severe cerebral palsy, the other fit and well with a perfect school attendance record.

attendance

JJ, left, with his elder brother who has cerebral palsy. (Pic: Rachel Wright).

And that’s where mum, Rachel Wright of Essex in England, put her foot down.

You see, 10-year-old younger son JJ, was to be given an award by his school for perfect attendance. That is, until his mum took to Facebook to explain why her son won’t be accepting the award.

Rachel gave four reasons for the decision:

  • We don’t reward luck. In this family, we will think of as many reasons possible to praise our children. We will celebrate and reward them, but being lucky enough not to get sick is not one of them. He’s lucky to have not developed a fever, had an accident or live with a chronic illness.
  • 100% Attendance Awards can demonise the weakest. In this family, you are not shamed for ill health, vulnerability or weakness. In this house, you are not encouraged to spread germs when you are not well. We look after ourselves and the weakest among us.
  • JJ had no control over his 100% attendance. In this family, you don’t take praise for something you didn’t do. He had no control over his attendance. I took him to school and it would have been my decision to keep him off. I should get the reward (or not) for his attendance.
  • We are taking him out of school for five days at the end of term (with permission from school). In this family, we value school and work but we also know the importance of making memories and having rest. So, our son will finish his school year one week early and go to Italy instead of class parties, watching films and playing end of year games.

Attendance awards send wrong message to children

Rachel said she believes that a reward for good attendance sends the wrong message to children. On Facebook, she wrote: “What on earth are we teaching our kids about value and worth? What are we teaching them about looking out for each other and looking after the sick or disabled in our community?”

As she mentioned in her post, JJ’s brother, who is aged 11, has severe disabilities.

She said: “As the parent of a severely disabled child, I have a strong aversion to rewarding children for not being sick. It is important that as a family we value all people and that sickness does not mean rewards are forfeited. Being sick means you are cared for, not punished. Since our eldest son was born, our values have changed and our perspective altered.”

Rachel has since said she’s planning an alternative event for JJ to have a fun time at a play centre with other kids from his school. And that includes children with and without perfect attendance. The original award would have included an evening at the play centre for JJ.

She has written about her journey as a parent of a child with special needs in her memoir, The Skies I’m Under. She said she hopes her book, blog and recent viral Facebook post will make people think twice about things like attendance awards.

“I hope they consider the ways they view children and adults with disabilities or chronic conditions. I hope that we can have a mature discussion about how we value and need to reward things that children actually have control over determining,” she added.

27,000+ Facebook likes

Up to date, the original post has attracted more than 27,000 likes plus many comments both for and against her stand.

I must admit, awards for good attendance is an issue that I had not previously considered. Having said that, though, she is right. How can it be ok to reward someone for doing something because they are lucky enough to enjoy good health? That is just an insult to people who are sick or disabled – through no fault of their own. An insult to people like JJ’s brother with cerebral palsy, or to people like me with multiple sclerosis.

In fact, it all reminds me of my years spent in the past as an adult leader in the Scouts. Scouts promise to ‘do their best’, and we used that when deciding who was awarded each badge. A more able child would be expected to do more, a less able one would do less. The key was, did we believe that a child had done his or her best?

In the end, isn’t that all we can ask?

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Features Writer with Medical News Today. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

Dispelling myths about disability

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The following blog was published in the Huffington Post and I think it is worthy of some comment and discussion. Please feel free to leave your opinions.

Headlined Basic Myths about Disability I Can’t Believe We Still Have to Debunk, the original blog was written by Sarah Blahovec, pictured left, described as an advocate for individuals with disabilities. Her words are in medium type, mine are in bold.

To be honest, I was really hoping that what I’m about to write was common knowledge by now. I really wish that society in general understood disability better, but in light of a number of concerning articles recently, from a USA Today article about people “faking” disability during travel, to a New York Times Magazine article about parents stunting the growth of disabled children through estrogen treatments, it seems necessary to counter the basic inaccurate beliefs people have about disability and those who live with it. Below are a few of the most popular myths.

Myth: If you’re in a wheelchair, you can’t walk

This week, a USA Today article called out “fakers” who allegedly make up a disability to get special privileges when traveling. In this article, examples include people who are able to stand in a buffet line or in the airport, but are later seen in wheelchairs during priority boarding. The author seemed incredulous that somebody who used a wheelchair could also stand, and accused those who are able to stand of faking a disability.

This is true, I can walk about 15 metres with assistance and stand for maybe two minutes but otherwise I do need to use a wheelchair.

Truth: You do not have to be paralysed to need a wheelchair

There are millions of individuals with invisible disabilities in the United States. These disabilities are not immediately apparent, but the pain and other symptoms that come along with them can be extremely debilitating. Take, for example, Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a disease in which the immune system attacks the myelin that covers nerves, damaging the central nervous system. Symptoms include fatigue and mobility issues, and vary from day-to-day and severity. About 400,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million people worldwide have MS. Keep in mind that this is just one invisible disability that can cause someone to need a wheelchair without being paralysed. There are many other disabilities and diagnoses that can cause chronic pain, fatigue, mobility problems, and other symptoms that necessitate a wheelchair.

It is true that paralysis is not required, nor should it be expected of someone using a reserved parking bay.

Myth: Only people with mobility disabilities have an accessible parking placard

On a similar note, we’ve all seen articles in which someone has left a rude note on the windshield of someone who “doesn’t look disabled” but has parked in an accessible parking spot. The people who leave these notes probably think they are being good Samaritans, protecting those who are “truly in need” from those who borrow grandma’s placard. However, they are neglecting, and possibly targeting, those with invisible disabilities.

It is certainly aggravating to see someone park in a space reserved for someone with a disability, only to see him or her walk away swiftly and unaided. Time to check for a disability card!

Truth: There are many conditions beyond visible mobility impairments that necessitate a parking placard

Heart conditions. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Lung disease. An amputation that may not immediately be visible. Fibromyalgia. People with invisible disabilities may not “look disabled” to you, but they are. They received the proper documentation from their doctor, and they went through the process to receive a placard. Chances are that when you’re calling out someone who “doesn’t look disabled” for parking in an accessible space, you are actually targeting somebody who has one of these or many other conditions that qualify them for a placard. You might even cause stress and worry that worsen their symptoms. So, instead of passive aggressively leaving a note on a windshield, leave the policing to police, and understand that the person who just parked in that space and walked out of their car may have challenges that you cannot see.

Yes, there are invisible illnesses and disabilities that are not always obvious and we shouldn’t always judge by first impressions. But some parking cards DO get abused by family members, so it never hurts to ask someone if he or she has a disability.

Myth: “Disabled” is a negative word. It’s always better to say “person with a disability”

There are a number of resources on people-first language (PFL). The mantra “see the person, not the disability,” has become extremely common when talking about disability language. Many people insist that this is the “proper way to talk about disability”—even going as far as correcting the language preferences of the disabled. I have been corrected about saying “disabled” instead of “person with a disability,” and I know many others who have received the same criticism.

Here, I need to state my opinion clearly. I wholeheartedly agree with everyone who says ‘I am a person with a disability’. I am me, describe me as a journalist or as a blogger. By all means say that I am a journalist/blogger who has multiple sclerosis or who has a disability. But never, ever, describe me as disabled.

Truth: Many disabled people prefer identify-first language (IFL)

Within the disability community, there is a popular school of thought called the social model of disability. The social model of disability does not see the group of people known as “disabled” as disabled by their individual impairments (the “medical” part of their disability), but by the fact that society does not consider their differences normal, and therefore does not accommodate them. In this train of thought, someone in a wheelchair is not disabled by not walking. In fact, using a wheelchair is just as natural to them as walking is to those who walk. They are disabled by the fact that a building does not have accessible ramps. The deaf are not disabled by their inability to hear, but by the fact that there is not an interpreter, or there is no closed captioning on a video.

Because of this, many disabled people see themselves as disabled by society. They see their disability as part of their identity, as a fundamental part of their experiences as a person. They do not separate the disability from themselves. It is not something that they carry around; in fact, many see PFL as an erasure of the obstacles they face, just like those who call themselves “colorblind” to race fail to recognize the pervasive societal obstacles to racial minorities.

Anybody has a right to determine their language preferences. Some like PFL, and some like IFL. Their personal preferences should be respected. To correct those who use IFL because they do not separate themselves from disability ignores the fact that they have a very legitimate reason to identify themselves in this way.

If that is how some people prefer to identify themselves, then that is their right. But those of us who prefer ‘people first’ have our rights too.

Myth: Disabled people are so inspirational. Look how they manage to live with such a burden!

Society largely views the disabled in one of two ways: as objects of inspiration, or as objects of pity. In both cases, the disabled are objects of the (non-disabled) person’s viewpoint. This is reflected in feel-good news stories: the football captain invites the disabled girl to prom. The restaurant employee is seen helping a man in a wheelchair eat. It is also reflected in popular memes: one you might be familiar with is the young amputee running on running blades, with the caption “the only disability in life is a bad attitude!”

In the disability community, this is known as Inspiration Porn, a term coined by late disability activist Stella Young in her iconic Ted Talk. The disabled are used as objects of a story to make non-disabled people feel better about their lives or humanity. Most of these stories also fail to interview the disabled person, but will interview other actors, such as the good Samaritan or the disabled person’s family. When the disabled say that they don’t like these stories, they are often told that they are bitter or ungrateful. After all, someone is being nice to you. Why don’t you accept it?

This is a good point. Years ago, I was involved as an adult leader in the Scout movement in the UK. There were numerous awards and commendations given for outstanding feats such as saving a life. All well and good, but I could never agree with the notion of presenting an award to a young scout for ‘bravely’ coping with an illness or disability. I saw this as an example of ‘Inspirational Porn’.

Truth: Disabled people are just people, and want to be treated as such

Inspiration porn is infantilising and condescending. It is a type of reporting that operates under the assumption that the disabled have lives that are inherently less enjoyable or valuable than non-disabled lives. When they get out of bed in the morning, live a normal life, and do everyday things, they are just so inspiring! This narrative promotes the idea that the disabled are in need of help or encouragement in doing basic tasks, and that people who help them with these tasks, even if they are not asked for their help, are heroes for helping them. However, when it comes to real things that the disabled want to do, such as hold a job or participate in a sport, they are immediately seen as a liability. After all, if it is such an achievement for them to get out of bed every day, how could they possibly perform at the same level of a non-disabled person?

It is true that we should all be kind to each other, and the football captain who invited the disabled girl to prom was doing a nice, innocent thing for a friend. That isn’t wrong, as long as it involves actions that are truly wanted by both parties (as opposed to unsolicited and unwanted help or attention). Kindness isn’t wrong. What’s wrong is that acts of kindness towards the disabled have become a genre of media that reduces disabled people to objects of pity or inspiration in stories that focus on the “heroic” actions of the non-disabled. We don’t want that. We want to be recognized as regular people. We want others to understand that our disabilities do not make our lives less valuable or less enjoyable; in fact, many of us take pride in our disabilities. In the words of Stella Young, we are not your inspiration. We are normal people, and we deserve to be treated as such.

I am not at all sure about the phrase ‘many of us take pride in our disabilities’. Certainly, I have no pride in having MS but choose to deal with it positively – by ‘living with it’ and not ‘suffering from it’.

Don’t be shy, please let me know your thoughts on all this.

 

Stopping abuse of parking bays for disabled people

Not all physical disabilities, let alone the mental ones, are necessarily apparent to other people – and by ‘other people’ I include those of us who live with more obvious physical disabilities.

As just one example, let’s look at car parking bays denoted by the well known wheelchair symbol that are reserved for people with disabilities – and by that I mean people possessing the relevant document to allow them to use one of those bays. In the UK these are ‘parking cards’ but are popularly referred to as ‘blue badges’, in the USA they are generally known as ‘parking placards’ while in Canada they are called ‘parking permits’.

Different rules exist for each country, so users have to know where they may and may not park, but I am sure similar issues exist all over the world.

So, let’s look at the country I know best – the UK – and the use of parking bays for disabled people. These are reserved for blue badge holders who only obtain those by receiving one of a certain range of disability benefits or have gone through a pretty rigorous application process for the badge itself.

Now imagine this scene. A car pulls into a parking bay reserved for a person with a disability, the driver puts a blue badge on display and walks away from the vehicle without a walking aid and without any obvious sign of a disability.

Of course it is possible that another member of the family is improperly using the blue badge but is it possible that the correct person, the one with a disability, is whom has just walked away? Well, not all disabilities are obvious, some are known as ‘invisible disabilities’ and a person walking without a mobility aid of some kind might still be in considerable pain.

If someone is not receiving a benefit that automatically entitles him or her to a blue badge, that person has to undergo a walking ability assessment. In general terms, such a person will only be able to get a blue badge if he or she can walk only with great difficulty, at an extremely slow pace or with excessive pain.

Remember, though, anyone who is used to living in pain is usually very good at hiding it.

I have to admit that, in the past, I have on occasion been guilty of making rash judgements relating to someone’s walking ability on leaving a vehicle in a blue badge bay. Fortunately, my misguided comments never got outside my car and were quickly countered by my wife Lisa who, quite rightly, pointed out that all disabilities are not obvious just by looking.

It is more important to trust those who assess people’s abilities before issuing blue badges and to ensure that parking facilities provided for the benefit of drivers or passengers with disabilities are not abused. We need to protect our parking bays from abuse by anyone without a blue badge or by someone misusing a badge issued for a family member who is not in the car at that time.

It is not our, or anyone else’s, place to cast doubt on another’s right to have a blue badge or whatever the parking permit is called in any particular country.