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Did you know July is Disability Pride Month?
According to Wikipedia, it “initially started as a day of celebration in 1990 – the year that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law”. It’s spread globally, if haphazardly, and the disabled community in the UK is taking it increasingly to heart.
While I don’t want to discourage the happy vibes, it’s a good opportunity to expose some of the darker prejudices that continue to besiege disabled people.
Let’s dive in…
The Blue Badge
Free parking everywhere, eh? I’ve seen you all lined up, not only in your own bays but on the yellow lines. You must save a bloody packet, especially in London.
It confounds me how poorly understood Blue Badge parking is, although I do recognise that the scheme is an outdated muddle.
Old timers like me know how to use it efficiently, but let’s say this slowly: It. Is. Not. A. Free. Pass. To. Parking. Everywhere.
It never has been. This leads on to ‘disabled bays’ in central London and other cities. They’re never enough and fraudulent use by non-disabled people is widespread. There’s the rub – it looks like we’re parking everywhere when the chances are it’s not even a disabled person in one!
Bays can lead to altercations. “Disabled bays, wow, I’ve had [non-disabled] people become violent towards me as I asked for them to move,” one disabled friend told me.
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A Free Car!
Bloody hell, a brand-new car again? Lucky you. Some of us don’t have that luxury or the money!
As with much bigotry, it’s all about what’s seen and perceived without any context or fact-based understanding.
The Motability Scheme allows some disabled people to put a component of their benefits towards a vehicle which suits their needs. I love my car and appreciate those who campaigned in the past for such a scheme.
Any notion of ‘privilege’ must be offset against an inarguable reality: only a small percentage of public transport is accessible to wheelchair users and those with other impairments. The service in general does not support us all – if you have a chronic health condition you cannot wait for your hourly bus in a rural town.
The Motability Scheme, too, is complex. At the end of the process, old cars are sucked up by greedy dealers who make an absolute fortune on resale. The vehicle is never free and comes against the backdrop of highly-compromised freedoms that non-disabled people take for granted.
“Ooh a brand new car every few years, it’s alright for some!” they sneered to another of my contacts.
Bus and Rail Travel
Free parking and free cars? AND you can get a Freedom Pass and railcard forever!
Thanks to the parking nightmares of the Blue Badge system, and the scandalous abuse of them by non-disabled people, I’m forced to travel by rail. I love my Disabled Persons Railcard, particularly for those journeys to hospital and work appointments in central London.
But. It. Is. Not. Free.
The card allows me a discount on tickets for myself and my personal assistant, lessening the penalty I face from needing another person with me at all times. As for travel passes, they are dependent on area, journey and time. Applications are not always accessible and guidelines regarding PAs are confusing.
Other comments shared with me demonstrate how little non-disabled people understand our truths: “F*ck, what more do you people want?” and – wait for this one – “I wish I had a Freedom Pass”.
God, I’d love one of those things. You don’t really need it, do you – I saw you standing up in a shop… Must get you everywhere for free!
Despite my years of activism, the level of bigotry around wheelchairs still astonishes me. Not only about why we need them, but because – amazingly – each reason is different. Some disabled people, for instance, are ‘able-bodied’ and need a wheelchair.
While the non-disabled erroneously believe the wheelchair is a get-in-free card to every event and venue, they never see the frustration and the vast areas of life that do not have wheelchair access. Our newest non-disabled allies often find this the most shocking. Yes, we have the disability section of the Equality Act but often there are no resources to make it a reality.
Anyone can buy a wheelchair – it’s not an exclusive club. I absolutely dare the bigots to try living with one.
The comments relating to wheelchair users are often the ripest: “Someone’s got it easy” and “you’re in a wheelchair. You get to sit down all day”.
I love my power chair, which has prevented me from being house-bound for over 30 years and gave me freedom that was once unimaginable.
You have someone who can do everything for you… Like your own personal slave!
The prejudiced views regarding personal assistants arise, as these things do, out of ignorance and the inability to think beyond one’s own experience.
PAs are employed by disabled people often on direct payment schemes. I feel it is that level of control that incites jealous contempt. The ‘what I want, when I want it’ mantra from the independent living movement infuriates some, but it reflects what is taken for granted by those who didn’t need any social care support. It is not a privilege to have a PA – it is essential. Even if governments encourage the use of care homes (mostly run by their hedge fund buddies).
Comments on this theme include: “I would love to be a lady of leisure” and “I wish I could afford a maid/chef/chauffeur”. Of course, I think this every time a PA assists me with going to the toilet, when I need to…
There’s much more to expose about the ‘disability freeloader’. The benefits we get. “You earn more than I do – what do you need all that money for?” Such thoughts come from a scrounger-blaming culture encouraged by politicians as a neat deviation from their own failed policies. The Coronavirus death statistics say it all.
So I do celebrate Disability Pride Month and remember everything we’ve fought for. I believe that, despite the attacks, we remain strong in our activism. I’m proud of my disabled identity, proud I’ve fought hard with other activists all my life. That is where my pride lives within our community.
Penny Pepper is an award-winning author, poet and disabled activist whose work focuses on identity, difference and what makes us human