OPINION: 2012: Year of the Disabled?
Reporter: John Hardcastle
Date online: 05 January 2012
“You know the hardest thing about having cerebral palsy and being a woman? It’s plucking your eyebrows. That’s how I originally got pierced ears.” Geri Jewel
Twenty one years ago this week, the United Nations declared 1981 as the Year of the Disabled Person. We were all encouraged to talk to the person in the wheelchair rather than the person pushing it.
It was the year that Ian Dury wrote ‘Spasticas Autisticus’.
The year was judged to be a success and now, every 3 December is deemed International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Later on the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ was established. From 1983-1993 the ‘The International Decade of Disabled Persons’ was declared.
So, twenty one years after the Year of the Disabled Person, things should be going along swimmingly for the non able-bodied shouldn’t it? Well, unfortunately there seems to be a bit of a sea-change in the lot of the disabled and they have become, yet again, an ‘Aunt Sally’; fair game for anyone to take a pot shot at.
Currently, the government is trying its damndest to remove entitlement to Disability Living Allowance from hundreds of thousands of people. The TV companies and press are jostling with each other up to make programmes or selling copy exposing the odd disabled benefit cheat.
Even our own RMBC thought nothing of covering the designated disabled parking bays at the bottom of Yorkshire Street with market stalls from Bradford in the run up to Christmas.
The Mail on Sunday falsely claimed to have discovered that 3,200 parents of children with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were driving around in taxpayer-funded Motability vehicles when in fact the actual number as attested to by the DWP is about 100. Still, it’s not just the Mail on Sunday who is out to demonise the disabled.
On the RO forum, the ‘usual suspects’ are in full hue and cry as they join in the hunt for potential Blue Badge fraudsters. Some have the strange and uniformed notion that anyone not actually in a wheelchair should not really be taking up a disabled spot.
These ‘usual suspects’ of course have no direct experience of disability themselves, produce no facts or figures to support their case but as is usual, those with the most vociferous opinions on any given subject are often the least qualified to commentate.
It seems that there is now an atmosphere throughout the land of a presumption that anyone with a Blue Badge or on Disability Living Allowance is involved in fraud of some sort and that the job of the Government and of responsible citizenry is to catch them out in some way.
Little is said about those fully able-bodied drivers or ‘cash-point cripples’ who regularly park their cars in disabled spots. No crackdown on them apparently.
No doubt there are those out there who have found a way of cheating the system and when they are caught they should be dealt with appropriately. However, let’s approach this by seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. Let’s have a return to that good old stalwart of British justice, the presumption of innocence.
Do we want a society that is totally devoid of concern or compassion, or do we accept that in the case of chronic illness or disability, we should try to do what is reasonable and practicable to try to level out the playing field to assist those affected to live out their lives with something approaching dignity?
I know it’s asking a bit much but I’d like the year 2012 to witness a return to those old ‘British’ virtues of tolerance and fair-play.
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