Sorry, am I not ‘properly disabled’ enough for you?

A climate of suspicion has been encouraged around disability

James Moore
Tuesday 06 December 2022 14:25 GMT
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“Could you act a bit more blind for me, love?” I’m paraphrasing a bit there. But this is basically what happened to a friend of mine while they were taking part in some filming.

The director couldn’t seem to work out that blind people don’t act like the zombies from Scooby Doo, pawing helplessly at the air when confronted by a door knob. Fun fact: doors are things they can handle perfectly well.

We like to think we are evolved in Britain, but society’s addiction to static tropes concerning disabled people is naggingly persistent. This has a real impact on our daily lives.

My friend recently started using a cane and is looking to get a guide dog. They started off shuffling at the side of the street because that’s what blind people do, right? “Then I thought, no, why should I? Why should I conform to a stereotype that isn’t me? Now I walk confidently in the middle of the street because I can.”

I was almost tearing up at that point in the conversation. Because yes, I confess, I’ve been guilty of much the same thing. I have a terminal addiction to vinyl records but the racks are rarely at a wheelchair-friendly height. The thing is, I can stand. I sometimes wobble a bit. My balance isn’t great. I once frightened the life out a member of staff at Rough Trade East when I forget to put the brakes on the chair, tried to back into it and ended up hitting the deck. Charlie Chaplin couldn’t have pulled off a better pratfall.

However, that was a one off and the racks are plenty solid enough for me to lean against while I flick through their contents with the aim of causing grievous bodily harm to my bank balance. But I confess to looking around shiftily when I do.

Is this the time some rube decides to berate me for not being properly disabled? Will the police suddenly descend on the shop? “Sir, you’re under arrest for using a wheelchair when you can stand. We’ve a space for you in the van next to the Black kid we arrested from being in possession of a hoodie and a woman wearing a suffragette scarf.”

Well, maybe not. It’s less the old bill that disabled people have to worry about than it is members of the public. This, sadly, sometimes includes other people with disabilities. A woman I follow on Twitter recently told the story of how she got up out of her wheelchair to pick something up only to find herself berated by another wheelchair user for, what, not being disabled enough? Note to the bloke who did this: disabilities aren’t always consistent.

Some of us have good days when we can maybe stand and, yes, pick things up – followed by days when we’re not much good for anything. Which is when idiots like me have really nasty falls that lead to more broken bones. There are 2 million legally blind people in Britain of which a proportion (like my friend) can see a little but are nonetheless severely sight impaired.

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I can’t help thinking that this sea of ignorance in which we’re asked to attempt to swim stems from the lack of visibility disabled people suffer from – and the tendency of broadcasters, and the directors they hire, to tell “beneficiaries” to “be a bit more blind for me love” when they remember that we exist and decide to indulge in a little light tokenism.

It is also true that disability languishes in the lower reaches of the equality and diversity league, which means that the problem is rarely discussed. Our wretched government also bears a heavy burden of responsibility. It seems to view disability solely in terms of costs and has cynically encouraged a climate of suspicion around it as a result.

My friend, whose story I told at the beginning of this column, handles this with remarkable grace. They are of the belief that it is better to be gentle, and politely try to explain that blind people can handle door knobs to directors whose attitudes towards disability are stuck in the 1950s. I wish I could be that way.

When I’m not so knackered that I have to content myself with swearing under my breath, I’m apt to go in with both barrels. Disability is bad enough without having to grapple with the disabling impact of people who ought to know better.

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