Thursday, 30 June 2011

Katie Price, Mencap, C4 & Me

In advance of Katie Price's documentary Standing up for Harvey, here is my blog reproduced from my website detailing my own battle with C4 and disablist humour.I'd hoped the fight I had would improve things clearly not.

After 4 months of battling to get Channel 4 and Ofcom to recognize that retard jibes on Celebrity Big Brother were offensive and that my original complaint of 31st of January should be upheld.On the 24th May 2010 Ofcom published the findings of a 3rd review panel held on 27th April.

We won.

Two words which after all the time and effort we put in should leave me glowing with happiness that dragons have been slain and common sense has triumphed.

Yet today I can’t shift the feeling, which I have returned to many times in the last four months, overwhelming sadness. I can’t stop asking questions.

Why did I have to devote 4 months of my life making Ofcom and C4 understand that disabled people have a right not to be degraded, only to have that right denied twice?

Why did Mencap have to commission a poll on the word retard and it’s abusive use and 750 people have to email their concerns and their own  experiences as disabled people, targeted by the word "retard" to Ofcom appealing their decision?

Why did the Elfrida Society members have to stage a protest outside Ofcom’s offices with placards reading "the word retard is no joke"?

Why didn’t the national press care enough to cover the story? 

Then as now with a couple of notable exceptions this chilling lack of interest, even from publications devoted to the issues raised, speaks volumes.

Ofcom's 3rd review system only came into being in November 2009. It is not automatically granted. There needs to be enough compelling evidence that the two prior reviews have been in some way flawed for the decision to grant a third, to be accepted.

It was gratifying to recieve a letter from Ofcom stating that my two previous(lengthy) emails had produced compelling evidence for the review to be granted.

This is only the second case that has been reviewed at the 3rd stage and the decision they reached is the first of it's kind. 
This is news.
Why is no-one covering it aside from reporting the Ofcom bulletin board.

The Jeremy Vine Show has my deep gratitude for devoting a considerable portion of their show last week by allowing me to tell the story and debating the issue.

My comment is free piece in The Guardian in April triggered the predictable “it’s an attempt to quash freedom of speech, it’s PC gone mad” reactions which I knew would come.

I wrote about the Ofcom battle and I also discussed humour generally and particularly the small but worrying trend of the comedy of cruelty by it's favourite son Frankie Boyle.
The mocking and objectifying of disability framed around a stereotypical view of disabled people seems to be a lucrative business for him and Jimmy Carr.They are thankfully in the minority.

My piece garnered 250 replies with all but a few of them negative and  made for pretty grim viewing.I didn't want to wade through them but I was asked to reply, so read them I had to.
It's an uncomfortable place to be but what struck me most is how vociferously the people posting in fury made the point about freedom of speech, whilst nicely cocooned in their anonymity. Irony eh?

Ultimately my call was for a very simple thing.Equality.

Context is key. All issues should be tackled in humour and drama. There should be no taboos.What there should be is integrity. Satire and irony are the lifeblood of democracy and keep us from sinking into the mire of sanitized media, but do so with with integrity. There is a huge difference between actual irony and hate speech dressed up as irony.

Use humour with intelligence not reliance on stereotypes, which seek to cruelly belittle and only serve to further disenfranchise people.

You only have to look to Stewart Lee, Jesse Armstrong,Simon Blackwell, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to see that diverse issues can be tackled with humour. Comedy without cruelty is the key to finding the humour in diversity.

If there is a list rating diverse groups in order of importance, in order of human rights, then in my view disability is at the bottom.

Had Vinnie Jones not said that Davina McCall "walked like a retard" but had instead used  a cruel epithet for race, religion or sexual orientation, then the producers would have insisted that McCall upbraid Jones and issued an apology to viewers.

Instead they allowed the comments to be followed by a mocking walk and then place the whole show,with "retard" comments intact (but adverts removed) on their Video on Demand channel.

In case anyone doubts the wisdom of my tenacity I want to let you in on a little secret.

In the midst of the fight with C4 and Ofcom's refusals to uphold our complaints I discovered from Frankie Boyle’s Wikipedia page that he was planning a new show, with a rather unusual title.

Said show had reached the point of acquiring a transmission date which means that by the time I found out about it had already gone through several checkpoints. Channel 4 had clearly decided that it had a perfectly acceptable title.

Wikipedia being what it is I wanted to be sure of my facts before raising the issue with Channel 4. So I contacted the Comedy Unit in Glasgow. 
The person I spoke to said it was really exciting and they were just waiting for the date. 

I pressed them for confirmation. They told me that the title was definite. It was going to be called "Deal with this Retard’s".
I remember because they laughed.

So I contacted Channel 4 and Mencap and Louise Wallis who had set up a facebook page with over a 1000 members and everyone else who may have a vested interest in stopping this show title.
 As Frank from The Elfrida Society put it so well, within a couple of days of broadcast "Deal with this retards" would be being used abusively against disabled people on the street.
I’m very happy that eventually common sense and equality prevailed but I’m acutely aware that this isn't the end. Hopefully though it is the beginning of the end.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

People Not Punchlines Campaign

I've decided to launch a new campaign.  Something that I've railed against unofficially for a long time so Learning Disability Week seemed an appropriate time.

Here is the press release which gives contact details. I truly hope people will want to get involved. 

More than than that, I hope people will see that hate speech, although popular is hugely damaging. Words can and do hurt and they are the first step down the road to discrimination. If we let them pass we are all to blame.

Hate speech isn't free speech.It's not upholding the values of a free society. It's denigrating a group who through an genetic incident of birth or an accident in life are then judged by some to be less worthy. 

People are not less worthy through their disability, they're not a justifiable, disposable target. Make jokes be funny but people are not anyone's punchlines.


As a disability rights campaigner and mum to two disabled girls
I’m launching a new campaign on 23rd June as part of Learning Disability Week, to have disability hate speech recognized under law in line with current legislation and protection.

Currently as the law stands it is illegal to communicate in a manner which is threatening abusive or insulting and intended to harass alarm or distress someone on the following grounds only:

Colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.

Disability remains exempt from this list and therefore disabled people are routinely harassed with no right of redress under law.

The language we use everyday underpins the rise in targeted violence and abuse towards disabled people.

Professor Ian Rivers from Brunel University conducted a survey of 185 children who had bullied others. He concluded that difference is a primary motivating factor.

In gathering information for this campaign I contacted Professor Rivers and asked him for his opinion on the issues around bullying and disability.

He explained “Children with Special Educational Needs and Emotional Behavioural Difficulties are often the target of bullying and ridicule. Where there is a hierarchy, teachers for example are bound by their policy on bullying. However in the cases of unofficial hierarchy, peer on peer bullying, the problem is rarely addressed

Recently these behaviours have transferred from the playground to the television. The comedian Frankie Boyle also finds it acceptable to use disabled people as the source material of his jokes, but as distressing and discrimatory as many disabled people and carers find his humour, we as a society allow these comments to pass unchecked. 

This campaign is not an attempt to curb free speech but rather to highlight the growing trend towards the normalizing of hate speech in respect of disabled people.

David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at learning disability charity Mencap, said:

As an organisation we strive to change the negative attitudes towards people with a disability in our society which is why we fully support this campaign. We believe that use of offensive language contributes to a culture where harassment and bullying of people with a learning disability is all too common.

“It is estimated that as many as 9 out of 10 people with a learning disability are verbally harassed or exposed to violence due to their disability.  The tragic deaths of Fiona Pilkington and Francceca Hardwick and David Askew are just two examples of where name-calling and low-level harassment was allowed to escalate into sustained abuse with fatal consequences.   

“Ignorant use of language contributes to a culture where people with a disability, and their families, continue to be regularly subjected to verbal and physical abuse. It is as bad as using racist or homophobic language and this needs to be recognised.

Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her disabled daughter had the word “retard” used against her and her family routinely.
The gang who hounded her, literally to death would stand outside her house and yell, ”We can do whatever we want and there is nothing you can do about it.”

As a campaigner and as a mother, I’m fighting to ensure that this ceases to be true. Therefore I'm calling on MP's to amend the existing hate speech law and ensure that disabled people are rightfully included in this vital legislation.

Nicola Clark

For more information please contact Nicky Clark at 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

School Refuser

This morning I’m acquainting myself with this document. As many parents get school uniforms and school bags and homework and packed lunches sorted, I’m reading about what happens to parents when your child does not attend school in the UK.

I’ve looked for the section on disability and school refusing but oddly it doesn’t seem to be there. Shouldn’t the government website which deals with absenteeism have a least a caveat to address cases of disability?

There is one sentence which alludes to children too sick to be at school who are therefore exempted-but my child isn’t sick, she’s disabled.

This is the problem as it seems the government both local & national suffers from a certain selective hearing loss and visual impairment of it’s own, when it comes to disability.

They seem to hear but not listen and look but won’t see.

Often the incidences of school refusing by disabled children most specifically children with autism- go hand in hand with routine bullying and lack of adapted facilities. Neither of these situations are necessarily the fault of the parents or the child yet they are the focus of censureship and punitive measures.

They are both failed and held up for scrutiny and blame. They are it appears by virtue of their disability and parental responsibility the architects of their own misfortune. In this country in this age we are in many ways no further forwards in terms of understanding than we were in 1950’s.

Worse it seems that the local authority can send one of their “experts” to your house to advise you on parenting contracts and methods of getting your child to school. If that fails they can fine you and if that fails they can send you to prison.
Judgemental attitudes, ignorance, bullying and blame it’s great being disabled isn’t it?

This isn’t a dig it’s a fact. Society as a whole and many schools in particular -unless dovetailed to the specific needs of autism, are woefully failing our children on the Autistic Spectrum.

We are lucky that this doesn’t apply to us. Yet.

Currently the school are being very supportive and understanding of the fact that Emily’s autism, learning disability and epilepsy mean it’s not a case of picking her up putting her in the car and taking her to school.  

We are lucky that they understand that Autism is a complex and misunderstood condition and they know too that I want Emily to access life as fully as possible.

I’m not going to force her or make her miserable.  Her time left in full time education realistically means that we are counting it in months not years. Why force her to become dangerously depressed?

The irony is of course that whilst our disabled children are being enforcedly educated within a prescriptive system , the decision makers seem to see no need to educate themselves in all forms of disability.

It feels sometimes that “installing a ramp” is really all they have. Ask any wheelchair user and they would attest to the fact that they don’t always manage that effectively.

The thing I have learned about autism and the people I love with the condition above all other things is that No really does mean No.

My favourite aspect of their beautiful minds is that my girls don’t see the point of lying.

I see it as an amazing compliance on Emily’s part that she has managed 9 years of education as it is. With her senses assaulted at every turn, with the world a frankly confusing place at best and deeply terrifying at worst,

For children like my daughter their parents flat refusal to comply with “the system” taken to the limit, means prison. 

In applying once again their one size fits all approach the bureaucrats have managed to make good parenting a criminal offence.