Friday, 9 March 2012

We are all in this together.

I've been campaigning on disability rights issues for 11 years informally. In 2008 I made it formal by launching my first national campaign and I have to say it’s been a battle.

There are of course opponents in the form of bureaucrats, free speech advocates and people paid to enhance lives who seem intent on blocking human rights being realised. I’ve encountered resentful broadcasters mercurial charities and minor celebrities with an eye on their PR, using disability as a handy device to further their careers.

One tiny but vocal irritation is the naysayer of my right to even be discussing the subject let alone in the media. Their reason quite simply is this. I’m not disabled myself.

My disability CV if such were needed is my whole life but the criticisms of me are  directly proportionate to the amount of coverage I get in the media. This is a sad fact. Apparently by launching campaigns, by speaking out on the subject that means the most to me I’ve planted my foot on the head of a disabled person and prevented them from reaching the light.

This is odd because actually no disabled person that I’ve encountered has ever had a problem with what I do. It’s usually a few disabled activists who exclusively inhabit that territory. I repeat if there had been pre-existng campaigns from the ones I launched I’d have joined yours but there weren’t. The disabled people who have supported and gently educated me have my unending gratitude. I'm learning everyday.

You don’t have to be black to hate racism or gay to hate homophobia. I’m just as vocal on twitter about those issues but the civil rights movement so much older in these two areas has learnt a sage and valuable lesson. The more voices speaking out the better and the stronger the collective message.

As with gay and racist discrimination, I never presume to speak on behalf of anyone when it comes to disability. I speak against injustice and I credit those who are working too. Crediting of others is a road  which flows in both directions and all of us owe a huge debt to those who went before us and will follow in our wake. We also owe a debt to those who walk beside us. Because together we strengthen the message for all.

The other accusation raised against me is that I'm only interested in autism because my children have the condition. Not true. I respond to people who tweet me about their children with autism because I know the isolation and have encountered many of the situations that I'm asked about. I always tweet about discrimination of disability across the board. Division is hugely unhelpful and a tactic that policy makers will exploit if they get the chance.

My personal experiences include deafness, dementia, breast cancer, mental health, learning disability, autism, epilepsy, terminal heart condition, heart disease, anxiety disorder, depression, alcoholism and sexual abuse on the grounds of disability.

I also have experienced domestic violence. 

If what I do causes distress perhaps a more sensible idea would be ask yourself why. I don’t know anyone personally on Twitter and crucially they don’t know me so judging me is sad. My theory is this -if you spend less time questioning why and more energy approaching the real block to progress you will free yourself of resentment and get more done.

There is no bar to carers speaking out or other non-disabled people speaking out but time is wasted when the only voices are disabled ones because our strength as a team lies in the energy flow. We can all contribute. Many, many people who weren’t disabled tweeted and blogged and RT’d recently over the injustice of the Welfare Reform Bill the issue is a universal one whether you love someone with a disability or are a person with a disability or not.

To say that only disabled people can speak or should speak alienates many non-disabled people from contributing because then they feel they have no right. This can extend to decision makers, editors, journalsts and other activists.

Not all non-disabled people are the enemy. The days of disabled voices blocked from contributing is thankfully over, but if the message propagated by a few determined disabled people stems from the militancy of decades past then blocks will surface again.

Ignorant people, nervous of things they don't understand only need one bad experience sadly. We are all in this together so lets use our greatest strength our collective experience.