As well a day for dancing around maypoles or celebrating workers and labour, the first of May is Blogging Against Disablism Day.
As explained on the blog of the person who started it, “This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination (known as disablism or ableism). In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we’ve made.”
There’s an example of disablism in a recent Lib Dem Voice article by Henry Foulds. He says he was told “by a senior activist that I should crop my cane from campaign photos or somehow hide it, I was horrified. I stumbled over my response and changed the subject. I’ve since explained to them that disability is nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of.”
It might seem like such a small thing compared to, say, the hazardous effect of Department of Work and Pensions cuts to benefits and services for disabled people. But both big and small injustices are based on the same problems at the core of our thinking, and we call those problems disablism.
In a funny way, I think this kind of disablism is trying to save us from another kind of disablism: we still live in a world where plenty of people think disability is either a tragedy to be pitied or a weakness to be wary of. And faced with a world where disability makes people think less of you, pretending not to be disabled can seem a lot easier than dismantling the structures of society that unfairly disadvantages disabled people.
I know people mean well but we need to think about why anyone would advise a candidate that they would do better with the white cane (or wheelchair, or any sign of disability) cropped out of their photos. We need to think about why disabled people are an easy target for government cuts and public animosity. We need to think about why disabled people have trouble finding, staying in and progressing at work … it’s not that we’re all lazy scroungers.
We need to think about why I worry when using my white cane that people will notice I have some sight and think me a faker. Wheelchair users who can so much as stand up face sarcasm, threats and even physical assaults because they’re thought to be “faking,” when instead a disablist society refuses to understand that many wheelchair users can stand or walk for short periods in certain circumstances, just as 85% of blind people can see something, even if it’s just the difference between light and dark.
I think we’ve all been guilty of disablism of one form or another. I know I have, not just about other conditions I know nothing about but even towards myself and others with vision impairments. I cringe when I think of how willingly I subscribed to disablism when I thought it benefited me because I was “pretty sighted for a blind person.”
But my sight hasn’t changed at all: just my attitude to it. But I try not to be too hard on my younger self, I try instead to resist disablism wherever I find it, and that’s all I ask of my fellow Lib Dems: in your local party meetings, in the policies you write, in your campaigning, in work with your constituents.
Including disabled people won’t just give you a warm fuzzy feeling or a few brownie points: I’m constantly saying things about my experiences navigating the world that make the friends I’m telling them to say “oh, yeah, I never thought of that.” Of course they didn’t; there’s no way they could if they don’t “see” the world like I do. Diversity brings perspectives that you can’t get any other way.
* Holly is an immigrant, bisexual, disabled, and probably can tick most other diversity boxes that you have handy.