The more my health declines, the more disabled I become, the more angry I get at this attitude that all cripples are just fakers, sponging off the government because they’re too lazy to work.
I think two things made it really hit home recently… I decided to read the guidelines for the Equality Act 2010, so that I would know, once and for all if I’m ‘technically disabled’. For years I’ve struggled, when filling out forms, with whether or not to tick the box that says I’m disabled. So I read the entirety of the guidelines, and what qualifies you to be officially disabled.
The main thing the guidelines highlighted was that it has nothing to do with whether or not you have a diagnosis, whether or not the doctors or government or society have given you the blue badge of approval. It depends entirely on how your symptoms affect your day-to-day life.
Reading through the document, and it’s various examples of how an illness can affect your life, and your ability to carry out simple tasks, it struck me that pretty much every disabled person you see is *more disabled than they look*. Whether you’re disabled from birth, injured in an accident, or slowly crippled by a degenerative illness, ALL disabled people learn to compensate. Human beings are extremely adaptive, as well as having the instinct to automatically try and conform and fit in with others. So as soon as one has some kind of ‘impairment’, one automatically starts to compensate, to try their hardest to fit into the mould that is ‘normality’. All the little ways we learn to compensate, whether it’s by always opting to take the lift instead of climb the stairs, casually ask someone to pass you something instead of bending or reaching, or whatever other little tricks you learn to fake ‘normality’, to fake still being able-bodied like everybody else…
This means that, by faking it as much as your body will allow, by trying to blend in and not attract attention to the things you cannot do, you always hide at least a portion of your disability. Some ‘problems’ are easier to conceal than others, of course… As soon as you stop being able to walk, as soon as you need a wheelchair, you get ‘officially’ branded as disabled. But even when you need a wheelchair, or lose the ability to see or hear, or any of the other things most people take for granted, you start compensating, doing whatever it takes to seem as ‘normal’ as humanly possible.
I’m not even going to get into how fucked up this is, this instinct to try and confirm, to assimilate yourself as best you can into the picture of what others deem a person should be…
Instead I want to draw your attention to the effect this might have on people who claim benefits. Not to mention those who are too scared or ashamed to even apply for benefits, lest they be branded a ‘scrounger’. Go on, think about it… That’s right. It means that every single disabled person is more deserving of whatever benefits they can possibly apply for than you think they are. A fun fact from the Equality Act is that, when deciding if you’re a cripple or not, one has to take into account what you would be like without any medical treatment you might be using, whether that’s a little pill you take each day, or a weekly therapy session, or anything else. ‘They’ (whoever ‘they’ are) have to stop and think about what you would and would not be able to do without any medical intervention, assuming you would still be alive at all.
And the second thing that made me stop and think about this? Having to write down an entire list of all my own symptoms to bring to the doctor, and a list of all the little ways I’ve learnt to compensate for my problems. You actually forget how weird and unusual all these little things are, these little tricks for coping with life and pretending to still be ‘normal’. It actually often even takes an able-bodied person to come along, and get close to you, close enough to see the ways you compensate, and to point them out to you, for YOU to realise how much your life has changed, never mind someone on the outside looking in.
So that person you see walking down the street, who smiles and nods just like everyone else, but who dares to claim benefits… Well how dare you judge them? Maybe they have an inhaler hidden in their pocket, maybe they have a little pill they take each night before bed, maybe they even have a wheelchair at home for days when they do struggle to walk. YOU DON’T KNOW. So unless you are a medical professional, who knows this persons entire medical history, don’t you fucking dare make assumptions about whether or not they are disabled, or whether or not they ‘deserve’ benefits. Because you don’t know the first fucking thing about them or what their life is like. And I can pretty much promise you that we don’t sit around wondering if able bodied people really deserve that job or promotion or shiny car they just got, or even the other benefits they might be on. Because we know that it’s none of our goddamn business, and we know how horrible it is to be constantly judged and treated like second class citizens because of something we cannot even control.
So next time someone bitches about ‘benefit scroungers’, whether it’s a colleague or neighbour or politician or the media… Just stop and think what the chances are that this person knows the full story, and whether or not this person is really in the position to make that judgement.