While others may disagree with me, I do feel that there are people who wish to have the label of being disabled, who are just impaired, because they believe there are benefits to being disabled. I am not just talking about welfare benefits, but also many other perks like free parking, bus passes and free seats at theatres for carers and PAs. The problem is people often do not understand the reason why disabled people need something they see as a benefit. I know when I was at mainstream school, an all-boys school, the other boys resented the fact I had a laptop (the first laptop, Epson HX20) and I did not do PE, but it was never properly explained to them why I needed them and what my difficulties were.
I would like to propose that there should not be a benefit to being disabled, and that this means understanding what specific 'benefits' are really about, which sometimes even those who provide them have forgotten. I would like to give two examples.
The first is that the perceived benefit that wheelchair users and others can jump the queue at theme parks. I was interested to read Disney has recently changed its policy on this and many theme parks have either restricted access to disabled entrances, or cashed in by selling the supposed benefit to non-disabled people, but is it really a benefit for disabled people? The whole main reason there was originally a disabled entrance was that the queues were often physically inaccessible and so it was the only way to access the ride.
Also, wheelchair users are not guaranteed to get on a ride straight away as there is often only one or two seats available in each ride, and when there is a large group of wheelchair users, this so-called queue jumping can in fact be far more time consuming, spending a good few hours just watching people at a single ride as the group slowly takes its turn. Having wheelchair users and others waiting at the rear of the ride also enables staff to manage their health and safety better since they are not rushed by the queuing customers.
Theme parks themselves have often forgotten all this and now see this benefit being exploited. Other impairment groups, who can physically queue and use the ride without assistance, have also started putting their hands up demanding this benefit. When I hear parents say their autistic children do not have the patience to queue, I sigh, because that could be said about any child and surely we all need to learn patience!
The second example is the wheelchair assistance at airports, which is frankly being massively abused. I should explain that as a genuine wheelchair user, it is not a case I want assistance onto the plane, but it is a case that without assistance I can not get on the plane whether I like it or not. But what was an essential service has now become a benefit for anyone who wants it since under European Law, airports must provide assistance to anyone who asks for it, without needing to book in advance.
I swear that now everyone over 65 believes it is a part of what they paid for and despite not using a wheelchair 364 days of the year, they want to be pushed around at the airport. It makes me laugh when they get out of the wheelchair while waiting in the departure lounge, as personally I would lock them in with a lap belt because if they want to be disabled then they should have no choice. I once saw an old lady try to slip the person assisting her some money like they were the bell boy in a posh hotel, the staff member refused being somewhat embarrassed.
A few years ago Birmingham Airport told me the number of people requesting assistance was rising at incredibly 11% a month, turning what was an essential service into a headache for the airline industry as on some flights half of people now want assistance as something they think they have paid for, probably ending up driving up prices. While nothing is said, the staff know the difference between those like myself who genuinely need assistance, and those milking the system. They are also always pleasantly surprised at how polite and helpful I am compared to others who are demanding help.
I fundamentally believe all disabled people should get what they personally need and should not unnecessarily benefit from having a label. Service providers and policy makers sometimes need to go back to basics to properly understand the history behind the perks disabled people appear to have and update them accordingly to ensure they are fair for everyone.