The portrayal of disabled people is a complex affair as the many different interest groups try to portray us as a collective for their own agendas, when in reality we are just a collection of individuals labelled by society because of our difficulties, when the reality is we have very little else in common.
The anti-cuts movement has picked up on disabled people as an easy focus to concentrate its agenda upon and win public support. This movement is at its core a socialist movement, which has disguised itself over the years as the issues have changed from the poll tax, to the Iraq war, to globalisation and now anti-cuts. While the movement has captured the support of the mainstream public at different times, it is in essence a trade union style movement, based on a ideologist view of the world that fairness comes from the collective, where capitalism in all its forms is the ultimate enemy.
The main problem in protesting is to have a clear message that all members of the public can understand, even if they have no experience of the issues involved. Since disability is a complex issue, the protestors need to boil it down and twist the message to suit their agenda, and this is bad news for disabled people. The result is that disabled people have been seen simply as recipients of welfare, who simply need their benefits, on an assumption they are unable to contribute to society.
It is very much a non-disabled view of disability that totally ignores the social model, that is disabled people are able to lead a fulfilling life as equal members of society. Disabled people and their organisations have developed a complete list of what we need, called the 12 pillars as shown here;
• Appropriate and Accessible Information
• An adequate income
• Appropriate and accessible health and social care provisions
• A fully-accessible transport system
• Full access to the environment
• Adequate provision of technical aids and equipment
• Availability of accessible and adapted housing
• Adequate provision of personal assistance
• Availability of inclusive education and training
• Equal opportunities for employment
• Availability of independent advocacy and self advocacy
• Availability of peer counselling
While an adequate income is on the list, I fear on its own it can be seen as a compensation payment as we are portrayed as 'the most vulnerable members of society'. With the same attitudes that brings support to assisted dying, the welfarist perspective portrays disabled people as 'other', the undesirables that society has to a responsibility to look after. One reason while protestors take this stance is because the anti-cuts movement is made up of mostly non-disabled people, who simply see disability as a stick to beat the government with.
Of course many disabled people, especially newbies, will be attracted to this strong message because it is easy to understand and fits into how society teaches them to feel. The voice of the social model is weaker and understanding the 12 pillars takes longer and requires a bit more processing. This means the anti-cuts movement has not only harmed the portrayal of disabled people, but also the thinking of a generation of disabled people.
Groups like Disabled People Against Cuts would argue that they are against the cuts and also support the 12 pillars, but they are a small group who I believe have difficulty balancing the freedoms desired and required for the full inclusion of disabled people, and their socialist roots. My dealings with them and other group suggests to me, they are stuck in the past, calling to keep failed systems alive, as opposed to being interested in the future, and the coproduction of a new generation of social policies that brings our inclusion nearer.
The portrayal of disabled people has been made worse in the last 5 years and I feel that this is as a direct result of the anti-cuts protestors. They would argue it has been made worse by what they regard as the 'scroungers rhetoric' of the government but my response to that is they have tried to criminalise seeing disabled people as capable beings who should be pushed to reach their full potential, with higher expectations from the public.
The damage has been done and I wonder how long it will take for social model activists like myself to repair the mess created.