Over the Christmas period I realised that I was not really that interested in politics. My real interest professionally and personally is disability, especially how to practically implement social and other policies on the ground to improve the lives of disabled people. I want to be a well respected, if not liked, government advisor, working with senior civil servants to ensure the fine detail works for disabled people, rather than against them.
The problem with this is simply that right now disability has become a political issue in a way I am far from happy with. Disability has become an election issue but it is in a manner that is one dimensional and cheap, becoming unescapably linked with poverty and welfare dependency as opposed to independent living or inclusion. Many people from all sides of the political spectrum talk about the hardship of disability as simply emotionally weighted ammunition, with I fear very little understanding of the issues they are talking about.
The most important thing to understand is many disabled people are simply not getting a voice in what is being said about them. There are many disability groups who have a voice, but if you were to analyse the range of impairments and experiences they 'represent', it would be possible to understand they represent a minority of the totality of disabled people on all counts. They obviously have a right to their say, but politicians, the media and others need to be able to contextualise it in comparison to the views of other disabled people.
The problem with this currently is that the image of disabled people as burdens of welfare, whether 'deserving' or 'undeserving', fits neatly into the current political dialogue. This means the politicians and media are not interested in the right for disabled children to be included into mainstream schools, or the battle to improve general social attitudes. I feel that in order to get my agenda across I am constantly dragged into debates on welfare issues, something that does not really affect me however much people try to scare me, nor particularly interests me in its current form.
I feel since I am always asked this question, I should explain I do receive Disability Living Allowance, and Tax Credits. I am personally not worried by the pending changes as I know my level of impairment and confident I will still receive my benefits. I know this makes me appear selfish in this over-sensitive political environment, but why do I have to stress myself when my story is about other issues? I find it very interesting that when I start explaining the issues that I am interested in, I am asked or told I have to think about the disabled people living in poverty, as if it is the only issue that we are allowed to discuss.
Despite being labelled a loner and 'wacky' by those who dominate the political arena on disability, I know that are many disabled people who agree with me, who have chosen for a whole range of reasons not to shout about it, often because they are too busy getting on with life. Since disability is my chosen career, I want to be heard as well as changing and developing other people's opinions, especially those who on the surface have totally opposed views to myself. I am too often told to 'get on' with those I disagree with in an artificial unity that quickly falls apart, or leave them well alone, but how can you make an omelette without breaking eggs? We all have a part of play in life and mine seems to be being controversial and causing mayhem to challenge others and open doors.
Disability will be talked about through the bitter election ahead, but when the term is banded about as a synonym for poverty, it is important to question if this is merely political hot air, or really what a range of disabled people believe and think? I doubt in most cases it will be the latter and I fear the general public will sadly remain fooled into seeing disability as just a welfare issue without ever hearing from all disabled people.