There are three words that fill me with dread in the context of disability; these are fairness, compassion and dignity. While many people may see nothing wrong with these terms, I have seen how they can be used to disempower disabled people. If you need to talk about 'promoting dignity' in terms of disability services, then you are implying there is something naturally indignant about the service, even though dignity is in the eye of the beholder, and often families and professionals, rather than those who use the service, set the concept of dignity.
I fear compassion is often a polite term for pity and I much more prefer the term empathy. People often complain that I lack compassion because I refuse to see a difficult situation at face value as I try to dig deeper and find out what is really going on. Often people do not need others pitying them and their situation, but rather straight forward honest advice even it is painful to hear. Life is often difficult and painful but to improve your situation requires hard work as opposed to self-pity.
And then we have fairness, a passive term that means 'good enough'. A lot of people talk about wanting a fair society but do they know what that really means? The story of Animal Farm is the story of building a fair society and we can see how successful that was in the end! My problem with the idea of a fair society is that it is built upon current value judgements. By this I mean is the public assumes disabled people are naturally 'less able' then this is going to be ingrained into a fair society by 'looking after' fairly those who are seen as unable to work. This means disabled people will simply be looked after as passive citizens in a manner those who control the concept of fairness judge, and therefore a fair society has no interest in the full inclusion of disabled people as active citizens.
This is why I want an 'inclusive' society, one that actively promotes the meaningful participation of all its citizens. While a notion of fairness may be instilled into the values of such a society, the core aim would be to actively ensure the meaningful inclusion of its citizens by re-evaluating all of its social structures and policies. This is about citizens not being forced into a society that is unable to meet their needs, but at the same time, this is about them taking personal responsibility for reaching their unique potential. It is about active values underpinned with concrete actions, not a passive belief in fairness that leads to compromise and disappointment.
Achieving a fully inclusive society will never be easy and would require everyone to make positive changes that may be hard and painful in the beginning because it would ask everyone to think differently. It may mean making changes to how we work, learn and play together, how we look after our physical and emotional health, and more importantly how we value each other. It is not just about bringing disabled people and others into the circle, requiring them to make the necessary changes to fit into society, but rather widening the circle so that everyone is included without having to compromise who they are.
The problem I fear we face is that the political debate on managing welfare is still stuck on the extend to its fairness as no one seems to be talking about inclusion, in terms of disabled people, or the wider concept of social mobility. While the class system is more complex that it used to be, we have not achieved John Major's desire for a classless society. And many disabled people have taken the welfare reforms has an attack rather than an opportunity, playing the victim fighting for their 'fair share' of benefits as less able citizens, as opposed to keeping focused on their inclusion into society as fully contributing citizens.
So when you bang that drum for a 'fair society', maybe for a second ask yourself if that is really what you want? Or do we deserve something much better where we can all win and not just pretend to win? An inclusive society?