When I was a teenager attending a mainstream school, something unheard of at that time, I felt like I was the only disabled person for miles. I of course knew this what not the case but being disabled was a very big thing then, and it was rarely talked about or discussed in the media. The few times I saw a younger disabled person on the TV was a huge event for me as I was hungry for people to see disabled people as members of society. My disabled peers were in special schools, and bound for day services or residential care, leaving me to fight a mainstream lifestyle alone. Disability was a taboo that was only framed in terms of tragedy.
Nowadays it seems difficult to go without a day where there is not some kind of disability related news item in the mainstream media, and disabled people appear to be taking over the country. Disabled people are certainly more visible, and there are certainly more people who define themselves as being disabled. The media seems to be in the middle of a love affair on the idea of disability, poking and prodding us to find fresh angles like we are new toys to play with. How can we date? Do we have sex? Can we be happy? Will we ever go to space? Endless unimportant articles that still frame us as still something very different to 'normal' people.
You would think I would be happy with all this attention and up to 5 years ago, I would have said yes, definitely. But the welfare reforms were a major set back in the media portrayal of disabled people by all sides. While the welfare activists have complained that the media has framed disabled people as 'benefit scroungers', I am more concerned at how the welfare activists have used their own sympathetic media to frame disabled people.
If we believe their media, I am vulnerable and helpless, dependent on the state for benefits and support in the name of compassion and fairness. Believe me, the people who try to cross me are in a more vulnerable situation than I would ever be. But what is worse is that disabled people like myself are framed as unable to work, unless we foolishly want to work, even if the DWP have found us fit for work. The fact I require care and support is often use to undermine my intelligence within an environment where family carers know best because they have a heart of gold! When there are carers, disabled people are framed as simply voiceless burdens.
I think the outrage over sanctions has clearly shown how far people are willing to go far in trashing disabled people to prove a point. One of the arguments of those opposing sanctions is regardless of how the authorities, medical professionals, and people themselves regard their capabilities to take personal responsibility, it is immoral to regard disabled people as being able to be consenting adults, and therefore must not be sanctioned, and therefore must not be seen as capable citizens.
Disabled people may well be more visible in society, but I am not sure they are being fairly represented in a way they deserve, as a complex group of individual viewpoints. While we believe we understand the concepts of institutionalised racism and sexism, disablism is still not only understood but I believe celebrated in the media as compassion and fairness, often by those who claim to have the best interests of disabled people in mind. Unfortunately you can not tell people what they are not ready to hear, and only time and history will set the record straight.
Disabled people are still used as pawns by the media, activists and politicians, who can be talked about in any way people want, often having their lives trashed, without any consideration for their feelings. Trashing disabled people is still something socially acceptable and it will remain so until disabled people, those who believe in their inclusion within society, start fighting back.