Sunday, October 03, 2010

A guest post by Mr McGoo

A couple of days ago, on the 1st October 2010, the Equality Act 2010 came into force. As I understand it, this offers further scope to stop disablism (amongst other issues such as sexuality, religion and gender) and allow people to be treated fairly, but in spite of this, recently Nadine Dorries MP commented that the presence of a disabled person who goes by the net-name of HumphreyCushion (and is one of Dorries' constituents no less!) on the Twitter website should be reported to the authorities. The grounds for this? Active participation by said disabled person on the website. Nadine Dorries writes:

“If you Twitter all day, every day about claiming disability benefit in one tweet whist arranging a night out in the pub in the next... then don't expect someone like me not to a) inform the authorities and b) tell you to get of [sic] your Twitter and get a job.”

This comment by someone who has been elected to serve the people, not least serve the constituent she attacks, has made me seriously ponder on how disabled people are still seen by certain people in sections of society, even in the 21st century, and review reactions to my sight disability.

Without further ado, let's introduce myself. I'm Mr McGoo (obviously a pseudonym), and I became visually impaired a couple of years ago. I'm a married male living in a quaint shire town in England. I regularly come across a few myths about disability in general, and I want to put them, at least from my point of view (no pun intended) to bed.

“Disabled people get loads of benefits; they're financially all right!”

I don't. I struggle to make ends meet with my current financial circumstances. I work full-time for a wage, and have done since long before I started losing my sight. The only aid I've received since getting eye trouble is government payment for equipment and tools at work to enable me to return to work after losing a lot of my sight. That's all. I've probably ended up paying for that myself anyway through the tax taken out of my own wages, in a roundabout way. The automatic assumption is that blue badges are handed out along with benefits as soon as the word disability is stuck on someone. I have neither a blue badge, nor currently receive benefits. Society has been conditioned to blame and hold as scapegoats those people who they commonly perceive most likely to remain on benefits, particularly in this fiscally tight time, and Dorries' comments only serve to strengthen this misguided conclusion. Active participation on Twitter does not make you a benefit cheat.

“Disabled people just sit around watching Jeremy Kyle, raking in the benefits. They get more benefits not working than working!”

Could someone please tell me if this is true? I honestly think it isn't. I actually know of no person for whom this financial urban myth is true, apart from rare examples cited in a shit-stirring ultra-right-wing gutter press newspaper. I know of only one person who by their own admission was deliberately on the fiddle with benefits, and who HAS been reported to the appropriate authorities, with a positive outcome to the taxpayer.

The comment that disabled people rake in the benefits to the point that it's better not to attempt to work may be true in rare circumstances, but from speaking to disabled people and non-disabled, most EVERYONE finds it hard to make ends meet.

And for the record, Jeremy Kyle is not really entertaining. It's very weak compared to the classic Jerry Springer Show.

“Disabled people are just work-shy; disabled people would be better off working than being sick at home”

I wish this were true. I know of one disabled person who would love to get out and work, even just one morning a week, but his disability is so debilitating that it would be impossible for an employer to consider him for employment, even with the Equality Act 2010. He tries to make the most of his time by doing home study with the Open University, but even that regularly can get too much.

And me? There are days when I wish I could get through the day with no eye pain, but those days very rarely come along. Fortunately the rest of my body is fine, but even debilitation of organs like the eyes can hold you up and clock up a whole number of sickdays that hold you in low esteem with an employer's HR department. I love my current role, but due to the eyes, I am also much slower in my work compared to my performance before my sight problems, which combined with my sickdays, has led to my company to review my position. It has been mutually agreed that it's for the best that I'm side-railed from a hectic full-time job into a slower paced part-time job. I'd love to continue to work in my (soon to be) previous full-time role, but my eyes aren't up to it. For me it's a terrible knock, with the realisation that my eyes truly are worsening, and they're NOT going to get better.

Also, it unfortunately leads me to start considering benefits, as I'm ultimately by going from full-time to part-time going to receive a knock to my salary, one I can ill afford. The daunting task of seeking benefits and applying for them, with the struggle of going through the various documents with my eyes even thought I have magnification equipment (in the past I've asked for government forms and documents to be provided in a large print format, only to receive them regular size) is enough to put me off claiming any benefits.

“Disabled people fake it”

This comment combined with the previous comment about getting loads of money on benefits. This was certainly the viewpoint taken by one manager towards me. I would have loved to have been faking it, but I am cursed with terrible eyesight. Things ultimately came to a head after months of disparaging comments (including the regular classic comments “you should have seen that” and “you're obviously not looking properly”) when I received a 15 minute bawling-out for using the wrong envelope (a simple error which can be attributed to my failing sight). I stood up for myself, told the manager in no uncertain terms that he was in the wrong for treating me this way, and since then he's backed down and no further comments have currently been made about my eyesight. Within days I was in hospital again for further deterioration of my eyesight, so I think he finally got the message I wasn't faking.

Disability can have its ups and downs. You can sometimes catch me at my desk at work on a good day, when I am not suffering eye pain. Mr McGoo's doing well, you might say. But in five minutes time, I might unexpectedly sneeze or something like that, the simple pressure of such an action rendering my delicate eyes in pain and confusion, wiping me out for hours. The same problems of ups and downs (albeit not triggered by sneezing) can be found with other disabilities. In fact, you might like to read up on the Spoon Theory if you haven't already done so.  I certainly don't have the same condition described in The Spoon Theory, but I can empathise easily with the theory. Some days are good, some are bad, and some days I'm all out of spoons.

“Disabled people shouldn't use the internet, or socialise”

It is evident that one could interpret Dorries' opinion at the beginning of this article to mean that going to the pub or using the internet as a disabled person should not be allowed. The Equality Act 2010 permits disabled people to access services without discrimination, including bars, so why shouldn't a disabled person enjoy a trip to the pub and tweet about it? With some disabilities being so restricting, a trip to the pub can be a momentous thing, so disabled people should not be discriminated against or singled out for wanting a pint of beer or a lemonade.

Furthermore, why should access to the internet be restricted to the non-disabled? When I mentioned last year in a bank that I use the net, the rude bank manager openly expressed incredulity that blind or partially sighted people could use computers. Needless to say, I changed to a more friendly bank. However, is there to be a benefits-to-tweet ratio to be imposed for disabled people, Ms Dorries? I regularly use the internet and Twitter (under my real name), but furthermore I regularly don't when my eyes are playing up. I don't tweet about my disability all day every day, but it is evident that under Dorries' imposed regulations, if you are disabled you may not use Twitter much unless you are on there only to moan about the downs of life, such as aches and pains, and not celebrate the ups such as going to the pub, or you'll be reported!

So that's my twopence on common issues and myths that some people (and I personally) encounter about disability, which anger at Nadine Dorries has prompted me to write. There are other issues, such as the common remark “you don't look sick” and “you're not in a wheelchair” which I'm sure have been addressed elsewhere on the net. I'm sorry, I can't find links to answers to those comments right now, but my eyes have become very tired and pained writing this. I'm off now, to join the “Nadine Dorries Is Disablist And Shouldn't Be In Parliament” group on Facebook before logging off to go lie down in a dark room.

9 comments:

Lankylonglegs - Jo said...

It's rather ironic how the Government can make these rules up as they go along, then change them without warning isn't it?

First it's NOT ok to victimise disabled people, but now it's ok because they are not really disabled after all, they are just faking it.

My partner lives with IIH ever since the 'wonderful' NHS put her in traction without first x-raying or scanning her for skeletal anomalies. Her double major curve (previously undiagnosed) in her spine meant that something got trapped and now she lives with both the excruciating pain caused by the ever rising cerebral fluid levels and it's subsequent pressure/pain problems, but also severely debilitating spine/back/legs pain and problems.
I am now wheelchair bound thanks to the ineffective bumblings of an NHS surgeon who misdiagnosed my severe OA in both feet, and thought my overstretched boggy tendons were the cause of my foot pain (despite my repeatedly telling him he was looking in the wrong place) and merrily chopped away at my right peroneal tendons before instructing me to 'get on with my life'... oddly enough my undiagnosed Ehlers Danlos was the cause of the tendon damage, and because the NHS refused to listen for nearly 45 years he crippled me for life!

Both of us were fit and working beforehand, and now neither of us can work and yet we too are deemed as "scroungers" or "malingerers" leeching our "loadsa benefits" off the state like some scumbags.

Don't make me laugh! We barely survive on £129:00 a week between us (income support) and our HR motab/LR care each. Wasting money heating a 3 bed property because our local housing trust refuses to relocate us into a 1/2 bed bungalow and generally living no life whatsoever due to lack of funds.
Yes I tweet - I use that as a means to keep in touch with my daughter. (She is currently on maternity leave with her baby) as it's cheaper than phones and we both have computers. That does not mean I'm capable of work though...how can I work when I'm also a full time carer for my partner who simply isn't safe to be left alone?

Incidentally - neither of us can sue the NHS/Doctors that messed up due to having no savings and we have been refused legal aid. So now we are to be hounded and persecuted by all who work simply because the Government say there is nothing wrong with us...we all know who the people will believe don't we? There is no hope for any of us.

Dzhimbo said...

Moving stuff, Mr. Magoo. I suffer from a disability myself, chronic back pain - the bete noire of the 'they're all faking it' brigade - caused by sciatica. This severely limits my mobility, but thanks to DLA I can afford to travel to the pub or the cinema occasionally. Presumably Ms. Dorries thinks I should spend my entire life indoors, where nobody can be upset by the sight of my walking-stick. The woman is a bigot and a careerist in my opinion, and nothing more.

Fire Byrd said...

I could give that stupid MP a smack. The people I work with would like nothing more than to be able to work.They loved their jobs and the having to come to terms with becoming disabled takes many years as they re-adjust to feeling useless and worse being treated as such.
I think all MPs should walk a mile in someones shoes before being allowed to open their stupid mouths

Maddy said...

Aside from the [fundamental] benefit issue / crisis, I still find it strange that people still ask that question, either out loud to your face, or just in their mind....'but you don't look disabled...' It would be really interesting to know how relatively few disabilities are in fact visible.

Arienette said...

*round of applause*
'You look fine to me.' is still one of my favourites. Oh, do I really? Well I don't look fine to the GP's, rheumatologists, ER doctors, psychiatrists and psycotherapists, as well as the emergency treatment teams and the in-patient teams who were consulted when my bloody DLA claim was put in. How stupid they all must be to not have consulted YOU, random-person, on MY medical condition, before saying they thought I was disabled.

Actually, no, my favourite was 'You're to pretty to [be disabled].'
I dont....I can't...there aren't even.... Gobsmacked.
No, of course not. All disabled people look like Quasi-fucking-modo, and all pretty people are perfectly healthy, mentally and physically.

People often cite my 'looking fit' (ie: being slim) when they learn I'm regtistered disabled, not knowing that originally I was labelled disabled because I struggled seriously with eating disorders for over a decade. People who look 'fit' are not always healthy. The worst thing is that even with two years of recovery under my belt, that remark still has the power to make me want to stop eating, to prove to people that I'm not malingering, that I'm sick, that I'm 'worthy'. How terribly sad.

Outraged said...

My sister is slowly dying from cancer. She is 28. She is registered disabled and has a blue badge etc. She doesn't look ill, doesn't have a wheelchair etc. Her numerous surgery scars are covered by clothes.
She has struggled to get DLA etc, as the Govt are not really sure whether people with cancer are ill or not if they are not undergoing actual treatment all the time.

She can't work due to pain and breathing difficulties as well as not really having an immune system anymore.

Last week she was told to 'get off her arse and get back to work' by a well-meaning acquaintance (I use the term loosely).

I can't believe that people feel it is OK to assume that anyone who doesn't automatically look ill is a fake, or that disabled people shouldn't be using the web/twitter etc or going out socially.

Gah.

Mr McGoo said...

Thank you all for your comments. I wish you all the best and hugs, etc. for the forthcoming shake-up of benefits by the current UK government.

An interesting comment above was "you're too pretty to be disabled" or something like that (sorry if I'm not quoting it word for word).

I was recently walking alone with my white stick and shades on, a few paces ahead of my wife, separate from her. I was passed by a number of girls in their late teens/early twenties. My wife, a few paces behind, overheard their comments (I didn't hear them): "He'd be well fit and shaggable if he wasn't blind."

I still don't know whether to take it as a compliment or an insult.

elburto said...

Lankylonglegs - I've had IIH for 12 years, I feel for your missus. Life's miserable enough without worrying constantly about being made homeless.

I can only qualify for LRC and LRM even though I can barelyu sit up straight, can't stand without severe pain, or walk.

Anonymous said...

I got iih and can't get dla