Disability History Month: November 16th 2022 to December 16th 2022
Since 2010, Disability History Month has become a fixture on the UK calendar. The initiative’s aims are summed up by this extract from its founding document:
‘To raise awareness of the unequal position of disabled people in society and to advocate disability equality; to develop an understanding of the historical roots of this inequality; to highlight the significance of disabled people’s struggles for equality and inclusion and the “social model” of disability’
In this post, I’ll dig a little deeper into the above. I’ll also refer to my own experiences as a sufferer of invisible disabilities. The invisible disabilities in question are ADHD, autism, and OCD. Some with one or more of these conditions prefer to label themselves neurodiverse.
Personally, I don’t find that word appropriate for ADHD and OCD. I understand why some might feel differently, but ADHD and OCD have been purely negative influences on my own life. When it comes to my autism however, I do find the neurodiverse label useful.
Labels might be a thorny issue, but I don’t think there can be much disagreement with the following statement: It is vitally important society acknowledges that disabled people in the UK still face major obstacles.
Disability and Work
Given Lifestyle & Mobility deals in products and services tailored to enhance disabled people’s quality of life, staff here are more aware of and sensitive to the day-to-day effects of disability than I have experienced in some previous workplaces.
My most immediately obvious “invisible disability” is autism. Only 16 per cent of autistic adults in Britain are in full-time paid work! In this regard, I’m lucky to have found a full-time job at Lifestyle & Mobility. It took me almost six years of searching to find full-time work.
UK disability inequality is firmly rooted in what wider society has valued over time. Consider this: Three hundred years ago, someone living in the countryside who wasn’t able-bodied would’ve been at a major social disadvantage. Being unable to help with manual farm work, their perceived “usefulness” would’ve likely been low. Two hundred years ago, the same thinking might apply to someone in an industrial area unable to do manual factory work.
The marginalisation of disabled people is ironic considering the influence which we have had on shaping societies worldwide. In Britain alone, think about Isaac Newton, who would have been diagnosed with autism if he lived today, or about Stephen Hawking.
Access to work is one of the biggest issues facing disabled Britons, but there are other similarly large problems. Accessibility full stop continues to be a major headache in disabled people’s lives. Consider how much of an ongoing concern the single issue of wheelchair accessibility is for a great many with mobility problems.
Then multiply that single problem. By a lot. Why? Well, because of the knock-on effects of disability, for one.
Many issues faced by those with physical disabilities simply aren’t ones which people without first or second-hand experience would be aware of. Coming back to the wheelchair-bound, this lifelong mobility loss has both large and small knock-on effects.
Since starting at Lifestyle & Mobility, I’ve grown far more aware that disabilities are rarely straightforward. For example, I didn’t even know about the issue of pressure sores for long-term wheelchair users, let alone about how serious a problem these can be. In turn, realising how many complex disabilities exist has made me appreciate initiatives like Disability History Month even more.
Disability Rights in 2022
This is a good time to point out that what I’ve written so far is only half the picture of what Disability History Month is about.
Earlier in this post, you may have seen a reference to the “social model” of disability in this initiative’s founding document. So, what is the Social Model?
Briefly, Disability History Month has a major focus on promoting this concept as an alternative to what they call the Medical Model of disability. The “Medical Model” is characterised by a view of disabled people as ‘passive receivers of services aimed at cure or management’ This model is presented as Britain’s dominant one – with the disabled individual seen as the problem to be addressed.
By contrast, the Social Model championed by Disability History Month is presented as one with ‘disabled people as active fighters for equality working in partnership with allies’ As the name suggests, the Social Model identifies the structures within society as the problem to be addressed.
As you may have realised, Disability History Month is a somewhat ideological initiative. As a result, it isn’t without controversies. I could write something ten times the length of this piece about why those controversies exist!
I’m not sure if anyone would want to read that though, so I’ll just say this. From my perspective, any serious consideration of disabled people’s place in British society shouldn’t be entirely comfortable, because there’s a lot of ugly and entrenched obstacles to be overcome.
Honestly, there’s so much more to Disability History Month than I can possibly cover here. Nonetheless, I hope this post is useful as an introductory insight into where things stand around equality for the disabled in today’s Britain.
– Matt Stanfield for Lifestyle & Mobility