By Dawn M. Sanders
Xenophobia is defined as: An unreasonable fear, distrust, hatred of strangers, foreigners – anything perceived as different.
‘Difference’ doesn’t just hinge on someone’s race or nationality – it is about being unusual, even considered non-mainstream…
In challenging the ‘dis-abled’ label and its connotations, it will only be used within individual quotes.
Claire, 43, with Sheffield M.E. and Fibromyalgia group said: “it can put a barrier up, people bringing stigma which adds to it…”
Any writer/journalist knows, it’s not just words that are important, but the implications/ideals behind them.
Bringing Negative Connotations to Life
Recently Channel 4’s No-Go Britain, touched on the experiences of people with additional needs. Through its participants in everyday situations, the programme exposed the blatant loathing and hostilities displayed by others when faced with ‘difference’.
What was uncovered in the segment, is what the concept of ‘dis-abled’ generates: an us and them/keep-them-over-there mentality.
The strong view stressed in the below workshop, is different in itself –turning the entire discourse on its head, removing the label preceding a ‘person’ – emphasising individual attributes.
For example, if someone describes them self as, a ‘dis-abled’ lesbian – is she not a lesbian first?
The demand for liberating a section of society, which is intrinsically subordinated within the pecking order, could be construed as overly politically correct.
However, for those on the receiving end, there are countless scenarios of daily ‘dissing’ one’s identity, character or capabilities – based on presumptions of someone’s challenges: from denying equal access to employment to nightclubs – examples are endless, impacting on one’s quality of life.
What often manifests, is institutionalised oppression, After a child is told at home and school from the beginning, your ‘dis-abled’; thus sewing the label and societal ideologies into their very identity.
Brendan Magill, a 71-year-old business, employment and disability consultant based in Worcester, defines ‘dis-abled’ as: “A person is unable to do something ‘normal’ people can, impacted by physical, mental or some other condition.”
“For example, a blind person is unable to do seeing things as affectively as a sighted person, that’s why I regard it as a disability, because they are unable to do those things or do them effectively.“
He continues: “I think it is important that we use the term disability/disabled, in order to acknowledge there’s a problem we need to do something about.”
Brendan emphasised the need to acknowledge ‘dis-abled’ people cannot do certain things, as – the social model unrealistically creates an environment which can accommodate all needs all the time.
However, the model has broad interpretations.
Sick or Healthy?
The media can be directly blamed for reaffirming the subordination of those with additional needs as “the sick and ‘dis-abled’” as is heard frequently – lumping together people perceived as needy or weak, irrespective of actual illness or varied additional needs.
Someone who is ill with a long-term health condition, is just that, yet if one is simply deaf – does it mean they are ‘not healthy’?
Generally, it appears many are still not making the distinction.
Margaret, a retired school teacher said of the ‘dis-abled’ label : “Someone who hasn’t got all their faculties like a healthy person has.”
Others spoke of confusion as to whether it was positive or negative, but the general consensus brought about uncertainty or negativity.
Megan, 22, a post-graduate in business said: “I’m uncomfortable with it.”
Clair, 43, with Sheffield M.E. and Fibromyalgia group said: “I do see myself as somebody with disabilities, but I wouldn’t use that label because it can put a barrier up, people bringing stigma which adds to it.”
When speaking to a few from the group, there was contradiction as to whether ‘dis-abled’ was a positive or negative in tick-boxes for job applications.
Heather, a retired council worker, with the group said: “I really dislike the term… Maybe I was taken on as a statistic, but in the job itself it was no help. No I tick ’no’ in the disabled box.”
In referencing the workshop below – based on experience: every time a visually impaired person hears: “Do you recognise my voice?” it’s ‘dissing’ – based on the assumption, visually impaired people have tape recorder memories of 1 in a thousand voices.
Every time a visually impaired person is grabbed out of panic, without being asked first, if they need help, that person is being ‘dissed’ – on the presumption, they are child-like and can’t manage something already being done, such as boarding a bus.
It is often presumed, ‘help’ is needed by default, creating relationship barriers and social isolation.
Until the media or others stop placing the barrier of ‘dis-abled’ before people – reinforcing a needy, weak lesser sub-culture; only when, people themselves who have additional needs/challenges, stop tolerating the dissing and proactively challenge such entrenched subordination, will they be viewed as strong and capable.
In challenging Brendan’s view, does doing something differently with feasible adaptations or having limitations ultimately mean it’s “A problem?” Surely people know their limitations in seeking jobs. Employers need awareness-raising in how people with additional needs ‘can contribute’.
Could Margaret’s and Brendan’s comments be taken as the opinions of older generations?
There will never be a level playing field – yet if every effort is not made to narrow the gap between a so-called mainstream and supposed lesser subculture – it becomes okay to label people according to societal ideology.
Watch the workshop video here, delivered at the Take Back Our World festival, north Devon on 16th July 2016 by myself, Dawn Sanders, student journalist and activist. It sets out an opinionated, first-hand narrative of this piece from mainly a visually impaired perspective.