Many disabled activists speak at length and passionately about how society isn’t built for disabled people, it’s impossible to get a job as a disabled person and the benefit system is insufficient leaving disabled people impoverished.
I’ve spent today thinking about why I’ve not got a louder voice amongst my peers or why I just don’t subscribe to many popular opinions within these circles. What I’m about to share I believe is at least one of the reasons.
With the exception of obvious things like physical access to buildings and assistive technology where needed to help people to communicate, I believe strongly that society doesn’t owe anyone anything, definitely not me as a physically disabled but fully functioning, educated, grown ass woman.
When I got my first job after graduating from uni, the well meaning lady who interviewed me, stopped amidst one of her questions to really speak her mind. She helpfully pointed out that I “would get far more on benefits” than my starting salary there. I was dumbfounded but managed to reply that, while that was very interesting to know, I really didn’t spend the last 4 years on my degree to let my brain rot in my head for the rest of my life watching This Morning and eating Hobnobs.
I got that job and have been gainfully employed since for the last 18 years.
A similar story unfolded when I went to my bank in search of a mortgage to buy my home. The bank clerk looked at me from head to toe and back with a look of complete bewilderment on her face before disclosing “Someone like you would be much better off putting your name down for a council house”. I asked her to elaborate although I was fully aware what she meant. I went down the street to another broker, got my mortgage and bought my home.
You could be forgiven for thinking that these encounters serve as proof that society is indeed messed up and disabled people don’t have a fair shot. Here’s the thing though, the reason I had to fight in these situations is because I was already angry, at war with myself. I hated being seen as disabled, hated being seen full stop. Each time I did anything off script, I expected a fight and I got one.
Everything changed when I started to see my own worth. I realised if I was ever going to get a seat at the table for the game of life, I had to first show that I knew the rules. Not just knew the rules but that I was a grand master!
I’ve never believed that society has a duty to make space for me. Rather I feel strongly that it’s on me to demonstrate my value and contribute to making the world a better place. It always winds me up when companies wax lyrical about being an “equal opportunities employer”. If you don’t want to hire me because I’m the best person for the job then for the love of God please don’t hire me to tick the diversity and inclusion box!
Just as when I couldn’t find a children’s book to explain disability to my kids so I wrote one myself, there are enough genius minds and passionate hearts in the disabled community to blaze several trails and create the spaces and circumstances not only for us to thrive but for the enhancement of humanity as a whole.
I also feel strongly that if we have a mind and a pulse we can do something to be a contribution. Not just to “earn our keep” for benefits etc but because I know how much working and my career does for my sense of purpose and fulfilment. Everyone has something to offer.
If this has ruffled your feathers then before you hit unfollow or unfriend (which of course you’re free to do) ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, that feeling is the fire in your belly beckoning you to make a stand for yourself and not consign yourself to the scrap heap just yet. Rather than using your likely limited energy reserves to finger point and grumble, use it to grab life by the short and curlies. You’re here for a reason, go figure it out!