I’m done talking about disability. Now you need to listen

Errol Kerr lays down the ground rules for being an ally to disabled people
By Errol Kerr  •  Aug 29, 2017 at 7:53am  •  Disability, Employment, Human Rights

The phrase “falling on deaf ears” is an awful and ableist one, but frankly what the disabled community experience, what I experience, is much worse.

It’s not that people cannot hear what is being said; they don’t want to. They can’t be bothered to. No matter how much I raise my voice, no matter how much my disabled colleagues, friends and allies shout from the rooftops, it doesn’t matter if nobody’s listening.

Of course, if you truly think I’m going to stop talking about disabled people, their rights, and the difficulties they face in a society designed to specifically damage them, you don’t know me. I’m not going to pack my bags and go away. What I mean is this isn’t about me. This isn’t about what I have to write or what I have to say.

I could list some facts to shock people into listening, such as that whilst there are 13 million disabled people in the UK with both physical disability, neurodiversity and mental health counted in this definition, only 3 million of these people are employed. Or maybe that DWP figures indicate that thousands of people with disabilities have died, often due to illness or suicide, shortly after being declared fit to work.  Maybe I could talk about the police brutality that disabled people in the USA have faced whilst fighting against the American Health Care Act earlier in 2017. We’ve got a mental health crisis in universities and suicide rates are on the rise whilst care provision is decreasing.

But shock tactics don’t work.

This has become the norm and it’s been accepted. It’s to be expected that disabled people – the most vulnerable people in society – have to fight to secure their right to live. Out of 650 MPs, less than ten are disabled. As an indication of how difficult it is for disabled people to get into politics, it’s just awful.

Disabled activists are often ignored by their non-disabled counterparts because disability is still a huge taboo. People would rather discuss race, gender and sexuality than disability, as people still feel uncomfortable talking about it. Hell, we can’t even hire a disabled actor to play a disabled person, never mind portray it accurately. And trust me, disabled people don’t want to see Daniel Radcliffe pretending he has cerebral palsy.

So I’m not going to “talk about” disability. You’re going to listen. Yes. You! Hello reader.

 

This is about you, now.

 

Disability doesn’t pick and choose when it comes to race and gender – mostly, anyway. People who can’t walk are losing mobility allowances, and upset tweets aren’t going to do much. Reports are coming out that disabled people are dying without access to care, and you’re acting like you’re powerless to stop it- but you’re not. All it takes is a bit of involvement. Even the smallest act matters. So here’s what you can do:

 

Do big things. Be loud alongside us

Are you political? Get out there and protest. Fascism is on the rise and disabled people were the guinea pigs for Nazi atrocities last time around, you need to stop it just as much as us. If your disabled friends want to get out and protest, come out with us for support. Check protests are accessible for disabled people and call them out if they’re not. Ask your MPs what they know about disability in their constituency. Ask them if they’ve got advisors for disabled people. Ask your party if they aim to get more candidates with impairments on their election lists.

 

Do small things. Recognise disabled people

Writers, authors, comedians, actors, content creators. Find them and follow ten of them on Twitter. Now. Go do it.

Read their material, watch their videos. Go to comedy shows by disabled people. Watch films with actors who are disabled (including those who are neurodiverse or have mental health difficulties). And then you can criticise their work. Call them out if they make mistakes. Praise them for their talent.

The best people to listen to about disabled people are actual disabled people. Are they applying for jobs? Consider them. Are they writing for you? Publish them. Share their work. Make them as worthy of your time as the rest. It’s that easy.

Don’t stoop low for an easy read of the Daily Mail’s “benefit scroungers”. Don’t simply say The Theory of Everything is a brilliant film – which admittedly it’s not half bad – without recognising the issues with casting a man who isn’t physically disabled, as Stephen Hawking.

 

Discuss disability with your family

I’ll admit it’s the norm for me, with ⅘ of my immediate family being disabled or neurodiverse somehow, but you should talk about it. How valuable the health service is to us. The things we do. Talk about how awesome we are at sports. About us writing and acting and working in your local coffee shop and answering your tech problem phone calls, just like anyone else.

 

Talk to and listen to disabled people

Whether on Twitter or Facebook, a comment on a YouTube video or blog, a quick five minute chat after a comedy show or conference led by disabled people. The smallest interactions matter.

Chat to us when we’re waiting for a coffee and the barista is slow as hell. We’re human. We want these conversations. Plus it helps normalise us to everyone around you.

 

This is on your shoulders

We’re in a society where people think disabled people should die because they’re not productive. So you’re going to recognise what we produce. What we do.

You’re going to join in. Read it. Share it. Talk about disability in your local area, your county, your country. If you don’t, it makes it so much easier for the myth of the lazy disabled person to perpetuate. If you’re not recognising the disabled people around you, you’re allowing this to happen.

We don’t “have to talk about” disability. We don’t “have to talk about” mental health. Not anymore.

You need to listen and you need to act.

I can write as much as I want, but you need to get it out there for it to have any change. Because whilst I could totally miss out on publishing opportunities, a job or two or an award, I really don’t fancy a situation where me dying is the best option for both myself and the society I live in.

About the Author

With a particular interest in ideas of the neuroatypical, mental health and dabbling in feminism and international politics, Errol prefers to surround himself with tasks – usually giving himself more to complete than he’d ever care to admit. Taking the time to enjoy writing for Verbal Remedy is just one of them.

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