For five years, I lived in a hostel for disabled people. Some of us
had acquired our disability – as I had – and others had a
congenital condition. From time to time, I wondered whether
acquiring a disability in later life made a difference to one’s
attitude compared with someone who had lived all of their lives
with a similar condition.
In effect, we were there for the same reasons. The people who had
been disabled since birth were coming out of long-term residential
care, and learning to live independently. The people who had become
disabled in adulthood could not stay in their previous homes and
needed to learn a new way of life. For both groups, there weren’t
enough properties adapted for our needs for us to move into “the
The people with congenital disabilities seemed to divide into two
groups, both aware of the social model of disability, and, rightly,
had felt disadvantaged and sidelined by society all their lives.
Some people seemed to accept this, but would complain bitterly
whenever the subject arose. Others wanted to change society and
attitudes, however impossible this seemed.
People who acquired a disability also seemed to fall into two
groups: the first felt that their active life was over; the second
assumed that they had the same rights as before, were shocked to
find that they hadn’t and struggled to reassert themselves.
From meeting people with other disabilities, mental health
problems, learning difficulties and sensory impairments, the same
seemed to be true.
All the help on offer seemed to me to be aimed at helping people to
simply adjust to their new circumstances, rather than help them
plan for a productive future. Although the emphasis has changed
recently – with social care focusing on integrating us into
society, for example – the terrible legacy of (inadvertently)
encouraging acceptance of one’s condition has meant that there is
an inertia in the minds of many disabled people.
Many of us are frightened to take risks in our lives, which are
currently safe but may not be fulfilling,