Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations that
have turned to the subject of social exclusion. The usual causes of
social exclusion made their appearance: poverty, institutional and
personal discrimination, lack of accessibility to public and
private buildings, and lack of accessible transport for
Some of my physically disabled colleagues told stories of
immeasurable sadness and resentment, of injustices and missed
opportunities that stretch back decades. One woman, now in her late
middle-age, recalls how she felt abandoned by her parents, and was
forced to live in a dormitory, in an institution, until her
mid-thirties. It took nearly 10 years for her to have enough
self-confidence to live independently. She remembers, with tears in
her eyes, the time she was told she wouldn’t be able to attend her
father’s funeral because she couldn’t get her wheelchair into the
Another man, now in his forties, described how his life had
changed, moving (again) from institutional care to the community,
but still feeling that he had little independence. His times of
getting up and going to bed were dictated by the home care service.
Provision for his social life depended upon the timetabling of his
care provision, and often meant just a visit to the local shops,
because there was nothing else to do. One of his enduring sadnesses
was that he had missed out on being able to socialise as a young
adult with his peers. He feels that, given the opportunity, he
might have been able to form relationships, even get married,
perhaps. Now he feels that his chances have gone, and that he will
be single for the rest of his life.
We often talk about the deficiencies of the current system, and
the inadequacies of the attempts at social inclusion.
It’s worth remembering that it’s possible to do this only
because our expectations, and those of society at large, have
changed in the past few decades. It’s worth remembering that, even
40 years ago, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses were
not meant to have any expectations at all.