Recently I wrote about the high early mortality rates among people
with learning difficulties, who are 58 times more likely to die
before the age of 60 than the rest of the population. It has
continued to play on my mind, not just because I found it so
disturbing, and I have only just realised why.
These bald statistics are only signposts to the submerged hazards
and consequences of every form of disability, medical, economic,
social and psychological, each of which come to the surface only
after you’ve become their victim.
For example, when I first became disabled, I think my attitude
towards my condition was purely in terms of the physical
limitations imposed by lack of mobility. As far as I was concerned,
tetraplegia was just a series of practical problems requiring
The first sign that this was not the only dimension to being a
wheelchair user came with the realisation that my inactivity could
also lead to vulnerability to urinary tract infections, lowered
bone density, kidney failure, obesity, heart failure and pressure
sores, to name but a few possibilities, let alone the consequences
of social isolation, like depression and other forms of mental
illness. Add to this the usual consequences of low income.
I realise now that each disabled person could list an equal number
of consequences of their condition, and that each list would be
different. For people with learning difficulties, problems in
communicating symptoms (or having complaints taken seriously) might
lead to health complications that are easily avoidable for the rest
of us. I can also imagine that a consequence of many forms of
mental illness would be a lack of cardiovascular exercise, leading
to increased chances of heart disease: equally dangerous and
incapacitating. And for each of these health-related dangers there
will be a social, economic or psychological risk too.
I imagine that most of the non-disabled world views us as being, in
some way, just permanently inconvenienced, or permanently,
seriously ill. How can we get across the idea that it’s more
complicated than that?