Service User Voice: Too many disabled people?

Because there does seem to be an awful lot of us. Mind you, an asthma attack is all it takes these days to swell our numbers

When I was invited to write columns for Community Care it was hinted that I should be controversial and I think my previous articles have lived up to this. But, today, I am going to take a step further by arguing there are too many disabled people.

Despite just being 33 years of age, I feel like Victor Meldrew as I remember the good old days when disabled people were seen as freaks. Let me explain.

As a child, being disabled was a big thing. You had to look and act properly disabled to warrant the label and, as someone with cerebral palsy and a speech impairment, I was always safely defined as disabled. But nowadays the whole world and their dog seems to be labelled disabled as the range of impairments has grown. Even minor conditions like diabetes and asthma seem to count.

Quotation from 29 November issue, page 10A perfect example of why there are too many disabled people is the blue badge system. In the old days, a town centre would have three disabled parking places. Nowadays, you can see “disabled car parks” with more than 200 cars and I wonder to myself, what is the point?

The problem is that disability is seen as an absolute in terms of the benefits given and the level of severity of impairment is not taken into account. While in terms of emotional experience, different impairments cannot be accurately compared like for like.

However, in terms of the physical environment and people’s attitudes, I feel it is wrong to compare the experiences of someone who has diabetes or asthma to someone with severe cerebral palsy – the difference in terms of life experience and the level of daily discrimination experienced cannot be considered equal.

It concerns me that many people now find it easy to be termed disabled and enjoy the apparent benefits such as accessible parking and shopmobility scooters without understanding the history.

As a child and right up to my twenties, I was seen as a freak and it seemed I was the only disabled person within a 10-mile radius. As a young disabled man I pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved and opened the doors for others, and I continue to do this.

So the big question, is it my fault? Have I got what I’ve been asking for – and now have to come to terms with not being the lone ranger anymore?

Simon Stevens is chief executive of Enable Enterprises

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