The Simon Heng column

    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
    practical solutions.
    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?

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