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Could able-bodied people show as much patience as those with disabilities have to if they were patronised, asks Simon Stevens

It sometimes seems that the favourite pastime of able-bodied people is to upset their disabled counterparts. Many of them seem to be inflicted by a terrible disease that makes them patronise disabled people at every opportunity. What can be done to cure them of the condition remains a dilemma for society.

It’s not just what they say to disabled people (such as describing them as invalid, cripple or spastic) that is the problem, it’s also what they do. Why do they take such pride in parking their cars in disabled people’s spaces? Who decided that it was a good idea to build steps up to buildings and not bother with a lift or ramp? And what possesses someone to put the phone down on a person with a speech impairment rather than make an effort to listen to what they say?

It is amazing the extent to which some individuals can go to upset a disabled person.

As an often stressed disabled entrepreneur, I go swimming to relax. I have been swimming since I was three and do not regard myself as a non-swimmer, but as I swim lengths I wear a swimming jacket or arm bands to assist me. So why is it that lifeguards, who are paid to keep swimmers safe, prefer me to take off the jacket or arm bands and risk drowning if I want to go in the deep end?

I find some things that able-bodied people do bizarre, such as nominating a disabled person for a bravery award as if being disabled was something special. Or putting us in special schools in the hope it will be better for us.

But the most annoying thing a non-disabled person can do is to assume without checking that a disabled person’s personal assistant is in fact their mother, not an employee.

With all these ways of upsetting a disabled person, I wonder how many able-bodied people, if the tables were ever turned, would have the patience that disabled people need.

Simon Stevens is chief executive of disability services provider Enable Enterprises and has cerebral palsy

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