As we start a new year there is always buzz of energy around new possibilities, goals to be met and changes to make, but as a disabled person I am acutely aware that I’m going into 2021 fighting the same issues I have been all my life.
And I am tired.
Tired of fighting for the bare minimum and tired of people expecting me to be grateful for that. ‘Things are changing’ is what people say, but I look around me, at my life and I struggle to see the changes.
Accessing public transport, healthcare and jobs is a relentless challenge. However, I’m still expected to be grateful for whatever minor improvement society decides to make, whatever tiny handful of rights the people at the top decide to afford me next.
Disabled people are being drip fed equality and I will not be grateful for it anymore.
Politician and retired Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson recently shared my feelings during a BBC Disability Discrimination Act event where she said ‘I’m over being patient on disability rights’.
As disabled people we are often expected to be quiet and compliant, we are not viewed as disturbers by the general public and this has contributed to an environment where people believe they can give us less, with the discrimination going unnoticed.
This has never been true, disabled activists have always existed and we have always been loud, it was just easier to ignore us.
But now thanks to social media, a new wave of disabled activists are taking a stand and refusing to be grateful.
Whenever I put my activist hat on and speak up about an issue I find myself being flooded by tweets and messages saying ‘people are doing their best’ and ‘you just have to be patient’ but from this side of the table, it really doesn’t feel like anyone is trying their best.
I am constantly asked to accept what I’m given and not to make a fuss over something seemingly so small.
During the height of the plastic straw debate this was rife. Even people who seemed to understand disabled people’s need for these vital accessibility tools told me that I would just have to accept things and that I should think of the bigger picture, not just myself.
Disabled people have been constantly fed the lie that we deserve less, resulting in us starting to believe it ourselves. I like to think of myself as being empowered and confident but even I will often think ‘do I want to cause a fuss?’ when an accessibility issue crops up in my life.
These thoughts are sustained by the notion that many believe disabled people are not equal and therefore should settle for less.
This kind of attitude is stalling progress when it comes to disability rights. The Disability Discrimination Act is now over 25 years old, with it’s replacement the Equality Act coming into law over 10 years ago.
Legally disabled people might have more rights now but a lot of our laws rely on disabled people speaking up to enforce them, something that is difficult to do when society is telling you that you deserve and should expect less. Law seems to mean nothing when attitudes in society have barely changed.
We might be more accepting of disabled people now, but that’s often only in select situations. The average person might support the Paralympics but when it comes to an equality or accessibility issue, the energy fizzles out.
I question myself on a daily basis, wondering if I’m overstepping a line or stepping outside my lane too much. Years of supposedly ‘harmless’ comments and denied support have left me feeling like asking for equality is too much, that I should lower my expectations of the world and be grateful for any change at all.
However, the DDA didn’t come about because disabled people were grateful and patient, it came about because they demanded what they knew they had a right to.
I want to find that same energy for myself, but it’s hard work when it feels like the rest of the world is against you.
Sometimes it’s not the obvious ableism that hurts the most, it’s the notion that I should just be happy with whatever I get.
I am tired of feeling like the bad guy for asking for what everyone else has.
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