01 May 2006

BADD

Today is BADD.

No, I haven't woken up with amnesia thinking I'm stuck in the 80's

And, no, today hasn't been really shit, necessitating the extra "D" for emphasis.

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day (The brainchild of The Goldfish, inspired by Blogging Against Sexism Day, Blogging Against Racism Day, Blogging Against Heteronormativity
Day and others).

You may be thinking "Why does Lisy need to participate in a designated day? All she seems to do is winge about the discrimination she faces." And you'd be right. I asked myself the same question many times. But, in the end, faced with a shiny, exciting bandwagon - I just had to jump on (the bandwagon had working ramps, how could I resist?).

It comes at an apt time for me, as I'm suddenly in a state of heightened awareness about being disabled. Why? Because, for the last fortnight, I haven't been disabled.

Did my Osteogenesis Imperfecta vanish for the duration of my holiday? No. Of course not. But, for the two weeks I spent in America, I was not disabled. There was nothing I was stopped from doing because America (or at least the state of California) has almost entirely ridded itself of disabling barriers.

During my holiday I found myself able to go wherever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to. All buses, trains, underground trains, trams, etc... are accessible. Whereas here in London of course, I'm disabled. Not by my Osteogenesis Imperfecta, but by the stairs/escalators on the underground and at train stations, by buses with ramps that don't work, etc.

And it wasn't just in the arena of getting around that my disability was removed. I could go into any bar, I could eat in any restaurant (well, not *any* because Americans just don't seem to "get" vegetarianism, but my impairment proved no disability), I could visit any tourist attraction, safe in the knowledge that there would be access, and I wouldn't be disabled.

Now I'm back in the UK and, whilst my impairment is at exactly the same level as it was on the other side of the Atlantic. But now, I'm so severely disabled I can't even get into my local organic food store - because it's their steps disabling me, not my impairment.

I even did two gigs in San Francisco. Both clubs were fully accessible from the point of view of audience members (and so, *gasp*, on both nights there were actually crips in the audience) and one, with it's level performance area, was even accessible to wheelie comics. That's a 50% rate of full access. I must've played in over 50 comedy clubs in the UK. And how many of those were fully accessible to a performer? 3 (incase you're wondering, my criteria is: access to the entrance, an accessible toilet and either level access to the performance area or a ramp up to the stage). And only a handful more have access for audience members too. It seems that only time you're going to hear the word "access" in conjunction with the words "comedy club" here in the UK is if you happen to overhear a conversation between me and Liz.

Attitudes in America are completely different too. During my trip, two whole weeks, only one small child pointed and stared at me like I was a freak of nature. That was at Universal Studios, so I'm assuming that she too was a British tourist.

As I said in a previous post - in California, wheelchair users can get everywhere - so we are everywhere. Here I know far too many people (my parents included) who, due to disabling barriers, leave their own homes far less often than is healthy. I'm guessing British tourists going to America for the first time probably think there's been some kind of plague because there are so many crips about - shopping, socialising, taking the bus to work. (I guess technically there has been a kind of plague - war veterans who've become disabled due to the Bush family's tendency to pick fights with countries they don't like).

Of course, disablism isn't only about the barriers preventing us from getting to public places. Many of us face discrimination the second we get out of bed in the morning, before we've left the house. Laurence, in this article points out that there is an estimated shortfall of 300,000 wheelchair accessible homes in the UK. I live in an inaccessible flat. There's 3 steps to get in (fortunately each far enough apart from the others for me to bump my chair up and then regain my balance before tackling the next one) and my flat is far too small to move my chair around in.

You may be wondering why a feisty character like me would accept such sub-standard accommodation. Simply, when I was offered the flat it was more accessible than where I was living, and I knew it was going to be the best I was going to find for a long time.

But, why is there such a shortfall of accessible accommodation? You guessed it - disablism. If architects, builders, local councils, etc could just bear in mind that building accessible houses would not only eliminate the discrimination disabled people face, but, more importantly from their point of view, would bring in a profit - cos, guess what, crips pay rent and even buy houses! Shock, horror!

That is of course the other side of disablism. Not only do disabled people face inequality, but also, landlords, shop owners, restauranteurs, etc, etc lose profits by excluding crips. Sadly, maintaining inequality and an unjust society seems more important to these people than raking in the profits. Which seems like bizarre business sense to me. You'd never see a pub with a sign outside saying "No blacks!", so why are steps at the door acceptable? It's tantamount to the same thing.

And, at the end of the day, while all prejudices are wrong, disablism is the least rational, yet the most rampant (though white, I am a woman, and I am gay. I never experience sexism or homophobia, yet, as I pointed out, I encounter disablism before I've even left my flat of a morning). Tomorrow you could get hit by a bus. You wouldn't wake up suddenly gay, you wouldn't wake up suddenly black, you wouldn't wake up suddenly female, but, it's highly likely that you might wake up disabled. And if you're a pub landlord I bet you'd really find yourself wishing you could still kick yourself for not making the place accessible when you spent all that money on refurbishing last year.

A friend recently suggested meeting up in this pub. Notice the access comment: "Disabled access (access only, no accessible toilets)". So, an accessible drinking establishment, as long as you don't want to drink anything. That'll bring in the £80 billion crips collectively have to spend every year.

Though many crips do have money, disablism is also an economic construct. Using my holiday as an example: A non-disabled person carrying a suitcase would have no difficulty at all walking from my flat, down to Euston station to get the 205 bus to Paddington, so they could get the Heathrow Express, no difficulty in getting the case onto the bus, and off the bus. I can't. With a case, I have to get a taxi. That 205 bus in London costs £1.50. Taxi's cost considerably more. Mobility impaired London residents can get a Taxicard, and that reasonably short journey to Paddington, with a Taxicard cost me £1.50. The same as the bus would cost a non-crip. See how the Taxicard eliminates the financial penalty for having a mobility impairment? I recently heard someone argue that Taxicard should be abolished because "Why should disabled people be able to travel however they want, whenever they want? If disabled people can have a Taxicard, I should be able to take a limousene to work on my monthly travelcard!"

Yes. Let's bring back the financial penalties for being disabled just cos you're jealous that you have to take the tube. At least you can take the tube.

That's a very small scale example of economic discrimination. This woman claims that her £110,000 compensation doesn't cover the extra living costs of being disabled for life. Quite rightly so.

Someone I used to know received over £1 million in compensation from the hospital trust responsible for causing her Cerebral Palsy to cover her extra living costs for being disabled.

Both these people are eligible for Disability Living Allowance. A benefit which is supposed to cover the extra costs of being disabled.

From these amounts of compensation, we can ascertain that, during the course of the average disabled person's life, they are underpaid between £110,000 and £1 million in DLA. I fully agree that where there is blame for an impairment, the "victim" should be compensated for the trauma. But, to include living costs in the compensation calculation? That shouldn't be neccessary. Surely we should *all* have our extra living costs met. But, no. We're financially penalised and economically discriminated against.

And someone can begrudge me paying a taxi fare equal to the bus fare they would pay.

All over London there are these Chinese Herbal Clinics, with displays in their window offering treatments and pain relief for impairments such as arthritis. Obviously, I'm not one of these people that believes that alternative medicine can provide cures, but I do firmly believe that many can offer some degree of pain relief. So, these clinics are offering to help crips ease their pain - but have I ever seen just *one* that didn't have steps at the door? No. Not even one. You'd think that if they're targeting their services at people with chronic pain, that they wouldn't exclude most of their potential clients by renting inaccessible premises. "Oh, hi. Yes, we can treat you. As long as there's nothing "wrong" with you to begin with of course."

Duh.

Other places you'd think you wouldn't find disablism would be in services specifically for disabled people, right?

As I've mentioned before, my father went to a "special" college for disabled young men, when he was a disabled young man. The entry criteria? You had to be able to walk. I love all his old college photo's, full of people who should be wheelchair users, but were forced to prop themselves up with every walking aid going, just to get some semblance of an education (no-one taught my father to read until he was 21). When you look at the pictures you get to play "Guess who fell over just after the picture was taken!" I think it was Dad several times.

Sounds like something that wouldn't happen "in this day and age"? This evening I had a telephone conversation with an old school friend. He now lives in a segregated community specifically for disabled people (in a first floor flat with no lift up the stairs). He was saying that they're currently evicting all the residents who are *too* disabled and actually need any assistance with, anything.

It is now just before midnight, BADD is nearly over, and much like realising you've got three minutes left of your exam - I feel I should write a conclusion.

So, much like drugs, disablism is wrong. Just say no, kids.

There.

This public information post was brought to you by vast quantities of tea and the letter "Ouch my arse hurts from sitting still at the computer for too long."

9 comments:

  1. It's shocking how bad access still is over here. With the jugged hare, I wonder if there is a secret back entrance because the main entrance is certainly not accessable, I suppose there must be or they couldn't say it.

    I still remember once when we were out, and you discovered with joy and rapture that the emergency exit was through the disbabled toilet, so they couldn't put a lock on the door. You have the right to piss not privacy....

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  2. Heyo... I had wondered what the US was like, obviously the answer is "good"! I'd love to see the world but I have a devil of a job getting a seat I can use without being in pain at the end of the flight. But I'll save that rant for another time.

    I had thought new builds had to have accessiblity "features" - my friends bought a new house recently and they have a downstairs loo with enough room for a wheelchair, and level access to the front door. Of course, the only other thing that's downstairs is the kitchen - but it's handy for visitors I suppose. A bit mad to have an accessible loo, but no useable other rooms... and there is a step into the garden.

    I wonder about building regs sometimes! Anyway - nice post :)

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  3. (Coming here from the BADD stuff.)

    California is huge. (I'm originally from California.) So you get parts of it that take wheelchair access into account, and parts that really, really don't. And... wheelchair access and a bit of blind access is also about where they stop, in terms of accessibility. Since wheelchair access is only the beginning of accessibility for me, most things in California remained inaccessible and unusable to me even when they were wheelchair-accessible. (And neither my apartment there, nor the sidewalks outside it, were even wheelchair-accessible. If I'd wanted a wheelchair-accessible apartment, I'd have probably had to wait about a decade.)

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  4. I think your comments about the US show a lot about where you went. I'm on the east coast of the US (spend a goodp ortion of my time around the Philadelphia area) and I found London to by and large actually be an improvement over what I'm used to. And I think I got fewer looks and such in Europe than the US. As well, the rail system in the UK was better for access (of course, the rail system in the UK is generally better than that of the US). All of this is especially true if you think about the fact that the US legistlation is over 15 years old now and many small basic things still haven't been done.

    In my experience the US (and the UK) has such a wide variety of reactions to disability that it's hard to classify it one way or another. I think you were in SF area which is known for being particularly good for access despite the hills. East coast is generally not so good.

    And the difference between DLA and the whole SSI and SSDI fiascos in the US seems to be large. I actually understand how DLA works (I think) and I have no clue how SSI and SSDI work and I need to probably apply for them soon so that I can actually get govt. health insurance so that I can stay healthy enough to get a job. (The NHS may be something people don't like, but it's better than nothing)

    But, yes, the US is different and people are putting in effort, but I think it's happening in the UK too. Sometimes it's harder to see the stuff closest to us.

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  5. "because Americans just don't seem to "get" vegetarianism".

    You're right. However, if the vegetarian lifestyle had more meat in it, we'd probably take to it better (j/k).

    I'm glad your stay went so well, but I think Penelope who posted before me was probably correct. It just depends on where you are. I'm on the east coast, in North Carolina, in the capital city of Raleigh where accessibility is probably not what it should be.

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  6. Anonymous1:19 am

    Coastal california (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, etc are pretty good. Inland can be another story. It really depends on how cosmopolitan and/or travelled it is. So for example, Reno/Tahoe's probably alright, but I'd have my doubts about Bakersfield or Fresno...

    I'm tickled pink you enjoyed the trip here, though.

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  7. TheKumquat on LJ1:05 pm

    As others said, the US really depends. In particular, it's not that coastal California has ridded itself of barriers so much as it was built after it occurred to people to avoid building with such barriers. New York is possibly more barrier-ridden than London - more shops may be wheelchair-accessible and spacious, but there's almost no public toilets (accessible or otherwise), most subway stops and buses are totally inaccessible and poorly signed, often with nowhere to sit down.

    I'll spare you my rant on the Passport Office where you have to use a telephone to make an appointment, there is no alternative method, and staff are forbidden from helping you. And there are no seats and elderly people were forbidden to sit on the floor. Not to mention aggressive staff at the airport who couldn't understand the concept of not being able to take shoes off without sitting down.

    In small-town and suburban America, if you can't drive for whatever reason, you're a non-person. Similar to rural UK I guess, except a lot more common.

    How much of London would it be feasible to make accessible with the will and a bit of cash, versus how much would need to be knocked down and started again, do you reckon?

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  8. Will and a bit of cash?

    At least 95%.

    Wheelchair lifts that go up a staircase (which, of course can be stood on too) are far from ideal. But, they're better than nothing, and can always be installed when a vertical lift isn't a feasible option.

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  9. Hey,

    Interesting post. I am sort of leery of traveling to the UK for the very reasons you point out here.

    I've never been to the West Coast either so I can't really tell for certain ... but the West Coast is known for having good accessibility. Older cities like Philadelphia and Boston might not be so good.

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