By Bob Williams-Findlay
Many claim One Month Before Heartbreak (OMBH) is a non-political campaign. How can it be? By opposing the proposals being made by the government around the reform of the DLA benefit, one is taking a stand. The decision to undertake this reform was a political one, therefore willingly or not, the campaign becomes political. Under the banner of OMBH I have read some moving testimonies, but I remain critical of the campaign itself.
If the Government gets away with this reform many disabled people will lose their entitlement, be pushed further into poverty or unemployment – I said, “If”. The message from OMBH seems utterly defeatist; come the end of the consultation period, everything is lost! Not in my eyes it isn’t. On February 14th there will be disabled people ready and willing to fight on until the country “jilts” Cameron and Clegg.
I am sick and tired of seeing the diverse community of disabled people reduced to simplistic stereotyping – we are not all happy to be portrayed as “victims” or “vulnerable” – such stereotyping plays right into the hands of the Government and Tory press. We cannot ignore the ideological attack that is taking place therefore it is vital to offer a well thought through political response not one simply designed to pull at people’s heart strings.
Without getting into the “modernist versus post modernist” debate, there is a need to avoid the world of stark choices where the baby is thrown out along with the bath water. When journalists talk about “human interest stories” I often smile because this usually ends up as a request for stories which can be fitted into traditional “news frames” – frames which tend to stereotype disabled people as either “tragic” or “brave”. Sadly, if disabled people fail to conform to these stereotypes, then they are not considered “newsworthy” and therefore remain absent or “constructed” by third parties.
How do we cut through this? In my opinion new media could provide a door by enabling disabled people to “tell their own stories” and in the process take back from the mass media and political parties the defining of what constitutes “human interest”.
At this moment in time all three major political parties are using people with impairments’ bodies as an ideological battle ground when it comes to determining the future direction of the welfare state. I would personally argue that not since the end of the 19th century has the “impaired body” been subjected to the “public gaze” in such an ideological fashion. It was at this moment, I would suggest, that the dominant approach to seeing “disability as tragedy” was crystallised. Since then disabled people have sought to shift the focus away from our “bodies” as the cause of disability and to centre instead on the social restrictions caused by the nature of society itself. I have no regrets in taking such a political stance, but it is clear that the current struggle requires us to acknowledge the realities of living with an impairment but at the same time opposing the dominant tragedy approach.
If you accept, as I do, that the experience of disability arises from the negative interactions between people with impairments and their social environments – then technology can play a major role in “bringing this reality” to life by exposing it, offering solutions and demonstrating the ability of technology to both enable and disable people with impairments.
(Guest post by Bob Williams-Findlay, founder of the Birmingham Disability Rights Group in 1985 and founding member of DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts). His thoughts here originally appeared as comments on the post Disabled Slacktivism and have been edited together and posted with his permission.)