Friday 12 December 2014

Where are all the disabled people?

In the wake of several disability related stories in the spotlight in the news recently, I have noticed many people disparaging the statistics on the number of disabled people in this country.


One statistic says that as many as 12 million, roughly one in 10 people in the UK are disabled. This statistic is constantly derided and often cited as proof that people these days are less resilient or fiddle the benefits system.
However this figure refers to people disabled under the Equality Act, ie have a physical or mental condition which has a "long-term and substantial effect on your daily life". Dependent on severity this might include certain long term illnesses such as diabetes or conditions such as dementia. This is why the figure is much higher compared to stereotypically "disabled" as the general public generally understands it, eg "in a wheelchair" or "blind". It should be noted that half of these are over pensionable age, a sign of our aging population.

Some people take this to mean that 12 million people are on disability benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth. Criteria to receive disability benefits are stringent. Benefits are given if the effect of the disability will give rise to significant costs due to mobility difficulties or the need for personal care (DLA, or Attendence Allowance for pensioners only). Another (ESA) is given if the person has become unable to work.
The number on each benefit is 3.13 (DLA), 1.46 (Attendence Allowance) and 2.15 million (ESA) respectively, with significant overlap between ESA and DLA.
NB: DLA figures includes pensioners who claimed DLA as working age people and then later passed pensionable age. 
Even here, many people disbelieve these statistics, saying it is impossible for so many people to be so sick or disabled as they don't know or see any.

Hidden disabled people

So where are we?
Well, when it comes to very sick and disabled people, many of us are hidden away. For instance, I am  mostly housebound. This is not all that unique. I communicate with the world through the internet and am in contact with many other sick and disabled people, who, like me, are rarely well enough to go out.
Those same disbelievers are the people who walk past my flat every day, completely unaware that they are feet away from one of these very sick people they think don't exist.
Some years ago I applied for the wheelchair discount on my council tax. I am so hidden away that when an officer from the council came round to check that I really was a wheelchair user, some of the neighbouring flats told him that no wheelchair user lived here. Given that I could go months without leaving my flat, they had never seen me!

Another point is that some people can be very sick but "look fine". Certain illnesses and conditions (lupus, MS, Crohns, mental illness) can have devastating, disabling and sometimes even life threatening symptoms yet which are not visible to the naked eye. You will walk right past such people without knowing it. These people are "hidden in plain sight".

As an aside it is an ironic effect of modern medicine that there are more disabled people around. While some cures have doubtless been found, it is often the case that previously fatal illnesses can be treated but not cured, causing long term disability. Similarly, previously fatal injuries and conditions are now survived but not necessarily fully recovered from.

Too many scooters!

Strangely, at the same time that people scoff at disability figures, a large number complain at the number of mobility scooters/wheelchairs in our streets. They groan that it never used to be this way and many take it as a sign that people are lazy or pretending to be disabled. Particular disdain is reserved for anyone who is overweight and "therefore" uses a scooter.
On this last point they should consider that exercise may be difficult for someone with mobility and very possibily health problems. They may also be on medication which actually causes weight gain. Cause and consequence should not be mixed!
Secondly, the fact that more mobility scooters and wheelchairs are around is something to celebrate. It is a consequence of the very hard work of the disabled generation who came before me and fought for disability access. There is still a long way to go and many problems, as was illustrated by the very recent court decision on wheelchair spaces on buses. But it has freed many disabled people to get out and about much more easily.
When people ask what these disabled people used to do, the answer is simple. They were stuck at home or even in institutions. Just because they weren't seen didn't mean they weren't there. I remind you of myself and my neighbours!

We sick and disabled people really are here. Some of us are so sick that we are hidden away. Others are hidden in plain sight. Finally, despite setbacks, we should be celebrating, not bemoaning the fact that those of us with mobility issues are better able to access society.

Monday 8 December 2014

Wheels on the bus

The Court of Appeal has overturned a court ruling which said that First Bus's policy of not requiring passengers to make way for wheelchairs in designated bays was unlawful.
Specifically Doug Paulley had taken the case to court after he was denied access when a mother refused to wake her sleeping baby and fold her buggy to allow him to board.

As seen by reading the BBC comments, feelings run high on this issue and there are many misunderstandings and some quite frankly silly questions.

  • It is disgraceful that a paying passenger be forcibly removed from a bus for a wheelchair user.
No one was saying this should happen. If the bus is full, then the bus is full. However, if the wheelchair bay is taken by a buggy, then this should be folded up to allow the wheelchair user to board.
The original ruling said that the company should require parents to do so. The new ruling says that parents can choose whether or not to comply with a request, potentially leaving wheelchair users behind even though there is room on the bus.

  • Babies are just as disabled as wheelchair users and have just as much right to the bay.

Babies are not (generally) disabled and with the assistance of their parent, have far more options than disabled people. Disabled people cannot usually get out, fold their wheelchair and go and find a vacant seat. Parents and their babies do have this option. I would however hope that someone might help them hold bags/baby/fold buggy and give them a seat if there is standing room only.
The exception to this is for disabled children/babies who cannot leave their buggies.
It is worth noting that parents used to use buses long before there were disabled bays. These are a necessity for wheelchair users as opposed to a useful convenience for parents.

  • It is wrong to expect a mother to stand with the baby in her arms just so a wheelchair can come on board.
There is no reason for this to be the only possible outcome. If there is only standing room available one would hope that other passengers would do the right thing and offer the mother their seat.

  • And what if another wheelchair had been on board? Will you sue every time you can't get on board the bus?
No, of course not. If the wheelchair space is taken by another wheelchair, then tough luck. The bus is "full". In this case, just as for non disabled passengers, you wait for the next bus. No one has ever suggested otherwise.
This isn't simply about the space being taken and having to wait. This is about the space being taken by a non disabled person who *could* move out of the way but doesn't want to.

  • Disabled people want equality but don't like being treated equally! 
Disabled people want the equal opportunity to travel. If the bus is full then they will catch the next one like anyone else. But this is not what we are talking about here. There IS room for the wheelchair user. They are being prevented from boarding because a passenger won't move out of the way.
What would a non disabled person do if someone stood in the doorway and refused to get out of the way?!

  • This is no big deal. Disabled people can just catch the next bus!
The problem with this argument is that it is circular and keeps happening. The next bus often says exactly the same thing! Where I live I can often expect to wait for 3 or 4 buses before I am allowed on board.
The end result of this ruling means that although the buses are physically accessible, in practise they are not as I STILL cannot get onboard.

  • It doesn't matter as I never see wheelchair users on buses anyway!
Well quite. Perhaps now you see why. I don't use buses because of this very issue.

  • This should never have gone to court. It was just some militant guy trying to get some money.
I don't know the claimant and cannot comment on his motives. What I do know is that many disabled people, myself included, were waiting for the outcome of this ruling with high hopes. In my case I will effectively continue to be barred from using buses in my area.