Is being disabled becoming popular?

I think it was on Friday that I saw Lost Voice Guy, Lee Ridley, on Live at the Apollo. Of course, for a communication aid user to appear on a mainstream stand-up comedy program like that is pretty momentous in itself, and I think it represents quite a large step forward. He put on a good act, but as with all comedians, especially those still finding their feet, some of his jokes amused me more than others. Yet what caught my eye was Ridley’s shirt. His blue shirts with a wisecrack about disability in white writing seem to be part of his image as a performer. The one he was wearing on Friday’s show said ‘I was disabled before it was popular.’

While it is rather contentious, and he was probably just trying to be facetious, I think I know what he was getting at. More and more people seem to be defining theirselves as disabled these days, when in the past they would have just ignored whatever mild impairment they have, classed theirselves as normal and got on with their lives. Without wanting to sound too much like the nonsense spewn by the likes of the Daily Mail, it’s as if certain people want to be seen as disabled or as belonging to an oppressed minority. I see more and more people using crutches or scooters these days; and on the web, message boards are filling up with people saying they are disabled and calling themselves disability activists, but who seem to have lead relatively normal, able-bodied lives. There also seems to be quite a concerted effort by those with mental health problems to group theirselves with those of us with physical disabilities. Everyone wants to be a member of a minority these days – an activist standing up to an oppressor.

As I think I have written on here before, I do not necessarily have a problem with this. After all, who am I to say who is disabled and who isn’t? I just fear that, with this influx of people into the disability community, voices like mine will get drowned out. We all feel so disempowered these days, people seem eager to widen the definition of disability so that it includes the most minor of impairments. In the modern world, resources are becoming more and more scarce, so people seem to want to justify their access to resources by emphasising whatever impairment they have. The problem is, those with more profound impairments who cannot stand up for theirselves get pushed to the back of the queue. At least that might be mitigated by guys like Lost Voice Guy appearing more and more on TV.

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