Is it time for me to take more of an active role in disability politics and culture? Until now, I’ve just got on with life, generally acknowledging what could be called the wider community of disabled people while not really interacting with it. In fact, my biggest contribution to disability culture is probably my blog. Of course I have quite a few friends with disabilities, but like Lyn I see no reason why I should interact with my fellow cripple any more than anyone else.
Now though, I’m beginning to wonder whether I should try to assert my voice in the various disability forums a bit more. I still get the feeling that, with more and more people now defining their selves as having some kind of disability – the very definition of which seems to be widening – voices like mine are at a risk of being drowned out. More to the point, in the various online forums I keep an eye on, a few voices tend to be dominant: certain people seem to dominate and control the entire community; people who, as far as I can tell, ironically have relatively tenuous links to it. Such people seem to bully and brow-beat others so that only their voices are heard and only their opinions are perceived as valid.
In response, perhaps I should participate a bit more actively. To be honest I’ve had enough of deferring to others on certain disability related issues. Take inclusive education, for example: the dominant opinion among disability ‘activists’ is that kids with special educational needs must be educated in mainstream education at all costs. I used to defer to that opinion. Yet while I still think inclusion is a nice idea and should be implemented where at all possible, my own personal experience, both as someone educated at a special school, and who now often volunteers at one, tells me that trying to educate the most severely disabled young people among their able-bodied peers is not only impractical but downright cruel.
At Charlton Park Academy, there are students who simply could not handle life among mainstream students. My attitude towards inclusive education is therefore more nuanced than it once was, having been informed by a decade of volunteering at a special school. Those who insist carte blanche on inclusion seem to often lack the personal experience I have, and so let ideology get in the way of practicality.
I therefore think there’s room for me to start asserting my voice a bit more: As a man with moderately severe cerebral palsy who has lived more or less independently in London for the last decade, blogging, writing and making films, and who for most of that decade lived with a woman with severe CP, I think I have an experience of life others do not. Having grown up with severely disabled classmates and then having watched them die one by one; and then having lost the most incredible person I’ll ever meet, I know how harsh life as a disabled person can be. My perspective on disability is as valid as any other, if not frankly more than many, and I therefore feel it’s time I stopped deferring to others. If it is indeed true that more and more people see theirselves as disabled, isn’t it up to guys like me to make sure they know it isn’t all about blue badges and queue jumping.