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And the whole Doctor Who thing progresses.

As I said in my previous blog, now we have a female Doctor, in the future I would rather like to see a disabled actor play the Doctor.

I think this would be good.

But, this has led to a long and involved discussion, on my favourite Social Media platform, ‘Facebook’, with several disabled people about the normalisation of disability. There’s a group, including me, who are saying that disability and disabled people should be celebrated and included and seen as just part of the vast panoply of human existence that is life and then there’s another group, people who are also disabled in some way, who are saying that being disabled is definitely bad and that an impairment or disability means that something is wrong. They are saying that, if they had the opportunity to become part of the non-disabled world then they would jump at the chance and grab it with both hands. They are saying that they would like to get ‘better’. For me, the question is better than what. Better as opposed to worse? Worse than what?

Well, for a kick off, I don’t see being disabled as meaning that there is something wrong with me at all. I just see it as meaning I am different and, as a result, I don’t want to get ‘better’ in myself at all. I want to see the world get better. I want to see society get better. I want to see attitudes towards disability and what disability means get better, but, I am someone who has become disabled, I was not born this way. Maybe my views would be different if I’d always had my impairment. I am someone who has travelled from the non-disabled world into the disabled community so I’m part of the group that can see it from both sides of the fence.

I was 24 when I was diagnosed with my MS. For me, my disability is not an impairment or something that is wrong with me, rather, it’s a failure by society to be able to cater for me and my needs and ior people like me. My MS is an illness that I contracted from who knows where which means that I have now lost the ability to stand and walk and look after myself on my own and has left me stuck in a bed most of the time and using a wheelchair to get around when I’m up instead of using my legs. It means I have carers coming in daily to get me up and wash me and dress me and feed me and cater for my needs and put me back in bed in the evening. It is a part of me but it does not define me. On the inside I am still the same me I’ve always been, I’m just me with MS as opposed to me without MS. The real me, the internal me that is ME, has not changed. I didn’t walk into my GP’s surgery the day I got my diagnosis as one person and come out as a completely different person. I came out as the same person, just as a person who now had MS and was therefore labelled as being disabled. That was all that changed. My label. The essential me was still the same.

The thing is though, is that the essential me has had to change over the years thanks to that diagnosis. I have had to learn to stand my ground and do my own thing my way and to fight for what I now believe to be right. I have had to learn to fight to be part of a world that was once believed was mine by right. I have had to learn to fight to be part of a world which, in some way, doesn’t seem to want me to be a full member of it any more. I have had to learn how to fight the urge to apologise for being me and having needs that are different and seen to be, in some way, as abnormal.

One of the questions disabled people get asked all the time is whether or not we’d like to be ‘cured’. Now this is something that must, in my opinion, has to be different depending on whether or not you were born disabled or if you became disabled later on. It also must depend on whether or not you experience pain as an upshot of your impairment. If you ask me, I don’t think I would like to be cured. I’m perfectly happy as I am. I’m not really in any pain, I just can’t walk or stand or look after myself any more. And, if the world was set up differently then that wouldn’t matter at all.

I don’t think I want to go back to how I was in my pre MS days because I like the me I am now a whole load better than the me I was before. I have met people since I became disabled that I’d never have met otherwise, done things I’d never have done, been involved with things I could never have been involved with, learnt things about life I would never have learnt about without that diagnosis. Before my MS came aong I was shy and quiet and a bit afraid of sticking my neck out and voicing an opinion but the disabled me with MS is confident, loud, not afraid to say what I think, able to hold my own in an argument and I think it’s the fight I have had to have with life due to my MS that has helped make me this way.

I’m not saying that my life as a non-disabled person would have been any better or any worse than my life as a disabled person but it would definitely have been different. Would that have been a good different or a bad different? Well there’s the question. I don’t know. All I know is that, one way or the other, it would just have been different and I’m not sure if that is a different I would want it to be.

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Well, that’s interesting.

I’m currently having a fascinating conversation on Twitter with some fellow Whovians discussing the big reveal today for the 13th regeneration of Dr Who.

We’ve got the usual posts and suggestions for a female Doctor or a Black Doctor but I suggested the possibility of a Disabled Doctor.

And I got this instant response ‘Get what you’re saying, but why would the Doctor’s regeneration leave him with a disability? Unless it went wrong, future story perhaps?’.

My hackles were raised – doesn’t this reply indicate the issue in a nutshell – ‘unless it went wrong’.

This implies disability is bad.

How about equality?

If a Black Dr or a Female Dr or an LGBT Dr is not a stretch, why would having a Disabled Dr mean that something went ‘wrong’? Where’s the big issue here? What’s the difference?

A friend has pointed out that the Doctor goes to places throughout the universe and, in that case, for some races/groups of Aliens, couldn’t being regenerated as a human be seen as something going ‘wrong’? If those aliens saw having six legs, two heads or wings and a tail as ‘normal’ then, being regenerated in human  form as completely wrong. If the Doctor regenerated as a Dalek, Cyberman or Sontaran then, for humans, that would be ‘wrong’ but for another Dalek, Cyberman or Sontaran it would be right and nothing to comment upon. Being human, in that instance, would be the abnormality.

I think this is actually yet another example of many people’s inability to deal with the concept of disability as just an alternative form of ‘normal’ . People don’t like to think of disability as anything else apart from being ‘wrong’ when it’s actually their attitude that’s wrong. If I’m out and about with a group of other wheelchair users, we’re our own normal and any upright or walking companions are the ones who are different. A group of hearing impaired people chatting away using BSL are no different from a group of French or German people speaking their own native tongues to one another, they just can’t hear the words or voices, rather, they just see them instead. Visually impaired people reading books with their fingers, in Braille, are not doing it wrong, they are just doing it as an alternative form of right, just as people who are not visually impaired reading print or handwriting is right.  We’re still seeing non-disabled actors ‘cripping up’ for roles in films as disabled characters. We have heard, only this week, of people being unsure about talking to disabled people in case they offend us. We’re seeing paralympic athletes being seen as ‘superhuman’, ‘brave’ and ‘inspirational’. Why? Disabled people are, after all, just people, we’re just people who are different in some way to what is perceived by the majority to be ‘normal’. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with any of us, we’re all just different and it’s time to start seeing ‘different’ as ‘normal’. We need to start seeing people just as people, regardless of their gender, sexuality, colour or disability. Sure, the Doctor recently had a storyline where he was blind for a couple of episodes, but he got ‘better’. Baby steps in the right direction but we’re nowhere near ‘there’ yet.

So, do I think we’ll get a disabled Dr for number 13? Almost certainly not. I still don’t think  people are ready for it. Dr 13 my well be Black, they my well be female but I think we’re still going to be waiting for a disabled Doctor until regeneration 14, 15 or 16. It will happen, I’m convinced that it it will, eventually, happen but probably not today.

But I’ll still be watching, I couldn’t not…

What has happened to this country? What is going on? We really do seem to be becoming a nation full of some very nasty people and I don’t like it. All I am seeing at the moment is story after story, report after report, news item after news item, on social and in mainstream media, of racist and xenophobic attacks and mind-boggling hatred towards our fellow man and woman. It’s horrible. Even though it’s now been a week since the Referendum, since we voted to leave the European Union, it’s going on and on and on. The hatred and racism is not abating in any way that I can see, if anything, it’s getting worse. According to newspapers and the news bulletins I’ve seen, read and heard just today, racist hate-crime has increased fivefold in the last week. A truly terrifying statistic and not a Britain I want any part of. People are being abused just because of where they were born, because of the colour of their skin and it has to stop.

What is going on?

People are being abused, insulted and attacked for no other reason than the fact they were not born in this country. Got a ‘funny’ name? Go somewhere else. Got an accent? Get out. Born somewhere else? The exit’s that way. Got a different skin colour? No room, we’re full.

Why?

Anyone with any knowledge or understanding of our country’s history knows that Britain is, and always has been, a medley of people and traditions from other countries, other nations, other cultures. A wonderful, amazing, fascinating meld of people from all over the world. People from many races living and working together, over the years, to make our country what it is. People absorbing other cultures and traditions, whilst adding a ‘British’ spin to everything. People teaching each other about life elsewhere and learning from one another for centuries. That’s what has made us the people and the country we are today.

But things are changing and, in my opinion, they are not changing for the better. As a nation we are becoming more and more insular and intolerant of others and it has to stop. All this bitterness and hatred is wrong and cannot go on. Not without harming the health of our country it can’t, anyway. Disrespecting, attacking and abusing others has to end before it’s too late. I  believe that my parents got it right and I believe that we should all try to think the same way. It makes sense to me anyway. They were both children in during the Second World War and the things they saw and heard then taught them something invaluable. Thinking first and then treating other people the way we would like to be treated ourselves needs to become our watchword, the way we all live our lives. Continuing to hate is wrong and can’t go on.

When I was a child, back in the 1960s and 70s, my wonderful parents brought me up with one main tenet for my life which they encouraged me to follow. It’s a maxim that has served me well for more than half a century now and it’s something I have tried to instill into my own children’s upbringing. It’s something, I believe, we would all do well to remember and try to adhere to, especially now. If I have learnt nothing else, if there’s nothing else I could teach my grandchildren, when I am blessed with some, if I take nothing else forward into the rest of my life, from the many things my parents taught me, practically from the day I was born then it’s this,

treat other people they way you would like to be treated yourself.

If you don’t believe you would like it done to you, by someone else, then don’t do it to other people.

Stop, think, reconsider then walk away. That is what we need to remember every day in everything we do and that is what we seem to have forgotten at the moment.

Why is it that, when non-disabled people are talking about or to disabled people, they feel that it is perfectly fine to say or ask whatever they like? Regardless. Absolutely anything. Things they would not dream of asking or saying about a non-disabled person but, because we are disabled, they feel they have a right to know.

Surely, people don’t do that, I hear you say. Well they do. Granted, it’s not everyone, most people are great, but it certainly does happen and it is definitely not fine. Just because we are disabled it doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings. Rule of thumb here guys, if you wouldn’t like people to say what you are about to say about yourself, then, in all likelihood, your disabled compatriot is unlikely to like it either.

And, most of the time, it’s not necessary either. Again, before you open your mouth ask yourself why you are about to say what you are about to say? Is there a valid reason or are you just being nosey. In many, if not most cases, it’s the latter and not the former. You really don’t need to know at all.

So what kind of thing am I talking about then. Well, I’m sure just about every disabled person in the country, in the world really, can think of more than one occasion when someone has said something that was unnecessary or hurtful or when they have been asked something intensely intimate and private when there was no need.

Last weekend a friend of mine was very upset when she overheard a visitor to her home in conversation with her partner. My friend, who has an impairment which can cause her intolerable pain, was in bed after having a very bad night due to pain and nightmares. The inconsiderate visitor was heard saying that she thought my friend was extremely lazy and asking, couldn’t her partner do something about it, because it just wasn’t right for someone in their early twenties to be so idle. Thankfully, her partner dealt with the situation very well and the visitor later apologised but, knowing that my friend is disabled, why did this person feel they had the right to say what they did if they didn’t know the full circumstances?

And it’s happened to me too. Just because I am obviously disabled, and use a wheelchair, I have been asked questions no-one in their right mind, would ask a non-disabled person. “How do you go to the toilet?”, “Can you have sex then?” and, said with some incredulity, “You mean you’ve got a job then? You work?” These are genuine questions I have been asked by random strangers on the bus or in queues at the checkout. I have even been stopped in the street and asked if my children were mine because they weren’t disabled too. Who thinks they have a right to do that? I think the most hurtful question I have ever been asked personally was when I went to my GP to get the result of a pregnancy test. The doctor had the brass nerve to say, almost without stopping for breath, “Congratulations Poppy, you’re pregnant. When would you like the abortion?” Once I’d retrieved my jaw from the floor, I said I didn’t want one. She then said, “But you have MS. How will you look after a baby?” Apart from the fact that, at that time, my MS was fairly newly diagnosed and was causing me very few problems, she was also completely ignoring the fact that I had a partner, parents, a sibling and other friends and relatives who could lend a hand if I needed one. Much the same as any other young, pregnant woman actually. Why did my MS diagnosis mean that this woman felt she had the right to say what she did. In my opinion, she didn’t. My MS didn’t mean I was completely incapable. Sure, I might have a few difficulties but, doesn’t everyone else? Thankfully, her fears were, as I had expected, unfounded and I had no problem with my pregnancy whatsoever. Or with my second pregnancy two years later for that matter, a very different experience altogether, thanks to a new, understanding GP and a supporting Midwife.

Just because someone is disabled it doesn’t mean their life is public property. How their impairment affects them should be on a need to know basis only and if you don’t need to know, don’t ask. It’s private and unlikely to be any of your business. If you wouldn’t like to be asked yourself, move away and stop being a poke-nose.

Regular readers of my blogs will know, without doubt, of my addiction to social media and how often the posts I read on Facebook and Twitter make me angry and inspire my writing. And today is no exception to the rule. Today it is a post on Facebook that has rattled my cage and made me want to write again.

The thoughtless comment I read this morning was yet another post about ‘benefit scroungers’ and fake disabled people. Someone was going on about all the people who are in receipt of PIP (Personal Independence Payments) and it’s predecessor, Disability Living Allowance, who ‘aren’t really disabled and entitled to it’ are they. The fake disabled person, as far as this poster was concerned, was a woman who volunteers in a local charity shop twice a week who gets PIP and has learning difficulties. The point, as far as the poster was concerned anyway, was that learning difficulties wasn’t a proper disability and that PIP was only for people who couldn’t walk or for blind people wasn’t it? No understanding whatsoever. No attempt, that I could see, of any research being done about the payments, just a declaration that the woman in question was a scrounger and a fraud because there was no special something which gave a clue as to her medical diagnosis. Not only that, but at least two responders had suggested that the OP (original poster) should report the woman to the DWP for fraud, especially as she was volunteering, which meant she could obviously work, so shouldn’t be getting any benefits at all should she.

Why is it that the less clued-up general public seems to think that all disabled people must have some sort of sign or badge which marks them out as having an impairment? Why is there little or no understanding for all the thousands of people who have conditions such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, autism, mental health difficulties, diabetes or epilepsy? How about all the people whose impairments have little or no outward manifestation. What about those of us who do not have an aid such as a white stick, a zimmer frame or a wheelchair that means we’re lying. Some of us have nothing at all that marks us out in a crowd. Someone with learning difficulties may need another person with them when they go out to help them get from A to B safely. Someone with diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in their hands might be able to walk but might not be able to hold a pen or pencil so may need a writing aid. Someone in the earlier stages of Multiple Sclerosis or Motor Neurone Disease may need to use cabs to get around but they can still walk a bit. Just because they have no visible sign of an impairment does not make them any less disabled that someone with a guide dog or a mobility scooter.    

And, where does it say that disabled people can’t volunteer or go out to work? To start with, PIP and DLA are welfare payments made to disabled people to help them with the extra costs their impairments cause. DLA and PIP were designed to help put disabled people onto a level playing field with their non-disabled compatriots. They are not a payments that are based on our diagnoses, they are based on our need for some help with our day to day lives. We don’t all have something that marks us out from the rest, a label which says ‘genuinely disabled’ hanging round our necks. More often than not there is nothing special about us to distinguish us at all.  And this leads on to the second myth my original poster and secondary responders were expounding, that DLA and PIP cannot be paid to disabled people who are in work. The extra costs disabled people can incur don’t go away with the arrival of a pay cheque. Someone who is unable to use public transport and has to catch a cab everywhere they go when they are unemployed is still going to have to call a cab to go places after they get a job. They will not, magically, get better the minute they sign an employment contract. Miracle cures don’t work like that or we would all be out there hammering on the doors of recruitment agencies begging for work.

Genuine disabled people don’t wear badges and there is nothing that says that disabled benefit claimants don’t need a little bit extra from public funds to put them on a level playing field, even if they do work. People who post comments on Social Media really do need to think twice and do a bit of research before they hit the enter key. What, at first glance, may look to be unfair usually isn’t. Disabled People are not money grabbing crooks, we’re just people who are trying to make the best of the difficult situation we have found ourselves in, often through no fault of our own. Disparaging and thoughtless comments and social media posts don’t help. If you’re not sure, do a little research, you may learn something and void hurting someone who has done nothing to hurt you. Most people aren’t crooks and should be treated with consideration, however much some social media users may like to believe they are.