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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…

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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.  

One of the things I have seen online today that has made me think is an article about one of the 7/7 survivors who is having to go through the humiliating experience of applying for Employment Support Allowance. This man is a double amputee who has lost an eye and his spleen and is now a wheelchair user. The article is concerned with how awful it is that someone, who was so severely injured due to a terrorist act, and whose injuries are a matter of record, has to prove he is disabled in order to receive support.

I agree, it is horrible and disgusting that he is having to do this but, in my opinion, he is not being asked to do anything, that is in any way, unusual. For so many disabled people this is a normal part of applying for the minute dregs we are entitled to from the welfare state.

As far as I can see, all that has happened is that he is being asked to complete the same form all disabled people have to  complete when we have to apply for ESA or, as a matter of fact, for any other benefit. This is, in fact, something we have to do on a practically daily basis. We have to justify our existence and the help we need all the time. The form this man is being asked to complete is one of the same humiliating forms all disabled people are sent when they apply for Employment Support Allowance, Personal Independence Payments, Attendance Allowance and the myriad of other soul-destroying forms we have to complete where we have to go into all the things we CAN’T do rather than focussing on all the things we CAN. Benefit forms, home care forms, medical forms, a snowstorm of paperwork and online assessments. All nosey, mortifying and embarrassing.

So, why is it still deemed justifiable to do this? Why do people who are ill or injured have to go into the minutae of their everyday existence in order to receive any support at all?

As far as I am aware disabled and older people are asked about their limitations more often than anyone else. In order to receive any benefits at all we are asked unwanted, invasive, intrusive,  questions about our personal lives and then, in so many instances, we get called in for a face-to-face grilling as if we are criminals or trying to get something for nothing. These assessments are about such glorious subjects as our mobility capabilities, our personal habits and our mental state. If we can walk, how far we can go? How tired do we get when we do anything? Can we pick up an empty box or a carton of milk? How about a 5p piece, can we manage that if it’s on a table or on the floor? We are asked to take off our shoes and attempt to scramble onto a high examination bed. We are quizzed about our bowel and bladder functions. Do we wet or mess ourselves and, if we do, how often? Can we wash or bathe unaided or do we need someone to assist with everything we do? Do we need encouragement to do things or feel too anxious or concerned to attend meetings or go to work.

For many disabled people, completing a benefits application form is one of the most upsetting things we ever have to do. Having to answer questions about what we can’t do and focus on all the things we may have had had no trouble with in the past, but are now unable to tackle due to our impairments, is so upsetting, so depressing that it is almost impossible to do. Filling in one of these forms, especially if you used to be active, sporty or just, unimpaired is one of the most horrible things a disabled person can be asked to do. It is almost unbearably hard to consider what you, as an individual, may have lost through no fault of your own. To face the fact that your entire life has changed and you are now, in many instances, dependent on others for so much is awful.

There must be another way. A way where claimants don’t end up feeling suicidal thanks to the things they are asked and the way they are asked them. It must be possible for this information to be garnered without people feeling they have to go through the Spanish Inquisition to get what they are entitled to.  GPs and specialists may hold the answer. Medical reports and specialist opinion should be given proper consideration. What is clear is that this third degree stuff has to stop. Whatever happens, the system as it is cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged and unaltered. It needs to change so we can celebrate our successes, not despair over our failures. Reminding us, at every turn, of what we have lost is cruel, in the extreme, and needs to come to an end now. This constant questioning of disabled people about the things, over which we have no control, is just plain wrong and inhumane.

Stop it now, before it’s too late, and try something else, we beg you.

Last night, one of my female Muslim carers made an interesting comment. She echoed the words spoken by a Muslim woman who was on the evening news at the time, ‘Why just Muslim women?’

The report they were both commenting on was a story about David Cameron proposal that the government should spend £20m on providing English lessons for Muslim women? Both my carer and the woman on the TV said the same thing, practically in unison.

Why just women and why just Muslims?

Why not both men AND women of any nationality OR religion who don’t speak English?

The government have really cut ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) provision since they first came to power, why not put the £20m into funding for everyone who needs it? It’s not just Muslims and it’s not just women who need help, many other recent arrivals could benefit.

We recently had some building and improvement work done in our house. The Housing Association awarded the contract to a local building company who subcontracted some of the work to other, smaller builders in the area. The guys who came to my house were very nice but barely spoke English at all which made things more than a little difficult.  It would have been very helpful if they could have had the opportunity to attend English improvement lessons before they started working in people’s houses but they never had the chance. And they still wouldn’t have had the chance even if this new £20m initiative had been in place.

Why?

Because they were not women.

They were Eastern European men.

They may have been Muslim, there was no way of telling and I didn’t ask but they were definitely men.

Thanks to the cuts Mr Cameron has previously made to ESOL provision in this country, there are now few lessons they could attend. There is ever decreasing help available for new arrivals who need to learn our language. What are people supposed to do, learn by osmosis? As far as I can see, it would appear so. Our local college in Lambeth has had to halve it’s ESOL provision over the last few years and this appears to be a story which is the same at colleges nationwide. Demand is there, provision is not.

In 2008 the Government spent £230 million on ESOL provision in the UK. By 2013 this figure had been reduced to £130 million and is set to fall by a further £90 million after the cuts that were made last summer.As a result ESOL participation has fallen by 22%. The demand is still there, some courses have waiting lists of over a thousand people, it’s money and investment that is lacking.

So will this new promise of £20 million help? Probably. A bit anyway. Some women will get a chance, as long as they are Muslim, but men and non-Muslims will have to go on suffering in silence because they don’t speak English..

And that seems, to me, to be discriminatory.

I don’t often say that a policy appears to discriminate against men, it’s usually women, but in this instance men seem to be losing out. As for the Muslim thing, what about other faiths? Or people of no faith at all? Don’t they need to be able to speak English too? According to Mr Cameron It would appear not and that is very unfair. Give everyone who needs it a chance, not just one gender and one specific belief system.

If we want immigrants to be able to contribute their skills and taxes into the national pot then we need to let them be on a level playing field with other workers. Cutting ESOL provision is a short term saving that will backfire in the long term and to focus exclusively on one gender and one faith is wrong and discriminatory to everyone else who could benefit who doesn’t fit the narrow criteria for help. Have some classes that are for women only if that is what people want and what makes them most comfortable but make sure the money is properly distributed so that as many people as possible can be helped. Current plans do not make sense and seem to have been badly thought out. Go back to the drawing board Mr Cameron and try again. You could do so much better. Stop playing with our money and invest it where it will benefit the most number of new arrivals of both genders and all faiths. If you do this properly it will, ultimately, benefit the whole country as well.