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09th March 2016

Stand up, speak up!

Why, in an enlightened society, do we still persist in alienating and bullying people with disability?

The Home Office issues an annual report on Hate Crime that provides statistics on the number of incidents of harassment, hostility, assault and other offences to minority groups reported to the police. The most recent of these reports a 25% increase in reported incidents against people with disability.

Whilst this has been suggested to be a result of better levels of awareness and a greater number of otherwise unreported incidents being identified, there are others who feel that this is under-representing a growing and worrying trend. Stephen Brookes, who coordinates the Disability Hate Crime Network, says that there are 60,000 hate crimes against disabled people every year and “the majority are never reported."

If you work with disabled people, then you will no doubt have been aware of the way society as a whole responds to the presence of people who are ‘different’ in their midst. Its not always as overt as name calling or outright hostility, although this does still happen. It’s the subtle reactions; when you are seated in a restaurant and people avoid sitting beside you or actively move away. It’s the way mothers might haul their children away from passing too closely in the street.

For thirty or more years we have been banging on about ‘community presence’ and ‘community participation’, but it still feels that we have not come close to this as a reality for people with learning disabilities. I know of many dreadful examples of appalling public behaviour around people who are obviously different, some from the 1950s and 1960s but others from just last week. Have we changed nothing?

A viral video clip doing the rounds this week on Facebook is of a man speaking frankly to camera about his own reaction to an incident where he did not intervene in supporting a positive view of disability. The video is uncomfortably emotional; the guy says that by not enlightening a stranger’s child he did a huge disservice to his own son, who has Down’s syndrome. He allowed a negative view of disability to persist.

We all have a responsibility to represent the people we support in a positive light, either by our words or our actions. I would suggest that those reading this would state that they do and could cite examples of where they have stepped up to protect or defend a person against hostile or negative behaviour. However, I also fear that if we dig deep enough we might also recall an occasion where we could have done more.

The guy in the video shares his view that his son is absolutely NOT a disabled person, but points out all of the ways he has enriched the life of his family. As a small boy, my own son would opine that ‘everyone was good at something’ in the context of the children we fostered who had a range of challenges. We should respect those who remind us of our own failings and prompt us to see the value in everyone.

Ginny Tyler – QCS Learning Disability Expert Contributor

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