Joyce Fox examines society’s differing reactions to disability and chronic illness.
Disabled activist, Stella Young recently wrote: ‘The social model tells us that we are far more disabled by inaccessible environments and hostile attitudes than we are by our physicality. My disability comes not from the fact that I’m unable to walk but from the presence of stairs.’
How true is this of people who are chronically ill? Accessibility is rarely the issue – we often have little energy to go out at all.
Patricia de Wolfe is tired of saying ‘sorry’ on account of her energy-limiting illness.
I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.
Sorry I can’t make it to your birthday party, your family gathering, your funeral. Sorry, no, I can’t come over for tea on Friday. Why? No, I’m not doing anything else. But I’m going out for lunch the Tuesday before. Yes, I know that gives me Wednesday and Thursday to recover but Friday would still be pushing it. And tea is a bit late in the day for me. Yes, I am sure. Perhaps we could meet next week? Yes, I know I cancelled last time. Yes, of course I understand you’re very busy… Sorry.
I want to stop apologising. I want to stop explaining. For me, inclusion would mean, at the very least, living in a society in which it is generally accepted that some people are ill. Chronically. Perhaps permanently. And in which we are not regarded as freaks, or hypochondriacs, or scroungers, or, for that matter, just “poor things”, but as people valiantly trying to cobble together something that feels like a life in the teeth of gargantuan obstacles.
Fionn critiques the benefits system’s failure to support chronically ill, self-employed people
I’m exactly the same as anyone else who’s gathered up a lifetime of training and experience. I have a lot of skills. People come to me for advice. They offer me work. They offer me money to do that work.
And I can do the work, but it makes me ill. I don’t mind; I’ve always been ill, and I love my work. I just have to stop every now and again till I get better, then I can do some more.
Now that I’m older, those pauses have got longer. I might work for five months and have to stop for another four. The trouble is that when the income stops, the bills don’t. I live alone, so I have to claim benefits.
Wheelchair Vista on the lasting effects of being doubted.
Many of us with long term conditions struggle to accept that we can no longer live life as we used to. It took me almost ten years.
I carried on working for longer than I should. A resident at the care home I managed said; “It’s doing you no good keeping on working. Why don’t you reduce your hours or stop altogether?” She saw that I could not stand for long without leaning against a wall. Staff noticed that I always relied on the lift and was often in urgent need of the loo.
When I had time off work for minor surgery it had to be extended due to massive bruising sustained in a car crash. This was soon followed by investigations for IBS and a referral for knee surgery, which culminated in my employment contract being ended.
Ella Sumpter talks about fluctuating mobility levels and reactions to her wheelchair use.
I have been given a power wheelchair that used to belong to my wife’s grandfather. I am very grateful. It will be very useful when I have to go to the local shops, or be somewhere where I am expected to stand around or stay on my feet a long time. It will also mean that I can go to protest rallies which I have so far been left out of.
I have a problem though. I have a very large psychological barrier to actually using it.
So what is the problem stopping me using it? Put simply, fear. Fear of what people will think and say, and embarrassment at people seeing me in it. I’ve already blogged about using a walking stick and my fear of abuse as well as fear of people thinking I use a stick to look more ill and claim extra benefits.
Rebecca Boot tackles the painful subject of employment for the chronically ill.
I’m back at university, studying again after my body threw a fantastic tantrum the last time I tried it.
My university has a real focus on employment and one of the highest graduate employment rates in the country. That is great, everyone wants to be able to get a good job when they leave university right? Isn’t that the point of going?
Not really, not for me at least. I applied to Uni because I love learning and my brain likes to be busy.
But here’s the rub – I am not employable, not really, not as I am now. I have plenty of skills, I am smart, I’m a self-starter, I have a whole bunch of somewhat impressive things on my CV, I meet the person specification for a whole lot of jobs already. But I’m not employable.
Geoff Jones recalls his experiences of education as a child with severe chronic illness.
Access to education is often overlooked when considering chronic illness and social exclusion. Education is particularly relevant if those affected become ill during childhood. In today’s Britain, where a university education has arguably become the norm, those becoming chronically ill during childhood may find themselves placed at a significant disadvantage, adding to the societal exclusion already imposed through their physical disabilities.
I became ill aged 13 with glandular fever and was subsequently diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Over the next three years various attempts were made to provide me with an education, either via home tutoring or part-time attendance at school. Eventually I was sent to a comprehensive with a special unit for those with various medical conditions. Unfortunately, due to a lack of understanding of my condition, I experienced a major relapse and, as I reached the age of 16 shortly afterwards, the educational authorities (probably with some relief) ended their attempts to educate me.
Sarah Campbell asks whether chronic illness needs its own set of responses to social security, employment and social care.
I have a combination of both a chronic illness and a progressive muscle condition, offering me insight into both “worlds” of invisible fluctuating illness and visible physical impairment. Some issues are extremely different while others are shared. But so far I’ve found that accessing support is often biased toward purely “traditional” physical impairments.
As a wheelchair user, there are many access barriers ranging from getting an adequate wheelchair in the first place, to housing, transport, social care etc. But the law is generally on our side, precisely because disabled people fought for those rights over the past decades.
Catherine Hale considers how half a lifetime of chronic illness has changed her understanding of the term ‘disabled’.
I’ve been sick for nearly 30 years. That’s the whole of my adult life. I always thought of myself as ‘disabled’ in the sense of being very incapacitated. During my bedbound phase I couldn’t wash, feed myself, go to the toilet or write my own name; nor could I read, watch TV or have a conversation.
But I never thought of myself as ‘disabled’ in the political sense used by the disabled people’s movement. That is, I never thought the disadvantages I suffered in not having a job, a career, or a social life were due to an infringement of my rights. It didn’t make sense to blame my profound isolation on other people or organisations excluding me unnecessarily or treating me unfairly.