Chronic Illness Inclusion spoke at an event hosted by Disabled People Against Cuts to discuss the need to reinvigorate the social model of disability.
This blog piece follows a discussion on the 6th of July 2020 in response to Ellen Clifford’s new book ‘The War on Disabled People’ from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) about ‘Reinvigorating the Social Model of Disability’, to which Catherine was invited. You can watch Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
We completely agree with Ellen Clifford that the social model of disability is intended to be a tool for uniting disabled people to take collective action. Now is a time for such unity if ever there was one. The global response to COVID-19, on top of ten years of austerity in the UK, has shown just how little disabled lives matter to the political classes. However, people with chronic illnesses have struggled to unite with other disabled people under the banner of the social model.
Catherine founded the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project as a programme of action research aimed at developing an advocacy movement for people with chronic illness. The project discovered that, although people with what we call ‘energy limiting chronic illnesses’ (ELCI) are potentially a big constituency of disabled people – 32% of working age disabled people in the UK experience impairment of stamina, breathing or fatigue – there is a disconnect between us and the rest of the UK Disabled People’s Movement (DPM).
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Leonora Gunn discusses society’s role in improving the lives of the chronically ill.
The big idea of the social model is to distinguish between ‘impairment’ and ‘disability’: ‘impairment’ is someone’s condition, ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’) in my case, whereas ‘disability’ describes the way that impaired people are oppressed and excluded from society on top of their impairments. This challenges the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ or changed to fit in to society, and suggests that society needs to be changed to include everyone.
This might seem like a funny thing for someone like me, with a chronic illness, to believe. Surely illnesses, like ME, need ‘fixing’? And how can it be society’s fault that I am ill?
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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.
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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.
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