Today is International Disabled People’s Day (well, actually it’s called: International Day of Persons with Disabilities, formerly known as International Day of Disabled Persons), a UN-initiated day of awareness around disability issues.
A couple of years ago comedian Mark Thomas challenged himself to do 100 acts of minor dissent over the course of a year. These ranged from rearranging cinema signs to making a Nick Clegg Piñata. His challenge sprang to mind a few days ago when I was thinking about how I wanted to mark today.
So in that spirit I’ll be undertaking five acts of minor dissent and five acts of minor celebration today in recognition of how far disability rights have come and how much is left to do. Whether you’re disabled or non-disabled this is a call to celebrate difference and take action together. Here’s what I’m doing:
Act of Minor Dissent 1: I’m calling today International Disabled People’s Day, rather than it’s actual name ‘Day of Persons with Disabilities’. I’m doing this because I use the ‘social model of disability’. This is a way of thinking about disability that says people aren’t disabled by their impairments but by a failure to consider difference in the way society’s organised. For example, it’s not my tics that make it impossible for me to call up my Internet service provider to sort out a fault, it’s their voice-activated system that disables me and means I can’t do it myself.
Lots of people are taught to talk and write about disability using the ‘person first’ form – ‘Person with a disability’, but I’m not a fan of this approach. Neither is Lisa Egan, who explains why in this brilliant article. I choose to use the term ‘disabled person’ because it fits with the social model.
This is about much more than semantics. Understanding my life in this way has raised my confidence and expectations and, most importantly, it’s enabled me to participate in finding solutions.
Act of Minor Celebration 1: A big turning point in my life came when I realised that independence didn’t mean doing everything for myself. In celebration of this here are my special ‘disabled people’s day’ biscuits – brilliantly iced by my support worker Aytan.
Act of Minor Dissent 2: For this act I am borrowing from the excellent work of Euan’s Guide. They’ve created amazing notices to attach to the red alarm cords in accessible toilets asking people not to tie them up.
Tied-up alarm cords are a pet hate of mine. The only thing more frustrating than urgently needing a wee and having to wait for an alarm cord to be untied is lying on the floor in need of help and looking at a cord which is tied up and out of reach. You can order the signs here and join me in untying ‘disabled’ alarms.
Act of Minor Celebration 2: A proper celebration day needs presents. But because I might struggle to persuade my friends to give me extra gifts this close to Christmas, I’ve decided to do the giving myself.
I’ve made a donation to my favourite three disabled-led organisations all of which are working to promote the rights of disabled people and create more inclusive communities. These are:
Whizz-Kidz – Because they’re supporting a new generation of disabled people. Promoting the confidence and expectations of disabled young people is key to creating significant social change.
Disability Rights UK – Because they are working to putt equality and human rights into practice across society, which is essential for us all.
Disabled People Against Cuts (UK) – Because disabled people are being hit hard by cuts to services, and dynamic campaigns are needed to challenge rhetoric around disability.
Act of Minor Dissent 3: I will be relentlessly smiling at children. OK, this may be a tenuous form of dissent and I do it most of the time, but I’ll work particularly hard at it today.
I don’t find children’s curious looks rude, nor do I find their playful mimicking of my movements upsetting. Seeing me can give them a valuable opportunity to experience and learn about difference. But how adults respond matters a lot too.
Not only do the actions of embarrassed, uneasy adults prevent children from experiencing difference, they also risk embedding the idea that disability should be kept out of sight, that it’s embarrassing, and that wanting to know more about it is naughty.
I understand why adults tell children not to stare – because they don’t want to hurt my feelings. But by telling children to ignore me, and squashing their curiosity, you risk establishing patterns of prejudice. These not only make the world a less pleasant place for us all but can also affect how children feel about their own differences, now or in the future.
One of the great things about talking to children about disability is that they ask very direct questions. And, more importantly, they listen to the answers. Children laugh, question and listen – this is something we can all learn from.
Act of Minor Celebration 3: There are loads of amazing disabled artists and performers doing incredible work, but I never seem to see as much of this as I’d like. So for my third act of celebration I’ve booked tickets to see The Solid Life Of Sugar Water at the National Theatre in March.
But you don’t even have to leave your home to watch fantastic disabled performers in action: you can still watch Francesca Martinez’s brilliantly funny performance on Live At The Apollo on the iPlayer.
Act of Minor Dissent 4: Twice a day agency carers come and help me with my personal care. Some of them I know well, while others who support me less regularly, I don’t. Low pay and zero hours contracts are a big issue in the care sector. This is as important for disabled people as it is for the carers.
I’ve printed out information on union membership and workers rights and put it into the folder my agency carers use to record their visits, along with a note to let them know they can take the info away if they want to.
Act of Minor Celebration 4: Every special day needs a song. So my carer Catherina and I sang in the shower this morning. Together we did a revised ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’. There was no hand clapping in our version though.
“If you’re disabled and you know it, kick the bath lift,
If you’re disabled and you know it, kick the bath lift,
If you’re disabled and you know it, and you really want to show it,
If you’re disabled and you know it, kick against low expectations and the bath lift.”
Act of Minor Dissent 5: I’m going to re-watch Breaking Free, a documentary about the disability rights movement in the UK first shown on BBC4 a few years ago. I’m also going to celebrate by listening to the November BBC Ouch podcast which marks the 20th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act which was the first anti-discrimination law protecting disabled people in the UK.
Act of Minor Celebration 5: I’m going to play a celebratory round of the incredibly tense balloon-poking game ‘Boom, Boom, Balloon’.
Please feel free to add your own acts of celebration or dissent in the comments section below.
However you choose to spend today, I wish you a very happy International Disabled People’s Day.
“Disability Advice Christmas tree.”