Unsure about disability? Lets debate.

In a challenging piece earlier this year Kaliya Franklin – disability rights activist, founder of the Broken of Britain campaign against welfare cuts, and co-author of the Responsible Reform (Spartacus) Report – called for more frank and open discussion about disabled people at work. Or is that people with disabilities? She says that most of us don’t get to air what we really think about disability for fear of causing offence. We daren’t vocalise un-PC thoughts such as

… isn’t it nice the poor dears have something to do with their time. And get paid for it too. Bless. Not like those damn scroungers defrauding benefits.

Franklin (or @bendygirl as she calls herself on Twitter) was writing the day after it was announced that more than 1,500 disabled workers would be made redundant from state-subsidised Remploy factories.

I think she underestimates us, the able-bodied majority, who are after all currently enjoying what is already being billed as the most successful Paralympic Games ever. But I think her dim view of what she thinks we think is a consequence of a lack of debate about the issue. She’s no doubt right that few of us are comfortable discussing disability for this very reason. But we’re not the only ones made uncomfortable. Disability rights activists like her, Franklin admits, are also made uneasy by the awkward reality that segregated workplaces – a subject I’ll return to in my next post – have long provided gainful employment for a group of people still not fully integrated into the world of work. All the more reason to have an honest and open discussion rather than be stifled by the sanitised ‘you can’t say that’ culture that Franklin is so critical of, and that the Frankie Boyle’s of this world so love to exploit.

There are important questions that are not even being asked never mind answered, she says:

Maybe ‘they’ll’ be a bit smelly? Maybe some will dribble a bit, or have issues with their speech. What will happen if they aren’t very good at their job but fear of accusations of discrimination prevents colleagues or managers from raising performance issues?

These are not in themselves unreasonable concerns. The trouble is that in a society where people – not least campaigners themselves – are too easily offended and usually on somebody else’s behalf, it can be difficult to enter into an honest debate about disability. Despite this we will be doing just that at the Manchester Salon on the evening of 18 September. I hope you’ll join us!

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