11 May Embracing disability in social settings: The change must come from us
The recent British Film Institute (BFI) Aperger’s incident has shone a rather uncomfortable light on the way the general public can react to people with disabilities or autism-spectrum disorders (ASD). After laughing “too loudly” during a screening of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, 25 year-old Tamsin Parker was ejected from a BFI cinema in London. While many other cinema goers were outspokenly upset by what happened, others in the screening hurled abuse at Tamsin and applauded her removal.
But where does this intolerance come from?
Many might argue that intolerance of this kind comes from an example set by those at the top – the government. If a ‘top-down’ system demonstrates ignorance of the importance and intricacies of social inclusion, or neglect for people with disabilities in society, it is unsurprising that the general public might follow. A report published by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2014 found “systemic violations” of the rights of people with disabilities in the UK. In the years since, the UN has upheld its criticism where the UK government continues to fall short of its international obligations to protect those with disabilities. In particular, investigators point to benefit cuts that result in high levels of poverty for people with disabilities and their families.
Against this political backdrop, a BBC investigation conducted in late 2017 reported hate crimes against children with disabilities in the UK are rising. 450 incidents were report last year, rising sharply from 181 in 2014. A survey carried out by the Disabled Children’s Partnership echoed the BBC’s findings. Interviewing 2,700 parents of children with disabilities, stories of abuse was commonplace. While the Home Office mitigates these rising figures by claiming better reporting and more victims willing to share their experiences, it cannot be denied that incidents of this kind are occurring at an alarmingly high rate.
What do these stories tell people with disabilities about their place in social settings?
Amanda Batten of the Disabled Children’s Partnership had the following to say:
“Families often feel like they can’t go into busy public spaces or post images onto social media for fear of being publicly shamed or having to be submitted to people telling them that their child must lack quality of life because of their disability…The idea that so many parents and children with a disability are facing such a lack of support and outright abuse from the general public is truly heart breaking.”
It is clear that many feel the threat of public shaming or abuse is enough to stop people living inclusively with their peers and wider society. An issue that effects children and adults alike, it is down to the general public to make sure that people are welcomed with an open mind and consideration.
Alarmingly, a 2015 BBC report found most people with disabilities surveyed were even afraid to attend parties in private settings. Many opted to avoid social gatherings at friend’s houses for fear of experiencing difficulty, a lack of accessibility, or negative reactions from fellow party goers. It is clear that much work is needed in private settings as with the public settings – we must ALL give consideration to social paradigms that many of us take for granted. If we can’t rely on a positive ‘top-down’ example, the change must come from us.
What can you do?
There have been huge advances that promote inclusivity in many different social settings all over the UK in recent years. Dedicated cinema screenings for those with ASD, quiet shopping times, technological advancements that have revolutionised accessibility for those with physical impairments. But the answer shouldn’t restrict people to segregation. Tamsin Parker had every right to see a film at a regular screening among her peers without fear of abuse or persecution. Why should a person with disabilities feel that they can’t attend an activity or enter a social setting they choose?
If you are unlucky enough to see the abuse of a person with disabilities or ASD, I implore you to stand up to that intolerance. It might not always be deliberate – mistreatment of a person with disabilities might come from someone simply acting too hastily, not having experienced disability before, or not appreciating the complexity of a given situation. Whatever the circumstances, it is up to every person to placate hostility, promote patience and tolerance, and demonstrate inclusivity.
Where we lack positive example, be the positive example. Find areas in your own life that could be more inclusive and open to people with disabilities and ASD.