I am so unbelievably proud to be a disabled person and a wheelchair user. It has helped me to become open-minded, creative, resourceful and resilient, and led to some amazing opportunities in my life. As a travel writer, I often come back from exotic destinations with beautiful climates, food and culture feeling extremely fortunate to be living in the UK, because, on the whole, access and inclusion is so much better here.
That isn’t to say, however, that there’s not a very long way to go before we can forego the Social Model of Disability in the UK and say ‘Yippee, I’m no longer disabled by society and I have equal opportunities to everyone else around me’…. Yep, a long way to go. But, whilst acknowledging society’s flaws for us as a disabled community, I also think it’s vital that we treat the issue with kindness and passion rather than constant anger because, rather than accelerating change, all that anger is often doing is scaring away the non-disabled people who we need on our side in order to make society more inclusive.
I worry that our disabled community verifies the real role models by how many debates they have about the correct terminology to use, or how many unapologetically angry tweets they’ve sent to inaccessible public transport companies. I’m not for one second saying that these things aren’t important or shouldn’t happen, but I am saying that it can often evoke more fear than progress, and more people avoiding conversation and education from worry of saying or doing the wrong thing.
So where do we go from here? I’ll be totally honest, I don’t really know, and I don’t have a solid answer. But I do think that awareness and education will create progress quicker than shouting will remove ignorance. We should be calmly explaining why certain terms are offensive, and giving lessons on the importance of inclusive design before we type out 140 characters with the sole aim to shame.