The title of my post will become clear as you read it. I apologise in advance for the language but I feel it has to be repeated here. The abuse that was hurled at me on facebook needs to be set in context so I apologise profusely for the preamble.
I have recently experienced some firsts the likes of which as a disabled person I had never experienced until a Sunday in May (2014). I have lived in fear of this kind of abuse for quite sometime now. Of course I have heard the horror stories about various forms of abuse the disabled encounter either on line or out in public but so far in my life I had been pretty well sheltered from it.
As a disabled person (7 years of professional experience under my belt) I know that many of the disabled community live in a constant state of fear when out in public or on line. Some have developed social phobias or agoraphobia such is the state of fear for them when outside the relative safety of their home.
Since the coalition government took power in 2010 our lives (the disabled) have got worse. It seems to be open season on the disabled in this country and this is being fuelled by the right wing media. It seems the disabled are nothing more than the whipping boy for this complete shower of …….(you fill in the blank) that are currently in power. The disabled are seen as scroungers, who fake their illness and take your money (the taxpayer) because they are too bone idle to work.
Let me point out I would love to work, to get out of the house and socialise like a normal human being, its just I am yet to find a profession where I can carry out my job role lying down (there is one but I’m loath to get into the sex trade!).
The fact that these “scrounging scum” may have actually paid into the system during their working lives seems neither here nor there as far as the right wing press / political parties are concerned and the vitriolic bile they spew. If you are taking money from the state you’re a scrounger.
What the general public, who are being brainwashed by this message seem to forget is that the majority of people in this country would be classed as scroungers under this political mantra – Child Benefit, Child Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, DLA, PIP, ESA, the State Pension, these are all benefits being claimed by the same people who lap up the benefit fraudster stories in what passes for news these days. Yet all these people claiming these benefits seem to think their benefit claim doesn’t count. It drives me mad that they can not see the wood for the trees.
And may god help you if you happen to be an immigrant and claiming benefit. The fact you may have had to leave your country due to a threat of bodily violence against you for being gay, speaking out against a corrupt regime or just being a woman, doesn’t seem to matter to these people either.
I have been extremely lucky in the last seven years to not have my disability mocked or its extent disbelieved, on this particular Sunday in May that all changed.
As usual I had asked a question of my friends on my personal facebook page not my The Myasthenia Kid page. The question was about some Morris Dancers that had performed in the town centre. I asked if it had made anyone else feel uncomfortable that they had performed with their faces blacked up. I will state here I am white, I wasn’t trying to be all politically correct and Guardianista. I was asking a genuine question and I wanted to see how my friends felt about it. The discussion was a grown up adult debate that involved me researching on line during it to see what was the reason behind the Morris dancers being blacked up.
The question had been posted on late Saturday night, around 10pm and all involved had been very calm and everyone was respecting each others opinions. My view was in the minority which it occasionally is. Our town isn’t very ethnically diverse so it was interesting to see if the answers corresponded to that. I imagine if I lived elsewhere in the country the answers would have been different. It was interesting and enjoyable, I love a good debate. I don’t post these questions to be controversial and the people that are my friends know that I will ensure everyone remains polite and calm whilst discussing a subject.
I have posted numerous questions before to be debated however I will admit this probably was the edgiest yet. I have always tried to stay away from “controversial” issues when I ask a question, sticking to softer subjects like the length of school holidays or school cookery lessons etc.
Sunday morning was a different kettle of fish, a person that I am friends with for professional reasons (as in I have hired her on one occasion to do some work for me) decided to wade in both guns blazing. Her attitude was aggressive and she was determined to bully me into submission because my opinion differed from hers. She rattled off numerous posts, to which it became crystal clear she had neglected to read any of the comments contained within the debate. I kept pointing out to her what she was saying was factually incorrect and if she had read what had gone on the previous night she would realise what an arse she was making of herself. Obviously in my replies I wrapped it up a bit and wasn’t quite so blunt. However once this keyboard warrior was set in motion there was no stopping her and she became more and more abusive and racist.
Anyone who knows me personally outside cyberspace, knows I will not apologise for feeling a certain way or holding a certain opinion. I asked her politely to stop being so aggressive and to stop reducing what had been a good debate into a playground slanging match but she continued. When it became clear to her that I wouldn’t back down she posted
“well if you’re that fucking disabled get off facebook and take up knitting”.
I was so stunned by her comment initially I didn’t know what to do. No one in the last 7 years has ever said anything so derogatory about my disability. I was in the midst of getting ready to out with my parents when she wrote that comment. I don’t know what shocked me more the comment or the fact she is the mother of a disabled child or the fact that her child has mixed heritage.
When discussing it later with some of my “friends” they didn’t think the comment was that bad and were confused by my reaction to it. I then asked them if it had been a racial slur would it still have been OK? The answer was a resounding no. So then I asked is it acceptable to make fun of disabled people or call them names like spastic, mongol etc? Again the answer was no. I then asked “do you now see why this was unacceptable to me?” I got a yes but I shouldn’t have had to jump through hoops to get them to understand.
If someone says something like “well if you’re that f**king disabled get off facebook and take up knitting” firstly it makes me feel that she is questioning the level of my disability and secondly because I am disabled I am not “allowed” to be on facebook because thats for “normal” people. Which then in turn leads to the old fashioned belief that if you are physically impaired in any way you are also mentally impaired. This kind of thinking left a whole generation of bright physically impaired young people languishing in special schools which believed they would never progress beyond basket weaving.
Thats why that sentence was so offensive to me and it should be to anyone who is disabled. I have a voice and I will use it. I will not be bullied or shamed into leaving something or somewhere because I don’t fit into this trolls version of a “normal” person.
I like to credit my friends with some intelligence, their political views may differ wildly from my own but life is made up of so many different beliefs it would be ridiculous not to have friends that thought in a different way from you. What makes me sad is that they have bought into the propaganda being spewed out by this government. Where it is becoming socially acceptable to abuse disabled people. The police in this county have reported for the first time a rise in hate crime against the disabled. We have reached a tipping point and nobody but those affected by it seem to have noticed.
I know many of you have faced far worse abuse but this was the first time it had happened to me. Looking at it now I can see yes it was abusive but on the scale of things that have been said to others its pretty insignificant. At the time it didn’t feel insignificant, it wounded me deeply, that someone that I “knew” could say those things to me and harboured those deep seated feelings against the disabled.
Deeply upsetting as her ignorant comment was I decided it wasn’t going to ruin my day out. I felt at the time (and I still feel) that the best course of action was to delete the Troll and her comments. I have heard from other writer friends that Trolls are best dealt with by ignoring them or neutralising them. I couldn’t leave my facebook page open all day for her to post her hateful messages that were not just against the disabled but were racist as well, when I would not be able to respond to them for hours.
So leaving the upset at home, I ventured out to a local supermarket, my first trip out of the house since before Christmas if you exclude hospital / doctor appointments. I was very nervous whilst I was out of the house as where I live is a small town and it was possible that the Troll could be shopping there as well. Thankfully there was no sign of her.
Whilst at the till, my mother had parked me up whilst she unloaded the trolley. I was sat there minding my own business, when I saw a woman making a beeline for me. I had my sunglasses on so I had a really good look at her as she approached me in case she was someone I really should recognise. She came closer and closer towards me and without a word put her hand on my arm rest and leaned right over me to pick something off a shelf. I sat there in stunned silence, my presence had been completely ignored by this woman and I had been reduced to just a fixture or fitting. Had I not had the run in with the Troll that morning I would have grabbed her arm and told her “excuse me!” however as I was feeling so vulnerable I didn’t.
I couldn’t believe that this had happened to me that the simple act of me being in a wheelchair had reduced me to the position of non human. I thought afterwards maybe this woman was equally as rude to the able bodied people around her. I will never know but to be reduced to nothing more than an extension of a shelf in the supermarket knocked the wind out of my sails. Especially when I was looking so gorgeous, having made a real effort to be glamorous for my trip out of the house. ( sarcasm alert – if you missed it!).
My sister has told me many stories of people climbing over her to get into lifts / toilets before her. How in pubs she has been called a “spastic” or worse. Its never happened to me, I’ve been very lucky. My exposure to the outside world is limited, a lot of my life is lead in cyberspace. I thought I had surrounded myself with “nice”, decent people, who accepted me for who I am. I was wrong and that hurts too. Having met the Troll twice she seemed nice enough. However you never really know what’s lurking underneath with some people until you get into an argument with them and then all their subconscious thoughts come flooding out.
I guess under this government and IDS its just going to get worse and I better get my big girl pants on ready to do battle. I certainly won’t be taking up knitting!