24 July 2010

The lowest of the low

Being female, gay and disabled1 you'd think I'd experience 3 times as much discrimination as a disabled but otherwise socially privileged bloke, right?

Wrong. All the discrimination I ever experience is disablism.

Not only is experiencing daily disablist acts (like not being able to get into a brand new café) frustrating, there's also the constant reminders that discrimination against disabled people provokes the least outrage among society at large out of all the isms.

Easter weekend 2009 there was the amazonfail brouhaha. It doesn't matter if someone from amazon.fr pressed the wrong button which "accidentally" meant rankings were stripped from any books to do with homosexuality or sex and disability. Where the conscious and deliberate disablism occurred was in the web/media frenzy. Everyone on the planet cried "homophobia" in their tweets, blog posts and news articles. Only a tiny, tiny smattering of people gave a crap that books on disability and sexuality had been affected too.

A couple of months ago the LGBT Labour party conference were refused drinks in a London pub. The story of homophobic discrimination spread across the internet like wildfire and was global news within a couple of hours. My gut reaction upon reading the story was to tweet Greencoat Boy: The gay in me is horrified. The disabled in me says "so what? Disabled people get refused service DAILY and it's not news.".

Two hours later my point got illustrated perfectly. I read this story of a wheelchair-using woman being refused service in a restaurant on the very same day. Naturally I tweeted the link. The story of a homophobic bar manager was tweeted and retweeted thousands and thousands of times. How many people retweeted the tale of a disablist restaurant manager? Two. Not two thousand; just two.

Yesterday it was news that a niqab-wearing young Muslim woman and her friend were refused entry onto a bus for "being a threat". I'm refused entry to roughly one in 5 of the buses I try to board because I'm a wheelchair user. Very often the driver doesn't even have the balls to tell me he's going to refuse me access, he just pulls up at the stop, doesn't get the ramp out, allows able-bodied2 passengers to board and then drives off.

Where's my news story in the top 10 on the BBC News website? Where's my "urgent investigation" into the discrimination I faced?

Superaleja once referred to "multiple layers of discrimination, like a crip-fail onion," which I think perfectly describes the 3 situations I've written about here. First disabled people get discriminated against, then there's the second layer of discrimination where we're denied the public outcry of horror that would be extended to the same discrimination being committed against any other minority group.

1 I have been told on many an occasion that it's a shame I'm not black too. During my stand up days (before I became too ill to carry on) I had an 'anti-fan' in Brighton who came to see me every time I gigged in the city to accuse me of being racist for telling the story of how daft people sometimes say "it's a shame you're not black." Being so hated really made me feel like I was doing the job properly.
2 I'm deliberately using the phrase "able-bodied" as the opposite of "physically impaired". There's a chance that some of the people boarding the bus are both disabled and able-bodied.

22 July 2010

Lie to Me

Lie to Me is my new favourite show. Well, I say "new", it's actually been just over a year since I sat and watched the whole first season in the space of 2 days because once I'd started watching I couldn't stop (like televisual Pringles). But calling it my "new favourite show" is my way of trying to explain that it's beaten CSI to the number one spot in my heart.

It seems to have slightly hit that difficult second album thing that musicians know too well with season 2. Season 1 was this wonderfully original show that looked at truth and lies in a way that had never been seen before on TV. Season 2 so far has just been all about the adrenalin: More episodes have had at least one of the main characters in mortal danger than not so it's no longer the original and unique series it was, because holding a major character at gunpoint is something you see pretty much daily on American TV (though I have a funny feeling the network demanded more danger in the hopes that the adrenalin would make it more popular). It's still damn good though, but if I was a teacher marking season 2 I'd write "could do better" in red ink on it.

Over the course of nearly 2 seasons Cal and the team have met quite a few disabled people: A guy with MS in 'Life Is Priceless' (though the ep was poorly researched and contained bad info about the mortality of folks with MS), several women who'd been blinded by a rapist in 'Blinded', a woman with multiple personalities in 'The Core of It', a paraplegic in 'Black Friday', and a veteran with PTSD in 'React to Contact'. In all of those episodes disability was used as a plot device and it hadn't been explored how disabled people could be harder for Cal to read, until last week.

In 'Teacher and Pupils' Cal is asked to help a police officer who has been shot and is now locked-in to identify his shooters.

I've had this little fantasy for a while where Cal is asked to investigate a crime in a segregated environment - probably a special school - and is faced with a difficulty in reading impaired faces/bodies: The face and arms that move constantly because that person has CP would be a barrier for Cal, the person with autism who never makes eye-contact whether they're lying or not, the person who seems constantly distracted because they have ADHD and not because they're in a hurry to get away because they're trying to hide something, not being able to follow the gaze of someone with nystagmus, and so on. Cal has often commented that he likes a challenge and investigating people with bodies and brains that work slightly differently to the ones he's used to reading would surely be a thrill.

And, of course, I'd ultimately want the episode to be an antidote to the CSI episode 'Sounds of Silence' which had a strong subtext of "segregation is good. If only he'd stayed in the safety of segregation and not gone out among those non-disableds he would never have been killed."

06 July 2010

Benefits part 1: How I benefit

It's taken me a while to even start writing these posts because at the moment I'm even less functional than usual. Overheating is one of the less pleasant symptoms of OI, and in case you hadn't noticed it's been rather warm lately. And then there's the fact that I've had a cold on top of my chronic sinus problems for more than 3 weeks which has had me whimpering a lot in between doses of painkillers. Basically all I've been fit for is laying on the sofa watching NCIS.

Edit: Another week has passed since I first sat and started writing this post before I found the spoons to come back and have another crack at finishing it.

I suppose I should start off by explaining exactly why I get the benefits I do. I'm generally of the opinion that my medical history is my business, not yours. Which is a bit odd because I'm a fairly open person. I think it's a reaction to the fact that because I'm disabled my medical history is supposed to be out there for public consumption. I'm also definitely of the opinion that my income is my business. But I've been called a "scrounger" by our politicians so many times that I've been ground down.

So here's my history:

I get Disability Living Allowance. I get the high rate mobility (HRM) component and middle rate care (MRC) component. I get HRM because I'm virtually unable to walk. I can walk a very short distance but only very slowly and with extreme pain and difficulty. My aforementioned osteogenesis means that a good many of my joints have been shattered so have extremely limited movement. The rest of my joints are held in place by tendons and ligaments of such poor quality that my 4kg cat can dislocate my knee by sitting on it. Because my tendons and ligaments don't do a good job of holding me up I fall over very easily, which is really not very safe in someone with brittle bones. Between the pain, the difficulty, the slowness and the danger involved in walking I'd be pretty much housebound without a wheelchair. I couldn't even walk as far as the bus stop at the top of my street before my knees had swollen up so much that I couldn't bend them for the rest of the day.

I then get MRC because I need constant supervision due to injuring easily. Activities during which I’ve broken bones include walking1, sleeping2 and eating3. So the government can't scrimp on my supervision by telling me to cut out risky activities cos, you know, eating and sleeping are essential for survival.

I've had osteogenesis since I was born (well, actually, since I was conceived) but until about 5 years ago I was perfectly healthy. There's a difference between illness and impairment. For many people they overlap but for many more there's a great deal of difference. So up until the age of about 26 I had a physical impairment, but I was a picture of health. At one point I didn't even notice that my GP had deregistered me because they hadn't seen or heard from me in so long. Being a healthy young person I earned for a significant chunk of my degree despite typical student work like bartending being not accessible to me. When I graduated I took on 2 part time jobs rather than a full time position. In addition I got paid for writing articles, doing media stuff for the now defunct Disability Rights Commission, and eventually I progressed far enough through the stand up circuit to get paid for making people laugh.

Then I got sick. I've always had slightly dodgy sinuses but starting in 2004 they got progressively worse. I can remember the day things started going downhill actually: I was in Edinburgh and it was the day I went to see Laurence's show. I've always taken co-dydramol for my bone and joint pain. But that day in Edinburgh was the first time in my life I'd had a headache that co-dydramol couldn't touch. I might as well have swallowed 2 M&Ms. These sinus pressure headaches became more severe and more frequent until I became unable to work in 2006 because spending roughly 2 days a fortnight in bed in agony doesn't please an employer.

How painful can a blocked nose be? Well, having grown up breaking my bones regularly I have a much higher psychological tolerance to pain than the average person. I recently had a nurse in a laser clinic describe me as "remarkable" because she was burning me with a laser and I didn't even blink. 2 years ago I broke my nose and didn't notice for 3 weeks because the pain was so minimal compared to what I'm used to in that region. It was only when I reached 3 weeks I thought "hmm. If it was anything other than broken it'd be healed by now." I've never, ever, taken anything stronger than 10/500 co-dydramol for a broken bone (or 3) but nothing less than morphine provides any relief at all for my sinuses. Morphine may relieve my pain but it comes with a side-effect of making me "drunk": it reduces my inhibitions and gives me verbal diarrhoea. So for around 2 days every 2 weeks I have the choice of being either in too much pain to work or too stoned to work. Someone who needs 2 out of every 10 working days off is not employable. 2 days every 2 weeks is an average during a "good" period. If I catch a cold they can last for months because related to my sinus problems I also have a rather buggered immune system. And my sinus pain can be bad for every one of those days for the whole 2 months it takes me to shake the cold.

"Why don't you work part time?" Because employers expect to know when you're coming in to work. Even if they list 'flexi-time' as an option they still expect you to be present at certain times and they like to know in advance when you'll be coming in. I can't predict in advance which days I'm going to be ill.

"Why don't you work from home?" I doesn't matter where I'm located. On days when I'm too ill to work, I'm too ill to work.

"Why don't you write?" When I had a contract as a columnist I'd get a phone call on the Tuesday asking me to submit an article on Friday. If I was ill on the Wednesday and the Thursday I'd have either nothing to hand in on Friday or I'd hand in something written under the influence of morphine. Either way, my contract would not get renewed. And it's taken me 8 days to write this piddling little blog post.

If I were otherwise unimpaired and just had my sinus problems I could probably manage a physical job that require little brainpower on ill days by taking so much morphine I couldn't feel a thing. I'd make absolutely no sense so would be unable to do a "thinking job", but I could manage a repetitive task job like unloading loaves of bread from a trolley and placing them on a supermarket shelf. But I'm not otherwise unimpaired, I have a knackered skeleton and "thinking jobs" are the only kind I can physically do.

I've really explored all the options and working is just not possible. So I get Incapacity Benefit. This is topped up with a very tiny amount of Income Support to make up the total a severely disabled person living alone is deemed by the government as needing to live on. I also get Housing Benefit to keep the roof over my head.

Part 2 coming soon. Unless this sore throat and bunged up ear turns into another cold...

1 December 2008 I tore a tendon out of a metatarsal which pulled the tip of the bone off with it. This injury was the result of simply walking normally.
2 In the early hours of 01/01/2000 I slept in an awkward position. I got woken up by blinding pain at about 4am. The awkward sleeping position had crushed not just one but several vertebrae.
3 As a child I caught my forearm on the edge of the table while eating dinner. This light tap caused my forearm to snap (I only have one forearm bone now where the radius and ulna have been broken so many times they’ve fused together).