Why Are We All Afraid Of Disability?

What is it about disability and illness which scares us? There is a group of people, who because they are disabled are being seen as being different- less than, less able. But it wasn’t always that way. In Ancient Greece, people suffering from psychosis and other mental diseases such as schizophrenia were lauded as prophets and eccentric, to be loved, listened too and most importantly- looked after.

Disability through the ages has changed to a point where as an entire group was erased from history. Even in living memory, asylums were thought to be the answer. Put people who can’t fight for themselves (no instant media and no voting rights to make politicians listen, no income or financial support.) A group of people were so forgotten that their living conditions and treatment were so poor, so awful, that it became a national crisis, repeated in countries throughout the world.

In our time, disability has become something to fear. Our friends get ill and we stay away because we don’t know how to process it. We don’t want to say the wrong thing- so better to say nothing at all.

It’s scary, watching someone become sick through absolutely no fault of their own. No amount of ‘lifestyle changes’ or ‘mental positivity’ able to change the situation. So people hide, and say stupid things like ‘stop taking your medication and try these essential oils.’ Believing in the rhetoric of green juice and essential oils gives people a control, a self-assurance that if they are the ones to fall ill next, they won’t possibly actually become ill, because they know how to ‘cure’ it.

Why do people feel the need to have this control? What makes the process so scary? Disability is a bad word. Being disabled is a bad thing, in our society, disabled people are second citizens.

As a disabled person, you are told not to include your disability on your CV otherwise you won’t even make it to the interview stage. You’re twice as likely to be unemployed as a non-disabled person, and even in the UK with the NHS, it costs on average £570 a month more to be disabled.

As a disabled person, you are catered for by businesses only to meet legal requirements, and beyond that as an after thought. A legal tick in the box. With 1 out of 3 of the population thinking that having a disability makes you less productive than non disabled people, it is easy to see how the prejudice surrounding being disabled is something to be scared of. And if you can become disabled at any time, for reasons outside of your control, then you cling to as much control as you can.

At the moment It is more important to make the outside of a building to look pretty and stick the ramp around the back next to the bins, than incorporate access design as a standard into every new building. What message does that give to disabled people? And what message is that telling the rest of the world?

I recently enquired about booking a table at a restaurant, who was unable to accommodate a wheelchair because their ramp was broken. Accessible and inclusive design needs to shift from bringing out a ramp, often an inconvenience to the staff and an unnecessary focus on the disabled person, to evolving design to the point where there is no such thing as being disabled, no need for adaptations to existing design, no need for help to overcome a hurdle which an able bodied person walks through without realising it was there in the first place.

Accessible and inclusive design needs to start by making large print menu’s available and clearer descriptions on websites and business information, including lighting and noise levels the customers can expect, so we can make an informed choice about whether we will be comfortable there. Both easy fixes for businesses! There has been a wave of allergy training and information in every food establishment in the UK in the past 2 years- we know it can be done. In a world full of growing intelligent design and possible adaptations, disabled people need to be recognised for the power that they have- both as part of the workforce, and their spending power.

22% of the UK population is disabled. That’s 13.9 million people. UK businesses are missing out on the spending power of over 250 billion pounds a year by not selling to disabled customer- and their family and friends, because who decides which restaurant to eat at? That’s right, the one with the mobility aid/ visual or hearing impairment who knows that the facilities meet their needs and is actually a fun place for them to go.

There is absolutely no reason why disability needs to mean less than anymore. We don’t need to go back to Ancient Greece, but we do need to start redesigning and realising as a society that wants continuous progression, leaving behind one fifth of the entire worlds population isn’t an option anymore.

Written by Rachael Mole

Follow her on Instagram for an honest insight into living with a chronic illness.