Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Where are my equal rights?

A couple of weeks ago Dame Tanni Grey Thompson, a wheelchair user, was forced to crawl off a train because there were no station staff there to help her.

Obviously this is bad thing.



Well yes, but not in the way you’re thinking.

According to the comments compiled in this blog by Dawn Foster, the bad thing is a disabled person expecting to be helped off the train:

Who knew?

Now I don’t intend to rehash the comments here, Dawn’s blog has it covered, and they speak for themselves. What interests me is people’s constant, basic misunderstanding of the idea of equal rights.

Here are a choice few comments which demonstrate what I mean:

“What about able bodied men in this world. Where have our rights gone?”

“We have been hearing for years that everyone is equal, now she wants special treatment the cry is different”

“She did get the same treatment as everyone else. Know one helps me of the train”

“Know one helps me of the train” No, but somebody should definitely help you to spell.

Anyway, the recurring theme throughout the comments was the predictable and disheartening, ‘where are my equal rights?’

This seems to crop up every single time a disadvantaged group gets a small concession to make their challenging lives slightly easier for them.

Well, in answer to that most rhetorical of questions – they’re right there...LOOK! What do you mean you can’t see them? They’re a hundred feet tall, made of gold, with fireworks blasting off them. They’re there from the moment you wake up in your able body that can walk you to the station, run for the train if needs be. That can hop, skip and jump on and off at any stop you so wish. The body that allows you to negotiate steps, bumpy pavements, steep kerbs, weave in and out of crowds. You have absolute, untrammelled access to everything. The world is your oyster. Your equal rights rally would get very short shrift. What is it that you feel you are lacking? How can we help you?

But secondly, and most importantly, the point that always gets missed – equal rights is not the process, it is the output; the end result.

Equality is not treating people exactly the same, regardless. Not least because it just wouldn’t work.

If someone is less able, the circumstances need to be changed to allow that person to reach the same level as a more able person. Be that a wheelchair ramp, a guide dog, a white stick, the introduction of certain processes within society or, dare I say it, a bit of kindness and understanding.

For example, if a child has dyslexia, ADHD or special educational needs of any kind, they need more tutor time at school, perhaps some one-to-one. This isn’t unfair on the other kids, because the other kids don’t need it. They can already read, concentrate and learn at a decent rate.

But you can bet there’ll be some parents standing at the school gates bemoaning the ‘special treatment’ that the SEN pupils get. Rather than just being bloody grateful that their kid doesn’t have any of those mountains to climb.

The extra help merely brings the disadvantaged kids in line with their peers and gives them a fighting chance of actually learning something at school rather than struggling to keep up with the basics. Don’t fret, it won’t fast track them past your little treasure and get them admitted to Oxford at the age of 12.

If we were to ‘treat them equally’ in the way that the people commenting above would like us to, then they would be slung into a fast paced classroom, with no differentiation or concessions and they would have no chance of a decent education.

A decent education is something we all have an equal right to. It’s the output, the end game. For some of us, simply turning up at school is enough, but for others to obtain this right, their treatment needs to be different to ensure they get the same outcome as the rest of us – are equal.

Easy principle once grasped yeah? I can get the train with ease, so should a wheelchair user. I don’t need any help, they do. Help is given, the outcome for us both is the same. And repeat in all other circumstances...

So, instead of being embittered that someone who has no use of their legs needs some assistance, we should be grateful that we have full use of ours, and compassionate about the fact that they are living a life full of challenges, just trying to do things we all take very much for granted.

And then we should shut up.


Anonymous said...

I like to picture these idiots rocking up to an oncology ward and shouting WHERE'S *MY* EXPENSIVE AND PROTRACTED COURSE OF RADIOTHERAPY, THEN? EH?

Leigh Caldwell said...

Well said. I totally agree.

I would only suggest that the choice of words "equality of outcome" will probably lead some people to say "no, equality of outcome is communism - we want equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome."

While this response would be rather missing the point, it may be worth clarifying: the equal outcome you want to ensure is an "intermediate outcome" - so that everyone can get past their barriers to the same "starting point" for life: the same platform from which we can all make fully free, empowered choices to achieve the potential we want to work towards.

So the equality of outcome doesn't mean we all earn the same or live in the same houses - just that we all have certain barriers removed so we get to the same starting point. Then we can all try equally hard and have the same chances to achieve the _next_ outcome we choose to strive for.

Adam said...

Good article. I think it's very generous to assume that the comments quoted are from people who have really misunderstood what 'equal rights' and 'equality' in general actually mean. To me, it seems such an obviously stupid 'misunderstanding' that I find it hard to believe that they're not being deliberately disingenuous.

I suspect what might really be driving some of those comments is a desire that anyone with a disability should shut up and accept their status as second or third class citizens, and be grateful for the "charity" of others. It's not that they're remotely interested in equality - just that they'll clutch at any straw of an argument to justify their own awful views.

One pithy definition of justice/fairness I've read elsewhere is "treating equals equally and unequals unequally".

On a different note entirely, I've enjoyed your many Viz contributions over the years....

Spudman101 said...

Surely it's even simpler than that! As someone who is able bodied my "special treatment" is that the train and the station have been specifically designed to suit me! Everything that is required to enable people with disabilities to use the train is due to the fact they were an after-thought for the designers.

If the train had been designed for wheelchair users first and foremost and didn't provide seats or hand-rails, or for blind people and all the signs were written in Braille then I might have a leg to stand on with the whole "where's my equality" argument, but that's not the world we live in.

Christina Martin said...

Anon - Absolutely. I didn't pay all that National Insurance not to get my money's worth!

Leigh - Yes, what you said! Thank you.

Adam - Good point. As the relative of someone with a disability I have seen that look of contempt. My mum was on a radio phone in about the issue and one person called in to say that disabled people 'get in the way and shouldn't be being born anymore with the aid of science' So there is definitely that issue at play. And thank you!

Spudman - Totally! The world is built for the able. Excellent point. Cheers.

Thanks all x

alex.manion said...

Very eloquent. And spot on.

Shame so many fail to understand the terms 'fair' and 'equal'.

Christina Martin said...

Alex - Thanks. Yes, it seems like an easy enough distinction to me too. Must be wilfull misunderstanding...