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:
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.