Dis-abling “Disability”

Disability. Disabled.

They’re powerful words – words that are used to define people, describe people, condemn people, limit people, shut doors on people. Words that get people abused – verbally, emotionally, physically, sexually. Words that get people abandoned. Words, sometimes, that get people killed.

Officially, I have a “disability” – schizophrenia is classed as a disability in the UK. Schizophrenia was what got me sacked from a job in the financial services sector, a sector-regulator-enforced ban on ever working at any level in that sector again, and a blacklisting among other “professional” companies locally – because the manager responsible for my sacking took my dismissal as me “deliberately making (her) look bad” – and so acted spitefully, and unprofessionally. (She’s since been moved on from that company – in a grimly amusing twist, it turned out she’d been covering up for one of the founding partners, who’d been mishandling case files…)

Officially, a lot of people have a reason for employers to distrust them, and refuse to hire them, and for other people to hate them, believing they’re getting “something for nothing”. (Just an FYI – the basic welfare payment a UK person with disability receives, assuming they are found eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (which is never a given), is £5,311 a year. If they are renting their home, their rent will usually be paid – but, in many cases, disabled people are having to pay some of their rent themselves, as the government “doesn’t think they need” a spare room, even when that room is used for visiting carers, to store medical equipment, or because the individual in question is unable to share a room/bed because of the nature of their disability. No contributions towards mortgage payments are made under Housing Benefit in the UK, meaning a disabled person fortunate enough to own their own home with a mortgage risks becoming homeless.  A minimum wage job at the average full-time hours of 37.5hrs per week would, by contrast, pay £12,636 after tax (but before NI contributions.) A person earning the minimum wage and working full time is entitled to claim Working Tax Credits, and, if they rent privately, Housing Benefit (this may be an award of only partial costs, depending on the circumstances and whether the Assessors believe the rent is “fair and reasonable” for a given area.

But this post isn’t about how badly disabled people are treated – there are many people writing far better than I could about that particular topic. It’s in the newspapers every day. You see it, if you open your eyes and ears, all around you.

No. This post is about taking away the ability of the words “disability” and “disabled” to condemn people. To limit them.

An analogy for you: when you switch off the wi-fi function on your phone or laptop, it tells you (well, mine does): “Wi-Fi Disabled.” Same for Call Roaming, etc.

The device isn’t broken: it is still perfectly capable of doing what you bought it for – if you let it.

And yes, some devices are “better” than others – a slow laptop may not be great for internet access, but it’s fine for wordprocessing. If you’re looking for advanced gaming, nothing much short of a QuadCore is going to be worth investing in.

People are a bit like that. We’re all capable of something – I know a man who is quadriplegic: he has a lot of knowledge, and, given the opportunity, I believe, the patience to teach others.  I know a man with cerebral palsy who is an electronics whizz – there’s nothing involving circuits and wires that he can’t fix, hack, backwards-engineer, build, or rebuild. Beethoven kept composing even after hearing loss rendered him deaf, and unable to hear what he was playing. I know a blind woman who is in the middle of an epic sci-fi saga trilogy.

The onus isn’t on those the world has “disabled” to “make the best of it” or “fit in” – the onus is on those who run the world to assess the tasks each and every individual would perform best at – in consultation with those individuals, so that any concerns and preferences they have could be taken into consideration.

Disabled, in the UK, has come to mean “of less worth than others” – what it should mean is “not yet in a role which optimises integral settings.”

Schizophrenia is classified as a disability, yet many schizophrenics have performed well in academic jobs – both as lecturers and support staff – because that world is organised, follows a linear pattern of managed and manageable activity, offers a degree of flexibility, and, because of the nature of academic terms, is not a constant drain on energy and effort – there is time to recharge.

What needs to change in the UK welfare system is the idea that disabled people, being inherently “worth less” than “normal” people (that idea, those words, have been used by UK politicians – and recently, too), should just be shoved into “a job, any job”, because “if someone like Stephen Hawking can work, anyone can” – which neatly avoids the fact that Stephen Hawking is self-employed, in a very specific niche, and probably has a great deal of support to function as well as he does – none of which takes away from the fact that he’s made the effort to get out there and work, none of which takes away from his success – but all of which needs to be borne in mind when criticising “non-employed” disabled people.

Such individuals often ARE employed – just not in a paid role that the powers that be recognise. Many “disabled” individuals perform well, and find a lot of pleasure, in voluntary positions.  Many are self-employed, or trying to make a self-employed business fully viable. Some are heavily involved in activism, both in relation to disability and other areas of social justice. Some are active, knowledgeable, and supportive members of online communities, helping and encouraging others. Some have families they care for, households they run. It should not be the case that Employment and Support Allowance is paid (with deep resentment on the part of the government and “the tax payer”) “until you get off your backside and get a job” – it should be paid willingly, as part of a genuine partnership of engagement in a) whether it is likely, and desirable, from a position of condition-management, that the individual will be able to manage paid, “traditional” employment, and b) where that is deemed to be the case, the areas in which the individual has the best chance of long-term success are identified, and all possible efforts are made with and for the individual to secure them a position, within an environment, in which they feel both comfortable and capable.

Because we are not “disabled”. We, like everyone else, are projects requiring investment in order to achieve (and monetise) our full potential. We are tech startups given human form.

This is “Project Ash”:

Skilled administrative capacity, opportunities to produce written material for both educational and entertainment purposes. Multi-faceted, interactive ideas generation, with multiplayer option. Able to tend to the care, exercise and entertainment needs of a variety of livestock and companion animals. Assistance in manual tasks. Accurate, in-depth grammar scan and spellcheck functions.

Minimum investment required: £15,000 (gross) per annum. Part or full funding options available.

Because I am not “disabled”: I am a project in the initial funding round.

Flowers From Burn Out

Apologies for the drought of posts recently – though I think the title of this post hints at the reason for that.

Living with a mental health condition is challenging. Sod that – it’s downright hard. Challenges are usually enjoyable, on some level, while you’re engaging with them, and provide you with the warm glow of achievement at the end.

Mental health issues in flare are hell while you’re going through them, and just leave you exhausted.

But burn out – whether thanks to pre-existing mental health issues or out of the blue – is kind of like a wildfire. It’s a shock when it happens, you worry about the damage it’s going to do…and then, when it’s over, and you’re looking at what’s left, you realise that, one day, there’s going to be new growth on that patch of land where, before, the old ground level growth was strangling everything. You see the layers of ash, and realise that the charcoal is going to provide valuable nutrients to the soil.

For me, the burn out came about as a combination of living with mental health issues, and thinking I had to be “normal” in every way – including putting my ambitions, self-employment wise, aside to get a full-time, “normal” job – any job, as long as it paid.

I couldn’t do that, it turned out. I can’t fake passion for something. I don’t really grasp social skills well enough to manage interviews. My self-esteem has been too brutalised for too long to be much good at selling Me,Inc. At the same time, I have no intention of “not doing anything” – I need activity, I need to feel that I’m being productive, I need a focus.

But my life, up to today, for the past few weeks, at the very least, has been nothing but dust and ashes.

Now, though, the green shoots are coming through – the green shoots of being awarded paid writing work, by people who don’t know me. The green shoots of having ideas for ways to expand Negative Is Also A Charge, and reach new, diverse audiences, who maybe wouldn’t respond to writing, and have no need for a public speaker.

I won’t “just forget about” traditional jobs – but I will focus on identifying and applying for those I’m actually interested in, that I could talk about with passion, and do with full commitment and attention, rather than with half a mind on when I could legitimately have my next cup of coffee.

And I also have a meeting scheduled on the 3rd September to discuss another, completely different, business concept, that I’ll need financing to bring to reality – a new vision for recruitment, where people, rather than positions, are what’s promoted, where the onus is on employers to make the effort and state their case, to prove their worth. Those looking to pursue self -employment will have access to mentors, retired professionals from a variety of sectors.

The UK welfare system for the unemployed and disabled needs to change, drastically – it needs to be understood that, rightly so, employers aren’t interested in someone who’s only applied for the job “because the Job Centre said I had to”. They want, and deserve, people who are genuinely passionate about what they do, whether that’s helping create a clean, welcoming environment, selling double glazing, serving fast food, or managing a FTSE 100 company. People looking for work need, and deserve, a job that utilises their existing skills, and helps them develop new ones – not one that has them doing “make work” eight hours a day, 5 days a week.

Our society deserves a workforce that is passionate, and engaged – thinking about how they can add value, not how they can slope off a few minutes early. All societies deserve this. When you have a passionate, engaged workforce, doing jobs that suit them, challenge them, and genuinely appreciate them, you have a stronger economy, because customers and clients have a better experience, and are therefore likely to spend more money.

I don’t just want to live in, and benefit from, such a society – I want to be part of building it.