David Bourroughs is a 23 year-old guy who likes pubbing, clubbing, and the rest; and happens to use a wheelchair. Currently volunteering in the Charity Partnerships Fundraising team at disability organisation Scope, David is clocking up experience in order to take the fundraising world by storm!
David believes that racism, in any form, shouldn't be tolerated. But why is it that disablism is still not taken seriously?
It's been hard to ignore the row about Britain's 'intolerance' of bigotry and bullying that engulfed Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother house at the start of 2007. But whatever happened, I hope we all recognise that racism, in whatever form, is wrong and shouldn't be tolerated. I'd like to think that people are just as intolerant about bullying someone because of their age, gender, sexuality or disability. Unfortunately, from personal experience I think that disablism survives as an acceptable and all too common face of bigotry.
If someone used inappropriate language or gestures about someone's disability in the Big Brother house, would it have been viewed the same way or provoked the same reaction from the press as the issue of racism did? Or have we in fact already seen disablism rear its head more covertly in the house? Remember the rather patronising way Pete Bennett, the Big Brother 7 contestant, was treated? Everyone loved Pete. Good old Pete with his 'acceptable' impairment, Tourette's syndrome. They all either wanted to bed him or be his best pal. Most of this was because he was seen as 'vulnerable' or 'sweet' because of his disability (far from the case, he was, erm, very experienced as it turns out), but of course it helped that he was a good-looking lad. Interestingly, Pete seemed to use a mechanism for coping with all this attention - self-deprecation and exaggeration, almost to the point of deliberately 'entertaining' his housemates with his disability. It's like disabled people have to laugh along with the joke, to make everyone else feel comfortable!
Is it wrong to compare racism to disablism? I don't think so. OK, so we haven't seen the levels of victimisation that we witnessed in Big Brother against a disabled housemate, but then we still haven't yet had a disabled person with more complicated support needs - or even a wheelchair user - in the house. This is despite many disabled people applying for the show each year.
When I see disabled people in the media it's usually to make a social comment (like in BBC's Extras) or to be a tokenistic character. But what's wrong with showing disabled people as incidental characters or even bad people? The BBC3 comedy I'm With Stupid is one show to have a go at this. It includes a handful of disabled actors led by Paul Henshall's deliberately un-likeable protagonist. Shocking eh? Disabled people are just like you.
"I certainly don't want special treatment - just equal treatment. Maybe then I wouldn't get people 'tutting' or moaning when the ramp on the bus is taking too long to lower for my wheelchair. That's if the thing works at all. Sorry if I'm inconveniencing your journey!"
Like racism, I believe it's largely cultural ignorance and a lack of education that leads to discrimination towards disabled people. What gets me is that it's now 2007, and we're still facing staggering ignorance towards people who are seen to be 'different'.
I went to a mainstream school and I think, where possible, this should be the norm for all disabled people - including those with greater support needs. We all have to get along in the wider world, so why educate us separately? How are we supposed to get educated about disability and difference if we don't get a chance to learn side by side, form friendships and hang out? Getting society to accept disabled people at school, at work, and out and about, can only improve things. I certainly don't want special treatment - just equal treatment. Maybe then I wouldn't get people 'tutting' or moaning when the ramp on the bus is taking too long to lower for my wheelchair. That's if the thing works at all. Sorry if I'm inconveniencing your journey!
So Celebrity Big Brother has 'done' racism, but will we see a physically disabled housemate enter the Big Brother house in the future? Previously I would have said 'No', but given the recent controversy and publicity that Channel 4 and Endemol have stirred up, I wouldn't be that surprised if a disabled person slipped through soon just so the cynical producers could see what the non-disabled housemates would subject them to! Tasks would have to be accessible, that's for sure. That would stir up the house - but do you know what? If it served to highlight prejudice towards disabled people in the same way as Shilpa Shetty's treatment did for underlying UK racism, then it could be a good thing. Then we would take the first steps to giving disabled people an unmediated voice on TV, and exposing people's prejudices for what they are.
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