Monday, February 28, 2011

We're doing it. Not sure what, but we are.

The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it. -Chinese proverb (via @charityideas).

I'm not normally one for such quotations, but I liked that one.


Last night I dreamt that I died. After dying I then woke up again (in the dream). This made me suddenly scared of being buried alive, and as I knew that I was going to die again shortly, I asked that next time I died, that someone should decapitate me so that I couldn't wake up again.

I died again, and then woke up (in the dream) again. This time I had been decapitated but still woke up, as just a head. I started to fear that I would never die properly and stay dead. I also wondered how I would function in the interim, as just a head.

Then I woke up (in real life).

What the fuck does that mean?!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not Out To Get You.

The media rhetoric around, and the threatened government cuts to, disability benefits are filling people with fear. They are contributing to deep suspicion and even aggression from the general public towards disabled people, and lots of us are feeling more than a little petrified.

From Nadine Dorries' Shop a Twit campaign, to virtually everything put out by the Daily Mail, many disabled people are becoming scared to go out, to have occasional treats, to try something normally outside of their limits, such as walking a few steps, or to put their name to anything they post on the internet at all, in case someone should see them, report them for benefit fraud, and accuse them of 'faking it'.

Of those who have continued to post on twitter, despite previous threats, many feel more limited about what they can say, lest they are judged to be faking, scrounging, or wasting taxpayers' money. Still more are finding they feel they have to justify everything they say, just in case somebody is watching. And programmes like the BBC's Saints and Scroungers do little to help, either people's attitudes, or the overriding fear and paranoia experienced by disabled benefit claimaints.

So I was saddened, but not surprised, to see one person's response to this build-up of fear.
I started to worry that my heavy use of twitter could be used against me in this process. I have already explained how and why I can use twitter without that meaning that I am fit to work, but I also worried that my tweets could easily be taken out of context. For example, a tweet about undertaking an activity of some sort could be used as proof that I can do that all the time. What an investigator would not see is how good or bad a day I was having, how much I had to prepare for and work around the activity, or how much pain and exhaustion that activity would cause for days afterwards.

So Steven Sumpter, aka latent existence, took, "the drastic step of deleting all 12,272 of my tweets". All of them. And why? Fear. Fear they would be used against him. Fear that they would portray an image of him actually being fine. Now, I follow him on twitter, and it's not like he's endlessly talking of weekends away skiing and trekking up mountains, and decided he'd better suddenly get rid of the evidence. This is the twitter account of someone who is clearly not well enough to work. This is someone who talks about a good day being when they open their curtains 'without fleeing in pain from the light'.

This someone who nobody could accuse of faking it. Anyone with a chronic illness can recognise straight away that these aren't a series of made-up tweets by someone imagining what it might be like to be ill, and even so he felt so threatened by the current atmosphere of suspicion and attack, that deleting over 12,000 tweets felt like the only way forward.

But he's not the only one scared. It's not a paranoid or psychotic illness which is making him have these suspicions, some of the most mentally healthy people I know concur with him. And I want our progressive, equal society to take a look at itself, and wonder just how progressive and equal it is.

(Cross posted at Where's the Benefit? blog).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Facts About My Impairments You Might Not Have Known #1

There are lots of aspects of disability which I talk about openly, and others that I never mention. Many I just take for granted these days, but I thought it would be good for awareness to share some of them.

So I'm going to have an occasional series of 'Facts about my impairments you might not have known'.

#1 I need artificial saliva in order to be able to swallow.

The TUC, March for the Alternative and Language Discourses which Promote Exclusion.

Two blog posts were brought to my attention yesterday that really merit a post each, but I don't currently have the capacity to do that, so they will have to share a space.

Firstly, an open letter to Brendan Barber, the General Secretary of the TUC, from Disabled People Against Cuts.

This letter is appealing to the TUC to work with them to make the March for the Alternative on the 26th March, more accessible to disabled people. They point out that
At the latest count it was found that disabled people were facing fourteen separate attacks against our lives and living standards as a result of the Coalition government’s policies. What we are witnessing is our human rights, supposedly guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, being violated by regressive and draconian cuts to benefit and care funding.

and ask that disabled people are as " fully included in this march and rally as our non-disabled peers would take for granted".

Disabled People Against Cuts have clearly explained the numerous barriers to disabled people's participation in this event, and have as yet failed to get a response from the TUC about their suggestions of ways to improve access.

Given how horrifically the cuts ahead are going to affect disabled people's lives, it seems that we should be at the forefront of planning such protests, not ignored and sidelined.

The second is a post from My Political Ramblings about Welfare Claimants and the Discourse of Threat, and articulates really well the process of scapegoating, rhetoric and stigmatisation involved in making the cuts to disability benefits acceptable to the public. This is a really insightful and useful post, and is well worth reading.

**Edited to add, as I posted this, Lisa posted simultaneously that the TUC have now released access information. Please check her post for the most up to date information.**

(Cross posted at Where's the Benefit?).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Open Letter to Proud Galleries

Dear Mr Proud,

I was dismayed to hear that today, your gallery refused entry to a woman who is a wheelchair user, on the basis that her wheelchair took up too much room. Your website boasts of 'some of the best press coverage in the country' and 'exciting, cutting edge and sometimes controversial' exhibitions, and states, rather ironically in the circumstances, that "Based upon a formula of exhibiting accessible shows around popular themes Proud Galleries instantly took the photography industry by storm".

How accessible is a show if a woman is not allowed to enter because of her use of a wheelchair?

As well as being deeply disrespectful and offensive, I am sure you are aware that this is also illegal under the Disability Discrimination Act. I see also that you have Mencap listed under your Sponsors, and I will be contacting them separately to ensure they are aware of this situation.

Dear Mencap,

Please find below an email I have just sent to Proud Galleries, who list you as a sponsor. I thought you would want to be aware of the situation.

**Edited to add. Since posting this message, @proudgalleries have posted the following tweet:
"Sorry for upset. We have 2 wheel chair access points, we open our doors to everyone. Capacity was reached, it was a 1 in 1 out policy to all."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hate from the Government, Hate on the Street.

Today I went to an appointment, and afterwards, when I was almost home, a man who was coming from behind me shouted something. I turned to him and laughed and said, "that made me jump", and he yelled it again, but I couldn't work out what he said.

He crossed over the road and yelled the same thing for a third time, and I worked out that he was saying "fucking DLA stick". I said, "I don't know what you mean?" but as I was saying the words I realised that I did. He was implying that, as I walk with a crutch, I was faking a disability to receive benefits.

For the rest of the length of the street, he yelled 'fucking DLA stick' at me again and again. I felt very intimidated and frightened.

And I knew. I knew that it was caused, as well as by a nasty, nasty man, it was also caused by this:

and this:

and this:

and every other story by the government and the media portraying disabled people as lazy (see the photo in that final screenshot!) scroungers.

I do not need to justify my use of a mobility aid to a complete stranger in the street, never mind one who is flinging abuse at me. The thought that I would carry a big, awkward metal thing around with me at all times in order to claim benefits is just ridiculous. The realisation that this is what some people think, that's frightening.

If anything like this happens to you, remember that it is a disability hate crime. You can report it directly to the police, or through an intermediary such as Stop hate UK.

The war against benefit claimants is, sadly, proving more effective than ever.

(This was cross posted at Where's the Benefit? blog)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

What's a Life Worth?

Someone pointed me to a site called 5 Quid for Life,
a new charity-in-the-making, set up in January 2011 to support mentally ill people who may be adversely affected by changes to the UK benefits system.
and it made me so, so sad.

Set up in response to Aliquant's post about her plans for suicide if she is refused ESA,
to encourage people to give, ideally to commit to regular giving of £5 per month, to enable us to offer a life-saving safety net beneath the benefits system.

It made me sad, and then it made me angry. Not the site itself - the site is lovely, and caring, and a beautiful response to someone's utter despair. Rather, it made me angry that this is necessary at all. That anyone in this country in the 21st century saw a need to get strangers to donate money so that people with mental health problems can support themselves rather than kill themselves.

How has this happened? That we are under such scrutiny, and in a state of such terror, and so disregarded by the government, as well as the opposing party, that millions of us are at risk of homelessness and destitution, as some kind of punishment for being ill.

Any idea that once our benefits are stopped, we will 'buck our ideas up' will be proven again and again to be, at best, misguided, and at worst, downright dangerous. Threats of suicide are worryingly frequent in comments on this blog alone. Those of us with mental health problems are thought to be the most at risk of failing the assessments, which are reported to ask questions which are much less relevant to people with mental health problems, as well as other invisible disabilities.

One thing is for sure, the medicals, the reassessments, the regular hatred in parts of the media, the misinformation from the government, are all working together to make us more stressed, more depressed, more anxious and more paranoid. Therefore further and further away from the elusive 'wellness' which would enable us to start thinking about paid work and leaving the benefits system.

I am disgusted, and ashamed, to be in a country where people are having to hold collections in order that people will be able to eat. People, specifically, who are frightened, sick and vulnerable.

(Cross posted at Where's the Benefit? blog)

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Speech Kinda Recognition

To see whether resting my left hand is helpful, I am trying out the Speech Recognition Software which came with Windows 7, as one of my main problems with my left hand now is typing.

I'm getting the hang of it. It's quite slow and frustrating, but more usable than I thought. But this morning, for fun, I put the headset on the radio speakers. This is what it made of the end of the Today programme and the beginning of Saturday Live.
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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Good Advice Matters

Someone drew my attention to a website called Good Advice Matters, which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to offering 'accurate and relevant information' on welfare rights.
We have many years experience behind us and specialize in disability and sickness benefits, appeals, benefits for foreign nationals, better off calculations, benefits for young people, benefits for carers etc.

Good Advice Matters supports the rights of individuals to claim the benefits that they are entitled to without experiencing judgmental attitudes, un-necessary delays and confusing and contradictory information. Good Advice Matters is frustrated with the lack of accurate information and advice currently being offered by the DWP. In short we feel that benefit claimants are being let down by the system.

Good Advice Matters is extremely critical of changes to the benefit system such as the introduction of employment and support allowance for claimants with limited capability for work and the planned cuts to benefits such as housing benefit. We have seen at first hand the devastating affect that a decision to stop benefit can have on an individual and we will actively campaign to ensure that claimants receive a fairer, more transparent and supportive service.
They invite people to contact them with any benefit query or question.

They have already answered one query about Is my Incapacity Benefit Safe? and under their DWP tag and benefit advice tag they have plenty more advice on benefits. looks like it could be a really helpful resource for disabled people, regarding benefits and rights, especially as more, confusing and punitive changes come into law.

(Cross-posted at Where's the Benefit?blog).

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Shhh!-In At Sheffield Libraries

Yesterday I read with dismay that the bundle of awesomeness that is Ian McMillan has been banned from a children's creative writing event for fear that he may make political comments.

He is a big fan of libraries, and has said “Libraries are a vital and irreplaceable part of a cultured and civilised society, and one of the few public places left where you don’t have to pay to get in.” Of course, he's quite right!

The story a few weeks ago of residents of Stony Stratford withdrawing every single book from their local library to fight its closure was thoroughly inspiring.

According to Library Workers For a Better Future,
In Sheffield it is being proposed that the present library budget of £8.5m should be cut by £2.5m by 2013/14, i.e. by £1.4m in 2011/12 and £550k in 2012/13 and 2013/14. There are no current plans to close libraries but cuts on this scale will inevitably have a major impact on the quality of the library service. As a campaigning organisation we are keen to work with the council wherever possible to highlight the good work that libraries do in our communities. This lack of cooperation on even such a simple thing as a children’s creative writing workshop leaves us with little option but to pursue other ideas...

The 'other ideas' they talk about are a 'Shhh!-in' at Sheffield Central Lending Library on the 5th February. That date is the national day of action for libraries, and at 11am at Sheffield Central Library, the following is proposed:
Shhh-In rules…

Finger to lips.

At 11am say ‘Shhhhh!’

Finish off with three cheers for the library!

Finally, borrow lots of books – lets empty those shelves. You’re allowed up to 15 out on your library card, so bring a big bag!
You can keep up to date with the campaign by following @lwfabf and the #shh4sheflib hashtag on twitter.