A slightly dfferent blog today. I’d like to introduce you to two people.
The first is a woman who was born with a condition called spinal muscular atrophy which causes general muscle wasting and mobility impairment. It is the most common genetic cause of infant death. Her parents were told it was unlikely she would live longer than a year or two. Thankfully she did, and as an adult is a full-time user of a wheelchair, is only able to speak in four or five word bursts at a time before having to stop for breath, depends on a ventilator to help her breathe at night and is fed through a tube in her tummy. She has 24 hour care and needs help with pretty much every physical task. She left school at 16 with no qualifications.
In contrast, the second person is a woman who is well-educated – she has many qualifications including an MA. She co-founded and directed the National Centre for Independent Living and chaired the British Council of Disabled People during the early 90s, when their campaigns were recognised as the reason for disability rights legislation getting onto the statute books. She then went on to co-author a book called Disability Politics and was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the Queen’s 2001 Birthday Honours. During this time she was appointed by the government to chair the newly-established Social Care Institute for Excellence – the only public body which survived the bonfire of the quangos in 2011. She gained two honorary doctorates and went on to be made a life peer. She is now an active Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords championing an Equality and Human Rights approach to domestic policy and more especially the rights of disabled people.
What emotions do those two descriptions evoke? The first one pity, perhaps some fear of ever ending up like that, horror that anyone has to live like that? The second one admiration, maybe a touch of envy – someone who has either worked hard or maybe had it pretty easy? And yet these are both the same person. Jane Campbell, now better known as Baroness Campbell of Surbiton.
Most employers would shudder at the thought of employing the first person, and would feel hugely honoured to employ the second person. And yet they are both the same.
It can be helpful to reflect on how we think of people and how we describe them. Baroness Campbell wasn’t born to a wealthy and privileged background – her father was a heating engineer and her mother a shop assistant. But with their support and her sheer determination she worked hard to achieve all she has.
We need to challenge our own thoughts, and those of others, around the whole issue of disability. And ability.
I’d like to thank Baroness Campbell for helping me write, and giving me permission to post, this blog.
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