We get so serious about our issues – and so we should – but sometimes a bit of humour doesn’t go amiss. I wrote this many years ago, but it does seem to have stood the test of time
THUNDEROUS applause greeted the end of the keynote speech, which had reflected on the changes of the last 25 years. Delegates had wiped away nostalgic tears on being reminded of the old days, when cripples were looked after and knew their place. The conference had been well attended – this was, after all, the Silver Jubilee – and as the delegates jostled each other along the aisles and pushed out of the Hilltop Business and Conference Centre Dick Scott reflected that, on the whole, he was well pleased with his efforts. Of course, it was never easy to get the right mix for such an event. That crusty old peer of the realm, Lord Stern, had been devious – just the right note of cantankerous helplessness. The delegates had been queuing up to care for him. The main theme – “Whose Rights Are They Anyway? – the next 25 years” – had created a lot of angry debate as people de-scribed how they had been marginalised and undervalued, regarded as pathetic and tragic as they became more useless. Retraining schemes, assertiveness courses and confidence building had eventually been offered, but following the passing of the Civil Rights (Disabled People) Act onto the statute books in 1995 few of the workers in the disability industries had realised how dramatically their lives would change. Di¢k congratulated himself that he had seen the changes coming and had established the Scott Counselling and Advice Bureau (SCAB) at exactly the right time; it was now the leading agency in the country. As the phased reforms were gradually put in place there was, at first, a trickle of enquiries. The first calls were from people who had lost their jobs – if they were experienced then Dick had no trouble finding new positions for them, although openings were dwindling fast. He offered the best of them jobs at the Bureau, and those for whom he could not find work were placed on retraining schemes. The trickle became a flood as the need for “special provision” dwindled. As disabled people began to be absorbed into the mainstream of society there was less and less justification for providing services which were aimed only at disabled people. The people who had designed, managed and delivered these segregated services came to be seen as a social problem as their industry collapsed and they could no longer find work. Luckily for the country, though, the growth in other service industries compensated for the collapse of the disability and charity businesses. Public transport had been a surprise: the increased frequency and comfort which had resulted from access programmes had increased passenger use to the point where the public transport industry was now expanding way beyond the requirements of the Act. Moreover, the upsurge in the building trade had stimulated the economy to a level that nobody had antic pated; UK businesses now led the world in communications and telematics. UK plc was booming! Pity there have to be losers, as well as winners, mused Dick on his way to the station. Absent-mindedly he fished in his pockets for coins to put in the collecting box held by a young woman who sat in her 6 x 6 beside the interactive ticket console module. The “Support the Ex-Carers Society” (SECS) were vigorous fundraisers and Dick made a point of contributing; after all, they were a part of his livelihood! Back at the office the videophone was flashing but he was not in the mood to respond. His thoughts kept returning to the changes of, particularly, the last ten years. At first, in the late 90s, nothing much had happened; yes, there had been a lot of legal activity as the Disability Commission had flexed its muscles, but people had not realised the implications of it all. However he had spotted the trends, and had realised that the days of national charity which had provided him with such a good living were numbered. In fact, as legal challenges of discrimination mounted up from non-disabled people who wanted guaranteed sheltered employment he knew it was time to get out. His old colleagues in related businesses had been bewildered; they could not understand why they were not needed any more; hadn’t they always done their best for people? The truth was that as more and more disabled people were able to lead ordinary lives without professionals intervening to ‘help’ them, the traditional charities no longer had a role to play. Many of those that had not done as Dick had, and adapted to cater for the new deserving minority – had folded. Sadly, the scope for offering services to people such as SECS members was limited: they did not need purpose-built housing or door-to-door transport; mind you, neither did anyone else now. Still, Dick had spotted their needs and now his organisation was catering for them. He was worried, though, about the fundamentalist cripples. There had been a small but pushy group of them at the conference, and Lord Stern was a typical example – dangerous even. It was only in the last five years that the Fundamentalists Union (FU) had started to activate with any kind of effectiveness, but they were becoming stronger. Their call was simple – they wanted a return to the “good old days” – i.e. to be cared for. The lines to the Bureau had literally jammed, the day the FU held a sit-in on the ramp to the Lobby Hall at Westminster, chanting “What do we want? CARE! When do want it? NOW!” SCAB clients were falling over themselves to offer their services. The problem was, now that disabled people were no longer kept apart from the rest of society, now that they were functioning citizens, they needed no more care than anyone else, so it was really hard for the SCAB clients to meet the fundamentalists’ demands. They were determined to do their utmost, though, and had formed an FU – SCAB Working Party to establish models of good practice. Dick had no choice but to be a member, but he was not happy about it. . . if his clients found a new role in life and no longer needed his services, what on earth would he do for a living?