Much has been written in recent years about the ‘scroungers and skivers’ rhetoric, with good cause. The relentless negative portrayal of disabled people by both the government and the general media has, arguably, resulted in worsening perceptions of disabled people and a rise in hate crimes. Something else, however, is going on.
Come on now, you wheelchair users out there, how many times have you sat outside the accessible loo with your legs crossed only for a nonchalant shopper to emerge, loaded with high-end carrier bags, having taken their time to try on their latest purchases? Seemingly the spacious accessible loo is a desirable facility, with the general public seeing it as a kind of personal changing room or a safety net, if the regular loos are busy. Our loo is even made over to parents needing to change baby. Tricky, that one: of course nobody begrudges parents this – but do they have to use our loo? And how come that changing mat is never wheelchair height?
Then we have accessible parking bays, regularly commandeered by police, politicians, and the general public, who are ‘only going to be a minute’. Parking spots for disabled people have long been coveted by non-disabled drivers, and clearly are seen as a privilege. So although there is clearly a level of stigma attached to being a disabled person, non-disabled people see a level of advantage attached: and they want access to that, I think; a kind of inverse equality.
The latest example I’ve seen of this ‘privilege paradox’ is here in Tenerife where the (non-disabled) tourists are making the most of the increasing numbers of double ‘mobility scooters’ for hire.
These appear to be marketed by some canny hire operators, who charge more for three days of a double buggy than for the hire of a small car! The advantages are clear – lusty young people or families with small children whizz along on the level and accessible promenades on these machines: no petrol costs, no need to touch the roads, easy ‘parking’ by the sea, gets you from A to B quickly.
There’s a psychology here to be explored – what makes equipment or facilities ‘desirable’ and what simply compounds or illustrates the stigma? Why haven’t we seen a double power wheelchair, I wonder?