Independence the irony Part 2

In my first post in this series of independence I addressed the subject in its widest context, what it means and how it impacts us and what it means if it is removed.  This second part addresses the question Are we really independent? Is independence really a myth?

I mentioned in my last post about being born blind and my parents trying to make me as independent as possible, in fact all parents do that, but is it really possible for me to gain full independence? What does full independence really look like? Is it really possible?   Is it really a good thing to be independent?

As much as I would love to have full independence, I don’t really think that is ever really possible, and I don’t that’s possible for anyone else either.  Even though we are preconditioned form childhood to strive for independence the truth is none of us are truly independent and however independent we may be we will inevitably will all have to rely on someone or be at the mercy of systems and things beyond our control, and ultimately we may end up losing our independence anyway through ill health or having our independence restricted through the illness or disability of another as the example shown in the first part of this blog.

The world we live in independence is usually celebrated and dependence is shunned.   My mum’s friend used to comment how independent I was getting around everywhere, whether it was a local shop or  travelling abroad.  People are scorned if they have to rely on government hand outs paid for by the taxpayer, even the government we have in power believes in personal responsibility (or is it really personal independence).  The truth of the above is that yes I can travel on my own but it doesn’t work without a good transport system to rely on or people to assist me getting on and off the train at the right stop.  Here’s a funny story I was getting off at Crewe station to transfer to another train I ended up on the wrong train I rang my mum to tell her I was on my way even though I’d got on the wrong train, as I had to get off at another stop to get back onto the right train,  but my phone cut out, when I arrived at the other end a line of Virgin Rail Staff in their red uniforms were lining the platform waiting for me, apparently the line of red coats had gone up and down the train I should have been on it was embarrassing!

Anyway back to the topic often those who are pointing the finger at those who are less independent tend to not see their own dependency. a great example is the other side of the benefits saga is that there are many people in the UK are on benefits depending on the government for extra income whilst working, but criticising those who are not working claiming benefits also paying tax often the indirect kind like VAT, or have worked.  Another example is on a discussion group a sight impaired person was critical of others relying on others a lot and yet mentioned on another post of how much their parent helped them.  In disability circles it can seem a crime to ask for help or even be seen to be struggling.

The fact is we are always having to depend on someone or something in our lives to a greater or lesser extent.  For those of you who pride yourselves on independence ask yourself what you do in these scenarios or what you would do.

Your car breaks down on a motorway, you need a toilet and your in a foreign city, your child goes wandering off in the large shopping centre and you have no idea where they are. your spouse has been made redundant and your still working which leaves a shortfall.

OK OK , the examples above are more emergency situations, where ultimately you will have to rely on someone for help, you will need to call a break down service, ask someone for directions in a foreign country, seek out security for that lost child, and possibly take courage in both hands to ask the boss for a pay rise, or claim benefits. But equally we rely on our banks to pay our direct debits to those we owe money too, we rely on supermarkets to supply the food we want to purchase, emergency services to come out to us in the event of a fire, burglary or heart attack, councils to manage our waste, Governments to support our public services, the train to arrive on time and the list goes on.

The truth is from all this we are not truly independent, we are always needing at some point to depend on something or someone else in our day to day lives.  So the question I asked can we truly independent? Equally can we be fully dependent, the answer to these questions is no, however there is a third option, a word I don’t often hear interdependence,

In conclusion I believe there is nothing wrong with having a level of independence but recognising that we are not completely independent, it’s an irony a contradiction for us to say we are independent or be fully autonomous, it’s an ideal but never a reality. Also our worldview on this issue is wrong, independence/dependence are neither right nor wrong unless there are extremes involved.  There is a danger though that in our celebrating of independence we lose sigh to the value of the necessity to depend on others at times.  in my third part of the post  I will address the notion of interdependence., the fourth part I will address Co=dependence which is the extreme of dependence and my last part will address the issue of what you do if you or a family member  start to lose your independence as a result of illness or disability.


4 Es of disability inclusion

Just last week I read this news article from the Disability News service, which got me thinking about the confusion and miscommunication within the government and lack of real understanding of what is needed to help the disabled be integrated fully into society in whatever sphere it maybe whether it be entertainment, sports and access to city centres and public services.  It then struck me that there were 3 Es to inclusion, a friend of mine came up with the 4th.  So here is my solution using the 4 Es,,

1.    Education

Education in all its forms is vital from the school system teaching children about disability to Disability Awareness Training being provided in the workplace, I believe this should be mandatory for all HR practitioners if it isn’t already, and be part of courses in relation to employment or education.  The public sector should be leading the way in this field.  At the same time those of us with disabilities, should find opportunities where possible to educate those around us, when questions are asked no matter how irritating/embarrassing/nosey/stupid the question, answer in a calm manner as possible.  I believe charities should encourage more educational advertising and TV documentary’s.  Hopefully that may at least lessen the ignorance and discrimination surrounding disability and encourage integration.  However, I do believe that people with disabilities are often the best teachers in this field as they have to educate people pretty regularly on what should or shouldn’t be done.   So if any of my disabled friends are wanting a new career direction try teaching!!

2     Enforcement

The DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) now Equality Act, in theory is a great tool to encourage integration by stamping out discrimination and inequality, however these acts don’t really carry much weight, for instance employers seem to be more frightened of health and safety legislation than the Employment Equality legislation, how is that possible.  This is simply because there is little consequence of breaching it and discrimination can be hard to prove in certain circumstances.  If the Lords are questioning the power of the DDA/Equality Act its not surprising given slow progress in so many areas.    But then it begs the question what is the best way of enforcing these Acts, should the rules be tightened or boundaries broadened what constitutes discrimination.  I personally believe there should be both a carrot and stick approach in these regards.  If the other 3 Es I’m writing about are not supported then this is a last resort.  No disabled person wants to drag able bods kicking and screaming to offer us services or employment without reservation or discrimination but it seems to me that’s where its  heading in light of the fact the Acts have had so little effect on inclusion, particularly in the area of employment.

3. Engagement

This is probably the best way to encourage inclusion, just by the  able bodied community showing their openness  with the disabled community looking to engage in different matters, whether it be of public interest or social interaction.  By involving disabled people in discussion groups, meetings and policy making decisions, it gives the disabled person a voice in the community, the able bodied will see the way disabled people use their transferrable skills they’ve learnt to deal with their particular disability, their problems solving skills, adaptability in difficult circumstances, their ability to think outside the box and level of experience, compassion and wisdom  that can be offered in all matters not just concerning disability.  By engagement and exposure the able bodied people can learn how if in the event they or their family members would overcome obstacles, problems, and learn the new techniques needed to live amongst the able bodied, this would also blast the fear of disability amongst the able bodied and also make it seem more ‘normal’ and liveable, as the biggest problem with being disabled is being rerated with equal value in society.   Communication for disabled people is vital to feel a part of society whatever form that takes whether it is written or verbal.  That would be the first step to encourage engagement.  Most people who engage with a disabled person find that after a while they forget the person has a disability and can see past it.

4     Empathy

The words I most often hear from people with disabilities is “they should walk a mile in my shoes”  Probably after engagement this  is the best way to integrate us into society.  How can you help a disabled person without understanding them.  How can one judge without understanding.  How can anything be really improved without empathy and compassion.  Here’s an example many disabled people struggle with shared surfaces, they are not confident in using them, particularly those who are sight/hearing impaired.  Although vehicles are slower they are quieter, with other competing noises unless you have excellent hearing you haven’t got a chance to get out of the way if a vehicle suddenly appears from seemingly nowhere, a taxi driver just the other day swung from behind to the left of me, I didn’t hear it behind me.  It only takes one bad move by the unseeing, unhearing pedestrian to end up coming into contact with another vehicle.  How can empathy work here, well literally take a blind fold and ear muffs, stick them on the head of an able bodied person and see how they manage without help, they will soon understand the health and safety risks involved, they will soon understand things from our point of view and will LISTEN and respond to what’s required to improve safety whilst walking on foot.  There’s nothing like empathy to really know the implications of living with a disability, without empathy there is no action.

In conclusion

The 4 Es I’ve listed above are just brief descriptions of what’s needed to integrate the disabled person into society, without Education , Engagement and Empathy there will be no action and the walls of discrimination, resentment, and ignorance towards people with disabilities will continue, and the law of enforcement will have to take over which may not be so desired even by those with disabilities, so I would encourage anyone reading this who is able bodied to put these things in mind particularly if you are involved with any organisation, business or public sector, consider using the 3 Es to show above all that you value people with disabilities and you are willing to show that they are valuable to the able bodied people around them.