Those of us familiar with the social model understanding of disability have long advocated that it is society that needs fixing, and not those of us with ‘disabilities’ (sic).
So, when we hear people say that they cannot wait for society to return to ‘normal’ once this coronavirus pandemic is over, I would suggest that we should all be campaigning to radically overhaul the way in which society is organised.
And it’s not just me: Dr Miro Griffiths, speaking during an online presentation on COVID-19 and disability hosted by Leeds university, said the UK government’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic – through its guidance and policies – had been to reinforce ideas of individualism and personal responsibility.
In an article in the Disability News Service (DNS), Dr Griffiths, a disabled academic and a Research Fellow at Leeds University said this had led to a “really worrying” relaxation and “easement” of central and local government duties to support disabled people, for example through measures introduced in the spring under the Coronavirus Act where whole sections of the Care Act had been suspended.
And he said he feared that this approach – removing duties and mandatory obligations – would prove to be the future of health and social care policy under the “neoconservative” agenda of current and future Tory governments.
As you’ll have read in my earlier blogs, it’s clear to me that this government have used an underlying belief in a eugenics’ ideology when implementing recent coronavirus legislation. Dr Griffiths agrees with this, pointing out the “clear undertone of eugenicist ideals” underlying some of the state’s actions during the pandemic, including the misuse of “do not attempt resuscitation” forms that were placed on disabled people’s records without their consent.
He also stated: “On the one hand disabled people have been told, ‘do things for yourself on your own’… but at the same time there is a constant attempt to devalue or to question the worth of disabled people… and to judge their contributions as a way to determine whether they should or should not have access to support.”
He said the combination of a “punitive” social security regime, and other “violent and hostile” policies during the austerity years, the historical use of segregation, and the Coronavirus Act and other pandemic policies had provided a “really bleak picture” for disabled people.
There had also been a failure by the media to accept and analyse the social factors – such as how well-off they are, and their living and working conditions – that have helped cause the disproportionately high number of deaths of disabled people during the pandemic, he said.
But Dr Griffiths said the pandemic had also shown how education, employment and other support could be provided more flexibly, for example through working or studying online, working from home, and taking advantage of new technology.
He added that this showed the need to celebrate “the variance of human existence” and to provide more opportunities for people to engage with society that take account of this variation and their access requirements rather than forcing them to conform to a “preferred system”.
Many of us will agree with him that such a “radical overhaul” of society would not just benefit disabled people but would also empower other communities currently affected by the barriers within society.
Dr Griffiths concludes by stating that there was now an opportunity to “rethink the social contract between disabled people and the state and by pushing for a new human rights approach that recognised the intersecting types of oppression disabled people face”.