by Alice Thomson

The term “minority group” invokes the image of a very small percentage of people. When I was a teacher, I had a minority group in my classroom consisting of a small number of children who needed different support and teaching methods to the rest of the class. In an ideal world, every child’s individual needs would have been met, but this was not the case. Time, resources, space – these resources affect the treatment of minority groups on a much larger national scale as well. The ‘majority’ have their needs met, while smaller groups who don’t fit into the majority box are often left behind, mistreated, or ignored.

The population of the United Kingdom consists of 65,511,098 people. The number of disabled people in that total is roughly 13,300,000. That means that 20% of the population of the UK is disabled. To me 20% seems like a large proportion to be considered as and treated like a minority group. It also seems like a large proportion to be receiving so little attention. By contrast, the media is constantly bombarding us with misleading, alarmist, and Islamophobic headlines about how many Muslims are living in the UK. In reality the total number of UK citizens who are Muslim is only 2.8 million – just 4% of the total population. When I think of a majority group, that’s the kind of figure I expect to see.

Simple things like a flight of stairs to your home can turn your life into a living hell

It feels like disabled people are being forgotten. Austerity has made everyone’s lives harder, but when it affects disabled people, it doesn’t just make our lives harder – it makes them impossible. That’s not even considering what it takes to negotiate funding issues. Simple things like a flight of stairs to your home can turn your life into a living hell (please watch the link, it’s one of many disgusting examples of how vulnerable people are treated by local and national government).

Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. Many of us rely heavily on the financial support from the government. It’s not that disabled people don’t want to work, but that the working environment is inappropriate for a disabled person. It is government funded groups like Access to Work that help create appropriate working environments. But these are little known and poorly funded in themselves. It also requires full cooperation from your employer, and from my personal experience, this rarely happens.

Why is it that we are forgetting about the 13,300,000 people in this country that live with disabilities? To start, disability is underrepresented on screen. There are few disabled people in the media or on the television, which can feel very isolating to disabled people and also means that those without a disability are rarely in a position to question what it might be like to live with a disability. In doing this, we keep this group of people hidden, unknown, and invisible. If 20% of the people employed by the BBC or other groups were disabled we would probably have a different perspective. Another reason this group of people are little known is because there is no movement (not like there is regarding women’s rights and LGBT+ rights) working to highlight the injustices and challenges these people face. As a result, disability has sort of been tacked onto the end of the feminist movement, which I have no issue with – but even in this context we still get forgotten about.

Another reason disabled people feel left behind is because they do not feel represented or facilitated for in simple daily environments. I was very excited to hear that 15 year old Rayouf Alhumedhi’s proposal for the hijab emoji had been accepted by Apple and will launch later this year. However, it hadn’t escaped my notice that the only emoji that could remotely represent a disabled person is a symbol of a person in a wheelchair, you know, the kind you see at disabled parking spots. Not even a proper picture. One is not enough, particularly as disability presents itself in so many different ways.

Simple things like voting in elections (and we’ve had a few), can cause problems and anxiety for disabled people. Accessibility can be an issue, but another example is the struggle blind and partially-sighted people encounter. Many aren’t confident in being able to vote in secret, which means many don’t participate. How can we have a government that represents the people, if the people don’t feel confident in their ability to elect them?

My leisure activity was most people’s chore.

Another area where disabled people are left behind is accessibility to leisure activities. The challenges of just leaving your house can be daunting enough, but where do you go when you’re out? Everyone needs down-time and some joy in their lives. But if trying to go out and enjoy yourself will leave you in pain, cause embarrassment, and is a logistical nightmare, it’s easy to see why disabled people aren’t as visible in public spaces. When I was using my wheelchair, a trip out would be to the nearest supermarket, simply because it was the most accessible way of getting out the house. For me, it was exciting. I would look at every single shelf, spending hours in the shop, just to come away with a pint of milk. My leisure activity was most people’s chore. Thankfully I’m out of my chair for the moment, which makes a trip to the pub a little easier.

Featured image credit: David Galbraith

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