Tom Shakespeare

About ten years ago, I led a research project called “life as a disabled child”. Only after we began interviewing young people with disabilities did I realize how stupid our title was. First, none of the hundred teenagers we talked to wanted to be identified as “disabled”. They all saw themselves as ordinary kids. They just wanted to be with other young people, doing the normal youth things. They hated being over-protected or given special assistance, because they did not want to stand out from the crowd. Second, there was not one “disabled child”. There were hundreds of different experiences and outlooks.

There’s a lesson there. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the experiences and opinions I’ve shared over the last few years represent all disabled people. There’s a billion of us on the planet, and we’re as varied as the everyone else. Of course, disabled people often experience the frustrations of having a body that doesn’t work in the same way, and of living in a world that does not welcome us. But disabled people all have different views, and many do not want to be seen as disabled at all.

Perhaps you’ve read this column and thanked your lucky stars that you are not one of the 15%. When people see someone with a disability, that’s often the reaction. But wait! Not so fast. Very few people are born with a disability – about one or two per cent of births. Most people become disabled as a result of accidents or the ageing process. Unlike other minorities, the disability community is always recruiting. It’s not impossible that one day you’ll experience disability first hand. I hope then that you will remember some of the thoughts that I have been privileged to have had the chance of sharing with you. Thanks to this newspaper for including my “different view”, and to you for reading.