This piece was originally published at The New Statesman. Reprinted with permission.
It’s official: disabled people aren’t allowed to be independent. This week, amid rows about how this country treats people with disabilities, it was announced that the government will be phasing out the Independent Living Fund (ILF), a vital stipend that allows more than 21,000 "severely disabled people to pay for help so they can live independently". Such provisions, unlike bank bailouts and subsidies to arms dealers and millionaire tax dodgers, are no longer a priority for this administration. When I heard the news, I couldn’t help but think of Jody McIntyre, a 20-year-old activist and journalist with cerebral palsy, who I saw batoned and dragged from his wheelchair at the demonstrations last Thursday, and who later delivered a series of epic discursive smackdowns to a senior BBC correspondent on prime time television.
The press have been trying to imply that, because Jody is a revolutionary activist and ideologue who has travelled to Palestine and South America, he cannot be a "real" disabled person — he must, as Ben Brown suggested on the BBC, have somehow been "provoked". He must have deserved the beating and the humiliation of being pulled out of his chair and across the road; he must have asked for it. Richard Littlejohn went so far as to compare McIntyre to Andy, a hilariously fraudulent and fatuous wheelchair-using character in the most disgusting pageant of blackface and grotesquery ever to defile British television screens, Little Britain. Like Brown and others, Littlejohn seemed to imply that because he fought back and spoke up, because he attended a protest and because he is not afraid to make his voice heard, Jody McIntyre is not a real disabled person.
Others, including McIntyre himself, have written eloquently about how surprised we really shouldn’t be that the police attacked a disabled protester, nearly killed another protester, and injured and traumatised hundreds more. That we live in a state where police attack women, minorities and the visibly vulnerable in what has been suggested are deliberate tactics to provoke protest crowds to riot is not something I see much need to debate. The truly fascinating aspect of McIntyre’s story is what it reveals about how the British understand disability: namely, that real disabled people are not whole human beings. The attitude is that there are two types of disabled person: there are real disabled people, who are quiet and grateful and utterly incapable of any sort of personal agency whatsoever, and fake disabled people, people like Jody McIntyre, who are disqualified from being truly disabled by virtue of having personality, ambition, outside interests and, in this case, the cojones to stand up to a corrupt and duplicitous government.