Friday, 16 November 2012

Pudsey Bear’s WCA

This is a guest post by Sarah Ismail, editor of the Same Difference blog.

Here’s what happened when Pudsey, the disabled bear, went for a Work Capability Assessment to the offices of ATOS.

ATOS Worker: Hello, please sit down.

(Pudsey sits, looking confused)

ATOS Worker: So, he can sit independently. How are you today?

Pudsey: Good, thank you.

ATOS Worker: Hold your arms out, turn your hands over. Straighten your fingers.

Pudsey: I don’t have hands, or fingers.

ATOS Worker: Hmmm... stand up on your tiptoes.

Pudsey: I don’t have toes... or feet.

ATOS Worker: Hmm... please remove hat horrible scarf from across your face. Open your right eye.

Pudsey: It’s not a scarf, it’s an eye patch. And I don’t have a right eye. One of the children pulled it off. That’s why I had to stop working. I’m partially sighted.

ATOS Worker: Children? You have children? You’re not disabled! Disabled people can't have CHILDREN!

Pudsey: They’re not my children... I’m a charity mascot... they’re the children I help.

ATOS Worker: A charity mascot? So, you already have a job. Disability benefit fraud... well well well.

Pudsey: But I’m a partially sighted teddy bear with no fingers, hands, toes or feet...

ATOS Worker: Well, Mr Pudsey, if you’re fit to be in the same room as children, you’re fit to work. Close the door on your way out. NEXT!

Children in Need and Inspiration Porn

Tonight is the annual Children in Need telethon. Usually staid newsreaders will dance in their pants, the casts of soap operas will stage production numbers, and pop groups will try to revive flagging careers - all to encourage the Great British Public to phone in with donations to help disadvantaged children in the UK. Members of the public will already have completed various sponsored challenges: shaving their heads, lying in baths of baked beans, and so on.

So...great, right? Charities get money. Celebs get to tit around doing fun things and feeling the glow of philanthropy Members of the public get to laugh at said celebs and also sometimes take part in events. Win-win-win!.

Or is it? What about the recipients of this largesse?

If a child is living in poverty, that's something the government should be fixing. I pay my taxes for that. (Yes, yes, I know, we currently have the ConDems, but I'm talking should.) It shouldn't be down to charity to sort out the problems of inequality in our society.

Then there's the whole pity thing. If you can bear to watch, you'll see a lot of kids in wheelchairs gazing out of windows, a tear in their eye. The message seems to be that if you're disabled, you're an object of pity, and can't possibly be happy. Well, dammit. I may be disabled, but anyone who tries pitying me will get their arm ripped off and beaten to death with the soggy end. And pity promotes charity, rather than inclusion in society. While I have my moments, like everyone else, I'm generally pretty happy. Disability doesn't preclude happiness, any more than any other human state does.

There's a thing that's been called "Inspiration Porn". It involves removing a disabled person's individuality and humanity, presenting a snapshot of them to get (generally non-disabled) people to gee their ideas up. The disabled person can be doing the most everyday thing: I've been called "brave" for doing my shopping (was there a killer shark in the vegetable aisle?), but the "I" word will still be used.

Programmes like Children in Need are full of inspiration porn. The other day I watched the Children in Need special of a DIY show. They were renovating a day centre for children with special needs. At one point, I clicked on the Twitter hashtag for the programme, #DIYSOS.

Apart from one charmer who thought disabled kids got treated far too well, many tweets were fully inspiration porned up. For instance:
...puts all our little daily gripes into perspective when you see what these kids have to go through #DIYSOS
#DIYSOS amazing achievement, bless them kids & their families. Don't realise how lucky we are. 
Children, yes even disabled children, are more than fodder for inspirational snapshots of their lives. They are real, complex, sometimes happy and sometimes sad, sometimes angry with their situation and sometimes not bothered, and Always. Just. Kids.

Let's treat them as that, yeah? Rather than as pathetic objects, needing pity and charity. Not good for the self-esteem.