Monday, 5 August 2013

Vic Finkelstein's Story: "Revolution"

One person who made a major impression in my life was my friend Stuart, who I met at university in 1984.
Stuart was a committed socialist, so I spent lots of time with him organising the University Labour Club and the Miners' Support Group (Usually instead of studying).
Stuart had muscular dystrophy, used a wheelchair and drove his antiquated mini like a scalextric racing car, scaring the bejasus out of me.
It was Stuart who first introduced me to disability politics, by telling me Vic Finkelstein's story 'Revolution', which you can read in full here.
It's a remarkable story, in that it describes how well-meaning action can lead to exclusion and segregation, how in a society run by people with a particular impairment, it would be the people who did not share this impairment who would become 'disabled' by society itself: For example, in a society where everyone uses wheelchairs, why would they waste building materials on rooms with high ceilings? Then when someone comes along who belongs to the 2% that doesn't use a chair to get around, they find themselves having to stoop constantly, and wear a leather helmet to protect them from banging their head, they'd find it impossible to get work as workplaces would not be designed for their 'special needs', so would be forced into claiming benefits and seeking charity, even the clothes they bought in shops wouldn't fit properly, the ramifications are endless.
It's one of those stories that goes to the heart of issues of power and discrimination in society, when the environment and culture is structured in a way that ignores one section of society altogether.
Finkelstein's tale ends on a hopeful note, pointing toward the possibility of a society where people's different needs are met so they can each contribute their different gifts and get on together just fine.
What made me think about this story? The news today that Angela Bachiller has just been elected city councillor for the Spanish city of Valladolid. (The link I've shared is in Spanish, the English press don't yet seem to have picked up this story).
Angela will bring her experience of exclusion and discrimination as somebody with Down Syndrome to the City Council. She's already pointed out that many people with intellectual disabilities never even get the chance to vote.
How great that Valladolid will benefit from Angela's energy and commitment! There are plenty of people in our own communities who'd love a chance to share their energy, experience and commitment too, in their own way, if we had the imagination and will to create the kind of community where this can happen.

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