Is Guardian Society trying to be controversial or is it just in a mess about disability issues? I suggest the latter.
Take yesterday (21/6/00) for example. While Laurie Taylor (Off cuts) reminds us that the personal is sociological if not political, on the same page, Kendra Inman ('Stack of ability' and 'Right Guy for the job') promotes the opposite view. Whereas Taylor warns that "individualistic stories . . . disguise the genuine sources of our anxieties and discomfort", Inman gladly regurgitates two such "homely accounts" of people with learning difficulties apparently achieving social inclusion through employment. Taylor calls for stories that inform "about the influence of culture and social structure upon our everyday lives" yet Inman is clearly far from ready to abandon the media's "obsession with the private and personal". What is going on?
One thing that is going on is this: governments and other non-profit conglomerates are becoming expert players of Zygmunt Bauman's "social games" (New Deal and Pathways schemes) and "psychological tricks" Mencap's national learning difficulties week and Taking Care of Business). Such games and tricks have more to do with brand imaging and raising the agencies' public profiles, and less to do with resisting oppression and redressing inequality. But who said anything about oppression and inequality? Precisely!
Again I ask, what is going on? Why should businesses be subsidised (bribed, even) to employ disabled people? Why, rather than dispel myths as they claim is their aim, does Mencap peddle and perpetuate age-old myths and stereotypes about disabled people? Like the one about them taking less time off-sick, or the one about them being more reliable. Incidentally, there are two reasons why disabled people take less time off; either 1) they are very healthy (disability is not the same as illness), or 2) they are scared of being sacked (but often end up leaving through exhaustion).
If it works, and I doubt that it will, all the sales talk and marketing hype will soon backfire and the losers will be, as ever, disabled people. At best, Mencap's business case" is likely to amount to no more than a license to exploit (improved public image) and bully (value for money) people with learning difficulties. Disapproving of Richard's frequent breaks, the Pathways person "told them to push him a bit harder". Is this support? In the disabled people's movement we name it institutional discrimination; it's routine, it's rampant and it carries the Mencap seal of approval. And why not? Whatever happens, they keep their jobs. Now we're talking.
If you don't believe me, try this exercise. Think about sexism and racism, then re-read Inman's articles, this time substituting "women" or "black people" for "people with learning disabilities". To say that "people with learning disabilities are happy to do repetitive jobs that other members of the workforce wouldn't do" is as oppressive as saying that "black people are happy to do repetitive jobs that other members of the workforce wouldn't do". To say that "employing them has a positive impact on a company's image" is as insulting and degrading to disabled people as it would be to women or black people. It's pure discrimination and it should be illegal, but it isn't, despite the Disability Discrimination Act.
As Taylor's column proclaims, "there are more ways of telling a story than are dreamt of in our daily story-telling". Inman's way is easy but collusive and dangerous. Disabled people need true stories - our own stories told by us - not other people's lies repackaged and resold.
Other readers letters on this issue which got published.