.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

My Photo
Location: Bracknell Towers

Monday, May 04, 2009

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

BADD is good and BADD is necessary, but it don't half expose some hoary old chestnuts. I'm pinning this one on Jack, because his was one of the first posts published this year, but I'm quite prepared to believe that others have fallen into exactly the same trap - I just haven't worked my way through to the offending posts yet.

Here's what Jack says:-

“Of course, the social model of disability tells us that they are disabled by society: that while they might have very poor hearing, for example, this would not represent a problem, were it not for the fact society does not generally adapt enough to their needs. The medical model of disability would say that the people are disabled by the fact that they have very poor hearing. My personal belief is that both models are appropriate, depending upon the circumstances: for example, the social model deals most effectively with disability discrimination (and preventing it); the medical model is better used by the medical profession when looking at the condition in question…”

I've tried not to react to this. I really have. But it's been eating away at me since Friday morning, and I can't leave it alone any longer. So, Jack, much as I love you, here goes nuffin'...

Let’s start with the basics. Models of disability are sociological models. In other words, they are models of the position those of us who have impairments hold within society. That is both what they are and all they are. They’re not designed to do anything. With the exception of the social model, they are reflections of existing attitudes. Also, with the exception of the social model, sociologists didn’t sit down and devise them. The medical, tragedy and charity models weren’t called the medical, tragedy or charity models until after the social model was drawn up, at which point terms were needed to define pre-existing responses to disability.

To say that the social model view of very poor hearing is that it wouldn’t represent a problem were it not for the fact that society doesn’t adapt to the needs of people with very poor hearing is, I’m afraid, a misunderstanding of the social model. The social model distinguishes between impairment (the very poor hearing) and disability (society’s failure to adapt to the needs of those with very poor hearing), certainly. What it doesn’t do is to say that having very poor hearing isn’t inherently a problem.

Hearing is probably the worst of all possible choices of example, as it happens, because many Deaf people are firmly of the belief that an inability to hear simply isn’t an inherent impediment to quality of life. So let’s use diabetes instead.

Does my diabetes present a problem? Hell, yes. And lots of them. Would it continue to present problems if society treated those of us with diabetes as true equals, and encouraged us to eat whenever we need to, even if doing so interrupted a meeting/appointment/social event? Absolutely, it would. Diabetes is a constant, tyrannical presence in my life which robs me of what little spontaneity my chronic pain might have left me with. Ignore the demands of my diabetes, and I die. No amount of societal commitment to full disability equality will alter that hard fact.

The social model of disability recognizes both the existence of impairments and the depth and breadth and extent of their impact on the individual. But it doesn’t dwell on that aspect of being a disabled person because that’s not what it was designed to illustrate. Instead, it differentiates between impairment (a lack of, or difference in, function – the stuff that can’t be changed) and the oppressive and exclusive nature of disability (society’s failure to treat people who have impairments as equals – the stuff that can be changed.)

By implication, because it demands equality of participation in society, the social model treats each and every impairment as morally-neutral. (This is comparable to the fight for genuine race equality, in which it is the reaction to differences in skin colour which causes exclusion, not the differences in skin colour themselves.) Morally-neutral or not – and that moral neutrality is a huge step forward in comparison with the belief that having an impairment is punishment for ill behaviour in a previous life – the impairment isn’t going anywhere. And neither are the problems it brings with it. But what we can eliminate – in theory, at least – are all the additional problems created by a society which treats people with impairments as abnormal and lesser beings. In other words, we can’t get rid of impairment, but we can and should eradicate disability. Just as we should eradicate racism, homophobia and sexism.

The phrase “abnormal and lesser beings” brings me neatly back to the medical model. I know I’ve said this before, but the medical model has been perilously-badly named. As it stands, it sounds as though it’s about providing medical care to people with impairments. Nuh-uh. It is nothing of the kind. If we could rename it the “Dear God, you can’t expect me to live next door to that!” model, then people like Jack would be far less likely to conclude that the two models can happily exist together in tandem.

Under the medical model of disability, you “have a disability” if there is something fairly seriously medically “wrong with” you. Having something “wrong with” you diminishes your position in society. It reduces your rights. Under the medical model, there is no obligation on society to adapt the general environment so that it’s accessible to you. Such obligation as there is lies with the medical profession – hence, “medical model”. Their job is to normalise you; to change and improve you until you fit in. Can’t be done in your particular situation? Oh, shame. Well, in that case, you get to be hidden away, either in your own home or in an institution, so that normal people – the ones with rights – aren’t exposed to your hideous deformities and distressing tics.

So, no, actually, I don’t think “the medical model is better used by the medical profession”. In fact, if I believed for even a fraction of a moment that my osteopath, acupuncturist, GP or diabetes nurse regarded me as an aberration who needs to be changed to fit in with normal society, I would be out of that treatment room as fast as my stick could carry me. There is an incalculably-huge difference between providing necessary medical treatment to someone with impairments and believing that, unless and until that treatment can make them look and behave like a normal person, they are inherently inferior.

The irritatingly-pedantic Editor

Friday, May 01, 2009

BADD 2009: The Unbearable Slowness of Being

BADD has rather sneaked up on me this year. This may be on account of BADD 2008 having only taken place a couple of weeks ago. (If that doesn't make any sense to you, just wait until you're middle-aged.)

I had been intending to be the sort of sensible person who drafted her BADD entry last weekend. But it was sunny and there were flowers to photograph. Well, that and I couldn't think of anything to write about. Which is not to say that there aren't all manner of things which I could write about, you understand.

I could tell you about the poor man who phoned me in tears one morning last week because his managers don't seem to be able to grasp that they have an obligation to make what is actually a very straightforward reasonable adjustment and because his colleagues are making fun of him because he's different.

I could tell you about a diversity awards ceremony I recently attended at which some bumptious idiot introduced his own self-important slot in the proceedings with the words, "Right! I want everyone in the room to stand up!"

I could tell you about the "revised" national parking policy which actively discriminates against a high proportion of an organisation's disabled staff.

But I don't want to tell you about any of those things. Partly because it would be tricky to do so in detail without identifying the victim/culprit/organisation/myself, and partly because, in all honesty, I'm fed up to the back teeth with those particular issues.

How kind, then, of one of the people who works in (or, at least, is paid for attending) my building to have made the effort of dropping ideal BADD-fodder into my lap this week. You're going to love this...

But first, some background:-

I have worked on the fourth floor of a four-floor office building for about ten years. For even longer than that (see how I assume only young people read blogs?), the building's "fire lifts" have been used to evacuate those disabled people whose impairments prevent them from hurtling down the stairs with their non-disabled colleagues during fire drills and genuine emergencies.

But not any more.

The landlords, in their infinite wisdom, have decreed that the "fire lifts" don't meet the necessary specs to be used for this purpose. And, in fact, they never did. So, to spare you the long, tedious rounds of negotiation and counter-argument, let's cut straight to the result: no more being evacuated in the lift.

A colleague and I can make it down all the stairs we need to get down in order to get out of the building if we really have to. But we would both have to go straight home thereafter, and it would take us both a day or two to recuperate. So our Personal Evacuation Plans (PEPs) stipulate that we will only attempt that descent in a genuine emergency.

(I'm relieved to report that there hasn't been one of those since the lift-use was barred: I'm hoping there won't be until after my team has moved down to the first floor. But back to the main story.)

There was a fire drill a few weeks ago. My colleague and I had been informed of the drill in advance, and had confirmed that we wouldn't be taking part, thank you. As had quite a few other slowly crips in various corners of the building.

(And, if you think not going out during a fire drill is a soft option, then you've never sat through nine minutes of deafening, head-exploding, all-encompassing fire alarm.)

A report on how the fire drill went was circulated last week, and made it as far as yrs truly by last Friday. One read of the offending object was sufficient to raise my blood pressure to dangerous levels. I shut the email down carefully until such time as I might have calmed down enough to put together a coherent response.

Wherein did it offend me? Right at the very end. After all the observations about the number of people who were spotted going back to their desks for their coats/handbags/cups of coffee, and those who were discovered, on re-entry, not to have had their building passes with them that day, was this little gem:-

"As the drill did not test the evacuation of people with serious mobility problems, a concern was raised that had these people been included, the evacuation time would have been much longer."

Well, that's me told, then, isn't it? Somebody is labouring under the common delusion that there's a time limit on evacuating the building completely, and what am I doing? Interfering with some jobsworth's ambition to meet this mythical deadline, apparently.

Blimey. How selfish am I?

As punishment for this insupportable determination to scupper the best laid plans of mice and men, I should clearly, at this point, volunteer to stay in the building and burn to death. It would be the least I could do, after causing "a concern". That or get myself all better - because my impairments are probably all in the mind anyway - so that I can scamper downstairs efficiently and help this numpty win his building-emptying Guinness World Record bid.

Seriously, though, in what bizarre, alternate universe is the fact that the safe evacuation of disabled people is going to increase the overall length of time it take to fully evacuate a particular office building something to be concerned about? By whose scheme of logic is this a problem? Who can't sleep at night for worrying that, although there are plans to get "these people" out safely, "these people" still can't move as quickly as "normal people"? Who - and let's stop messing around, here - hasn't actually understood what his employer's H&S responsibilities are as regards emergency evacuations?

I was lucky enough to have a good teacher about this subject way back when I first needed a PEP. He has long since retired, naturally, so can't be wheeled in to beat some sense into The Man With A Concern. But here is what I learned.

The purpose of an emergency evacuation is to get everybody away from danger as quickly as possible. You expedite this by getting everybody who can get out quickly under their own steam out first. In the meantime, those who can't move as quickly are making their way, with their "buddies", towards fire refuges. Fire refuges have a considerably greater level of fire resistance than the more open plan areas of the building.

Each of the slowly crips has a carefully-agreed, detailed plan of where and when they will go next, and under what specific circumstances. That plan incorporates the way in which their status will be communicated to the Incident Control Officer (ICO). My own plan isn't nearly as complicated as some. It doesn't involve teams of Evac Chair handlers, or me moving through various compartments of the building as successive refuges start to become unsafe. It involves me setting off down the (fire-protected) stairs once it's safe for me to do so, and making my way down them at a speed which is manageable for me. Various members of my team are responsible either for staying with me to make sure nothing unforeseen happens, or letting the ICO know I've begun my descent.

This means that, when the first fire engine arrives, and the senior fire officer asks the ICO whether everyone is safe, the ICO can honestly reply that all those who don't need a PEP are already out, and that the location and progress of all the slowly crips is known, and that none of them is in danger. At which point, said senior fire officer will direct his staff to saving the building.

If, on the other hand, the first fire engine arrives, the senior officer asks the ICO whether everyone is safe, and the ICO replies that most people are, but he or she has a vague suspicion that about a dozen slowly crips probably couldn't keep up with the mandatory deadline for getting out, so no-one knows where they are, the fire officer will direct his staff to put on breathing apparatus and sweep the building in search of the people. And, if that means the building burns to the ground, then so be it. Because the Fire Service - unlike, apparently, at least one of my colleagues - values human life more highly than inanimate buildings. Yes, even the life of someone, like me, who can't walk very quickly.

The Enraged Editor