Sunday, 27 October 2013

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

*waves* I'm Still Here!

I haven't posted in ages and I'm really sorry about that.

It's been a pretty hectic summer for me and I've had some health issues that have just eaten all my spare spoons I'd normally use for blogging. I'm hoping that now things are settling down that I can get back to normal!

As you may or may not know I'm pretty passionate about doing what I can to try to improve other peoples experience of Birmingham City Councils (BCC) Adults & Communities division (adult social care). I had quite a few issues with them, the DWP, Atos and the NHS wheelchair service when I first became physically disabled which is one of the main reasons I became a disability rights campaigner. I wanted to do my part to ensure that others in the same boat had a better experience than I did.

Now many of the issues surrounding adult social care aren't things that that are within adults & communities remit to deal with. Social services cannot force Osborne to free up extra funding for them in his budget, nor do they have the last word on how much the local councillors decide to devote to the department. They can't ignore national initiatives they are compelled to take part in nor can they interfere in the NHS. What they can do is work with the resources they have to commission appropriate services and to try to force up the quality of third party contractors where possible. They can also look at their own services and make sure they are appropriate, upholding citizens rights and of a good quality.

I've joined a Citizen-led Quality Board which works alongside BCC Adults & Communities to look at the why's, what's, when's and how's of their commissioning process to point out problems, encourage good practice and share citizens ideas and concerns.

I'm going to endeavour to write up a few posts about various areas we are covering in an effort to both share information and to look at our performance. Until then, look after yourself & I hope you have a great October x

DLA Applications and Appeals

I know that DLA is vanishing very soon but there are still lots of people who are still applying & appealing the benefit.

If you are then you might well find this free guide from the Disability Law Centre extremely helpful. It details in plain English exactly what they are looking for to award DLA. If you are answering the initial questions then bear these criteria in mind when you write your answers

So, if you believe that you qualify for Lower Rate Care you need to meet at least one of the following two statements;
1. To get the low rate you have to need care and attention in connection
with your bodily functions for ‘a significant portion of the day’ (usually at least
an hour); or
You are unable prepare and cook a main meal for yourself. This is known as
the ‘Cooking Test’. 
If in your form you don't clearly express that you are unable to prepare AND cook a main meal for yourself then you won't be eligible. Or if when explaining how many minutes care you need for various tasks they don't add up to at least an hour you quite probably won't be found to meet the requirements either.

Of course it's no guarantee that it will go through straight away, they may miss something, say your evidence to support your claims was inconclusive, you didn't score highly enough on a Atos assessment or a whole host of other things. 

You can though use the information in this guide to really help you write a strong appeal. If when you appeal you follow a simple format where you quote the criteria you think you meet to start with like this;

"I believe I meet the criteria for the Low Rate Care Component because I cannot reliably/ I cannot prepare and cook a main meal for myself."

Then you really should finish off by tying that statement to the relevant evidence such as;

"I get extremely disorientated when trying to cook which makes it impossible for me to complete either the preparation or cooking of food. My doctor/consultant/OT/social worker explains this in the letter I have included/did include with my initial application as evidence."

If it doesn't work as part of a written appeal then hopefully a tribunal will listen.

If anyone else has any good resources then please list them in the comments section.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

#FemSchool13 - A Quick Summary Of My Weekend

I spent this weekend at the annual UK Feminista Summer School. It's a weekend where feminists/women's rights activists come together to learn from each other, organise and get inspired. All in all I had a wonderful time. Contrary to the picture the media presented the weekend was not all about ending Page 3 and Lads Mags to the exclusion of all else. Rather it was a eclectic mix of intersectional workshops and talks covering subjects such as class, race, disability, sexuality, arts, campaigning, lobbying, the criminal justice system, economics and much more.
The main hall starting to fill up for the welcoming meeting.
I arrived on the Saturday morning to take part in the welcoming panel with Lara Bates from the Everyday Sexism project and Constance Nzeneu, Migrant & Refugee Woman of the Year winner. The panel was great fun, it was a bit odd to be sitting in front of all those people talking about my activism and why I campaign for change, but if it helped one other person realise that they could make a small difference I think it was worth it.

Myself & Laura Bates getting ready to sit on the panel.
My personal goal for the weekend was to try to get as many people as possible thinking about disability as both a part of feminism and a important civil rights movement on it's own. I really do believe that the struggle for civil rights needs to be intersectional. We are all stronger if we work together while, of course, still respecting the need for our own spaces. After the welcoming panel I went to a Mental Health & Intersectionality workshop where we were urged to look at how various types of oppression can exacerbate and cause mental health problems.

I followed that up by going to a workshop I was personally interested in - Women in Prison - which looked at how the current system is not set up to deal effectively with women in the prison system or after release. We learned that the vast majority of female prisoners have mental health problems, many of them personality disorders, which stem from frequently traumatic/turbulent childhoods. We learned a bit about how the system can breed dependency as well as how there is little scope for meaningful rehabilitation without structured support outside of prisons. It was a fascinating session, one I'm really glad I went to.

Instead of going to a third workshop I offered to run a open space session* on disability and language entitled "That's so lame!". I chose that name because I wanted to take a word that is used everyday by people in all walks of life that has disableist connections and use it to challenge the audience. Over the last couple of years I've discovered that many people who use the word lame to mean rubbish often don't realise that the word refers to someone who is physically disabled and has a impairment that effects the ability to walk or effects the use of a limb. So we discussed the institutional disableism that creates a language where words describing impairments become interchangeable with words like rubbish, pathetic, useless, defective, dull & stupid in the collective consciousness. We also talked about differences between US & UK ways of talking about disablism and more to boot. It was really enjoyable. I finished off the day by going to the disabled women's safe space meeting.

On Sunday I was running (with the help of my friend, Jackie) a workshop on Disability, Feminism and Activism. Given how awesome the other workshops happening at the same time sounded I was really happy that we still got a decent sized group. We covered a lot in the hour we had; the basics of disability, the pro's of intersectionality and a run down of the last 40 years worth of campaigning for disabled peoples rights. We did some group activities as well thinking about feminist areas of interest that strongly intersect with those of disabled people (like reproductive rights, abuse, education, body image, austerity etc..) and thinking about campaigns both movements could join together to in. The attendees were fantastic and I had a super morning chatting with them.

I had to leave after that point because I was a) almost out of spoons and b) had a family engagement that afternoon. It was a wonderful event and one that I'd recommend to anyone interested in meeting other feminists and/or learning some new skills and theory. I'm really sad that I didn't get the chance to go to any of the workshops exploring other intersections like sexuality or race but hopefully I'll get the chance next year.

*At open space sessions anyone can suggest a topic/plan they'd like to talk about and meet others who are interested in doing the same. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Ableism Or Disableism?

Nearly all the big US based blogs on line talk about ableism being something experienced by persons with disabilities because we live in a society where being able-bodied gives you a level of privilege/being a person with a disability means you experience oppression specific to that.

Many of us in the UK who fight for disabled peoples rights don't use that language. We talk about disablism the oppression faced by disabled people, because society is set up to primarily cater to the needs of non-disabled people.

Which set of language is the best to use? Is there even a difference? Are those in the UK backwards? 

I have opinions on this so I'm going to share them (it's what blogs are for after all). You can make up your own mind. All I would ask is that you have a think about what the words mean, the sentiment attached to them and if you think they are contributing to make the world a more equal place for everyone.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

What Is The Mental Capacity Act?

Last week I attended an interesting talk on the Mental Capacity Act (for beginners I should add) and I thought I'd share what I learned with you.

History

In 1994 a man with profound learning disabilities and complex care needs was released from residential care to live with a family in Surrey. He developed a routine and went about his life without serious incident until 1997. The family said of the first 3 years "It's fair to say that it was a challenge - but it was rewarding to see how much [he] benefited from living in a family setting. At first he was very institutionalised, but he gradually became more confident and progressed beyond all expectations."
He attended a day centre once a week and did so without issue until one day he got on the bus to find he had a different driver who took a different route to the day centre. The man arrived feeling very agitated and staff had difficulty calming him down. The next thing the family he lived with knew was that he had been "admitted informally" into hospital without their consultation. They were also informed that they were not allowed any contact with him. This was all done after one quick consultation with a doctor who did not know the man or his family, because of how the system worked then all they had to do was claim it was in the man's "best interests" and they could remove his liberty with no option for appeal.
The family began a lengthy legal battle which lead to the man coming home and the discovery of the abuses he had experienced whilst detained. The Department of Health fought the legal action and eventually it ended up at the European Court of Human Rights. In 2004 the ECHR ruled in the man's favour and as a result the UK government released the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, part of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which came into force in 2009. This case is known as the Bournewood Case if you wish to do more reading.

Purpose

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) should provide a legal framework for dealing with adults over the age of 16 (18 with regards to deprivation of liberty cases) who are believed to lack the capacity to make decisions for themselves. This does not just apply to people with profound learning disabilities or cognitive disabilities but also applies to people who have lost conciousness*, are in shock or any other state that means they may (even temporarily) lack the capacity to make crucial decisions.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

An Intersectional Look At The Social Model

Today I want to look at the social model of disability and primarily how closely it intersects (overlaps) with feminist theory.
"In our view it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society." UPIAS (Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation) statement from 1975
The Social Model in a nut shell

The social model of disability states that people with impairments are disabled not by their impairments (as the medical model states) but that they are disabled by the directly & indirectly inaccessible world we live in. The key to understanding the social model is understanding how impairments are different from disability. Within the social model any medical condition is called an impairment - a chronic health condition, a amputation, a denigrative disease, a mental health disorder, being non-neurological, a genetic condition or anything else that causes a body &/or mind to deviate from the "norm". A impairment can have a variety of effects on a person which take varying amounts of energy to cope with. Some may barely notice an impairment others may feel it's presence constantly and often overwhelmingly.

As mentioned in the quote above, disability is something imposed on top of those impairments. It's being given a wheelchair to use but not being able to get it into shops because of poor accessibility. It's being looked over for a job because of societal stigma about mental health. It's being expected to live below the poverty line and lie for 12 hours daily in your urine because society thinks you don't deserve more.

How does that all intersect with feminism?

One of the ideas in the social model is that because people with impairments do not fit our societies idea of normality they are treated less favourably, oppressed and forced out by society. This is done by stigmatising people with impairments, institutionalising them, sterilising them, refusing to educate them, abusing them, euthanising them and perniciously by ignoring them.

A quote from Rosemarie Garland-Thompson will hopefully tie this up;
"Female, disabled and dark bodies are supposed to be dependant, incomplete, vulnerable, and incompetent bodies. Femininity and race are performances of disability. Women and the disabled are portrayed as helpless, dependant, weak, vulnerable and incapable bodies."
Feminism has long argued that the world we live in is a Patriarchy where overwhelmingly the voices of people in power are male because societal norms, values and cultures are set up to favour them. Being "male" becomes the norm which "female" bodies deviate from. In this way the oppression women face (as well as that faced by black & minority ethnic/ people of colour and LGBTIQ people is) comes from a similar place. Whilst the effects obviously vary, we are oppressed by not meeting the hidden arbitrary societal norm.

There are lots of ways that both feminist and disability issues intersect and that arguments from both sides can be strengthened if they are looked at together. I'll give a example now by looking at one way that medicalisation of "difference to the normal" has been used to as a tool of oppression.

We can see  the normal actions and behaviours of female bodies have been pathologised throughout history because they deviate from the masculine norm. They have been thought of as hysterical, over/under indulgent, intellectually impaired and a host of other things. Today feminist theory would argue that the unnecessary medicalisation of the normal effects of hormones for example has been used as a social (and physical) tool to oppress women. We see the same when we look at how people with bodily differences are labelled as defective, deficient, freaks, subnormal, pitiable, eternally child-like, incapable and so on. Disability rights activists argue that impairments are normal and natural things which shouldn't be automatically associated with any of the words listed previously. The same way that feminists would rightly argue that calling a woman who is publicly experiencing emotions as defective (hysterical) is problematic the same can be said about those who label those who were born with one foot as defective (cripples).

By looking at these issues together, and going further to include racial, trans* and sexuality critiques we start moving towards the the root of the issue; the oppression of those who deviate from a hidden ideal of normality (commonly thought to be a white, cisgendered, heterosexual, non-disabled man).