fbpx

Welcome to the reborn Scarlet Sees Red. I’m Mik Scarlet,
broadcaster, journalist, arty type and equality consultant and I’m
honoured to be joining the Disability Union’s newsletter. Each issue
I will explore hot topics that concern the disability community and
giving it the Scarlet spin. This issue I thought I’d ask What is the
Disability Community and why is so important?


I should start this new column by explaining that I subscribe to the
Social Model of Disability, and strongly believe that disabled people
are not disabled by their bodies, conditions, illnesses or differences,
but by the barriers thrown in our way because society is designed
for non-disabled people. From the offset you might notice that this
impacts the language I use. I never use disabilities to describe the
things that make us different, I use impairments. I use disabled to
describe both the impact of society and the identity I feel as a
disabled person. But that raises an interesting question, can you
feel an identity of being a disabled person? Is there something that
unifies us?


I think there is. But to get to it, let’s think about my journey to that
realisation. I was born with stage 4 cancer. It was given days to live
and placed on a chemo drug trial because “there’s nothing to lose”.
Now obviously my prognosis was way out, as I’m typing this aged
56 and still going strong, but I was left disabled by the impact of
the tumour and treatment. During my childhood I was left with a
limp, and my parents fought to give me a “normal” life. They
struggled to send me to a mainstream school, I had no disabled
friends and was made to feel proud that I gave everything a go, no
matter how rubbish I was at it. I remember taking part in a school
cross country run and coming in so last that the rest of the racers
had showered and gone home as I puffed into the changing rooms.
No photo finish for me. The next day I was given an away for
“taking part”. I felt this was a sign of my effort to be the least
disabled person ever!


At the age of 15 I was very ill again and after a long stay in hospital
I re-entered society as a full-time wheelchair user. I was so crushed
by no longer being able to pass as “normal”. It took years to regain
some of the confidence I had as a child, and even then I was still
fighting to be a “supercrip”. I got into music, which went from being
a hobby while in recovery to an obsession and then a career. I
toured Europe and made an effort to play inaccessible venues, just
to prove I could. I was carried, crawled, and fought on to stages and
booked recording studios up flights of stairs, again to prove I could
do anything if I put my mind to it. I was trying so hard not to be
disabled by being disabled.


A fluke meeting got me into TV and as I worked my way into
becoming a household name I started to meet other disabled
people. I wasn’t sure how to act around them, despite being one of
them, because I hadn’t met any before. I know many of them
found me aloof and not many were fans. Then one day a wonderful
disability rights campaigner, called Vicki Waddington, penned me in
a lift at a TV event around representation of disabled people in the
media and taught me the Social Model. I went in that lift one
person, riddled with self hate and guilt, and came out another. I
had seen the light. In a one lift ride my life had changed and I now
understood what I subconsciously felt all my life. Being me wasn’t
the problem, it was the way society treated me because of who I
was. I wasn’t disabled by being me, but by a society that didn’t
understand what being me felt like.


Slowly as this revelation took hold, my life changed. I formed
amazing friendships with other disabled people and became a
campaigner for disability rights and equality (finally and I hang my
head in shame how long it took to get there). I found that while
disabled people might have many different “impairments” they all
shared the experience of being “ disabled” by society. That shared
experience was at the core of our shared identity. I saw the power
of being part of the disabled community and was proud to be
working to improve things for all disabled people, whether I shared
an impairment with them or not. This drive has pushed my most
recent career and I can now see a legacy of the work I have done
threading through the world outside my window. I am a member of
a growing group of disabled people doing the same.


It is, however, really important to know that my journey to this
feeling of being proud of being disabled is one many other disabled
people have gone on and many others are still on. We don’t live in
a society that teaches disabled people to be proud of who they are,
so whether someone is born disabled or becomes disabled later in
life, they can only imagine who they are through the things they
know and see about disabled people. Paralympian or scrounger?
Tragedy or triumph? Over come or given up? Which is where we as
a community come in. We must all be like Vicky Waddington was
for me. We must work together to challenge the stereotypes, to
educate ourselves about what it means to be disabled and to
support others in their journey to being happy and proud of who
they are.

I hope that most of you reading this agree with my first rambling
pile of waffle, because you have joined a union aimed at disabled
people. Let’s not only use the power of coming together to fight for
equality, fairness, and inclusion but also to create a strong
community that supports each other wherever they are on this
journey we are all on. Let’s really embody the mantra Stronger Together.

%d bloggers like this: