One thing that I find a bit frustrating is how atomised the various disability-studies communities are, even when many of the issues affecting people in one country may be similar to, or related to, the issues that affect people in other places. I could go for days in various US-based disability groups and not hear a single thing about things that are happening elsewhere, even if they’re obviously related phenomena. It’s very difficult for me to talk about these issues in those groups because I worry that no-one will pay them any attention because they’re not being directly affected by it.
Let’s use the 2015 general election in the UK as an example. (If you’re in the UK please correct me if I’ve got any of these details wrong!) From 2010 to 2015 the Conservative Party was in control of the British government in a coalition with the Liberal Democrat party; after the elections in early May, the Conservatives were able to win enough seats in the House of Commons to form a government without needing to be in a coalition with the Lib Dems. The Conservatives have been derided by British disability and anti-poverty activists for their continual marginalisation of poor and disabled people in the country (especially England and Wales), including the implementation of workfare (usually in the form of unpaid labour in service-sector jobs in exchange for Jobseekers’ Allowance, a form of government benefit in the UK), extreme cuts to social services, draconian tests run by contractors like Atos to determine whether people are fit for work or not and the increased use of food banks instead of receiving direct cash benefit. There has even been recent discussion of introducing American-style fees paid at the point of service when patients see their doctors on the English and Welsh NHS, similar to co-pays that are paid at American clinics.
Many American readers will recognise many of these policies as ones that were implemented during the Reagan, Clinton and George W Bush administrations. American cash-aid programmes that are not specifically for disabled people will often require recipients to work without payment in order to continue receiving their benefits, as a perverse incentive to persuade them to work, even though people who tend to seek benefits either have trouble seeking work in the current economy, or struggle with it because of a disability. Most people who have ever applied for Social Security disability benefits have found themselves subjected to constant questions about whether they’re ‘really’ disabled, repeated rejections and court hearings, and humiliation at the hand of government officials whose goal is to make sure that they don’t actually seek assistance.
You won’t hear about this issue in any US-centric disability discussion, even though the British government’s behaviour is clearly inspired by the actions of American politicians. British politicians are looking at the US and copying some of the worst policies to inflict on poor and disabled people in the UK. I remember participating in a Facebook group that’s composed of an international group of neurodivergent people, and a few people in the UK expressed concern that very few American posters showed interest in what was happening there when they themselves, or their friends, were having their lives threatened by the Conservatives’ war on poor and disabled citizens and saw them come back to power with even more seats than they had before – and when many of those same British people would monitor American politics during a presidential election. This isn’t even a country that isn’t discussed much in American media; I’m talking about the UK, a country that shares a language and several cultural traditions and is a major strategic ally in US foreign relations. I could have chosen another country and another set of issues, but I chose this one to show exactly how bad the atomisation is.
I really wish there was more international solidarity when it comes to disability politics, instead of the current atomised mentality I currently see. Let’s stop acting as though the only disability rights that matter are the ones of our immediate neighbours; injustice is injustice no matter where it occurs.