Disability rights: why our collective voice would be much stronger

David Proud, the first disabled actor to join the cast of Eastenders, believes that disabled people have become divided and despondent. He shares his views on how coming together would make our collective voice so much more powerful.

The principle at my secondary school repeatedly told us a story about a boy on a beach surrounded by washed-up starfish. In the story, the boy picked up one starfish at a time and threw it back into the sea. A man approached him and asked; “why bother? You’ll never save them all.” The boy replied; “because it matters to this one” before he hurls it back into the water.

After hearing the same story at each school event, I thought the message had been lost on me. But years later I realised that I have been hurling starfish all my life. I have been fighting for my beliefs in order to further the disabled rights of everyone.

Divisions within disability

As disabled people, it is easy to think that nobody is listening to what we say. We often don’t get to make decisions about our lives. It can feel as if we are wasting our time and breath if we even try. But engaging in politics, health, and society is vitally important. That’s not because of any particular outcomes, but because it is a powerful act of emancipation.

Once you consciously engage in politics and decisions about your own future, your brain is free. No one will ever tell you what to think again.

Speaking to the CEO of a national charity, I was heartbroken to hear how, despite every effort, less than 1% of its disabled members engaged in any form of voting. Why has the disabled community gone so silent? Are we so oppressed that we feel as if it is all just decided for us?

If we lose our voice then we truly are in a dark place.

Seeing leaders of high-profile charities and non-profit organisations battle, often unsuccessfully, with governments around the world, it is understandable why many of us feel as though we’re not being listened to. If they are struggling with an entire press department and organisation behind them, it leaves little hope for the rest of us.

But it breaks my heart to see how fractured we have all become. While we argue amongst each other over semantics and fight for scraps of power and influence, we only expose our divisions to the world. While each fraction is concentrating on being identified in a particular way, becoming offended when people try and unite us, the world is changing and we are failing to keep up.

The strength of a collective disabled voice

There is strength in numbers. A hummingbird is different from a falcon, but they are all protected by the RNIB. Instead of having to worry about the specific needs of each bird, the united fight for the survival of birds and habitats is easier for the world to comprehend.

Once society is dialled into the collective needs,
it is more open to the specific ones.

The cynic in me knows that if there is an evil power in the world, it wants us to be fractured. It wants us to sit around arguing about language and focusing on our differences. While we’re distracted, we’re not aren’t asking the questions that need asking. It is in the interest of evil powers to make us so disenfranchised so that we don’t even dare speak out or question its authority.

We must find our own individual bird songs and then become a united chorus. We must understand that our disability makes us individual, but our fight for equality makes us the same. This common ground is where we must all meet and share our ideas, and begin to ask the bigger questions.

All of this begins by engaging with the world around us. Have your say on politics, go to meetings and ask questions, write to people for clarification. Grow the mental muscles of debate and inquisition.

Your voice might only ever be a whisper,
but the echo of a thousand whispers is a scream.

By David Proud

Do you think that disabled people are divided? Would coming together for equality and inclusion will help make a difference? We want to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments below, message us on Facebook or tweet us @DHorizons.

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