Health 14 December 2006 On the fringes? The mainstream media gives disabled people precious little coverage Print HTML Disability is regarded by many commentators as being a fringe concern and we receive precious little coverage in the mainstream media, in comparison with many other sections of society. On the one hand, disabled people would not welcome the obsessive treatment that is given to Islam by the national press, but it would be nice for our existence to be at least acknowledged once in a while. This neglect is compounded by the attitude of many employers and service providers, who resent making changes to their business practices for what they see as a tiny minority of the population. In many cases, the only time that we are discussed is to ask the question, ‘Have disability rights gone too far?’ It is surely premature for the backlash to begin before widespread acceptance has yet been achieved. It is a truism that there are far more disabled people than most people expect and there is an oft-quoted statistic that one in five of the UK population qualify for protection under the Disability Discrimination Act. However, this figure is easily dismissed by assuming that most of these people have impairments which are regarded as relatively minor, such as back problems, dyslexia or depression. Such a view is highly patronising and seriously underestimates the extent of exclusion faced by members of these groups. In any case, even if we grudgingly ignore them, the ‘disability problem’ stubbornly fails to disappear. For example, 3% of British people have visual impairments that cannot be remedied with glasses, 2% use wheelchairs, and 1% will be diagnosed with schizophrenia in their lives. We are not hiding. These numbers seem surprising because very few organisations have workforces even remotely reflecting these proportions, and most high street shops cannot be accessed by a lot of disabled people. Even if there was a reason to visit the city centre, many people are completely unable to get there by public transport. Meanwhile, the total collapse of community cohesion combined with a general inability to cope with unusual behaviour causes many people with mental health difficulties to become socially isolated. Although the encounters that we have on a day-to-day basis can sometimes be a reliable indicator of the composition of society, in this case they produce a dangerously distorted picture. I have given up any hope that TV with ever do enough to correct this perception. When it is argued, to choose one example, that websites need not be made accessible to blind people, because not many of them use the internet, this is a clear case of putting the cart before the horse. To quote a sentimental Kevin Costner film, ‘If you build it they will come.’ Being located in a deep pit, the Eden Project did not find it easy to provide access, but it has been rewarded with thousands of extra visitors, and the number of wheelchairs on show is a striking contrast to other tourist attractions. To someone who is not used to it, they seem to be everywhere. It will only be possible to get a realistic perspective of the size of the disabled population when the same can be said of every single building in the country. Just one inaccessible shop does more to create segregation than a million veils. › Shabbat – the Heart of Jewish Life As a child, I was very successful in my schoolwork but found it difficult to make friends. I went to Cambridge University but dropped out after a year due to severe depression and spent most of the next year in a therapeutic community, before returning to Cambridge to complete my degree. I first identified myself as autistic in 1999 while I was studying psychology in London but I was not officially diagnosed until 2004 because of a year travelling in Australia and a great deal of NHS bureaucracy. I spent four years working for the BBC as a question writer for the Weakest Link but I am now studying law with the intention of training to be a solicitor. My hobbies include online poker and korfball, and I will be running the London Marathon in 2007. I now have many friends and I am rarely depressed but I remain single. Subscribe More Related articles Checkmate for a broken republic: on Benjamin and Brecht Celluloid Dreams: are film scores the next area of serious musical scholarship? What do animals really think of us?