As one half of a childless(and petless) couple who have been together for nearly 20 years it’s easy for me to forget I am getting old. When I was a teenager my mum always used to laugh and say, “I don’t feel any different now than I did when I went out dancing when I was 16. It’ll happen to you too”. I used to laugh back but knew deep down that it wouldn’t. How wrong was I? Oh yes, I have to admit that I am no longer the young rebellious punk rocker who changed what it meant to be a British TV presenter. No, I am now a man fast approaching the big five/0.
What was it that brought me to this realisation? Well one night I found myself watching the political debate between deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage on the thorny subject of Europe. It wasn’t the mere fact of watching two men in suits argue about
a hugely important issue like two school kids squaring off against each other, too scared to throw the first punch. Instead it was a comment that Nigel Farage made. He informed the audience and viewing public that he was about to celebrate his fiftieth birthday. As soon as I heard this I froze. This grey man in a grey suit was about the same age as ME! I went cold to my core. In an instant it became clear I was now part of the generation I once railed against. I was old.
With my experienced adult hat on I regularly work and advise groups of young disabled people on campaigning for inclusion and equality and while most of that advice is gladly taken up I find that on occasion what I see as a major priority is perceived as rather unimportant by youthful faces before me. Language is a perfect example. I feel that language is a
key issue and some groups are also very keen on creating a society that only uses the correct language when describing disabled people, but many others feel the whole subject is a dead end that the disabled community has been obsessing about it for far too long. More and more young disabled people also feel that actions speak louder than words. That is to prove you are equal by just doing stuff. Not just being world class sporting types, like our Paralympians, but at anything they turn their hand to. Equality through action and not reaction.
What is most strange for me is that this is how I approached the concept of being political and my desire for equality when I was a youngster. In my teens, back in 1987, I fought to get my local cinema made accessible by going there and jumping up and down outside shouting loudly until I won. By the time I was in my early twenties I felt I was more effectively fighting for equality for disabled people just by being me. I played in a rock band that toured through out Europe to great acclaim, had just broken into TV and made sure I was seen to never let disability stop me doing anything. As I became better known during the 1990s and met many more disabled people I began to understand why so many of them were coming together to form a single politicised group. People with all types of impairment explained to me that no matter what impairment we each had
we shared a group experience of being excluded and needed to fight as one for equality and inclusion. So I gave up my one man battle and joined up to fight as part of a growing army of active disabled people. We used our combined strength to ensure we had a political voice that could not be ignored, and we did see real changes take place. All for one and one for all.
I now think we are at a phase in the evolution of the disabled community and its place in our society that means we need to combine these two approaches. We all need to come together as one with the goal of showing that disabled people are entitled to fair treatment in all arenas of life, and we also need to feed the current obsession with contributing to and being a constructive member of society by going out and being seen to do stuff like work. Or at least all of us who are able to work and those who can, must support those who cannot, acting as one cohesive group. We must not forget that we have gained so much in the way of rights and equality, but that we also must fight to keep those advancements as well as maintaining real forward motion. So even if there is a gen- eration gap within the disabled community, lets bridge it and learn from each other.
Now I really am sounding old, like an age- ing hippy which is terrifying for an ageing punk!