No Facebook, disabled people are not 'disturbing'

No Facebook, disabled people are not 'disturbing'

April 16, 2019

Life is full of first times.

We all remember our first day at school, our first kiss and our first heartbreak. But when you have a disability you also remember the first time someone made you feel less than, simply because of your impairment.

Earlier this week, Simon Sansome, disability campaigner and creator of Ability Access – an online disability Facebook group – was blocked from inviting people to like his page.

Confused by this sudden sanction put in place by Facebook, Simon scheduled a call with Facebook to resolve the issue. Little did he know but this particular phone call would be something he would remember for the rest of his life, for all the wrong reasons.

The operator without hesitation told Simon that he would have to understand that some people see disability as disturbing.

According to Simon, the operator also said: ‘I have never come across a page that promotes disability.’

To this, Facebook did respond and said that an image that depicted a naked picture of Vicky Balch, who was injured in the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash in 2015, was the actual reason the page faced these measures.

Although Facebook has provided a reason for Simon not being able to add group members, it does not detract from what was said by the operator. It is completely horrifying.

As someone with a disability, I personally found the recording of the Facebook operator hard to listen to.  Her words sadden, angered and disappointed me and took me back to a place where I had been treated almost sub-human because I have a disability.

Noticing my gaze, her parents as cool as a cucumber said to me in front of the other shoppers in the busy market place, ‘Sorry, she’s scared of disabled people!’

One particular incident that took place almost 15 years ago came to mind. I can remember the smallest details as though it were yesterday.

I was at my local market waiting in the queue to pick up some meat for a Sunday roast when I heard an all encompassing cry.

Stood to my right sobbed a young girl, maybe nine or 10. She became hysterical; I assumed she’d been refused sweets or told off by her parents for misbehaving.

On the contrary, to my disbelief it was me that had caused her so much upset. Noticing my gaze, her parents as cool as a cucumber said to me in front of the other shoppers in the busy market place, ‘Sorry, she’s scared of disabled people!’

I’d honestly never felt so confused, embarrassed or degraded up until then. Sadly this was not an isolated incident. I’ve often been at the receiving end of hurtful and ignorant comments, treated like a child and patronised.

I am most certainly not alone. Scope research has revealed that the majority of disabled people (62 per cent) feel they are treated differently because of their impairment and this increases to a shocking 76 per cent of disabled people aged between 18 and 24.

For Simon and Ability Access this whole experience is bittersweet. The comments made by the operator are a stark reminder that society is far from being compassionate, tolerant and progressive when it comes to disability, yet out of this negative has come some positives, with Ability Access receiving world wide exposure. He said:

‘The story now has millions of hits from around the world and these comments have not only helped Ability Access but ignited a brighter flamed in the disabled community.

I just hope that Facebook allow me to invite all the people who have liked or commented on the page this week.’

Over the past years I have personally seen a shift in attitudes towards the disabled community that hasn’t necessarily been positive.

As a minority that was best thought of as ‘out of sight, our of mind,’ this sudden shift of no longer being dramatically marginalised comes at a price.

We’re now exposed to stereotypes that have taken years to formulate, and ingrained prejudice, that often makes us out to be ‘liars’ or ‘fakers’ by some and unworthy of having equal access to opportunity and life to others.

Fortunately, the disabled community has certainly become more vocal and a united force, determined to change the narrative. In the past year we’ve seen hashtags like #DisabledPeopleAreHot and models like Kelly Knox walking the runways of London Fashion Week, showing us that disability is powerful, sexy, and anything but disturbing.

As for the photo of Vicky Balch that Facebook deemed to be inappropriate adult content, Simon assures me he won’t be removing it: ‘It is a picture of a wonderful, brave woman showing off her disability.’

For those who still have prehistoric views towards disability, it’s time to change.

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