Untermensch Geschlecht Verboten – and other stories worthy of the Nazis

It seems that the world has been taking crazy pills. Firstly we have the story of how the people who are leading this country taunting a fellow MP by pulling faces at him… and why? Because they were laughing at the way he was talking, but why did he talk in such a way that might cause our leaders to feel the need for some piss taking? He had Cerebral Palsy. Yes, our MP’s were laughing at a cripple. Even sadder than that, for me, those laughing were Labour MP’s. Now if the party that is meant to stand for equality for all is laughing at the disabled, then this really shows were this country is at. After the event all concerned cried ignorance, claiming they stopped once they realised he was disabled. Maybe this shines a light on the fact that the House of Commons needs the way it functions to be totally overhauled. Time the people we pay large sums of money to run our country the way we have decided, via the democratic system, started acting the way they would expect the wider community should. If this happened anywhere else all concerned would be in court under the Equality Act, and would be found guilty.

Talking of court, the most crazy story that kicked me in the teeth this morning is that of Alan, who has been stopped from having sex (for ever) by a court ruling. It was for his own good, as he had “moderate” learning difficulties. Now while all the news stories about this claim that the details are sketchy, to me I don’t care. To be part of a society that now feels it has the right to stop someone enjoying a sex life because they are disabled is wrong. The people involved in helping this guy live independently should not have the right to prevent him from enjoying something that they themselves can do freely. Their job is to support him and help him be safe and secure, and assist him in his life choices. Instead they took a court case to prevent him from ever having sex again… and won. So now we will be spending huge sums policing this guy’s sex life. So at a time when those in power are trying to find ways of cutting the money spent on assisting disabled people to live with dignity, others are taking away rights that society surely sees as intrinsic.

Finally we must not forget the strong lobby towards allowing state sponsored murder, in the name of mercy. Euthanasia or assisted suicide is slowly being perceived by the wider society as something we should allow. The Commission on Assisted Suicide is currently examining whether the law should be changed to permit the medical profession, who sear an oath to ” do no harm” before entering the profession, to end the life of people with chronic and terminal conditions, and I am saddened to say that even my own parents are in favour of a change. I know it is because they are getting older and are afraid of how they may die, but it shows that even people who have a personal interest in those who may end up being deeply effected by allowing assisted suicide find it hard to deal with their own fear of illness and death. I know from my own experience, that many of the doctors and surgeons I have met consider the quality of my life to be low enough to merit being ended, as an act of mercy. I have had to fight to make them understand how fantastic my life is. All they see is someone in a chair, paralysed and in chronic pain, that reminds them that sometimes fail.

So we are now in a society where those in power mock the disabled, bar them from the right to enjoy sex, see supporting them financially as no longer fiscally possible and are considering the concept that ending their life would be an act of mercy. Big Brother would be proud. So would Adolf Hitler. Let’s face it this is way that the Nazis started out. It was the disabled that they targeted first, and these steps were all ones taken under that regime. We are so close to going down that road again, without even noticing. Already we have a leader claiming that multiculturalism had failed, and that everyone here has to be more British. How long will it be before groups of thugs roam our streets targeting those who are not British enough? Oh hang on, it happened this weekend in my home town! Next step, camps to imprison enemies of the state and undesirables. Then it’s extermination and the SS.

So wake up everyone. The way we treat those who are different from us holds a mirror up to the true nature of a society. We must rise above our own fears and wants, and try to be the kind of people that we should aspire to be. Then our society will be the kind of place we all want to live in. And where we can live, free in the knowledge that there won’t be a knock in the door from uniformed state police who have come to stop us from having sex because we have been deemed unfit to be allowed to do so.

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Not going to take it sitting down!

I haven’t written a blog recently as my wife and I had some very sad news early this week. Unfortunately, at the weekend my wife’s father, Lenny Rodgie, died. He was a great bloke, and he is going to be sadly missed.

I always felt I had met a kindred spirit in Lenny. He also was disabled, with epilepsy, but had gone to mainstream schools, got married and had three fantastic daughters, one of whom I was lucky enough to marry. Whatever the expectation of him was, he seemed to ignore it and lived what most people would call a “normal” life. I know that his influence means that my wife, Diane, understands me better than anyone I have ever known, and I thank him for that.

I know he had to fight every step of the way in his life, against the ignorance of the public about epilepsy, and was a huge campaigner on the issues faced by epileptics. As he epilepsy meant he had every type of fit known to science (in fact he was key to them discovering a few new types too), he was always being poked about by doctors and surgeons, and allowed himself to be experimented on through out his life. Not only in the hope of controlling his own epilepsy, but in case he could help others who had his condition. He even allowed himself to be filmed many times, even while having fits, as he felt it was important to let people, especially the medical profession, see what happens.

I know he hoped that the world would grow to understand and accept people with his disability, yet as he got older I think everyone who knew him could see the fact that things did not seem to change effected him. When he was young if he had a fit in Camden, where he lived for his whole life, people would help him but not make too bigger deal of it all. Gradually he kept coming out of his fits to find himself in hospital, with all of his clothes cut off him. Now finding yourself in hospital is always a bummer but as he knew that most times after a fit he was going to be fine, the whole situation really got him down. Worse than this, he started to find himself treated as an old drunk. Many people he met took his slurred speech, caused by a mixture of the strong drugs he was given and the damage his fits caused to his brain, as a sign of alcohol abuse and treated him appallingly. Not only people in the street, but those in authority, such as the police. At times this really effected him, and made those of us who knew him very angry. When he got sad or down, he would tell us stories of how he been discriminated against in his life. Once while staying at a B&B, he had been made to eat his breakfast in a cupboard, as the owner felt seeing him have a fit might effect the other guests. He had lost count of the number of times he been sacked for having a fit, with one job only lasting a few minutes. He was never really housed in suitable housing, and when he died he was still waiting to have a shower fitted in his latest flat, even though having a bath was highly dangerous for him. Yet, through his work with the Epileptics Society and the people he met there, he would always tell us how lucky he was to live independently, and what a great life he had had.

So, when I heard he had died I found myself filling with a fuming rage. I know that I always thought that by the time I was in my forties, as I am now, that the world would be a very different place to the one I grew up in. The thought that the guy who fathered my wonderful wife had died still waiting to be seen as an equal in the society he lived in, really hurt. The fact that he still found himself being made to feel second best, that he had to fight to get things he was entitled to, and that he still dreamed of being cured so he could be “normal” made the tragedy of his death even greater.

I only have 17 years until I am the age he was when he died, and I know that I refuse to take the slow pace of change any more. I don’t know quite what I plan to do about it yet, but I hope you all agree with me that we cannot go on with this “slowly, slowly catchy monkey” approach that seems the rage at present. I know that I want a disabled child who is born today, to grown up in world where disability is “normal”. They should be hit their 17th birthday, in a world where they have had all the chances they would have had if they had been born able bodied, and live in world that is totally accessible to them and where inclusion and equality is so natural that everyone doesn’t even have to think about them. We cannot allow cost, or time, or difficulty to be used as an excuse to slow or stop those changes any more.

We have a really long way to go, but we must get there. Not only for ourselves and future generations, but for all those great people, like Lenny Rodgie, who died while we were on the journey.

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Disability & TV – The Mik Scarlet Lecture – Part 3

Before I explore the subject of content, disability and television I feel I must just quickly give my solution of the issue of the title of the C4 show “Freaks of Nature”, that I posed in my last blog. The answer is a question mark. “Freaks of Nature?” not only makes the program’s content make more sense, but also stops the casual viewer or listings reader seeing the show as saying that disabled people, or disabled Paralympians, are freaks of nature. Just a small question mark makes the show a more valid political statement on top of being a fantastic sports program. This really demonstrates how language is so important and must be paid very close attention. Not only when covering disability but at all times.

I’ve covered how to use language on TV but not what to talk about. But why not cover that first? Well, program content can be a case of personal taste and what appeals to one person may make another rush for the remote control, but the language used is vital whatever the show is about. In that case, why even try to explore program content? Because the way that content and individual stories are covered can change the way a program works dramatically.

Let me demonstrate by referring to a program I was involved in again. Sometime ago I went to the BBC with a documentary idea around the decision I had to make about whether to undergo surgery and to try to walk again. It was put into production with brilliant new up and coming deaf producer, Ally Scott. We wanted to make a show that really explored the issue and showed that it wasn’t such a cut and dried problem, as most people thought. The program would revolve entirely around my life, how I lived and we would explore what being able to walk might add to my life, if anything, and what it might cost me in time and commitment. There were plans afoot to film all manner of footage that showed the subject in a glamorous, positive and televisual way. We hit a problem when a misunderstanding between the production team and my surgeon led to the artificial hip being manufactured, at a cost of over £150,000. My surgeon was annoyed, to say the least, when we talked and I explained I felt I would not being going ahead, and he insisted that a new production team was put in charge of the program. This new team changed the direction of the show, and in the end it included three other people, all of whom desperately wanted to walk again. This was done for “balance”. While the show did examine the issue, it did so from a view point that made not wanting to be disabled normal and so reinforced the very attitude I wanted to dispel when I first approached the BBC. The show was well received but I know how massively important the program would have been if it had followed the original direction.

Many times disability makes it onto our TVs with balance as one of the driving forces behind how it is shown, yet that balance is there to reflect many of the attitudes that disabled people wish would change. We want to see our real lives represented, and that should be all of our lives and not just the areas where being disabled might have an impact. Also how one person’s disability impacts their life will differ from anyone else, so it is the elements that might be considered “normality” that ties us all together. For example, I get asked to get involved in many shows about how hard it is to find partners if you have a disability but I always ask are you going to include those people who didn’t find it hard and examine whether it is really that different for able bodied people who are lonely? I explain that I feel to make a show about disability, sex and relationships there needs to be balance (that word again – play them at their own game!) and if a program is going to cover the problems that disabled people might have when looking for sex and love, it must also explore solutions, compare what it is like if you looking for love and able bodied and show the good things, and even the benefits, that being disabled can bring to your love life. (For more details visit my website Mik Scarlet – Wheelie Sexy). Of course by doing this I scare off the production companies, who have a fixed idea of what such a program will contain, and hence no Mik. But at least I have my integrity. Good for the soul, crap for the bank balance.

Many shows portray disabled people as “tragic” or “brave”, even if they don’t use the language itself. Time and time again when we see disability on TV the program is focusing on someone who is sick (tragic) being cared for their by their wonderful children (brave), or a disabled child (tragic) who is fund raising for charity (brave), or a disabled soldier (tragic) who is battling to get up on his false legs so he can walk down the isle (brave) or something similar. But while TV has to have these personal stories running through it, especially in today’s reality obsessed culture, the bigger issues are never even mentioned. Why is the child being expected to care for their sick parent and where is the state provision in that care? Why does this charity exist at all? Why does the soldier see disability as such a negative thing that all of his time is spent trying to be fight it? How can society be shaped to make all of these people’s lives easier and fairer? These types of questions are key to changing how disability is thought of in society and I do not think it would detract from the show’s direction to bring up the deeper issues.

So as the Paralympics and Channel 4’s push to get more disability on TV gets closer, I hope that those involved in creating this output wants to explore those deeper issues. I have always wanted to see a show that goes into why so many newly disabled people turn to sport as an outlet. Mainly as I dived into the world of music and art after I started using a wheelchair, and truly thought “Yippee, no more sport” when I was told I’d never walk again, but also as I want to understand the psychological reasoning behind the choice. It’s the world behind the what we see that TV can help us understand and by doing so it can make a real difference to all of lives. And do it while creating entertaining and enjoyable programs everyone wants to watch. I also really expect some serious documentary programming that delves into how disabled people really live in modern Britain, and not just a load of positive puff pieces about super sports personalities and how great everything is.

Well that’s the end of my exploration of disability and it’s portrayal on our TV screens for now. It’s subject I know I will come back to in the future, especially when I see something that I feel misses the mark. I know that it is a subject that is high on the agenda of many disabled people out there, and I would love to know what you feel about this important subject, so please comment below. I also plan to examine how disability is covered in the print press, magazines and other forms of media in the near future, as well as why we seem to be so poorly represented in industries like music and fashion. Please watch this space.

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"What’s going on?"

Last Friday I was watching TV, flicking between BBC1’s Crop To Shop and Channel 4’s Unreported World, and it depressed the hell out of me. Crop To Shop showed how our foods is grown and transported from all over the world, and the episode of Unreported World focused on the new middle class homeless of the USA.
As I watched Crop To Shop, time and time again the presenter Jimmy Doherty stated that those who grow our food in the developing world gain benefits due to their work farming our food. Yet these benefits seemed to be the bare minimum needed to live. Shots of mothers outside mud brick houses in the baking sun, washing their children in tin baths, using old food tins to scoop water on to their beloved offspring did not conjure up the feeling of an equal sharing of the wealth they were helping generate. Farmers here in the UK deserve a bigger cut of the money we pay for our food, but surely these people deserve it too? Fresh water should be something the developed world is giving these people because they need it, and because we are civilized. The rewards for helping feed us should be a growing chance to have a standard of living like ours in the west. They should be thriving, not just surviving.
Then I flicked over to Unreported World where Ramita Navai explored the truth behind the banking crisis as she exposed how the banks repossessing homes through out the US has led to a surge in homelessness among middle class Americans. I sat in stunned silence as I watched her walk around a tent city in Chicago, and realised that the poverty that had annoyed me in Africa is rampant in the biggest economy in the world. I have worked in Chicago and it has always had areas of poverty but this was ridiculous. In a country were you can buy $10,000 pairs of jeans, why are there people living in tents under a freeway junction? Yeah, yeah, free economy I hear you say. Well bollocks to that I say.
We now live in a world were 1% of the population owns 99% of the wealth. So the current argument about deficits and recession is rubbish, put about to ensure we take our eyes of the real question. Why should the rich be allowed to be so rich, while working people in rich economies are forced out of their homes by bankers, and at the same time we are having our public services cut and huge VAT hikes to we can pay back the money we lent to the same bankers after they gambled with our economies and lost? Why are people in the developing world being told that the privilege of being able to safely bathe their children is a fair payment for their toil, while share holders in our major supermarkets take home massive dividends? I know many people think Communism, or even Socialism are dirty words, especially many of the people shown living in tents in the USA, but I’m starting to think that anything is better than what have now. Even if an uprising of those of us at the bottom, who actually do something against those at the top, who live off our labour is out of the question, surely there must be a middle way? Why should the rich be allowed to be SO rich while so many of the rest of us argue over the scraps the rich throw us to keep quiet? Isn’t it time for the people of the world to come together, stop arguing over little things like religion and find a way to create a fairer and more equal way to live in peace and prosperity. The craziest thing is all the major religions have this equality of main ideal at their core, but they have been twisted by those in power to keep us all at each others throats.

But I digress. Whatever our differences, we must start to see ourselves as the same, and move to bring an end to the way our world is moving at the minute. We must create a fairer, more equal world and share the wealth and success around. And if that makes me a Communist then right on Comrade!

As an addendum to my TV reviewing, just after watching the above shows I tuned into “Are You Having A Laugh?” on BBC2. A show about the way disability has been covered on our TV screens over the last 50 years. As I watched I realised that I had been written out of the history of disability and TV, even though I was on our screens from 1986 to 2006, appearing on every one of the four terrestrial channels we had back then! I was the first disabled person to present on a mainstream program, on ITV in 1986, and was the first disabled kids TV presenter in 1990. I even won an Emmy with Channel 4’s kids TV show Beat That, and was BAFTA nominated. I was also the first real disabled person in a soap, when I appeared in Brookside, was one of the first wheelchair users to work in news with my reporting for BBC News 24 and BBC LDN. At one point if you asked someone in the street to name someone disabled off TV they nearly always answered “That punky bloke in wheelchair that looks like Billy Idol… what’s his name?… Mik Scarlet”. I used to receive bags of fan mail, with most coming from ladies who wanted to meet me for “adult fun” and even had a stalker, who wanted “scary adult fun”. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet or claim to be more important than I was, but I do feel I merit a mention. Just a one line throw away.
So am I hurt to not have my part in the changing way disability is shown on TV? Bloody right I am! Bastards! I’m going off for a cry.

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