A LETTER FROM ENGLAND
by John U.
On October 18, 2001
The Wall Street Journal published an article titled "Those Suffering
Special Stress." The author, Albert R. Hunt, writes about the
impact of September 11 on people with disabilities, including
claims by some that disabled employees should no longer be allowed
to work on high-level floors. Hunt rejects such views as a threat
to the hard-earned rights disabled Americans have secured under
Because I use a chair,
the lead paragraph of Hunt's article stuck me with a strong sense
of personal involvement:
On Sept. 11, Meir Yaloz lost
his apartment, his work and his much-needed exercise regimen.
But the worst part was when he had to temporarily move to his
parents' second-floor walk-up. "My father is in his 60s and
had to carry me up to their apartment," says the 35-year-old
architect, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. His
apartment was in Battery Park City, right next to the World Trade
Center. He was coming out of the apartment building when the first
It was a sobering image. For those
of us lucky enough to be independent despite our disabilities, that
independence is a precious commodity, but it is also a very fragile
thing. Here was a man my own age, in similar circumstances, and
perhaps it's understandable that his story struck a chord.
The events of September 11 were
shocking, horrifying, but as the weeks passed, the dust settled
and the dead were counted, the raw emotions evoked by the attack
eventually gave way to wider concerns. The media were calling it
the day the world changed, but I had fears about what kind of changes
those would be. My concerns were mostly on a global scalewas
the world about to descend into war? I grew up in the Cold War era,
and my childhood fears of global destruction came back to haunt
me. But Meir Yaloz's story suddenly made it all more personal, more
relevant to me as a disabled person.
Then I began to see a whole bunch
of larger issues as well. Some of them have to do with differences
between life here in the United Kingdom and life in the United States,
with respect to the equal access provisions we disabled are accustomed
to taking for granted. And I began to wonder, too, how this "War
on Terrorism" will play out in the lives of all of us that have
already been "disabled" by social attitudes and government policies.
Let's start off with some figures.
Firstly, the disabled population of the US is roughly equivalent
to the entire population of the UK. I had to rush straight onto
the web to find out the total population of the US, and then work
out the percentages. It works out to roughly one in six disabled
people, and one in nine who are severely disabled. I wouldn't even
know how to find equivalent statistics for the UK, but we're talking
about a significant part of the population here.
(As an aside, I found the population
figures on the CIA website, would you believe?! There were some
other interesting numbers there, too. A quick scan showed that compared
to the UK, the US has fewer people below the poverty line but higher
inflation, and has six times our GDP but only donates twice what
we do in economic foreign aid. What was surprising was that while
the US spends a larger percentage of its GDP on the military than
we do, it wasn't as marked a difference as I'd expected. It goes
on and on-the CIA seems to love numbers. Fascinating stuff, not
least because of the fact it's on the CIA's website in the first
Apart from the startling idea
of the disabled population of the States being roughly the same
as that of my entire country, the other thing that struck me quite
strongly was the whole idea of disabled people not being allowed
to work in certain buildings, or use certain facilities. Terrifying
stuff! Surely the role of government and society in general, vis-à-vis
its disabled citizens, is to enable us to live "normal" lives, not
fence us in. What the hell else is government there for, if not
to represent the interests of its peopleall of the people,
not just the nondisabled? Or is that just my socialist streak showing
The final thing that struck me
was the comment about bus and subway services not being available
to the disabled during the crisis period. Which is exactly what
it's like in the UK all the time, lest you think I was slamming
the US in an earlier paragraph. It's saddening that this situation
has affected the provision of public transportation to the disabled,
but at least you Americans have better transportation access the
rest of the time. We could learn a thing or two from you there.
I hope that as the new, post-September-11th
World Order continues to unfold, the powers-that-be begin to realize
that they must not contribute to the increased marginalization of
disabled people, particularly through intensified security procedures.
As governments on both sides of the Atlantic fall over themselves
in their haste to rush in new legislation, how much thought will
they give to the fallout of these laws? Something tells me that
the rights of the disabledand let's not forget they are rightsare
not very high on the list of priorities for the Bush administration
Albert Hunt concludes his article
by observing that, "Disabled people passionately believe they need
to be part of anything that affects them." We certainly do! Whatever
happens next will affects all of us, with repercussions for disabled
people everywhere. We know we must be involved. Let's make sure
we don't let the policy-makers and politicians forget it.
©2002 John U.
John U. writes :"I'm bisexual
and I'm single. I've been a paraplegic since birth (T10 for those
that keep track), and I live in the UK about 30 miles from London.
I work in IT Support, and in my spare (!) time I run the tech side
of Disgaytalk, the online discussion group associated with BENT."