Suggesting that I should be paid less because I have an impairment is what really disables me

Published Date
Michaela Hollywood at Disability Pride Belfast Sept 2014

Yesterday, Lord Freud, the Minister responsible for Welfare Reform in the UK, was exposed for stating that people with disabilities are “not worth the full wage” and that he would be looking at what the government can do to facilitate those same individuals working for just £2 an hour. Following public outcry, he has now apologised for his remarks but it still shows a worrying attitude towards disabled people.

I am a young person with a complex and rare condition called spinal muscular atrophy which has left my parents unable to work for many years, and means that I am only really able to think and speak without assistance. I need help to type, scratch an itch, eat, drink and even breathe.

Many people with spinal muscular atrophy are referred to as mobile intensive care units – we need to use life supporting equipment including ventilators, drip feeds directly to our stomachs, and even machines which will cough for us. That is over and above our wheelchairs, which are often complex pieces of kit in themselves.

I have a very complex and rare condition. But I have contributed to life here on earth.

I’ve worked since I was 17 to improve, enhance and find full inclusion for those of us living life with disabilities. I’ve worked with a range of charities as a volunteer, pushing for better policies for a range of services, tried to give my voice to the cause and I can honestly say that I do feel more included in society today than ever before.

What happened yesterday has damaged our position. Lord Freud has enforced the idea that we are less productive, less valuable and by definition less human than the rest of society.

Suggesting that I should be paid less because I have an impairment is what really disables me.

In July I graduated with a first class honours in Public Relations through hard work. I produced work over and above average, and was one of the top in my class. I am now studying for my Masters in Communication and PR with a specialism in Political Lobbying. I’m hoping to go further and start my PhD next year, evaluating lobbying in Northern Ireland.

Those of us living with impairments are disabled by the draconian attitude that Lord Freud unveiled when he made his ludicrous comments. It will hurt progress, and while apologies are nice they do not change the fact that our Welfare Minister seems to have backwards views of disability.

It is clear today, more than ever, that our government is out of touch with the reality of living with a disability. I challenge an MP to spend a week with me or another member of Trailblazers. Experience this life, and maybe then you might understand how difficult this life is, but at the same time see the rewards that allowing us to contribute to society could be if you help us.

Michaela Hollywood is the Trailblazers Regional Ambassador for Northern Ireland.

The Independent’s story on Lord Freud’s remarks can be read here.

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