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THINKING - August 2011

I was reading an excerpt from a book recently, A Train in Winter: A Story of Resistance, Friendship and Survival by Caroline Moorhead, and it brought to mind an online disagreement that I saw from a few weeks ago where one disability activist was offended by another who compared the treatment of the disabled, particularly by the government, in our society as being analogous to that of the Jews by the Nazis.

It wasn’t the first time I had seen someone use this analogy but, whilst not offended (I am not Jewish), I do feel decidedly uncomfortable by the comparison. It just feels inappropriate and wrong, in principle and practice.

In the present moment and in this country, we are a ludicrously long way from seeing legalised discrimination against the disabled or widespread acceptance that we should be herded into ghettos or denied access to education, medical treatment, food or work on the same basis as everyone else, let alone that we should be sent to concentration camps, stripped, starved, worked to death and medically experimented upon before being gassed to death. And I see no serious evidence that there is any widespread support for any of these ideas amongst the general population or from our politicians.

Yes, I do get that there is a lot of unfair discrimination against the disabled population that this government clearly does not give a toss about; that there is a causal relationship between disability and poverty and disability and unemployment; and that this makes life very difficult for many of us. These are serious matters and the non-disabled clearly don’t understand that ‘competing on the same basis’ as them doesn’t exactly help us here because the bases are not the same. But, this is a long way from treating us like the Nazis did the Jews, isn’t it?

I fear this analogy reflects badly on those who use it and also to the detriment of all of us that they work so hard to support because it really turns most people off. They think it is ridiculous and that we are being simply hysterical in making the comparison.

I understand the need to counter the blatantly inflammatory depiction of the disabled as ‘benefit fraudsters’, ‘scroungers’ and ‘layabouts’ by using similarly inflammatory language against the perpetrators of it but I think this Nazi reference does the opposite by alienating those whose support we need.

It cannot be anything other than offensive to those with memories of the many who died in more extreme circumstances than we will ever face in this country.

I wish all disability activists would just drop it. There are more effective ways to campaign.

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