Disabled people, in particular those with chronic illnesses like M.E or fibromyalgia, are frequently portrayed as extreme laziness experts in mainstream media. Documentary makers seem to leap at the opportunity to frame chronic illness in a way that makes sufferers seem entitled and attention seeking; the BBC recently put out a highly-accusatory video that portrayed those who have taken to social media to share their stories as faking their illnesses for money, and a few years ago Netflix released an entire series called Afflicted dedicating to painting us a frauds. The message that chronic illness equals fakery is old and tired, but more than anything else it is a lie. The reality of the matter is that managing a chronic illness or disability is a full time job.
For starters, obtaining accessibility and mobility aids like a wheelchair or walking frame is not easy. These items are usually only found in specialist shops which, not exactly being big businesses, are in cramped shops in odd locations. This means that the stock to choose from is limited, and it can take weeks or even months to have something ordered in. Everyone will have their own specific needs to make equipment safe and comfortable to use, and affordability places additional limitations on what will be suitable. Relying on government schemes, which take hours of writing and assessments to apply for in the first place, often restricts choices even further. Thus, finding the right piece of equipment becomes an epic quest to rival the likes of Gloomhaven.
When I first began to use a wheelchair a decade ago, it didn’t take long for me to learn that even the most mundane of outings would now be it’s own saga. A lot of businesses became completely inaccessible to me overnight as I could no longer enter inaccessible stores, and going anywhere new meant having to either research difficult-to-find accessibility information beforehand, or risk travelling out for nothing. Once I moved away to university I then had to contend with the inaccessibility of public transport as well as the destinations themselves, and sometimes it felt like I put more hours into researching accessibility than I did into my dissertation. Post-graduation I then had to use my research skills to find a home and a workplace I could safely enter, which was not an easy task.
Now that I have a home and a job, I still have to dedicate a lot of energy to managing the condition that disables me. I have regular appointments at several different clinics, and prescriptions to manage in between. I am responsible for monitoring how much of each prescription I have left to make sure I order them with enough time to allow for any delays, and when those delays occur it’s up to me to manage the doctor and the pharmacist as they squabble over who is at fault. I also have to make sure that I’m taking the right medication in the right quantity at the right time, and as well as swallowing pills I must apply patches to my skin and even inject myself from time to time. If I forget even one pill, the consequences are miserable and will likely impact my health for the next few days.
It’s often said that managing a disability is it’s own job, and when you consider all of the above it is clear to see why. I struggle to see how anyone doing as much resource and time management as a disabled person could ever be described as lazy, and that’s without considering the possibility that many disabled people work or are in education. After all, I had secured a job before my graduation day, and apart from a few weeks between jobs here and there, I have been in either education or employment for over twenty years. I’ve been writing for various publications and my own blog for almost five of those years, on top of my formal employment. If anyone armed with this information could look me in the eye and sincerely call my lazy, I’d be impressed.
There probably are some disabled people more slothful than others, but to label an entire demographic based on biased media portrayals is always going to result in harmful and inaccurate ideas about that demographic. The reality of the matter is that disabled people are among the hardest working people on the planet, as well as being the most adaptable and resourceful. Laziness is not in our vocabulary.
You can find out more about being inclusive of disabled employees here.