Disability History Month 2013

Post from Alice Maynard, Chair of Scope

Disability History Month begins this week. Recently a fantastic and timely BBC documentary charted some of the big milestones in the struggle for independent living.

It’s clear society’s attitudes to disability have come a long, long way.

But it wouldn’t have happened had disabled people, like Paul Hunt, who led a care home revolt and became one of the Movement’s founding fathers, not looked around and said “this isn’t good enough”.

It’s got me wondering if this month could go down in disability history.

Hear me out…

Columnist Frances Ryan recently did a great job of summing up what life is like if you’re disabled in 2013. For too many people it’s a real struggle to live independently.

But could November 2013 go down as the month when we once again made our voices
heard?

At the beginning of the month five disabled activists waited nervously outside the court of appeal for the outcome of their challenge to the way the Government has gone about closing the Independent Living Fund. They won.

Following on from Labour’s promise to scrap the bedroom tax and news that the Government have had to slow down the roll-out of personal independence payment, have we hit a point when it’s dawning on the public that with living costs spiralling and incomes dropping that the answer to disabled people’s living standards crisis isn’t to take away financial support?

Also this month MPs are preparing to debate the Care Bill. There are positive moves in the bill – the role of advocates is now enshrined – but plans to restrict council-funded support to only those with the highest need, will force too many disabled people to have to pay for their own support to live independently. At a time when disabled people are struggling to make ends meet, that is support they simply can’t afford.

Disabled people have for too long sat outside a debate that focused on making sure middle England baby boomers didn’t have to sell their homes to pay for their parents’ care. But again it feels like disabled people are starting to make their voices heard. With disability now a mainstay in the social care debate, could the Government be forced to re-think its plans and genuinely make history by guaranteeing council-funded independent living support for everyone that needs it?

Making sure disabled people can get support is one side of the coin. The other is what that support looks like. Does it genuinely promote independent living?

This is the month that we at Scope tackled this question head on. Again disabled people’s voices have played a big part. For a long time activists have been urging Scope to transform its more old-fashioned residential homes. Not long ago they protested outside our offices.

This month we begin work on proposals to close or significantly change 11 care homes. It’s the right thing to do. But we also need to do it the right way, which means making sure disabled people who live in these homes have choice and control over where they live in the future. I don’t think we’ve done anything radical. But hopefully we’ve given the sector a bit of a jolt.

The message for Disability History Month 2013 is ‘Celebrating our struggle for independent living: no return to institutions or isolation’. Let’s remember some big milestones. Let’s not forget that we have a long way to go. But let’s be optimistic – disabled people continue to speak out and continue to make society think differently.

UK Disability History Month runs from 22 November to 22 December.
Visit the UK Disability History Month website

Sumatran Jungle Challenge: “A phenomenal adventure”

Over the years, Shirley Butler, 78, has raised over £24,000 for us by taking part in our challenge treks. Her travels for Scope have taken her to Cambodia, The Grand Canyon, Vietnam and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – to name just a few.

This September, she joined a group of committed trekkers venturing in to the Sumatran Jungle. Here is the story of her amazing journey.

The start of the adventure

If you want a great adventure then take up a Scope challenge. It was absolutely amazing! I will never forget my journey through the Sumatran jungle.

The Eco Lodge in Bukit Lawang
The Eco Lodge in Bukit Lawang

We flew from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur, then on to Medan, the capital of Sumatra. We eventually arrived at the beautiful Eco Lodge in the village of Bukit Lawang. “Gunung” means mountain, “Bukit” means hill, “Llawing” means door – Bukit Lawang means “The hill which is the gateway to the mountain.” Nice eh!

My room in the Eco Lodge had a bed covered with a mosquito net. A ceiling fan and a dressing table added a touch of luxury. Every morning we were woken by the sound of monkeys running across the roof throwing fruit at each other.

Jungle delights

Orangutans in the Sumatran jungle
Orangutans in the Sumatran jungle

Our trek into the jungle was one of the many highlights. The jungle is dense, dangerous and hot.

Indonesia has the largest flower on earth. It has a strong odour of decaying flesh and because of this it is nicknamed the ‘Corpse Flower’. We were introduced to another fruit called the durian. “It smells like hell but tastes like heaven” one local told us. Taxi drivers have been known to ask people to leave their vehicles because of the overpowering smell!

We saw great orangutans, Thomas leaf monkeys and hornbills. Our guide pointed out a particularly big orangutan by the name of Ucok Baba. Ucok had not been seen in the area for over 15 years, but had recently returned to take his place at the head of the pack.

Village life

Sumatran Jungle trekkers preparing to cross the river
Sumatran Jungle trekkers preparing to cross the river

We trekked through the forest gully up to our chests in river water. Then we returned to the village to spend time with our hosts. My escort invited me in to his home to meet his family, and they told me stories over tea and biscuits.

On the final day we all took part in the local tree planting programme. To give something back to this wonderful country was a privilege and a pleasure. A celebration dinner was organised that night with traditional food and music. It was one of the wildest parties I have ever been to. Such fun!

A phenomenal adventure

Participants in the Sumatran Jungle Challenge
Participants in the Sumatran Jungle Challenge

If I had to sum up the whole of the adventure in to one word it would be “phenomenal”. It was an amazing journey and every day brought something different. To have been part of this – and to have had the opportunity to raise money for Scope – I felt like the most privileged person to have ever walked this planet.

Shirley couldn’t stay away for long. She’s already signed up for Trek Burma next year!

Dates for the 2014 and 2015 Sumatran Jungle Challenge are now available. Or visit some of the most magical places on earth with our other treks and challenges.