Disability in Britain: Then and Now… in statistics

Twenty years ago, we voted to change our name from The Spastics Society to Scope. On the day of the launch, we released the first of a series of reports called “Disabled in Britain: A World Apart”. They were based on what was at the time, the largest survey ever conducted of disabled adults in the UK. The reports found that many disabled people felt that they were living in a world apart. As an example, nearly eight in ten disabled people said that they often felt excluded from enjoying things that other people take for granted. While we don’t have directly comparable data, we have gathered available evidence from our own research and other sources, to get a sense of what life was like in 1994, and how it is today. Here are the stats: Infographic

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Link: http://bit.ly/20yearsofscope Embed this info-graphic: <a href="http://blog.scope.org.uk/2014/03/31/disability-in-britain-then-and-now-in-statistics/"><img src="http://blog.scope.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/10266-then-and-now-infograp.jpg?w=625" border="0" title="Disability in Britain: Then and Now… in statistics"></a><p><a href="http://blog.scope.org.uk/2014/03/31/disability-in-britain-then-and-now-in-statistics/">Disability in Britain: Then and Now… in statistics</a></p>

Twenty years on: Why I campaigned for The Spastics Society to change its name

Valerie Lang was the first disabled woman on the executive committee of Scope, then called The Spastics Society. She was heavily involved in the decision to change our name to Scope in 1994. Valerie is 74 years old and is still a member of the Scope Assembly. Here she talks about why Scope decided to change its name from The Spastics Society twenty years ago.

Valerie with Mum
Valerie with her Mum

I am one of the people who pressurised The Spastics Society to think about a new name. For some years, I was banging on about the word “spastic”’ and the fact that it had come to be used as a noun. I felt people saw us as “spastics” and not people. “Spastic” was a school playground term of abuse. ‘Oh you stupid spastic’ was thrown towards anyone who was considered a bit different. I’m not surprised that “spastic” became a term of abuse. To a child, someone who looks like me looks odd. We move differently, we have very mobile faces and we can sound very odd. People have to listen properly before they know what I’m saying. Children pick up and laugh at people who are different, they are quite conformist. I find, on the whole, children aren’t frightened of me when they are under the age of two or three, but somewhere between the ages of two and four, they develop an idea or concept of what people should look like. They begin to recognise difference. The first reaction is usually fear and the second reaction is to laugh to cover the fear.

Valerie Lang graduation
Valerie graduating

I even heard public schoolboys in Dulwich College calling each other spastics. If Dulwich College can’t teach its students to think about words, who could?! I wrote to the headmaster and he said he couldn’t control what his boys said out of the classroom. I just felt it had become unacceptable. I thought it was damaging to us, as individuals. It was a well-known term of abuse and I thought disabled people had enough to cope with without that. I felt that anything that allowed people with cerebral palsy to be viewed as a condition or type, rather than as an individual, was to be got rid of. But back then, a lot of people didn’t want to change names. They liked The Spastics Society and they felt safe with it. I must have been banging on about this for 5 or 6 years before the vote to change our name. Other people were also spearheading the campaign, including Bill [Hargreaves, Scope’s first disabled trustee] who gave a fantastic speech at the charity’s Extraordinary General Meeting. ValerieThe name “Scope” was chosen because it is value and judgement free. It doesn’t stand for anything. It would be more difficult to turn it into a term of abuse. At the time of the name change, we did a huge amount of publicity saying we were still the same organisation. We had a strap-line saying “formerly The Spastics Society” for a year after the rebrand. I actually think this strap-line was dropped sooner than it might have been. I have to admit that people have not learned to recognise “Scope” in the way we hoped they would. I sincerely hope that it will be very many years before we have to change the name again! But from the point of view of choosing a name which is not a playground term of abuse, and which we felt would not lend itself to such use, I believe we had no choice.

Twenty years on: When I joined a newly named organisation called Scope

Writing this blog is going to make me feel very, very old.

Ben Elton with a Scope t-shirtIn 1994, I’d been out of work for 2 years on invalidity benefit (which then became incapacity benefit), but I wasn’t sure I wanted to work for The Spastics Society. It sounded old-fashioned and medical, and there were lots of spastic jokes from my childhood. (Even today if you Google Joey Deaconit will helpfully suggest “Joey Deacon jokes”.)

The promotion from ‘invalid’ to ‘incapable’ hadn’t satisfied me so I was still looking for work. When the Spastics Society became Scope, I decided to apply for its graduate scheme.

My first day was the Monday after Scope’s launch, which had been attended by up-and-coming comic Ben Elton and wispy-haired Minister of Disabled People William Hague.

Minister of Disabled People William Hague at 1994 launch of Scope
Minister of Disabled People William Hague at 1994 launch of Scope

Everyone was exhausted after two years of consultation and preparation for this major event.

The press attacked the charity for political correctness and throwing away a well-known brand. In some ways, it was just correctness. The Spastics Society was never just for people with spastic cerebral palsy, only one of three types of CP. When founding trustee Bill Hargreaves said, “I am a spastic”, it was medically inaccurate (as he well knew) as he had athetoid cerebral palsy.

“What does Scope mean?” asked the critics. The Oxford English Dictionary says, “The opportunity or possibility to do or deal with something”- it’s fair to say that this idea hasn’t gained as much traction as we might have liked. People still ask what does Scope stand for, thinking it’s an acronym. However, despite Matthew Parris’s assertion that people would call disabled people ‘Scopers’ (instead of ‘spastic’) as a term of abuse, I have never heard it.

Although it still used from time to time by high-profile Americans, ‘spastic’ as a term of abuse has become less popular in Britain. If for no other reason, less name-calling and abuse of disabled people justifies us changing to Scope. On top of which, more companies wanted to be associated with us and, more importantly, our name has become less of a barrier for disabled people and their families wanting to use our services.

If ‘spastic’ has become less used over 20 years, lots of new words have come into being. Scope began to use the word disablism in 2002 to describe discrimination against disabled people (a word coined by the disability rights movement many years before but still not discovered by Microsoft’s spellcheck).

Twenty years ago, these thoughts would not have been a blog (1997). You wouldn’t have been able to Facebook (2004) or tweet it (2006).

And there wouldn’t have been a 20-page Kindle (2007) e-book about the story of our name change either.

That’s enough new words – I must get back to twerk.