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.
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.
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. The 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.