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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.

Disability in Britain: Then and Now

Twenty years ago, we voted to change our name from The Spastics Society to Scope.

We dropped a word which had become a term of abuse for disabled people. We chose a new name, “Scope”, to reflect our belief that a disabled person can achieve anything.

To mark the twentieth anniversary of this decision, we’ve been asking how far the lives of disabled people have changed in this time.

We’ve analysed data from 1994 and today. Check out our infographic and data blog.

We’ve also spoken to people involved with the name-change, disabled people, and have received contributions from well-known disabled figures from the words of sport, arts and media.

The decision

Valerie Lang, the first disabled woman on the executive committee of the Spastic Society:
“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.” (Read Valerie’s blog about the name change)

Richard Brewster, who was in charge of communications at the time of the name change:
“In the build-up to making the decision to change the name at all, a defining moment was when we saw the research that showed that young parents of disabled children were not associating with The Spastics Society… What the research said was that our future was walking away from us.”

The aspirations of disabled people are higher than ever

Julie Fernandez, actress, producer, campaigner When I meet and talk to young disabled people today… I can see that they have very different attitudes to say, twenty years ago. We have legislation now to support the rights of disabled people both at home and at work.  There are more accessible ramps, more disabled changing rooms in shops and lower reception desks in offices. It is wonderful to see how much more confident young disabled people are today as they expect equality and rightly so.

Julie Fernandez, actress, producer, campaigner:
“When I meet and talk to young disabled people today… I can see that they have very different attitudes to say, twenty years ago. We have legislation now to support the rights of disabled people both at home and at work. There are more accessible ramps, more disabled changing rooms in shops and lower reception desks in offices. It is wonderful to see how much more confident young disabled people are today. They expect equality and rightly so.”

Valerie Lang:
“Young disabled people today expect and demand the right to have access to things these days, that when I was growing up, we would have been grateful for.”

Sascha Kindred holding a medalSascha Kindred, six-time Paralympic champion:
“I experienced quite a lot of name calling back in school, but I always had my twin brother there to support me so it seemed easier to deal with.

“I definitely believe attitudes have changed since then as when I go back to schools now to speak about my experiences as a disabled athlete, the children are genuinely interested and I know a lot of other kids with disabilities have increased opportunities and facilities compared to my time at school. I still think we need to educate people further though as this will continue to increase awareness of the challenges people with a disability face every day.”

Alice MaynardAlice Maynard, chair of Scope:
“The big change for disabled people in the last twenty years is that we have higher expectations for our lives than ever before. That’s mainly down to disabled people’s campaigns. Change can really happen and the last 20 years are proof of that. Whether it’s representing your country as an athlete, starring in a national television drama, or being elected to office, we know that disabled people can aim high and succeed.”

In 2014, disabled people’s lives are still tougher than they need to be

Nicholas Hamilton, racing driver:
“People love to tell you that you can’t do something when you have Cerebral Palsy, and I like proving them wrong. There were so many barriers to me becoming a racing driver and I’ve overcome them. I hope that in another 20 years’ time no one will ever be saying ‘you can’t do that’ and everyone will be encouraged to chase their dreams.”

Julie Fernandez:
“As a disabled adult, it is very hard to get a job, and very hard to access benefits. In fact, I would say that many disabled people in the UK still feel like second-class citizens. I am still shocked that for many people I meet, I am the first disabled person that they know. And often they start out with lots of negative stereotypes. I think that although we are definitely in a better position than we were twenty years ago, we are still fighting society’s attitudes towards us.

Bethy Woodward, Paralympic medalist:
“I think that young disabled people today are ambitious and want to succeed in life, in whatever they chose to do. You do need determination. Unfortunately, as a disabled person you do encounter negative attitudes. People underestimate what you can do, just because of your disability. ‘When I started out in athletics, it was very hard for me to join an athletics club. I eventually found a coach who showed some belief in me and encouraged me, and he has been a great support. Hopefully I have now shown what I am capable of!”

IanIan Macrae, editor, Disability Now:
“I’d say that as equality legislation has been eroded, and as the voices of disabled people in the media and as a movement have been made much quieter, fewer opportunities have been made available to fewer disabled people. In the 90s, we were seen as empowered and entitled to greater equality and more rights, and we were able to present ourselves as such… Now we’re defined in terms of having become more needy, vulnerable, and requiring support – through benefits, for instance – rather than needing more rights and greater equality.”

And some say that public attitudes are actually getting worse…

When we asked disabled people on Facebook how things have changed in the past 20 years, the majority of respondents said that attitudes have actually got worse.

“I actually think we’re going backwards. We were making so much progress, but since this government have been in power ignorance has reared its ugly head and now people are suffering as a result.”

“Socially nothing has changed in fact I think it’s worse. Because social opinion is influenced in many ways, I believe socially we are seen as a scourge better put down than supported. It’s frightening, an now our financial security is threatened too.”

“I rarely get offered a seat on the bus now, since the rise in the disabled = scrounger debate.”

“There’s been no change people still treat us disabled as second class citizens and this government doesn’t make things any better.”

Challenging attitudes to disability in 2014

Twenty years on from our name change, Scope is once again going to be tackling public attitudes to disability. We’d love to hear your views on what can be done to challenge attitudes to disabled people.