Toby Young and wheelchair ramps.

Back on the first of July 2012, Toby Young made a comment that people who use wheelchairs are likely to find offensive. I have offended people for most of my life, and can’t easily work out who I offended that day, or how. The difference is that Toby Young got paid good money to upset people who use wheelchairs, and had a platform allowing him to influence the “great and the good” on how to build a world that will continue to upset people who use wheelchairs. The article concerned is here,

I strongly recommend you read the whole article to ensure I have not missed any delicate nuances that mean Toby is a passionate supporter of Inclusion. But here is the “offending” piece.

Inclusive. It’s one of those ghastly, politically correct words that have survived the demise of New Labour. Schools have got to be “inclusive” these days. That means wheelchair ramps, the complete works of Alice Walker in the school library (though no Mark Twain) and a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from Dyslexia to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.

I will also include Toby Young’s defence of the bits I am objecting to, so you can read that before I get offensive in my turn.

Some people have misunderstood this paragraph. I’m using “inclusive” in the broad sense to mean a dumbed down, one-size-fits-all curriculum, rather than the narrow sense of providing equal access to mainstream education for people with disabilities. I’ve absolutely nothing against inclusion in that sense. Rather, what I’m against is the way in which opponents of education reform often invoke the low intelligence of some (non-SEN) children as a reason not to introduce more intellectual rigour into a national curriculum that’s meant to be fully inclusive.

Toby, nice try, but no cigar. If your second statement was true, you would not have started with the comment Schools have got to be “inclusive” these days. That means wheelchair ramps,”. You continue by name checking Alice Walker versus Mark Twain and finish with sneers at mental health issues. To then claim you are in favour of “inclusion” after removing the wheelchair ramps, the African American author and any provision for children with mental health issues or special educational needs, requires a terribly precise definition of “inclusion”.

It is

embarrassing to relate, but I am, if anything, rather pro Toby Young. I think you are intelligent, quick witted and funny, and you add a lot of light relief to some very depressing issues. Unfortunately I was educated to find you funny. You would have fitted in perfectly at Eton, which I didn’t. Not that in those days I was even vaguely interested in the problems of people with disabilities. We bullied the few that we saw in a way that I find embarrassing today. I will happily apologise in general terms for my attitudes then, and will apologise in person, but in private if any of the people I bullied care to get in contact.

Any journalists expecting tales of savagery and brutality to fags with disabilities (and any American readers of this blog need to brush up their Eton slang before taking offense at the term “fag”) will be sadly disappointed. The bullying was verbal, and visual, along the lines so memorably portrayed by the Donald Trump.

I am all for freedom of speech, but it needs to be a two way affair. Toby has a massive platform to suggest that wheelchair ramps are the spawn of Tony Blair, and probably responsible for the Iraq War…………. But those of us who feel that providing a wheelchair ramp is the least you can do, have blogs whose only chance of a popular readership, relies on the goodwill of Toby Young and his friends. Toby fights valiantly against “No Platforming” and I agree with him for much of the time, but taking the wheelchair ramp away from the platform is just as effective, and Toby, and his friends encourage it.

I make the countryside accessible to people who use wheelchairs.

I revel in the word “Inclusive”. So an insult to “Inclusive” and stating that “ramps” are the primary symptom of “Inclusive” is a visceral attack on my work. My pony powered, wheelchair accessible, cross country vehicle takes anyone, in any wheelchair across any terrain. It has an integral ramp, so I can take people down the beach, park them, in their wheelchair, manual or electric, on the beach for a picnic, and bring them home at the end of the day. This “Ramp” will in future to be known as the “New Labour Ramp” as I had failed to understand the origins of this useful gadget. It was lucky I didn’t start to build Pony powered vehicles till after New Labour invented the ramp.

Toby Young falls into a common trap, the belief that people with disabilities have annoying, intrusive and expensive mobility aids, and ramps top the list for Toby. Stairs and lifts aren’t irritating at all, Richard Rogers got acres of praise for his Lloyds of London building with all those glass bottomed lifts on the outside so you could look up the skirts of any men and women who weren’t using wheelchairs. Those lifts don’t count as “mobility aids” because they designed for able bodied people.

Lifts are fine on the Lloyds building, because the climb would be too tiring and the elevators are too slow. But in the Underground, lifts are purely for the benefit of people who use wheelchairs, therefore they are an unnecessary expense and typical of the annoying way people who use wheelchairs destroy the fabric of modern life.

I am 62 and have used Mobility Aids most of my life. I started in a pram, then those ghastly Clarks shoes which caring parents inflicted on their children in the late 50s, then through a series of bicycles, mopeds, motorbikes, cars, trains, buses, planes and ships, I have relied on mobility aids throughout my life. Since I am not disabled, my mobility aids are accepted as part of normal life. Only Mobility Aids that are needed are considered to be a nuisance.

The fact that I don’t actually need these mobility aids, makes them socially acceptable in the best circles. I have a perfectly functioning and evolved set of limbs which enabled my ancestors to colonise the world (with the exception of Antarctica) without any mobility aids except a raft, dugout or kayak for the bodies of water just too big to swim. But Homo sapiens may have been washed across on the flotsam and jetsam of a tsunami or hurricane and have colonised the world without any mobility aids. We all use mobility aids. We always have. We, that is people without mobility issues, don’t need them, and yet we sneer at and block the mobility aids for those who do need them.

I am planning an art installation. The entrance will be vaguely Buddhist, or at least connected with a belief system that allows me to insist people remove their shoes. They will then pass through to a large area with a wildly tempting, and free, bar and buffet. All they need to do is stroll across the lawn, across the gravel path and free food and booze is theirs for the taking. Unfortunately they are in their socks, the lawn is really well watered and the gravel carefully selected for complex shape and sharp edges.

Those who complain that they don’t have shoes, will be offered a wheelchair to cross the lawn and gravel. The walkway is of course reserved for blue badge holders. They will then discover that wheelchairs and lawns, wheelchairs and gravel drives, don’t mix. The ramp to the disabled walkway will be the only entrance to the free food and booze. I will send Toby Young the first invitation to the exhibition and I believe he will have the courage to walk casually, in his socks, across the lawn to prove a point. But I also think he will rethink his attitude to ramps and all the devices that can open up the world to people who use wheelchairs.

I work with a wide range of people who actually need mobility aids through a number of causes. Old age, which will get all of us who fail to succumb to disease or accident, and those who are born with conditions that affect mobility, and all the various groups in between. Toby, ramps matter desperately to all these people. Imagine if someone removed the entrance ramp to the motorway you use when going for a weekend in the country. You see Toby, not all ramps are bad.