Cllr Collin Brewer of Wadebridge East, Cornwall, has officially resigned. Finally. (In case you don’t know who he is, you can read my earlier post about his improbable re-election to the local council earlier this year and his horribly offensive comments about disabled children here.) I met the news of his resignation as it broke yesterday with relief and some delight that someone with a modicum of political sway had been prevented from allowing the phantoms of personal prejudice to find a voice in public discourse and, possibly, to affect the lives of disabled people like my son, Mr Boo, in very real ways.
But rather like Hayley of Downs Side Up, for whose peaceful blog protest linky against Brewer I wrote a post some weeks ago, I couldn’t get too excited about this. Why I kept asking myself? Common sense and compassion had prevailed. This was a good thing. But I still felt uneasy. Correction: I feel uneasy. Why?
It’s partly that Cllr Brewer was re-elected in the first place. His discrimination against disabled people (especially children) was already well known. He shouldn’t have been allowed to stand and he really shouldn’t have been re-elected. And when he was re-elected and again indulged the press with his concerns over how children with additional needs placed unacceptable pressure on scarce resources and, where possible, should be terminated at birth, there should have been systems in place to remove him from office. There weren’t. He could, in theory, stand again.
But all’s well that ends well, right? Well, no. Not really. The real source of my disquiet is that I know that Collin Brewer is not a solitary figure; he’s just a public one. He had the nerve to say what he thought to the papers. Others say similar things to their friends or families in pubs or living rooms. Their comments are no less insidious for their privacy. Quite the reverse. I know people who hold such views are in the minority. I know they are wrong. It doesn’t stop their views hurting, though.
You see as Boo gets older his disabilities (epilepsy and as yet formally undiagnosed, but likely, cerebral palsy) are becoming more apparent. He may have been born 11 weeks early but he doesn’t look it. He looks like a one-year-old in size and stature. But you don’t have to look too much harder to see he can’t carry himself like one. His trunk is floppy, his head control weakens when tired. Most noticeably (apart from his very noticeable, and very cute, glasses) he can’t sit, roll, crawl or stand. People notice this in parks or public places. We are there to have fun. Instead he and we are judged. We go to cafes or restaurants and we get offered a high chair for him, we politely decline (he can’t sit in them) and then the cogs start turning. People often don’t know what to say or think. Some show or even verbally express pity. Others look at us as neglectful parents. How come we haven’t taught or child to sit? Bad parents! Others, I fear, judge Boo rather than us. In a few seconds of looking at him it’s as if they have mapped out his life. And I don’t think they see Paralympics. They see special school, a life on benefits, a drain on resources…
I’m pleased Brewer is gone, but I don’t feel I can pop a champagne cork until everyone who thinks like him learns to think differently, to open their eyes to the amazing achievements and life-enriching contributions disabled people make to their families and their communities. This skirmish is over but the battle is ongoing. And eventually, not now but some day, we will win. With words and love. Now, I’ll drink to that.