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Guardian Interview Jaspal Dhani

October 1, 2012

From today’s Guardian:

Tell me about yourself, I say to Jaspal Dhani. “I’d rather not,” he replies, smiling warmly. “It reinforces the stereotypes and misunderstandings. It reinforces the charitable model that says there is something wrong with people and we should give them money.” He’s challenging the journalistic model here. He’s a wheelchair user; an activist. We are talking about disability in the UK; these occasions demand a backstory. But he’s not budging. Personalising is a distraction, he says. “When everyone was watching the athletes at the Paralympics, they didn’t focus on their conditions. The issue about David Weir was not what happened to him. It was his amazing performance.” We don’t want benevolence, he says. The fight is for basic human rights.

A bit of colour might help, I say. We knew Gandhi’s backstory; Martin Luther King’s, Mandela’s. But Jaspal has thought it through and that’s his position. I hope it works for him.

Jaspal is chief executive of the UK Disabled People’s Council – which has 57 groups under its umbrella – and co-chair of the forthcoming campaign the Hardest Hit. You’ll hear a lot about the Hardest Hit come 20 October, when proponents will walk at the front of the TUC march against coalition cuts. The disabled do fear being the hardest hit. Half a million, for example, will lose out when the government replaces the disability living allowance.

But even now things aren’t so great. Just weeks ago, we were crowing over our Paralympians and discussing a new found appreciation of disability. But always lurking were the looming cuts and a hardening of the public mood. The British Social Attitudes survey this year asked how many respondents would see the government increase spending on disabled people who cannot work. The noes rose 21 percentage points compared with 1998. Perhaps that’s because the rightwing papers and ministers have worked to toxify the very notion of disability benefit. Perhaps there’s cause and effect. Hate crimes against the disabled rose 30% last year compared with 2010.

You’ve got to make an impact on government; but first, you’ve got to win back public support, I tell him. Worth repeating stuff like the fact that half of the eligible disabled work and don’t rely solely on benefits. Jaspal is one of them. He works in IT. He’s 43. That much he let slip.

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