‘Vulnerability’: Reporting and Reacting to Threat: Policing Our Bodies and Managing Our Selves

It would be very dangerous for us to win the public understanding that we are victims of particular situations and dynamics without being entirely clear that the ‘same’ situations and dynamics may have far more severe consequences for someone with limited mental capacity. Non-disabled bodies have often tended to misread our attempts to inform them of nuance. Many disabilities are not the issue so much as the effect that negative perceptions of it may be affecting people’s behaviour towards us rather than actually increasing our vulnerability per se. For as long as we have been free of segregation we have fought the idea that weakness or powerlessness is intrinsic to all disability. Assertions of strength and ability designed to counter the stigma of the prevailing image of the helpless disabled person have long been distorted (often by the very people we were trying to educate on nuance) and reflected back at us as a weapon of the positivity culture which tell us that in fact ‘disabled people can do anything they think they can’. Both images are flawed because our situations, our capabilities our limitations reactions even over time are like any able person’s as varying as human DNA.

A large part of what is too loosely termed ‘vulnerability’ is contingent on the ability to attain and retain certain skills or behaviours which in artistic and medical terms would be referred to as ‘performing’. This ‘performance’ can be as much limited by curtailed socialisation which is simply created by the person being shunned from social spaces where such skills are picked up. This can then be read by both the malicious for whom we form a target and the supporting bodies as a sign of actual weakness. For the purposes of self-protection I would say these skills or abilities include the ability to present formally and verbally to an investigating body such as the police in a way which is read as reliable and capable and as a layperson with whom they are willing to engage with. Disability may be heavily misread by professionals and social contacts as an assumption that a disabled person with a particular build, speech pattern, facial features, tic or condition with visible physical factors which are read as ‘commonly’ found in those with ‘limited intelligence’ may be factored in alongside actual neurological deficits The partial vulnerability of someone with hearing loss or certain learning _difficulties_ has both an actual and a perceived impact on how far we -unlike others present ourselves and are treated in public. We may also have been taught more than others that we have to be particularly nice and ‘polite’ to everyone and taught to think such behavioural markers are insignificant feeding back into the dismissal of negative behaviour towards disabled people as being problematic in any way. Much as the women of a pre-feminist era we are often taught subservience as an avoidance technique, rather than assertiveness and the appropriate protections against ablist and microaggressions. e in many cases so ‘normal’ people not will reject us for calling out the many microaggressions* of disablism. This places us at a disadvantage even were it safe for us to have a firm and aggressive response to such social gaffes given the high likelihood of this escalating the situation.There needs to be a nuanced and informed awareness of the issues from those we have to engage with in such situations. And sadly, the education cannot begin with the hate crime – a moment of distress and anxiety.

A large part of what is too loosely termed ‘vulnerability’ is contingent on the ability to attain and retain certain skills or behaviours which in artistic and medical terms would be referred to as ‘performing’. This ‘performance’ can be as much limited by curtailed socialisation which is simply created by the person being shunned from social spaces where such skills are picked up. This can then be read by both the malicious for whom we form a target and the supporting bodies as a sign of actual weakness.  For the purposes of self-protection I would say these skills or abilities include the ability to present formally and verbally to an investigating body such as the police in a way which is read as reliable and capable and as a layperson with whom they are willing to engage with. Disability may be heavily misread by professionals and social contacts as an assumption that a disabled person with a particular build, speech pattern, facial features, tic or condition with visible physical factors which are read as ‘commonly’ found in those with ‘limited intelligence’ may be factored in alongside actual neurological deficits The partial vulnerability of someone with hearing loss or certain learning _difficulties_ has both an actual and a perceived impact on how far we -unlike others present ourselves and are treated in public.

Several incidents in my own life have arisen  because I was marked as a target on an assumption of limited cognitive or physical capacity.  Given a birth injury and its associated neurological deficits this is partially true however the assumption of both professional bodies and peer groups relies on any given individual’s exposure to prevalent disability stereotypes.  More or less accurate assessment of physical vulnerability under assault and an inability to process information needed to stay safe in situations which a ‘savvy’ adult would have had opportunities to learn about and retain due to practice and spatial skills etc. can lead to me being marked as a target by both perpetrators and bodies who should assist with hate crime.

Yesterday, I was socialising ‘alone’ in a local area with bars and clubs in an accessible area. My partner was acting as my PA and waiting in the car just outside the area should I need to phone him for assistance. My processing time is increased in situations with high volume and the reaction I observed yesterday in a particular group of individuals was to repeat themselves almost instantly with a definite shift in manner and tone towards the patronising which was already evident in the elaborate stress that was laid on helping to open a door for me as I entered on sticks. Subsequently I was approached by the same group outside a club an hour or so later. They invited me to join them at the club and almost as soon as we had passed the doorman one man offered me cocaine. It took me a moment or two to both process the social code and the words themselves but I made an excuse and headed towards the toilets and rear door calling my partner as back up in case one of the women should follow me. Two police officers happened to be passing as I left the club with my partner but they seemed very unconcerned and unwilling to take any action on the situation merely advising me that in future I tell a member of security because ‘That’s what they are there for.’ Their reaction and emphasis was clearly informed by perceptions of my own vulnerability. Yet when I suggested that disabled people in general are often a target due to perceived vulnerability, the response was dismissive, “Not necessarily,” adding: “At least you’re being cared for now.” In fact their reaction with its emphasis on care needs rather than the actual crime placed emphasis more clearly on my own vulnerability than I myself had done. I had mentioned the fact that a class A substance was being sold in a club as a person with five members of my family who have served with the police was on the crime – yet theirs even as they dismissed me was on my disability and unreliability as a witness and placed the focus on my partner as a protector and adult. This is a sadly common feature in almost all my encounters with local police officers.

My processing time is increased in situations with high volume and the reaction I observed yesterday in the ‘befriending’ individuals was to repeat themselves almost instantly with a definite shift in manner and tone towards the patronising which was already evident in the elaborate stress that was laid on helping to open a door for me as I entered on sticks and sadly in the reactions of the police officers.   Was the foregoing  NOT a _hate incident _ because I removed myself from a situation before it could escalate its potential and the  context and reactions does illustrate the issues we face rather too effectively for comfort. The situation was not one in which I was vulnerable but it was one in which the _presumption of vulnerability was clear on the part of the drug pusher and the police and in which perception and motivation can clearly be seen. As Stephen observed our physical conditions may limit our ability to remove ourselves from situations as well as providing a ‘flag’ to the criminal or malicious. We may also have been taught more than others that we have to be particularly nice and ‘polite’ to everyone and taught to think such behavioural markers are insignificant feeding back into the dismissal of negative behaviour towards disabled people as being problematic in any way. Much as the women of a pre-feminist era we are often taught subservience as an avoidance technique, rather than assertiveness and the appropriate protections againstablist and microaggressions. e in many cases so ‘normal’ people not will reject us for calling out the many microaggressions* of disablism. This places us at a disadvantage even were it safe for us to have a firm and aggressive response to such social gaffes given the high likelihood of this escalating the situation.

I should also add that I’m in no way seeking to minimise the actual vulnerability of a person with limited capacity. It would be very dangerous for us to win the public understanding that we are victims of particular situations and dynamics without being entirely clear that the ‘same’ situations and dynamics may have far more severe consequences for someone with limited capacity. Non-disabled bodies have often tended to misread our attempts to inform them of nuance. Many disabilities are not the issue so much as the effect that negative perceptions of it may be affecting people’s behaviour towards us rather than actually increasing our vulnerability per se. For as long as we have been free of segregation we have fought the idea that weakness or powerlessness is intrinsic to all disability. Assertions of strength and ability designed to counter the stigma of the prevailing image of the helpless disabled person have long been distorted (often by the very people we were trying to educate on nuance) and reflected back at us as a weapon of the positivity culture which tell us that in fact ‘disabled people can do anything they think they can’. Both images are flawed because our situations, our capabilities our limitations reactions even over time are like any able person’s as varying as human DNA.

We neither need the authorities to deny vulnerability nor to whitewash the whole topic as being one that is effectively caused by the fact that disabled people are vulnerable per se. We need, as _we_ are all aware case by case approach not a whitewash but there needs to be a nuanced and informed awareness of the issues from those we have to engage with in such situations. And sadly, the education cannot begin with the hate crime – a moment of distress and anxiety.

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