For a much younger generation- the girls and boys at infant, junior or senior school or college and university, facing the challenges of a society simply not built for wheelchair users, Christmas is also a time of year when they are subjected to media images of the disabled as ‘in need’ or ‘wanting help’.
Our charity, Whizz-kidz, has been, in all honesty, probably as guilty as everyone else, in that we have to raise funds to provide the vital work we do, and the stark reality is that people do give donations to charities this time of year for all sorts of emotional reasons- some altruistic and some from a sense of ‘giving for giving’s sake’. It isn’t for us to question that: we are all too grateful for the funds that allow us to help children get the wheelchair they need and the support they deserve. But. And it is a very important but.
But… while we are grateful for the season of ‘A Christmas Carol’, we have to acknowledge that the stereotype of Tiny Tim simply has no place in the world today.
Charles Dickens was writing about the people and institutions of his time and, in satirising the age in which he lived, he focussed on the poor child with a crutch as an example of a society that didn’t care much for its youngest and its’ weakest.
Today, Whizz-kidz and other young people’s charities are working to present a 21st Century vision of young people, living and achieving despite their disabilities; one in which every person should be given the opportunity to live a dynamic, positive and fulfilling life, and where the young are no longer seen in terms of “crutches” – societal, charitable, real or imagined. There is no place for false sentimentality, only a sense that we need to be more inclusive, more fair and more understanding of different people’s very differing needs.
Young wheelchair users today have absolutely nothing in common with Tiny Tim, aside from their age, their grit and tenacity. We should all fight against the idea that they are ‘Tiny Tims’ or to be ‘pitied’ and we should all look to the world of 2020 and beyond, where children who use wheelchairs are accepted as just as lively, bright, clever and engaged as any other.
Which is why we work with brilliant campaigners and actors, such as Samantha Renke and Ruth Madeley, (who is currently appearing at the Donmar Warehouse), to break the mistaken out-dated view of disability as a ‘handicap’ and see people as people, not out of date stereotypes.
So, in wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and a happy and peaceful New Year, please remember that Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim were all fictional characters, and, just like the old cobbled streets and the soot-laden roofs are, thankfully, consigned to history, the pages of a well-thumbed book and a dim and distant memory.