If people like Richard Littlejohn think that disabled people don’t have opinions on politics and current issues, Jody McIntyre has proved them very wrong.
Many people were shocked when they woke last Friday morning to find reports of a man being pulled out of his wheelchair by police at Thursday’s tuition fee protests circulating on Twitter and blogs. This video of the incident soon appeared on Youtube.
On Monday night, BBC News interviewed the man in question – Jody McIntyre, 20, a blogger and activist with Cerebral Palsy. Broadcaster Ben Brown was criticised by many people soon afterwards for asking Mr McIntyre ‘unfair’ questions – with others arguing that Brown simply treated Mr McIntyre as he would any other non-disabled interviewee.
However, on Tuesday morning, people were shocked to find Mr McIntyre being criticised in Richard Littlejohn’s latest column for the Daily Mail. Littlejohn compares Mr McIntyre to Andy, the wheelchair using character from Little Britain, saying that if McIntyre wanted to protest:
“… he should have kept a safe distance.”
This column has caused outrage among disabled and non-disabled people alike, and has led to the Press Complaints Commission receiving more than 500 complaints since its publication. Disabled people in particular are unhappy at the comparison to Andy, as the character does not actually have a disability.
Littlejohn, and Guardian blogger Roy Greenslade – who wrote an article this morning arguing for Littlejohn’s freedom of speech – have not considered Mr McIntyre’s right to freedom. Mr McIntyre had as much right as any other protestor to be at the protest. He, and his family and friends had as much right as anyone else to expect that he would come home unharmed.
Tory Councillor Phil Taylor also blogged yesterday on the case, saying that Mr McIntyre had walked up nine flights of stairs during a previous protest on November 30th. As Sunny Hundal rightly points out at Liberal Conspiracy, Taylor does not consider the fact that Mr McIntyre had support from friends and rails while walking up those stairs – or how long it took him to do so.
Many people who share Mr McIntyre’s disability, cerebral palsy, are able to walk with support – but they still need wheelchairs in crowds the size of ones at protests.
Most people agree that the police were very wrong to treat Mr McIntyre in that way, when he was simply expressing his opinion on the very important issue of tuition fees. If people like Littlejohn and Taylor think that disabled people don’t have opinions on politics and current issues, Mr McIntyre has proved them very wrong.
That is something for which he should be applauded, not criticised.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.