Written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008.
Equal does not mean identical for the same reason that different does not mean inferior, or, for that matter, superior.
Equality, therefore, does not mean giving everyone exactly the same thing, or desperately trying to force one size to fit all. It means giving everyone the same standards (of service, of access, of respect, of quality of life) while recognising the different methods needed to achieve those standards.
Public transport is a good example of this - it's not the only example, but it's one which allows me to make my point. You may have recently read in the news about how all elderly and disabled people in the UK are to get free bus passes. Along with quite a few other disabled people I have spoken to, I'm quite bemused about this.
For starters, there's a load of ifs and buts - little things like No Being Crippled In Public Before 9:30am (they phrase it differently but that's the precis), which is little short of ridiculous to anyone who's ever been told to attend an 8.30am appointment at a hospital twenty miles away.
More importantly though, the bus system is inaccessible to many people. Some, like myself, are completely out - I can't walk or self-propel a wheelchair as far as the nearest bus stop, and although on my better days I could ride my mobility scooter to the bus stop, I wouldn't then be able to put it onto the bus. Others, who can get to the bus stop, then find that there's no space - or more accurately, that there is ONE space that disabled people and parents with prams can fight over amongst themselves. Quite rightly, the bus drivers won't simply have wheelies "squeezing on" because it's dangerous to everyone concerned, so the losers (be they parents, babies, toddlers, children or disabled people of any age), just have to wait at the bus stop, regardless of cold, rain, appointments, feeding or medication schedules, and hope that the single precious space on the next bus will be available.
Or the next one.
Or the next one.
Even once you've got a seat, the problems don't end. For instance, many of the more modern buses have a scrolling display telling you what route you are on and which is the next stop. Very handy. Then someone realised that blind and visually impaired people couldn't read that, so they had the bright idea of an audio announcement for each stop. This, in turn, is causing problems for people who, for various reasons, have difficulty processing an overload of information - it's even stressing out plenty of neurotypical people on routes that have frequent stops.
Bus passes are issued by the local council, and different local councils deal with the issues differently. Where I live, the approach is that if you are eligible for a bus pass, but cannot use the buses, then instead of a bus pass, you get 'tokens' for local community transport. You get twenty trips per year at the special price of 65p per mile. Assuming that every time you go somewhere, you need to get back again, that's TEN local outings per year. As long as it's Monday-Friday, between 9am and 9pm, you book two days or more in advance, and subject to availability of course... oh, and you can't have a bus pass AND tokens, so no getting transport at 65p/mile to the bus stop and freebie-ing from there.
This does not really compare well to Christine and Manju, who are taking a 700-mile tour round the UK for free using their bus-passes. Don't get me wrong, I hope they have a wonderful journey and I think it's great that they're exercising the freedom to travel and explore without worrying about the cost of transport. I just think there's a bit of an illusion that ALL elderly and disabled people could do this if only we were a bit more determined, a bit more spirited. It's simply not the case.
I can't help feeling we'd be a step closer to equality if none of us got free transport, but by the same token, none of us found transport around the local area so expensive that we have to stay at home. Equality isn't one person on a free jaunt around the country while another can't even go to the shops once a week. Equality would be all of us having reasonable and regular access to basic amenities.