It's Time to End 'Fake Claim' Harassment of Disabled People
Fake claiming is the act of harassing a disabled person by claiming they are faking their disability. This abuse is commonly directed towards people with invisible disabilities, those who do not use visible mobility aids (or use them part-time) and people who don’t meet the narrow stereotype of what disability looks like (e.g. younger people). Fake claiming can happen anywhere at any time but commonly occurs when disabled people access facilities such as accessible parking spaces, toilets or public transport seats. Almost every person with an invisible condition will have been subjected to fake claiming at some point. This needs to end.
We are launching a U.K.-wide campaign to End Fake Claiming.
Some disabled people we have spoken to have been:
1.Filmed stepping out of their wheelchair and ridiculed online — being called names like “lazy” and “liar.”
2. Screamed at by strangers in car parks and accused of stealing their blue badge or lying to obtain one, because blue badges are “only for wheelchair users.” This is not true, blue badges are for anyone with a disability that affects mobility.
3. Spat at in a supermarket and told that the mobility scooters are for people “who can’t walk” — this is not true, mobility scooters are for people who have difficulty walking. Most individuals who are paralyzed have their own wheelchairs.
4. Denied access to accessible toilets because they “don’t look disabled.”
5. Filmed using their mobile phone and accused of faking blindness — despite the fact that most blind people have some degree of sight (usually up close) and most phones have software including deep zoom and screen reading to allow blind users to access them.
6. Denied accessible seats on public transport because they “don’t look disabled.”
7. Had rude notes or graffiti stuck to their cars after parking in a disabled bay — despite having a valid blue badge.
8. Threatened with violence for refusing to move from a disabled train seat — despite having a condition that makes it dangerous to stand for long periods.
A national survey by Fish Insurance found that 39% of people said someone who displayed a valid blue badge but did not appear to have difficulty walking should not be entitled to park in an accessible parking bay. With 21% of people in the U.K. having a disability, and approximately 80% of those living with invisible disabilities, this means over 10 million people in the U.K. have invisible disabilities.
Despite so many people believing that “difficulty walking” is something that can be seen, you cannot see severe pain that is worsened by walking long distances such as fibromyalgia, CRPS, connective tissue disorders, arthritis and others. You cannot see lung conditions that make it dangerous for people to walk long distances such as COPD or pulmonary fibrosis. You cannot see heart conditions that make people only able to stand a short while before passing out such as POTS or dysautonomia. You cannot see debilitating fatigue that make it impossible for people to walk long distances, such as those living with CFS or undergoing chemotherapy. You cannot see the long-term effects of childhood cancer. You cannot see blindness or D/deafness. You cannot see neurodiversity and psychiatric illness. You can see disability aids but you cannot see disability.
Fake claiming is not a small number of isolated incidents, it is something people with invisible disabilities are subject to on a routine basis. This puts disabled people in a position where they must decide between not accessing services they need or facing harassment and potential violence for doing so. Fake claiming makes disabled people fearful of going out in public because we never know when we will be harassed. It leads to anxiety, PTSD and mental health issues. It discourages disabled people from accessing services they need, making it impossible to be active members of the community.
Part of the problem is the incorrect stereotype of disabled people. This is impacted by the fact that the worldwide symbol for disability is a stick figure in a wheelchair, leading the public to believe that the term “disabled” is another way of saying “wheelchair user.” This is not the case — in fact, only 4% of disabled people are wheelchair users. Change needs to be implemented on a systemic level. Starting with the stereotype of what disability looks like. This is why we have started the End Fake Claiming Campaign, to change the social and political treatment of people with invisible disabilities. The overarching goal is to change the way that society stereotypes disability and create public consciousness that not all disabilities are visible. We aim to do this in a number of ways, including:
1.Lobbying the government to change the laws to make fake claiming a specific hate crime, making it easier for victims to prosecute their harassers. While disability harassment is currently illegal, the law does not mention fake claiming, and so most people are not aware that it is illegal.
2. Changing the National Symbol of Disability from a stick figure in a wheelchair to a wheelchair alongside the letter A for “accessibility.”
3. Conduct a review of harassment faced by people with invisible disabilities.
1.Spreading awareness through sharing the slogans, wearing the merchandise and spreading the stories of fake claim victims.
2. Giving victims a voice. We have created fake claim call-out cards, small business card-sized information pamphlets that can be handed out whenever you experience fake claiming to make the harasser aware that what they are doing is illegal. Fake claiming is extremely upsetting and so having a way to respond can help the victim feel a sense of control over the situation.
3. Creating a National Day Against Disability Harassment to foster awareness of this issue. We want the issue of disability harassment to be taught in schools so the next generation grows up knowing that not all disabilities are visible.