Caught this excellent blog the other day by Lucy Britton about the pitfalls of using a wheelchair if you don't need it all of the time.
"Over the last few years I've become increasingly aware of raised eyebrows when I get out of my wheelchair. A couple of years ago when taking my children out for the day, the woman deciding whether or not I deserved a disabled person's ticket asked me, "are you stuck in there? It's just I need to know if you're one of those people who can just pop in and out".
My moral worth was to be measured by how many steps I could take. A wheelchair is key to leaving the house for people with a huge range of conditions, including those experiencing fatigue, yet we're constantly told we need to justify our usage.
And so, it comes to this: either I allow people to see me stand from my wheelchair and accept that they will assume I am morally deviant, or I play the game and look like the disabled person they deem worthy enough, and get on with life in the usual way. I often choose to play the part which alienates me and others like me most – the media stereotype of the worthy cripple."
The news from the US regarding Maximus' operating style has not been good. Information passed along the disabled people's networks paints a picture that makes ATOS seem like a well meaning, philanthropic organisation by comparison.
We'd already heard of the Maximus divide and conquer tactics when dealing with organised groups of complaining 'customers', so it really shouldn't have come as any surprise that one of the first things that they did was to suss out who the 'tame crips' were and then invite them into the fold.
The first to be sucked in was Sue Marsh, who ran a successful blog focussing on the extreme distress experienced by those disabled people who have had their benefits reduced or cut having gone through the ATOS process. She included herself in this and has described her own battle with ATOS and the DWP in great detail, encouraging people to join with her in the fight to achieve a fair level of benefit without having to face the humiliating and unfair system that Iain Duncan Smith has put in place.
However, having built a large following of mainly 'ATOS survivors' or friends and relatives of those who didn't survive, Ms Marsh suddenly announced that she'd accepted a senior position with Maximus. She's taken the job along with, what to most of us, is a very large salary. She has attempted to reassure those who follow her blog that she'll be allowed to continue her work for 'disability rights' emphasising the fact that she's not had to sign any form of gagging order whilst working for Maximus.
I could be a little charitable here and suggest that Ms Marsh is being just a little naïve in her thinking in this respect. I'm sure that Maximus will be only too pleased to get the same form of hammering that ATOS received from the many followers on her blog. Or would they? I think not!
To say that she's left a lot of hurt and confused people floundering in her wake is an understatement and - quite understandably - there's been a huge backlash against her decision from disabled people up and down the country. In the interests of balance, I should add that her blog explaining and justifying her decision to accept this job, also attracted some supportive comments but these were far out numbered by those expressing outrage, incredulity and disappointment.
A week or so later and the magician that is Maximus pulls another rabbit out of its hat. This time it's in the form of a disabled people's organisation who have agreed to undertake disability equality training with the Maximus senior management. Obviously, Disability Rights UK (DRUK) is not an organisation that Maximus would see as being any threat to them or likely to radicalize their senior management team into militant allies of disabled people. When compared to such organisations as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) for example, DRUK clearly presents as the Women's Institute's extreme knitting collective!
So, what I'm saying here is don't hold your breath waiting for those disabled people who are now involved with Maximus to suddenly appear in their midst - Trojan horse style - and smite them with the sword of equality!