Belfast Telegraph

PC Rathband found out how society scorns disability

By Christina Patterson

It can take a second. It can, of course, take much longer than that, but it can take just a second for a life to fall apart. For David Rathband, it took a few seconds for an unemployed bouncer to puncture his eyeballs, with 200 pellets from two separate gunshots.

And it took a few months for his marriage to unravel. And it took a few more months for him to decide that he'd rather be dead.

When he left his home to go to work, one summer's day two years ago, he must have thought it a normal day. He must have known that in the police, your normal days aren't always as normal as other people's. But he probably didn't think when he was called to a village where a man called Raoul Moat was making threats, that he would never see his wife or children again.

When he did realise that he would never see anyone he loved, or his home, or the green fields, or the trees, or the sky, when he realised, in fact, that he would never see a TV, or a newspaper, or the pavement he was walking on, what he tried to do was get on with his life.

It was less than six months before he told the world that he was about to crack. He had, he said on Twitter - and you'd have to be desperate to say it on Twitter - lost his sight, his job, his marriage, and his wife. He was planning, he said, "to say goodbye" to his children.

A few days later, he said he was "back on track". When police found his body in the flat he now lived in on his own, it was tragically clear that he wasn't. What happened to David Rathband happens every day. Every day, all round the world, people who could walk, and move, and see, and hear, without any pain, and without any thought, suddenly find that they can't.

Sometimes, this happens slowly, with illness and age. Sometimes, it doesn't need to happen, because something has happened in the womb which means that your sight, or hearing, or ability to move your legs or arms, has gone before you're born.

You'd have thought that the people who can see, and hear, and move their legs and arms, and do an awful lot of things without having to think about how they're going to do them, would think that they were lucky.

You'd have thought that they'd look at the people who did have to think about those things, and wonder what they could do to make their life easier. You wouldn't have thought that those people would be shouting nasty things at those people, and saying that they're "scroungers".

But apparently, they are. Six charities, including the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and Scope, have just said that they are. They've said that attacks on disabled people are going up.

David Rathband was a brave policeman, but he was braver when he couldn't do his job than when he could.

When people are brave, as so many around us are, every day of their lives, and as so many of us will one day have to be, what they deserve isn't resentment, or aggression or even pity.

What brave people deserve, which our society doesn't seem to want to give them, is respect.

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