What do you and Ben Elton have in common? You both share a passion and a vision for equality. We caught up with the comedian, writer, and Scope’s newest Patron.
An interview with Ben Elton
How did you first come across Scope?
I had a sort of epiphany really. I was touring back in the mid 80’s, doing Uni gigs and amongst the usual crowd at the stage door (I was quite fashionable in those days!) was a young man with Cerebral Palsy. He had a lot of mobility and communication difficulties.
I confess I had some problems understanding him and attempting not to focus on his very different, and for me disconcerting, physicality.
I asked him what he studied, and he said he was doing a Maths PhD. I hit my maths ceiling when I was about 13 and I was impressed, humbled and slightly ashamed to realise that this man whom I was, I suppose, viewing principally through the prism of his disability was in fact vastly more able in some ways than me.
I’m not suggesting that you need to be a Maths genius to be respected with a disability, I’m just saying that it was a big lesson for me in constantly striving to see the whole person in any situation.
Your book Gridlock has two disabled characters. Could you share your motivation and process for creating those characters?
This same encounter led me to start thinking about the dramatic and comedic possibilities of a character who is constantly underestimated.
This led me to create the leading characters in my novel Gridlock, a paraplegic young woman and a young man with Cerebral Palsy.
The woman has had to navigate life in a wheelchair and has thus developed skills and cunning which make her a mobility game changer in a town suddenly paralysed by traffic.
The man is a scientist who holds a game changing secret which big business wants to kill him for, but he can use the fact that his hunters constantly underestimate him and see only his disability to evade and outwit them.
Do you think that more disabled people are appearing in books and on screen and why is it important?
Yes, it’s great to see that disabled actors are finally getting roles which are not to do with their disability. This is a hugely important issue.
I believe the number one issue with all prejudice be it based on race, sex, sexuality or physicality is increased integration and engagement.
We can’t understand each other if we can’t see each other and disabled people have been invisible in our wider culture for too long.
What do you think are the main barriers facing disabled people in the UK today?
Well it seems to me that apart from the obvious ongoing issues with simply physical access I think it’s about engagement.
We need ever increasing practical interaction between all members of our community. To strive constantly to bring disabled people into the mainstream in the work place and cultural activities, to unlock all our potential.
That’s my thoughts but I must stress that I am learning too, that’s why I joined Scope. To learn and to listen. Like I first began to do properly at that stage door encounter 35 years ago.
How do you feel about becoming a patron of Scope? What will it involve?
I’ve been an active contributor and campaigner since the 80’s and becoming a patron is a real honour. I hope it will help me draw further attention to this great organisation and give me the chance to continue to learn from people whose life experience is different to my own, but which is of course no less vibrant or valid.
Do you have a message for your fellow supporters of Scope?
Keep on keeping on! Huge strides have been achieved but there are many miles still to travel until we have a society that respects and empowers our whole community to make its best contribution to the common good!