Monday, May 01, 2006

Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day

Really impressive that over one hundred people are blogging against disablism today.

I thought I'd look for a definition via Google. You know how you tap in a word and it becomes highlighted meaning there is a definition if you click it? Disablism and ablism don't have definitions yet. But I guess that's why we're blogging about it.

Like racism and sexism and homophobia, disablism describes prejudice against disabled people. But the interesting thing about prejudice to this group (of which I'm one) is that oftentimes disablism is mistaken for kindness.

"I didn't give her the job because she's disabled and it'd be a strain on her geting into work every day." -- employers have been heard to say this kind of thing despite the fact that a very employable disabled person has presented themselves for an interview wanting to get some independence and a better quality of life perhaps. The employer sees her as hassle and believes she must be mistaken and helps her by not giving her the job. It's kindness not to burden her with that kind of strain?

I spoke to a local radio phone-in producer a couple of years ago who told me that a man with a stutter had called in to make a point on air. She said that she didn't put him on air because people listening might laugh or make fun of him and maybe he didn't realise. She thought she was being nice but she stopped him from being part of a public debate in a democratic country. She asked me if she'd done the right thing expecting that I'd say yes. The answer is: "well he called up, didn't he?" She was a bit embarrassed by him because she didn't have to deal with stuttering or differences daily.

I find this dangerous. Kate talks about it really well today in her BADD blog entry on her pages Everyone Else Has A Blog go and read it!

I struggle with disablism sometimes though. I'm not 100% sure how to define it ... plus still keep my mental health in so doing. Some things you have to let go. Maybe you shouldn't but you do.

I really wanted to work something in here about lack of access to books for visually impaired people. But is that disablism? Lack of a human right that could easily be solved because the technology is here and has been for some time now. Is it disablist that government recently refused to fund a pilot project that would make books accessible to the UK's 3.5 million print disabled? This is also about access to education too.

Maybe that's just politics though. A long hard battle to fight. Yet another. It's certainly someone else disabling me though and not allowing the easily-grabbable solution to happen.

I had a bit of a revelation a few years ago. Some people talk weirdly to me because they are confused about the eye contact I'm not giving them. They shout to be heard because I don't appear to be engaging in the way they're used to even though I may be listening intently with my eye footprints landing a few milimetres to the right
of where they're used to.

Not knowing that blind people can be anything more than piano tuners. Not knowing the oh-too-commonly used phrases bound to piss disabled people off. Not really understanding why parking in a disabled parking bay can mean no food this weekend at the supermarket. Can these basic little issues be down to the fact that we're in a disablist society? Whose media doesn't reflect disability experiences? Or, again, are these just things, stuff that happens, what's expected if you're in a minority group. And what can be done about this? The answer, of course, is that disabled people become more proactive. This blogging event is an example of how we can be more proactive.

Rambling a bit today but I'm gonna drag it all back to where I started. It's subconscious disablism that is most dangerous. Thoughtless 'not my problem' disablism which might be a small moment in time for the person disabling you but the rest of your life if you are the person being disabled. And it can certainly wear your self esteem away.

In 1995, 8 months before the DDA came in, I was arrested outside a nightclub by two police officers. The bouncers hadn't let me in because "you don't have a carer and we can't be expected to look after you". I was rightly pissed off. I stood outside the doors for two hours taking customers aside and telling them what the bouncers had done and urging them to reconsider going into the nightclub. I should add that I regularly attended other clubs - I was 24 after all.

Lots of people didn't want to talk to me. That was fine. A bit heartbreaking but fine. I was chuffed about the ones who said they would never go back.

But at 1am I was arrested "to prevent a breach of the peace". They agreed I hadn't breached the peace but were worried I might contribute towards something or or other. I was upset that my right to protest against the establishment that had just barred me for disablist reasons had been taken away from me. I was later enfuriated to learn that the police officers had arrested me to protect me. It was a double hit of disablism. I wept openly on the streets. I felt my life wasn't mine and control was not in my hands when the police bundled me into their van. It made me take to my bed for a week. It all happened at a time when I had applied for approx 50 jobs after leaving university and not got anything.

I quite like the word 'disablism'. It's a good solid word isn't it. I hate the phrase 'social model'. IT sounds like an essay. I think we should hurl out the social model v medical model term and just think of things as disablist or not disablist. It's far more understandable linguistically ... and it might catch on. Plus you wouldn't take someone to court for being "too medical model" would you? Doesn't disablism embody all these ideas?


Attila The Mom said...

Really great post. I enjoyed it immensely!

James Medhurst said...

But are you talking about "individual disablism", "systematic disablism" or "cultural disablism"? There are many disablisms, you know. Isn't sociology fun?

BloggingMone said...

Great post. I do think that preventing people from being able to read books in an accessable format is a clear act of disablism rather than some kind of political issue. Same goes for not providing audio-description, sound substitution by subtitle or interpreter. Playing an active role in society is impossible without access to information and - worst of all - this access is denied deliberately, because suitable technology is already available.

Charlesdawson said...

CP Snow says in one of his novels that when you hear someone say, of an interviewee or employee, "In his/her own best interests..." you know it's the kiss of death.

The Goldfish said...

Ah now we learn about your criminal past!

By the way, looks like there has been a breakthrough with blogger's comment facility. In fact it looks like it has happened today of all days.

However, I could do with someone VI reassuring me; it looks to me as if you can now listen to the word verification picture on blogs that have word verification. Is this so?

I have noticed that many bloggers have taken off word verification especially for today, but moderation is not a marvellous way of doing things.

Katie said...

Great post there Damon!

YOu have put a lot of good opinions in there and I guess that some of it was really hard to write about given the fact you wrote about your bad experiences of people being disablist towards you.

I really felt for you my friend as I read those parts!

People can be really hurtful at times, can't they, without even knowing that they are hurting the other's feelings and I'm sorry that you had to bear the brunt of it.

It's not your fault that you don't give eye contact, it's them that have the prejudice views against people that have visual problems like yourself.

I symapethise with you Damon, my friend, on people and their comments because of the way that people can be hurtful towards me, Even though they don't think I have a disability, I have and their comments can be hurtful and I feel like being the odd one out, and it upsets me a lot.

You just have to think positively and sho the rest of the world that despite your visual problem, you are equal to them.

Think positively, my friend and carry on being you, you're great!!!!

Dean said...

I suppose I've always viewed what has recently been defined as disablism as when someone thinks my brain doesn't exists. Those stupid frustrating situations where people think that they would know something but I wouldn't possibley, or that they wouldn't do something so stupid but I might. What strangely makes it worse is that generally life is great and they catch you offguard when you don't quite expect it!