We could be heroes

2014-08-02 by

I have to thank “Fleur Artemis” of the Oxford Student blog as his article helped me crystallise my opinion on this subject. The article features an old TED Talk by Stella Young I’d seen before who rightly says “I’m not your inspiration”. At the time of watching the talk I remember agreeing with her yet also feeling a twinge of disagreement that I couldn’t quite pinpoint.

Young makes a very good point, in that many disabled people are patronisingly called “brave” simply for existing, and “inspirational” simply for living and talking about it. I know this, I’ve been told this myself many times at the end of my disability equality workshops (I’m a trainer and consultant in disability inclusion). However I hope that the people I have trained understand that I am indeed “brave” – because that’s how I feel sometimes – but for different reasons.

Yes. Forgive my lack of modesty but I am brave. I am brave indeed. I have to be, and often. So let me reclaim my heroism for myself and for all disabled people who go through this every day.

At this point I know that many of your eyebrows are perilously arched in disbelief and your mouths might be hanging open with disgusted surprise – so let me explain.

We are not brave because we dare live with impairment. We are not brave simply for existing and for living. That is ridiculous, and anyone who simply looks at us walk down the street in our crutches or wheelchairs, adjusting our hearing aids or whipping out white canes and think we are “brave” is also probably shaking their heads thinking “you pathetic fools, go cover up, hide”.

No. That is disablism and is patronising and disabled people not wish to be identified as brave simply for existing.

But when the masses realise that disabled people have to fight to get inclusion, many of us are dying because of public funding cuts to our independent living, we have to fight and take establishments to court in order to get accessible services and we have to argue with service providers and plan ahead to overcome barriers in society and in the built environment every day, then yes, we are brave and we have to be. Every. Single. Day.

Every time a wheelchair user dares to travel by train, knowing that the assistance he booked might not turn up.

Every time a wheelchair/crutches/Zimmer Frame user is waiting at the bus stop and the bus driver does not stop because they can’t be bothered to get the ramp out.

Every time a hearing aid user asks for the loop system to be switched on and the person behind the counter in the library/bank/post office tells them “come back later when the manager is here because I don’t know how to switch it on”’.

Every time someone with cerebral palsy is stared at, entering a restaurant, and is refused entry or his table promptly moved to the back, near the toilets.

Every time a blind person is helped across the street against their will, because someone has assumed that’s what they needed help with, and gone ahead without asking. Or grabbed by the hand like a little child, to be led from A to B.

Every time someone recovering from a stroke is mistaken as drunk and is abused, shunned, avoided because of their condition.

Every time a person with Down’s Syndrome or with a learning disability is not taken seriously and not seen as worthy of respect.

Every time a person with HIV loses a friend as soon as their condition is known.

Every time a person with Brittle Bone has to cross a large cobbled space in their wheelchair because there is no alternative route. Or a wheelchair user is told to go to an accessible event, when the lift has actually been out of use for weeks, there are no ramps and the “accessible toilet” is in fact inaccessible or used as storage.

That’s when we have to do the following:

▪ Argue with event organisers/service providers
▪ Argue with prejudiced people
▪ Write/blog/tweet/shame and legally pursue councils/services/banks/post offices/etc
▪ Explain what constitutes a “reasonable adjustment”
▪ Go find another toilet/restaurant/bank/service/friends
▪ Go out and risk this every day, all over again.

We should not have to be brave to counter all this, and we wish we were not “inspirational” for having to counter daily discrimination, harassment, hate crime, prejudice and access barriers: we can certainly do without those so we can get on living our lives. We don’t want to educate you every time you see one of us in public.

For all of you out there: if you feel inspired by disabled people stop telling us so and instead support our fight for independent living, accessible environments and be inclusive in your work, service, friendships. There is room for all of us in this world if we want.

But until then, when we have to put up or fight against lack of access, ignorance and prejudice then we have to be brave. We have to be of example to those who worry about fighting for their rights, especially people who have acquired an impairment recently or a disabled young person or when one of us is feeling discouraged and does not feel like being “inspirational” today.

“If the prospect of living in a world
where trying to respect the basic rights of those around you
and valuing each other simply because we exist
are such daunting, impossible tasks
then what sort of world are we left with?
And what sort of world do you want to live in?” (Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman #170)

So, let’s sigh and pat ourselves in the back: let’s go out and be heroes again until we don’t have to be anymore.

“To boldly go past those steps and beyond!!!”

MGZ, Wideaware.

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