I always tell myself to avoid at all costs watching some programmes on TV during the holiday season. But, alas, I end up having to watch (or endure) another broadcast that should make us feel good as people for this season of good will and cheer. Not, perhaps, if you're disabled.
Apart from surrendering to my curiosity to watch part of 'A Christmas Carol' featuring Patrick Stewart, with the 'brave' and 'patient' Tiny Tim ending with his message of courage 'God bless us all' ... Which wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't that the fact he was a 'cripple' meant that his life was unbearable ... So the fact he was good nature made him look saintly or even the embodiment of virtue - not a real boy with sad and happy moments. Unfortunately, we are also made to feel - not love - but pity to the young Tim which is what some people still feel when they see disabled people. Perhaps we could hope that since Patrick Stewart starred in Star Trek in the past, his role of Scrooge might imply that the characters are coming out of yet another science fiction film. At least, give me Tiny Tim as an alien ... Please?
Anyhow, I was upset by a story aired on the news on a man who after getting out of a coma had to learn how to move again after his 'paralysis'. Well, he is now on his way to a full recovery after receiving therapy at a named institution. So, we're told ... 'he has now overcome his disability' ... We are told that we should draw courage from his fight against his tragic circumstance... Well, an appeal is finally made for someone to employ him... Of course, I don't have anything against the guy but the damage such reporting can make on our disabled life cannot be underestimated.
First, I find the man being described as having been 'paralysed' as misleading... After all, he is shown walking and exercising ... Unless I am not mistaken, paralysis is so far irreversible. However, the most serious and dangerous claim is that we can - with the right attitude or therapy - overcome our impairment. So, this implies that all of us - blind, deaf, intellectually impaired, with mental health problems or physically impaired should end our pretence and start working to 'normality'. Yeah, right!
This is what I was led to believe when I was young. Cannot walk that much ... My fault! I'm not trying enough ... Cannot straighten my knees ... My fault too!!! Etc. So, I was faced with a choice of either giving up on accepting a lower status I believed was tied to impairment or to fight a hopeless battle to fix my body.
I'm not saying that therapy or medical intervention are evil here. I'm just saying that not all impairments can be ameliorated and also that we do not seek to be normal. And, to answer a woman who suggested - during a charity marathon - our life is NOT a 'life of constant suffering' ... Well, at least, when we're not compared to Tiny Tim or else hopeless burdens.
I was doubtful whether I was on the right track when I chose to commit myself to disability activism. Witnessing this false readings of our experiences, where we are made to feel guilty for not trying enough to 'normalise' our bodies while society is not expected to change ... Or when we're made to feel less than other people because we are different ... Has compelled me to renew my passion to the change for my life and for the life of other disabled people. We cannot keep looking at disability as a personal problem because until the barriers in our environment aren't overcome, our disability can never be overcome!
I wish that this Christmas was better but then, there should be more of this disabling reporting and speeches yet to come. Yes, if you switch on TV or radio during these times, you could be pardoned for ending feeling self-pity or being made feel guilty for not showing enough courage and shake off your impairment. But we all know that the greatest injustices in the world are made by human beings... Not by nature or even God.
However, to be totally honest, another reason why I think that opposing disabling tendencies in our society is of crucial importance, is that I want to be witness to a new generation of young children - disabled or not - who are open to diversity and to difference. After spending the best part of the afternoon playing with my nephew Matthew, I realised that in another time this just wouldn't have been conceivable. True, he is learning that I'm different as he asked me for the first time about my bent fingers. But I explained to him about arthritis in a matter of fact way. With no melodrama or sad faces.
For it is a fact isn't it? Why should I be ashamed of something that I didn't choose and yet that I learned to adapt to. Why are we bombarded with images that put us down as less fortunate? Why cannot we simply look at ways we can dismantle the forces that are dividing us? Or go beyond the falsehoods about a life with impairment that abound?
After talking to Matthew, we continued playing, and then when he had to go ... He hugged and kissed me goodbye. Yes, I was close to tears I admit. And that's because I knew those signs of affection are not motivated by pity but were sincere. Truly, I'm also proud of my 5 year old nephew Matthew...