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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

DOWN MEMORY LANE

PART 2


In my last entry, I left you with some of the fears I had as a child on being labelled ‘disabled’. In particular, I was just going to talk about the implications the label, and its associated stereotypes, had on the way I viewed myself – and my sexuality. After all, the implications of being called an ‘angel’ were disturbing to me as I learned about the facts of life when I was very young. Indeed, when I was 12 or so, I suspected that such a label would not make me very 'interesting' to the opposite sex (although strangely enough I had many girl friends throughout my life). Yes, things have changed in society when it comes to these ideas but it’s surprising how many people still believe this myth of asexuality. Our images of disability may say a lot of things, but desirability and attractiveness are not on the list!


In fact, it still troubles me if I think about it deeply. How easy it is to talk about the rights of disabled people when it comes to employment, to education but then, when our rights to form families and have relationships is brought to the table, you get very odd looks. I got this impression the more I started getting involved in my work and on meeting new people. Perhaps it was one of the reasons why I found the suggestion that disabled people, whatever their impairment, be confined to an institution symptomatic of a belief that our privacy and space weren’t an issue at all.


I cannot deny that I am different from my non-disabled friends, and even from my disabled friends. I have, like anyone else, been brought up in a particular background and family. As a child, I had great admiration for world leaders like Martin Luther King Junior, and Mahatma Gandhi. I followed the adventures of the Star Trek enterprise and held a strong admiration for the fictional character of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. These have been great influences on my life and on the choices I would make.


Of course, I dreamt of becoming a teacher or, earlier on, to be a freelance writer (much before Harry Potter was launched!) Those were my dreams as a child. But as I progressively acquired my visual impairment – after having started using a wheelchair a few years before – I knew that I could not hold on to my original plans to teach as I had to learn how to do things – such as ‘reading’ - all over again. Those experiences were hard but not negative. It was only when I started befriending new disabled people and making more non-disabled friends, that I felt compelled to make a difference in some way in the life of disabled people like myself. But, up to then, I had only non-disabled role models and was still ashamed of being disabled. After all, how could I take pride in being a disabled person? I didn’t know anything about what other disabled people had done, only learned to fear being associated with disabled people – to the extent that I made my first disabled friends only when I was 23 …


I was never taught, for example, how a group of physically impaired people living in a residential institution (Le Court) in the UK, in the 1970s, had rebelled against their establishment in an attempt to assert themselves as individuals. I was never introduced to the social model of disability as a child. I was never aware of the fact that I had every right to feel angry when those around me talked down to me in front of my friends because I looked different. I was never told that I should not accept an unequal status because my body could not conform to society’s standards.


In my early 20s, nobody had told me that there was nothing to be ashamed of if I used a wheelchair. No one introduced me to the writings of Paul Hunt, or gave me a real picture of Helen Keller. The messages I got were only that I wouldn’t make it, that I should be happy with anything I got even if it was unequal to my friends’. I was also told that I should never think of falling in love, or of becoming a parent. I was taught that I would be a child forever – Nothing more!


I’d better calm down now as I got really hot typing that paragraph. That’s why I feel that what I am doing is important. I have a lot of respect for other groups in society and believe in the struggles of women, gay people, and in the achievement of racial equality and respect for different faiths and beliefs. But, as a disabled person, I cannot avoid fearing that the fact that we have impairments often obscures the reality that we’re also men and women and have individual opinions and characters. Apart from the barriers this places on establishing friendships, it can prove fatal if you’re planning to ask someone out on a date!


At this point in my life, I believe that it is as important to address the cultural causes of disability as well as the structural ones – both are instrumental in creating disability. I am not ashamed to admit that there is a strong personal element in what I write here. It is frustrating to be regarded as a one dimensional person when trying to get involved in particular groups. It is insulting, to say the least, to be told that a particular place or service does not cater for disabled people. Finally, it is hurtful to be regarded as an overgrown child when you express the most basic of human emotions: love.


I guess it was truly a trip ‘down’ memory lane… It will soon be time to drink my cup of tea – even if I got a bit worked up on that last one. They say tea is a stimulant, so I might be in for some trouble. I should catch up with you in the coming weekk

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