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

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Why do I choose to remain a disability activist? After all, if I look back I remember that I feel strongly about other issues. I am pro-life, and strongly believe in diversity in all its forms! I am also concerned by the current world situation, such as issues related to world poverty, global warming, international conflict, and, of course, with human rights abuses. I think that if my situation had been different, you might have seen me writing a blog on multiculturalism or something on similar lines.

I could do that. But given that a day has 24 hours which I must divide between work, rest and personal stuff… then I am afraid that I can only afford to concentrate my energy on fighting disability. I believe that disability, like gender and race, is created by the way society works. Indeed, I don’t seek to be merely 'accepted' in spite of my impairment. I want to be accepted as I am because, I believe, negating my impairment would be denying part of who I am. I'm not saying that it's all of who I am but it's been many a time when I had been put in a position to feel 'ashamed' of my body! After all, I’m really not a ‘no-body’!!!

Jokes apart, it is often the case that disabled people are regarded as ‘nobodies’. Especially when you consider that some public buildings remain inaccessible with owners finding the most petty of excuses to leave them unchanged... When you consider that it is very difficult to find a job after they discover that you have an impairment... When you become more aware of the fact that there is a risk that people don’t get you as a person, preferring to remain blissful in their prejudice and assumptions about your life, your character and about your 'happiness' in life. But you know what is worse than all of that?

To hear a mother, speaking to you on the phone about her disabled child, saying to you “well, you see, he’s a total loss”.

No, it’s not an appliance she’s talking about. Yes, she’s talking about Her own child!

Before hastily judging the mother, we should think about the reasons why she might have chosen those words. Perhaps she actually believed what she was saying... She might have believed that since her child couldn't walk (in this situation), he has no real future in society. It is on hearing such things that I feel compelled to go on fighting... For what?

For a future when having an ascribed impairment does not leave you with feelings of inadequacy or of inferiority.

When it would be ‘normal’ to have an impairment and get on in life.

For a future when parents do not refer to their own children as if they were mere objects or bundles of problems!

To stop the violence that propagates disabling attitudes and leaves the disabling structures of our society unaltered.

After all, I was also a disabled child once. If I think about it, people at the time might have easily assumed that I was a ‘total loss’ too! If the person who spoke to me knew that I was (literally) in a similar position to her son's, I wonder whether she would have picked another phrase to describe her son's situation ...

Thankfully, I had parents who supported me and found friends who believed in me. At least enough to get me where I am now. Inasmuch as I would like to fight for other causes, I find myself needing to recognise in me the value of being a person because of my impairments - not in spite of them. In effect, to recognise that the problems I might face in society are not my 'fault' and that my situation is not a question of 'bad luck as some would have it! Admittedly, I still battle against the negative messages that I have received as a child.I guess that these memories will still emerge - especially when I feel I failed in something or when I'm downright sad.I don't want to see disabled children living now go through the same self-doubt and to grow up with feelings of inadequacy and of unworthiness as I did. Yes, I don't even want them to learn about the dark side of being labelled 'special'. The feeling of being set apart because you're physically or intellectually different through a seemingly innocent term - which is really a destructive euphemism. To be aware that even if you feel human and part of society, on switching on the radio or TV, you might be made to feel awkward as if you are not part of the human race.

Which brings me back to my original question, why did I choose to fight for the cause of disability as an activist? I guess it’s because I believe that every individual, has the right to be given the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential. It's a conviction that it's not my impairment which limits me in life when it comes to my participation in society but rather how society has failed to include me. It's a struggle like that of women, who are still not fully included because society is still geared to the needs of man. It is akin to the struggle of black people in my country who still face in certain situations implicit or explicit evidence of racism. It is like the struggle of people having different beliefs. It's also like the issues underlying the gay movement.

And yet, it's about other things. It's about recognising that impairment is not the problem. It's highlighting the fact that in order for people with impairments to be included, society must adapt to include us. We're saying that like sexism, homophobia, xenophobia are wrong, disability is too! Not because there's anything intrinsically wrong with women, gay people, or black people, or with people having different beliefs - but because these '-isms' pose serious limits to who we are and to our chances in life.

I do not want to detach myself from my world. Indeed, I have felt strongly about the injustices that I hear and read about daily. And yet, I cannot fight for the cause of other people without recognising that I have to fight for the rights of people who face the same 'disability' I face. However, not fighting for other causes I believe in does not mean I cannot be part of the solution.