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

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Terrible Twos?

This blog has survived another year! However, I don't think that it's time to celebrate that much. I remember starting off with energy and enthusiasm on August 28 of 2006 but the number of people visiting on here has been decreasing steadily since then. At least, that's what the ratings indicate. Am I losing my magical touch? Anyhow, the fact is that there have been many changes in my life which could have impacted on the time and energy I spent on this blog. Not to mention the fact that I also set up a new blog at Cosmos Online... which seemed so easy at first! But ...

But these two years weren't all that bad. I got my much awaited degree. The one I started in 2006. Earlier this year I started working. But, on another level, I feel that this isn't enough. I keep asking myself what direction I should follow. And whether I've taken the right choices in life. I know that I want to improve on the current injustices in our world - especially where disabled people are concerned (but not only). That's for sure.

Yet, I wonder whether I'm doing enough. I'm spending most of my time at work writing reports on different areas concerning disabled people. The more I read, the more I feel guilty for not doing enough. Statistics which reveal disabled people's exclusion from education and employment. Or others which indicate the strong link between poverty and disability. They do make me feel powerless.

On the other hand, I know that I want to make a difference. But then, I think on the many things I need to do to better the quality of my own life. Both are important priorities to me. And, I believe, I cannot separate one from the other. However, it's wrong to assume that the issue of social inequality is particular to disabled people. For instance, as I come to ending the novel "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, I was struck by how easy it's for people to harm each other because of ethnic or religious differences. How war robs people of identity and of dignity. How one wrong decision can affect the lives of many.

Of course, war is one factor that causes impairment. So, in Khaled's account, it's very common to meet children and adults who have acquired impairments through mines and other weapons of war. I cannot come to imagine how we can forget that the war in Afghanistan - in this case - and other wars can affect children and entire families or communities in devastating ways. It's easy to write patriotic sentiments in the comfort of our homes, but those who are easily drawn to war have no idea what a beastly thing they're unleashing on the world. I won't reveal any plots however. Read the book for that.

On the question of where I'm going, I also find that there's a kind of vacuum in terms of relating to other people. True, I get in touch with people at work everyday. I meet people during lectures and events. But apart from the fact it's mostly work, I have been active on online communities here and there. Lately, I have found Connecting Singles to be a good place to spend some time. It says 'free online dating' on the site, but I only got to the free online part so far... but that doesn't bother me much. I am a bit skeptical of online contact...

I think that should do for today. I hope to be able to write over the coming days. If I get a minute to breathe that is ... the heat is still high over here!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learned Dependence

I've spent all morning waiting for a group at a large residential institution to deliver one of my presentations on disability and the social model. The group never turned up and I was told I had come a day earlier. And yes, I was pretty sure that this was the date set which left me angry and frustrated. But I guess the morning wasn't wasted - even if it seemed so at first.

During the time I spent at the grounds of this institution, I had time to reflect. I witnessed the residents, some who had been here all their life, dragging their feet and seemingly unwilling to move that much. True, it was hot... but it was more than that. I chatted with one or two residents and I knew how much I felt out of touch with this environment and the feelings of helplessness that it can transmit.

I'm sure that the staff and assistants working there were doing the best they could. But, inasmuch as dedication or effort they put in, I sensed that over the years - through past administrations - residents had lost the will to choose. And insofar as my past pride would have me feel 'above the residents', I know that if I had lived there for a time, I am certain I would have adopted a submissive and resigned position.

The only tragedy with a life in an institution is not only that you are segregated from the community on the basis of your impairment. But that you are robbed of making real choices and eventually, you don't build a sense of self. After all, isn't your choice and preferences that give you individuality? Losing that would mean forfeiting a unique aspect of who you are.

Whilst many can justify institutions on the basis that some people are 'limited by their impairments', they often ignore that the environment and the attitude of others around you can hinder you from expressing what and who you are. I know that it's difficult to remove long term residents from an institution but I hope that the younger generations of people, especially those with severe impairments, those with intellectual impairments and high complex needs, are given greater support to remain in the community where they belong.

However, the greatest lesson I learned is that much of the dependence we find in the institution is often rooted in learning. Learning that whatever you want will be ignored. Learning that you are not going anywhere if not requested. Learning that the routine is everything and that your autonomy is worthless.

When one staff member mistook me for a resident, I was taken aback. Worse of all, I felt compelled to respond hesitantly as if there was a wrong or right answer to the question - "Would you like the door open or closed?" Admittedly, it was an easy question but the way it was put across made all the difference. And it made me feel that no matter who you think you are, you can easily forget - even for a minute - that you have a choice in what you do.

That's the terrible thing about the whole thing. Learned dependence becomes unconscious and a habit which can be impossible to shake off as the years go by.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tinker, Tailor, Disability Extremist ... ?

Imagine that you had to find a phrase or a set of words to describe yourself… what would they be? This might seem like a trivial exercise but over the last weeks, I had to come up with a suitable response. I cannot chronicle all the events that happened since I wrote that last entry on my graduation experience. The truth of the matter is that things change with time. And I did too!

Yes, I have temporarily moved to my summer house as I do every summer. That meant adjusting, once again, to a more disabling environment and adapt to the new routine. However, hard as it might be, this wasn’t the real problem. The reality was that I felt the need to examine my life in light of the changes happening with my personal and work life.

Ah, there was that other event… Indeed, I was commenting about a local (disabled people-led) organisation conducting a charity event. And I pointed out to the organisers that putting forward the image of disabled people as ‘capable of doing more than our non-disabled peers’ in spite ‘of our ‘physical or intellectual limitations’ (paraphrase) was wrong because it seems to suggest that disabled people, unlike others, must ‘earn’ their rights. Or worse that our value is only guaranteed as long as we are of use to others.

I admit that my criticism could have been worded better. But – in answering my remarks – someone called me a ‘disability extremist’! Now, I would very gladly joke about this adjective. But I don’t see myself as an extremist; unless that means that I am committed to seeing every child and adult, irrespective of any impairment, given equal rights in our society. And to insist that, for this to happen, our societies must adapt in one way or another. That is all I wish and believe in.

So, I cannot agree with images that negate the role of society in perpetuating exclusion and disability in its proper sense. After all, if disabled people remain silent on the way our life is projected, as if our only goal in life was to ‘prove our worth’, then I might as well shut up and prove my worth alone – possibly avoiding any contact with another disabled person (as I used to do).

However, inn spite of the momentary diatribe above, I know that I can offer more than disability activism. The fact is that one doesn’t exclude the other. But even there, we cannot ignore that disability (as social exclusion) permeates itself in all we do:

• in how our art is interpreted,

• in how we do our work and even

• In the simplest of options such as choosing a restaurant!

The last one applies At least for me, when I have to ask in advance whether my wheelchair would get in the venue or not… or if I would be able to use the WC facilities… But I digress…

My question was: How would I describe myself in a few words, then?

Yesterday, my colleagues bought me a mug with the words “Caution: Disability Extremist” printed on the front… yes, as a joke and as one of the presents for my graduation... It had a skull and two crutches replacing the cross bones. Thoughtful…you say? OK, I was a bit irritated. But, alas, this wasn’t the much sought out answer to my question.

I guess that I have to dig deeper into my life as I try to find a meaning to all this. Not to the question, “am I a disability extremist? “But to have an adequate response to the question, “What is the point of it all?” A hard one for the day but it is Sunday...