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Showing posts from 2013

Your Office Is Over There, Just Up That Flight Of Stairs - Australian Public Service

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In the wake of recent, alarming media around employment of people with disability in the public sector, I started writing a press release. It went something like this - 'A dramatic drop in the number of people with disability employed in the public service has sparked alarm amongst disability advocates, who are calling for effective measures to resolve the situation. In 2011, 4.2% of all employees in the Western Australian Public Sector were people with a disability. In 2013, the number has plummeted to a scanty 2.6%...'Then I sat back and looked at it for a while. Sparked alarm? There hasn't been an outcry from most disability groups, despite the fact that our State Government has announced further cuts in the wake of 1200 axed public service jobs. There hasn't been any detailed analysis around what the proposal to tighten up the Disability Support Pension will do to an already fraught issue, nor whether there's a correlation between the 2012 slashing of the …

The Gimpled Table of Microaggressions

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We sometimes 'discover' concepts and words and ideas that are transplant-able from one 'sector' to another, and here's a magnificent example. There's a really cool project called 'The MicroAggression Project', where a photographer named Kiyun asked her friends to 'write down an instance of racial microaggression they have faced.'The term 'microaggression' was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to 'brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.' Sue borrowed the term from psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce who coined the term in the ’70s.If you're disabled, you'll look at the project and shout 'yes!' I don't know too many people this wouldn't resonate with...I can think of hundreds of microaggressions that people with disability …

Why We're Not Married After All

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It was the happiest day of my life. He got down on one knee and proposed to me. I couldn't say yes fast enough. Well, almost the happiest day of my life. The happiest day might have come when we actually stood before the celebrant, saying our marriage vows. You know, just like everyone else. I'd heard stories about others who had a different experience. People picketing at their wedding - did anyone picket at your wedding? And people holding their own views about me loving him - not in private, in public. Not whispered, but shouted. Even in a courtroom. Planning a wedding is an expensive exercise, but we loved doing it. Picking out what to wear, who would photograph it. Where we would get married and how we would honeymoon. It was a stressful period of time - but we loved it anyway. And on the Happiest Day, he looked into my eyes and said 'I do'. A week later, we found out we weren't married after all, because the Federal Government intervened. They sa…

Just One of the Guys

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I have this theory about language in the disability sector. After a while, everything becomes a bad word. Five years ago, 'retarded' was a commonly accepted term within the American disability community. Now it's regarded (rightly) as a slur - an awesome campaign, spread the word to end the word, has made people change their language and their attitudes. But does everything become a bad word? And why?I listen to service providers and community organisations talk about their - wait for it - clients, service users, participants - in either careful terms or in affectionate ones. Invariably, they will talk about their (intellectually disabled) clientele as 'our guys'. It got to the point where the term made me wince, and I wasn't sure why. A couple of rules for the use of the term 'our guys'. It's used indiscriminately, whether you're male or female. It is usually only applied to people with an intellectual disability or people who are in cong…

The Right To Be Fat

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I know a lot of fat people. Call it what you will. Morbidly obese, overweight. And some, downright fat. My friend Su laughs with her head thrown back at the notion that she’s a lesser woman because of her weight and drinks another Coke. She’s been known to call herself Fatty McFatfuck, thanks to the movie Ted. Su knows that she is a glorious specimen of womanhood and she will bloody well eat and drink whatever she likes, thank you very much. Clearly, Su doesn’t have a disability. If she did, her choices would probably be severely restricted – a menu of limited options. You want a Coke? Is that a good choice, Su? You know you’re watching your weight. That takeaway? Is that the best choice you can make? It’s hardly nutritious. And that shirt – well, it’s not actually appropriate, is it? We don’t want people seeing your cleavage, do we?What time are you going to go to bed tonight? Well, the attendant won’t be able to work past nine, so it looks like you’re going to have to …

Rapists, protect me.

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And herein lies an interesting discussion, a topical one on White Ribbon Day. NDS provides support to service providers. They are their stakeholders, not we people with disability, not family members. I was asked recently if I went to a consultation forum to support service providers to better prevent and respond to abuse and neglect of people with disability. It's part of an NDS national project. I have done some past work and am currently working on some projects around prevention of abuse and neglect against people with disability. Of course I didn't go. I wasn't invited. Neither were any other people with disability. In fact, the invitation was fairly clear in excluding them - - All interested disability service providers. CEOs and operational line managers would especially benefit from attending.- Representatives from disability complaint authorities and other relevant statutory bodies.- Advocacy organisations representing people with disability.- Other interest…

On Vd and 'the Divide'

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Here is an explanation of the words 'Vđ', the 'letters after my name'.It was not a name I chose for myself. It was a slur given to me by a group of people who called me and others the 'verbal disabled'.Some of us have chosen to adopt this name and wear it like a Star of David - I choose to speak my truth and turn hate speech around. I wrote that when I was really angry and hurt and upset. Unlike many other people with disability, I have not grown up being discriminated against. I have never been the subject of hate speech - not a cripple nor a retard nor a coon nor a slanteye. None of those hateful and hurtful words, because I grew up as one of us, not one of them. The other day, a young person gave me a powerful gift. She burst into tears, and sobbed with complete anguish over some bad news. She had held it together all day, but when she had finished, she cried. It made me think about how generous some people are with their emotions - it is a powerful gif…

Is This The Way We Treat Children With Disability?

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I'm a Scout leader, and at the beginning of this year, I spent three weeks in a tent in Queensland.It's not entirely easy going, living in a tent. Dirt and wheelchairs don't love each other. You can't sleep much past five am, certainly not in the summer, because the heat and humidity is untenable. Three weeks was a pretty long time - and most of my time was spent in an air conditioned office with access to amenities.That's why I read this story with abject horror.We want to do 'what' to a four year old severely disabled child?This is a photo of Nauru, where this child will be sent for offshore processing. Aid agencies describe the conditions as 'deplorable'.As an Australian, I am wholly ashamed that we treat our disabled citizens so poorly. But imagine the outrage we would feel if our government response for accommodation of OUR children were in these conditions?I look at the picture above, and it reminds me of a 1940s prison army camp.Do something.…

All The Small Things

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It's the Small Things that matter. This week, we've been having great big discussions about things that push people's buttons. Those big picture issues - institutions and sheltered workshops and special schools and who is allowed to speak on another person's behalf. The issues that make people rage and burn and spit and report other people's innocuous photos for pornography breaches to Facebook (although my topless son DOES have weird nipples). I had to stop and take a break then, because a Small Thing just happened. My daughter rang to tell me to ring Suzie at Qantas with my wheelchair height. Her number is 0282222651. The reason my daughter rang me is that one day, a disability agency booked a flight for me and they took my next of kin details and put it down as a contact detail. Shaye lives in the city, two hours away, and wouldn't have the faintest idea when and where I am flying somewhere. Why did they list her as a contact? Because the agency '…

Ishekomborera Africa

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Reading Glee's blog post about institutions this morning made me think about apartheid. You may or may not know that I lived in Africa. Post independence, in Zimbabwe - I was such an awful teenager that my mother packed me unceremoniously off to live with my godmother on a cotton farm in Shamva. True story. I was fourteen years old. Okay, the picture is hilarious. Let's just get the embarrassment out of the way. Yes, I had a mullet. I had sewn the oh-so-stylish pink dress that I am wearing, and I was on my way to church. It was 1983. I had absolutely no experience with racial discrimination. I lived in Thornlie, south of the river in WA - a boringly average suburb filled with mostly middle class white people and a few migrants. My best friend in primary school was Malaysian, and the progressive private school I attended was a bit of a melting pot of cultures. So when I landed at Harare airport and looked out the window at a sea of black faces, it was a bit of a cultur…

Who cares about a third world tragedy?

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10,000 people - a conservative estimate - die in a typhoon in the Philippines, and another million lie in the direct path in Vietnam. You'd think it would be the breaking news story. But no - the breaking news story starts off 'Tony Abbott says Australia will beat people-smugglers...'I'm wondering why it is not important that 10,000 human lives were lost. During 911, there were 3,000 Americans (and people from other countries) killed. America is about three times as far away as the Philippines. But twelve years later, we still have documentaries and memorials and televised stories about a tragedy in AmericaThink it's different because it was an act of war? I don't think so. Hurricane Katrina was eight years ago, and everyone remembers the name. 1836 people died in that tragedy. It is embedded in our consciousness - the name Katrina invokes a memory of a hurricane, the word 911 invokes not an emergency phone number but an act of terrorismYou could argue …

On Bowling and White Vans and Words (oh my)

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Here is a picture of a girl I know. Her name is Sammi. Now, think carefully before you answer. What is Sammi doing?You answered 'bowling', right?Well, in this case, you are right.But if Sammi had a disability, you might have been wrong. In the language of the service sector, you can't just go bowling. Sammi would be at an 'activity' - she'd probably get there in a white van, with a bunch of other people with disability (and some support workers, who may or may not be wearing polo shirts). It's gotten to be a bit of a joke in the disability sector, hilariously portrayed by Peter Leidy here in a song called 'Three Days A Week'.So if Sammi isn't bowling, what is she doing?She's keeping occupied and stimulated, in order to improve her quality of life. She is engaging in a shared opportunity for fun and playfulness. She is participating in an activity that encourages independence, social inclusion, communication or expression of feelings.She…

Square Pegs and Round Holes

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My sometimes job is a project called the Disability Clothesline. It's an idea I nicked from NZ - a simple arts project where people with disability create a 'story' on a teeshirt, and where our 'laundry' is hung out for everyone to see. The idea is to end the silence around violence and abuse against people with disability. You can read about it here. The other part of the project is a Facebook page, where stories about violence and abuse and neglect are routinely collected, shared and discussed. It's a gruelling task. I trawl through the Coroner's inquests and drag stories of systemic neglect and abuse into the daylight. A three or four hour stint can leave me blinking, horrified at the black-and-white accounts of murders and abuses that almost never make the news headlines. Why would they? After all, it was only a person with a disability. Story after story, horror painted upon horror. Murders by parents and deaths from institutional neglect are…

Sorry - Gotta Catch Em All

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“Would 'sorry' have made any difference? Does it ever? It's just a word. One word against a thousand actions.”― Sarah Ockler, BittersweetIn Australia, Sorry Day is an annual event to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the continent's indigenous population. The Australian government's most controversial policies resulted in an entire 'Stolen Generation' - Aboriginal children separated, often forcibly, from their families of origin in the interest of turning them into white Australians. I'm thoroughly sick and tired of the word 'sorry'. I can't begin to imagine how Aboriginal people feel about it - not about Sorry Day itself, but about the meaningless apologies that the disadvantaged receive every day. 'I'm sorry that we removed your grandmother from her family two generations ago and told her she could never see her family again or use her language or keep her identity or live at home instead of out on a mission way out…

Kiss My Disabled Ass, Sephora

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I've never posted this picture of my bolshy ass in a public forum, but I can't think of a more appropriate occasion than Sephora launching a Kat Von D lipstick in the shade 'Celebutard'. In the words of Down Syndrome Uprising - 'Kat Von D seems to think it's okay to use a MINORITY SLUR and Sephora backs her up on this.It does not seem to be clear that words 'retard', 'retarded', 'fucktard', 'tard', and 'celebutard' and all similar permutations are SLURS, the use of which signifies ignorance, disrespect, and sometimes malice.If we as a society even 'look away' we are condoning inequality as well as lack of respect. It is not hard to err on the side of respect towards a huge group of people, a large minority.Let's tell Sephora that they were perhaps ignorant, but since they are now aware of what the word signifies and what it means in a minority's struggle towards acceptance, inclusion, and equality, they a…

Behind the Ha Ha Walls

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Funny name, a Ha Ha wall. Not a funny concept. Here's your learning for the day. One of the distinctive features of both Kew Asylum and Beechworth Asylum is the use of a variation on Ha-Ha walls around the patients courtyards. These ha-has consisted of a trench, one side of which was vertical and faced with stone or bricks, the other side sloped and turfed. From the inside, the walls presented a tall face to patients, preventing them from escaping, while from outside, the walls looked low so as not to suggest imprisonment.Supposedly, we got rid of the Ha Ha walls when we decommissioned the asylums. But they're still there - man made structures that are insurmountable from the inside. I'm talking about our man made prisons - institutions, sheltered workshops and 'special things for special people'. In late 2012, two intellectually and physically disabled men, Gordon Prior and Michael Nojin, successfully scaled the Ha Ha walls and sued the government for discrim…

Neil is Everywhere - But Nobody Knows His Name

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Meet Neil. Okay, I don't know his name. I call him Neil, but I should call him Eddie Everywhere - at some point, this young man posed for a set of stock art photographs, and consequently his image is EVERYWHERE. It's on flyers and brochures and websites and leaflets and in online advertising. The reason I'm fascinated by Neil is that he has become, inadvertently, the 'face of Down Syndrome'. Without even trying. He is probably sixty by now, or dead. I look at his image and wonder if he was paid the same as other models, if he gave permission, if he was employed in a business role or knew how to use a computer or was just dressed up for a photo shoot. I wonder if he had a career as a model, or if his mother knew the photographer. And I wonder if the intention was to represent a businessman - because his image is catalogued under 'Down Syndrome' and 'disability', but not 'office' or 'businessman'. Don't get me wrong - I like …

Twenty Six Years

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I'll start with an apology to Shaye, who hates anyone taking or using her photo, and an instruction. You are the most beautiful girl alive, so it's about time you embraced that, friend. Embrace :D Nobody gets knocked up at eighteen any more. Well, maybe in very small country towns. Like any eighteen year old mother, I was pretty surprised to discover that we were going to have a baby. Unlike a lot of eighteen year old mothers, I was thrilled. Peter and I had been living together for a while and we were in a committed relationship. And we were both genuinely thrilled - although we had no intention of getting married, I changed my name by deed poll so that the baby wouldn't have a different surname from her dad. I started sewing - yes, hard to believe, isn't it? - and making tiny cross stitch gumnut baby things. Pretty clucky, all in all. And so the most adored child in the world was born. Shaye Louise Connor, named for my friend Louise who had died just over a ye…

This Is What Inclusion Looks Like

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I love it when the stars collide. As I write this post, there is a vigorous (and sometimes murderous) conversation going on about inclusion on my facebook wall. An idea was touted by a frustrated parent to 'make a parent a hero for the day' by inviting a special needs kid over these holidays. The idea was greeted with varying degrees of horror - do we have to pay people off to make them act like human beings? 'Put yourself in our place. Would you want someone to be made a "hero" cos they had a coffee with you? It is patronising and will not assist us to be seen as equal,' Glenda says. (You can read about Glenda's thoughts about Ableism here - a thoroughly recommended read.)But through the molotov cocktails, I could hear the anguish of people who are isolated by attitudes and geography and disadvantage and disability - we have that in common. Rewind back to last night. I went to a friend's house - her son had invited my son over for a sleepover and s…

Mind the Gap

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I’ve never been more aware of the gap – really, a yawning chasm - between some areas of the disability sector as I am now. Last week, I went to a disability sector event in Sydney. It was accessible – accessible to the point of hilarity, because it was at the Human Rights Commission. Graeme Innes and a bunch of other advocates have redeveloped the lift car system, and consequently the under educated and sighted now fumble blindly for a familiar system that is not there, queuing like Pavlov’s dogs and wondering why the lift is speaking to us. There were a lot of disabled people there – and apart from a dearth of accessible toilets, everything seemed to go pretty smoothly. We worked together on a national plan against violence, people mostly had insightful and articulate contributions and there was a real sense of community and commonality shared by most of the attendees. The highlight for me was at the end – where people rejected what had been foisted upon them (a refusal by govern…

Five Really Good Reasons To Start A Blog

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There has to be at least five, right? That confronting sea of white space isn't any less confronting if it's on an easel or in front of you in a brand new moleskin notebook.My art lecturer always told me to make the first mark, no matter how daunting it is - to draw big, wildly scrawling patterns and marks that made no sense at all. But it's somehow harder to do with words - you're tempted to go backwards, regurgitate thoughts and ideas you've had in the past, put them down for posterity. A stupid idea and the enemy of creativity.First resolution, then - to leave old things behind. And the second - to come up with five really good reasons to start a blog.Are you ready?One - There are important things that need to be said. They're the things I care about - injustice, especially around very vulnerable people, like people with disability. Left of centre thinking, because the way to build power is through creativity and reasoning. And art, because the day we…