Blogging Against Disablism
I've been thinking about my general ideas of what disability means to me.
The word itself seems negative (to me anyway) - and I feel that the ways in which society labels different groups is generally a negative thing. But I generally subscribe to the social model of disability and at the same time believe that we shouldn't ignore the realities of disability either.
It is obvious that society is set up for people who can walk, hear, see and are able to be completely independent. For me, announcements, people talking behind me, people not facing me or covering their mouths when talking or mumbling, really affect my ability to be able to know what is happening around me.
I rely on using my eyes and what hearing I have (amplified with digital hearing aids) to be able to see what is happening around me. Even family and friends sometimes forget to be inclusive for me - and turn away, cover their mouths or talk to quickly (or when trying TOO hard, too slowly).
Its a constant source of frustration when I can't express my opinions about things because the conversation is moving too fast. I feel much more comfortable in one to one conversations than with quick banter or chat between three or more people. Sometimes I wish that everyone I know knew at least a basic knowledge of sign language, which sometimes really helps me to relax and rest my eyes (as lipreading is very tiring).
My manfriend knows some signs and the alphabet, which has been very helpful for me, and when with my friends Lucy and Charlene (who are also deaf), we use sign language as well as speech (Charlene is completely BSL so doesn't use speech but slows things down for me). I can't follow fast BSL (British Sign Language) but I have picked up a lot of signs and have taken my Stage 1 BSL exam.
I was a member of Chickenshed Theatre Company for 11 years up until I did my second year of A-Levels. They are the most inclusive microcosm of society that I have ever experienced. Their policy is that theatre, dance and music should be accessible to everyone. My longing (and their longing) is that society itself should be inclusive and accepting, no matter anyone's ability, race, gender, whatever.
They refuse to use the word 'disability' because it causes divisions and distinctions and prefer to work with what abilities and strengths people have, rather than excluding people 'because they can't do something' - if that makes sense? I WISH society would do that. Not exclude people but work with their strengths and develop people's skills rather than believing that an individual CAN'T do something because, for example, doctors and popular opinion says they can't.
I've seen first hand what people can do if they are given the tools to do it. I've seen wonders at Chickenshed and many of the people there feel that Chickenshed is the only place they can be themselves, gain confidence and achieve whatever they want.
I think I owe a lot to Chickenshed - especially in terms of my sister who is now doing the BTEC there (she's deaf too), and has gained so much confidence. I feel that having been there, I've seen what it is possible, maybe, for society to be if it was accepting and inclusive. I know, people may think I'm being a 'cheerleader', especially if they haven't experienced a Chickenshed show or been to the theatre.
The Arts council have been particularly galling with Chickenshed - they refuse to fund or support them because they don't see the company as a professional, inclusive theatre. They want Chickenshed to call itself, or see themselves as a 'disabled' theatre! They've been doing what they do for many years, which is include everyone, like I've said. This doesn't just apply to people that society see as 'disabled'. It means everyone - regardless of background and so on. The Arts Council like to 'label' everything into their neat little boxes - exactly like society likes to do.
I think feminism and disability rights/inclusivity are important for me, because I've always had to be a strong woman, a strong person, to cope with what society throws at you, both as a 'disabled' person and as a woman. I feel that the important causes in life are ones that put fire in your belly, that enrage you and make you feel that change is needed. I think I'm very idealistic - but I think this is positive as you always need to be able to see beyond reality and be optimistic.
It makes me feel that there is some hope in the world - especially with places like Chicken Shed existing; no matter what the rest of the world believe about you, there are always people out there that give a damn.