Tuesday 1 May 2012

Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012 - Intro

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012 For an audio version, either stream using the player below, or click here for the MP3 file.

I've been thinking about trolls lately; those Scandinavian beasts of mythology.  Blame it on my recent viewing of the fabulous Troll Hunter, a sharp comedy which is very much worth watching.  But that's not quite what I want to write about on this, Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012.

I believe strongly that we live our lives through the rules of stories.  Fables, religious texts, soap operas - they all use story to teach us about events we may face through sometimes heavily veiled yet strongly appropriate examples.  As we grow, the stories continue.  We've seen in the last few years a massive increase in the number of newspaper headlines denigrating the disabled.  With them has come a number of set stories - the person claiming benefits who runs a marathon, the blue badge user who drives a Merc, the heroic military amputee overcoming injury...

This makes it very difficult to be a normal disabled person.  That might sound silly - obviously no disabled person has an easy life...I mean, they're disabled.  But, when you're new to it all, looking into this mass of negative stereotypes, how can you assume that identity with a good heart?  It'd be like an electrician watching 'When Cowboy Tradespeople Make Old Ladies Cry' only to exclaim after the first grief stricken segway into advert break 'I'm a tradesperson too!'.

There was a documentary last year - Katie and Her Beautiful Friends.  The documentary looked at people who had various disfigurements.  The idea was that Katie helped these people to grow and become confident and assume a position as ambassador to other people dealing with disfigurement.  There were some great people on there, but none who would (at least on screen) identify as disabled*.  How could they?  The position they were aiming to fill has nothing to do with the story of disability we currently see everywhere.  These people were going out, facing the world, working and achieving.  Admirable achievements, to be sure.  But it precludes them from the story of disability.

I recently had a reply to a letter I sent to a member of parliament.  I will keep it (and their name) private, but at the end of said letter, the MP said

In order to better public perceptions of disability, you need to get out and about and show the world how great you are.

I paraphrase to make it significantly less long winded.  But the message is clear.  Disability in the traditional storybook sense is not appropriate.  We hide away in the dark.  We are trolls - not human, not attractive, not worthwhile.  The only way we can be worthy of not being abused (which was the point I'd made in my letter) is to recreate who we are by flinging aside any impediment and parading through the streets, bursting into song and, preferably, saving small kittens from trees whilst climbing the nearest mountain.

I disagree.  Rather than change who we are (which is impossible...) we need to change the stories.  We need to rewrite the nursery rhymes.  They are the foundation block of all narrative we use today (including newspaper headlines, government statements, etc) and how we learn morality.  And all of this is, I believe, a moral issue.

So in my second post (I thought I should break them up to save you from overload) I will rewrite the Troll Fairytale.  I suggest you print out a copy for any passing parents you see.

*it's important to note, of course, that this might have nothing to do with the people involved.  It's entirely possible that this was done in editing.  It's also important to say how much good the people and the programme did.  It's just a shame that their positive story isn't really related to disability, even though some of the injuries are certainly physically disabling and, of course, that societal reactions to disfigurement are, and always has been, disabling.


  1. This explains the reluctance people have to use the term "disabled" for themselves. I've seen that resistance even in myself and been horrified to realize it was there. There's a fear to call myself disabled because of all the negative baggage that goes along with it for people.

    Of course, as a writer, I'm right there with you in terms of changing the stories!

  2. Stephen, I couldn't agree more. I'm so glad there are so many talented people working to change the stories, and hope, one day, to be a bigger part of that as well.

  3. @Ruth - I'd hoped you'd enjoy it, given your profession :) As for your own reluctance, I hope you feel that withering away and that you'll be more comfortable in future. I know about your disability, but you're also the same as everyone else. Except not everyone writes so nicely :)

    @NTE - I'm sure that your BADD post has already been a big part of the revolution in thought. Don't underestimate yourself :)

  4. I have physical disabilities, and I've never been afraid to identify myself as having them...I actually prefer saying, "I have disabilities" (but not "I'm disabled") over all the "softened-up" ways of saying it ("physically challenged", " has physical impairments", "differently abled", that sort of thing"). I'm not sure exactly why...I guess I figure that I *do* have disabilities, and I might as well call a spade a spade. I don't see anything particularly negative about the word (although I do understand that it does have have negative connotations attached to it in some circles)...I guess I haven't really cared enough to let it bother me.

    Thanks for letting me ramble. Off to read your troll story now! Like Ruth, as a writer, I believe that changing the stories is essential...