Hey guys… you still there?… um… this is awkward…
As any of my usual readers would notice, I’ve not been around much (or at all) over the last few weeks. It’s just been the start of the academic year at UCT and the beginning of my final year of my Undergraduate Degree so the work, social life, series, naps, and whatever else you’d expect a usual Cape Town student to get up to has been keeping me busy. Well, that and also the fact that every time I’ve come up with a post idea recently I either feel it needs a bit more work or it fizzles out into nothingness.
Now that I’m back into the swing of things, I finally feel comfortable publishing my nonsense again. Yay for you (assuming you actually like the blog). While I might have had to dig myself out of the woodwork recently, that doesn’t change the fact that I am still at a loss largely about a topic for the next few blog posts. To make up for this, then, I thought I should sketch an outline of what I’m planning so that you actually know what to expect and I have a list of ideas to refer back to in future.
Collaboration with Diary of a Disabled Person
We did it again.
I came across an article recently written by Virali Modi on Slate.com outlining some of her experiences about being in a wheelchair. I know that I’ve explained why I’m in a wheelchair, how I think slightly differently as a result, and how it affects my daily living but what I don’t feel I’ve explained well enough is how my being in a wheelchair makes me feel different… in good ways and bad.
As with anything, the wheelchair has its ups and its downs. In my previous post, Just How Much Does the Wheelchair Affect my Daily Living?, I told you that the wheelchair is something I don’t consciously think about that often and that I often ‘see’ myself as standing until there is something that makes it obvious to me (like a bookshelf being too high). While all of that is true, I have become more aware of other little things that I realise behave slightly differently as a result of the chair since I published that article. Since I designed the blog to be a medium for me to express my opinions and experiences on life with a disability, I feel I should provide an update to the original article. So here goes…
1. I’m always seated
Although I’ve been disabled for my entire life, the wheelchair has only been part of my life for the past five or so years. Even when I wasn’t in a wheelchair, though, the nature of how I ‘walked’ was largely based on ‘hanging’ from my arms. In other words, I never truly stood. While I never stood properly (in the sense of weight-bearing through my feet and legs) I was still verticle.
Now some years down the line of being in a wheelchair, I still find myself using words like ‘walking’ or ‘standing’ when referring to what I’m doing. It’s just part of my vocabulary and I don’t notice myself using it until the person I’m talking to has a decidedly puzzled look on their face. Once the initial confusion subsides, however, they don’t seem to mind it too much.
More and more these days, there is a growing need for political correctness – be it with respect to race, sexuality, gender, or disability. The shift from the archetypal, misogynistic, narrow-minded approach is a movement I wholeheartedly support. To support a changing paradigm, though, does not exclude you from being able to disagree with elements that develop as a result of the emerging paradigm. The use of the term ‘differently-abled,’ which is gaining popularity in the Cape Town Disabled Community if not internationally as one of the alternatives to ‘disabled,’ is something I disagree with. Before you delete the website and stop reading the blog, at least give me the next couple of minutes to outline why it is I find myself repeatedly disagreeing with the shift from ‘disabled’ to ‘differently-abled.’
While I might not agree with the term, there is a lot to be said for the ‘differently-abled’ argument. One of the strongest arguments I’ve heard in its defence, in fact, was that it acknowledges the different strengths and weaknesses in individuals, thereby highlighting what disabled individuals can do rather than what they can. The reason behind the term – as a way of highlighting what one can do as opposed to what they can’t – is something that I like about it. The problem, for me, comes primarily in the fact that while it acknowledges the strengths versus weaknesses argument, ‘differently-abled’ does not do enough to acknowledge the significant physical, emotional, and psychological limitations that a disability places on an individual just by the nature of its existence. These added limitations can be, and often are, severely limiting and disabling to the individual they effect. While I personally prefer ‘disabled’ as it does not shy away from the negatives that are natural attributes of the phenomenon, I really do appreciate the way in which ‘differently-abled’ emphasises the positive attributes of an individual. While ‘differently-abled’ might highlight the positive attributes of a person, I do not feel that the term is sufficient enough to communicate the dramatic impact of disability. For me, ‘differently-abled’ just sugar-coats disability a little too much for my taste.
It’s been a month since I’ve last interacted with you on the blog but, yeah, life happens and all that jazz. Among all of the other commitments at the moment, I also seemed to have contracted a case of writer’s block – as one of my favourite childhood, fictional characters, Adrian Mole, would have said, “Just my luck.”
Recently, though, I’ve been feeling particularly creative so I should be back on the ‘blogging band wagon’ soon. Since my brain is deciding to give me the silent treatment on The Disability Diaries front, I feel like opening up my content up to my readers. If you want to know my thoughts etc. on a particular topic feel free to e-mail me, reach out on the FaceBook, Instagram or Twitter accounts.
Considering it is near midnight in Cape Town at the moment, I don’t think I will be able to accurately discuss some of the ideas that finally began swimming around my head at the moment. I decided to write this post tonight just to keep The Disability Diaries alive and well while I begin drafting the new posts.
Don’t hesitate to contact me if there is anything you want to know about me.
Bye for now and here’s to a wonderful new year,
In what way does my acknowledgment of you, my desire to engage with you, and my getting out of bed make me worthy of congratulations? Why does my going about my business get special acknowledgment? What really makes me different? Yes, I have a disability but am I not entitled to a life outside of bed? Can I not function in society without having my day-to-day life being cheapened by having it reduced to little more than ‘inspiration porn’ for the ‘normals?’
On three days ago I went for a drink with a new friend, Sané, at the Baxter Theatre. We had a wonderful time. In fact, in the three hours or so that we were there (save the fact I accidentally broke a glass) nothing could have gone better. Since I lived literally a few streets away from the Theatre we both decided to go back to my house so that Sané could meet my two Golden Retrievers. The idea seemed simple enough, I’d done longer trips in my wheelchair. More to the point: I’d gotten myself to the Baxter in my wheelchair unaided – the trip was more than manageable. So when we decided that we’d walk back to the house it was less a chore for me so much as it was another day.
I’ve had a disability my entire life and I fail to see any way in which this makes me ‘special’ or ‘fascinating’ beyond the fact that the methods I use are different to a lot of other people. When we think about the extent to which we (as humans) differ from others on an individual level my ‘different approach,’ in fact, is not so ‘different’ after all. I’m just being me.
Thanks to bizarre social constructs that give off a signal that I am ‘weaker’ and ‘less able’ than others and my achieving basic, full engagement with society is worthy of congratulation. These constructs literally suggest that my going out to buy milk from the local is a medal-worthy feat. I’ve never had much direct exposure to this beyond little children. My evening with Sané, however, proved to be the first major, and most obvious, experience of being characterised as ‘inspiration porn.’
If you’ve been following the blog’s Facebook page and/or the Twitter accounts, you most likely have seen my question about how we, both individually and as a society, react to illegal parking in disabled bays. Looking back and the post-history for the blog, I’ve discussed the mentality issues surround the ‘illegal parking issue’ but I don’t think I’ve adequately investigated different society’s reactions to the problem. I’m genuinely interested in how different people deal with a vehicle parked in a disabled bay illegally. At the same time, I’d like to understand what methods your society takes to combat the issue both practically and ideologically.
Leaving aside what we’ve discussed, I think it’s time I tell you how South Africa reacts to the issue as I’ve experienced it. While there are some individuals and organisations (like QASA or UCT’s Traffic Department) who do amazing work to combat the issue, something I’ve seen often at the places I visit are ridiculously low fines and/or the institutions not taking the issue seriously. Take a look at what I see as the three biggest ‘reaction problems’ I’ve experienced in South Africa:
Really low fines
OK, maybe it’s just the places I go to often but I’ve come across places who either issue fines that I think are ridiculously low by comparison to other countries. I can’t speak about anywhere else in South Africa since I’ve only lived in Cape Town but I still think it is worth pointing this out.
I don’t go everywhere in Cape Town so this might not be a complete picture of how it truly is but this is supposed to be my experiences so… yeah. A lot of the places I’ve come across, have a ‘clamp and release’ policy and the release fee is roughly between R150-R500 (the equivalent of $7-$35 or £5-£27 at the current exchange rate). I’ve heard of café bills that are larger. Surely, if the goal is preventing someone from doing this again, the fines should hurt significantly? Or am I unreasonable?
It’s exam season at UCT so blogging has, obviously, taken a backseat. That said, it’s time for another entry – if for no other reason procrastination.
I was checking The Disability Diaries Facebook Page (which I just you go and like now… go on, I’ll wait) and I re-found the cover photo I uploaded a while back. It raises a point that I think deserves some rehashing: “I may walk, talk, and move differently than you do, but on the inside I’m not so different.”
Disability doesn’t discriminate; people do.
People have been discriminating against each other for centuries. Perhaps, there is nothing more ‘natural’ than discriminating against others and holding yourself ‘superior.’ That does not make it right. While Darwinian Theory maintains that we are animals, humans generally like to separate themselves from the other animals and often see themselves as ‘higher-order beings’ – in essence, separate themselves from nature. What could be more ‘unnatural’ than fighting against instinct?
To those of you who say it is impossible to fight instinct, I say bah humbug. It is not ‘natural’ or ‘instinctual’ for a dog to sit on command when a person instructs it to, it is a trained response to a verbal/visual cue. The fact that an animal’s natural response can be controlled to a degree through conditioning, regardless of the animal’s species, proves that it is possible to manipulate original understanding. With this in mind, then, I do not see how humans cannot control the ‘natural urges’ to discriminate.