Is ‘Legalese’ a Defence?

Is something ‘right’ simply because it is legal? This question has been bugging me immensely recently; particularly from a disability perspective.
So often I hear someone saying “person with a disability” and it gets my blood boiling. When I ask them not to use that phrase in front of me, they defend themselves by citing the fact that ‘person with disability’ is the term used in South Africa’s legislation. In other words, they are using the ‘correct’ legal term and I should just get over myself. While, yes, ‘person with disability’ is a valid phrase in disability circles, I have a deep-seated objection to it as I find it deeply offensive. While my disability does not define me, I am defined by it.
At 21, I feel like I’m pretty secure in my identity. I know what I like; I know what I don’t. There are some moments I wish disability didn’t feature in my life but I’d be deceiving myself to deny its impact on my life. For better or worse, Cerebral Palsy is a part of me. For me to deny my whole identity because of the fact that CP might affect the way I carry off wearing a suit because I’m in a wheelchair is just as daft as if I were to ignore the disability altogether. Just because I’m disabled does not mean that my life ends. By the same token, I’m aware of the ways that my disability shaped my sense of self.
This fluid, somewhat-paradoxical relationship between selfhood and disability is precisely why ‘person with disability’ doesn’t sit right with me. As I’ve argued some time ago, this phrase doesn’t pay tribute to the extent disability can be something fundamental to your identity. Instead, it separates the person (and, by extension, their ‘personhood’) from their disability. Rather than acknowledging how disability is one cornerstone to your identity, the phrase implies that disability is some external force which happens to you. I vehemently oppose this idea. While you could argue that ‘person with disability’ allows for the distinction between disability as your identity and just a part of it, the implication that you are some passive entity on which the ‘external’ acts disregards the nuanced relationship between Disabled and Disability.
Given my objections to certain terms, does a politico-commercial entity have the right to dictate which terms I use? Can my employer ‘demand’ I use a particular phrase in my writing even if it is something I have an extreme political objection to? I don’t think so. I say this for two reasons: first, a legal term doesn’t necessarily consider the nuances of a situation has they have to be rigidly defined; second, there is absolutely no way rejecting ‘person with a disability’ would substantially change the content of what I’m saying. Other than the fact that ‘person with disability’ is a convention in some areas of society, there is no reason why ‘disabled person’ could not convey exactly the same meaning.
That said, an easy counter-argument would be that an organisation’s convention which should be obeyed. In this context, then, should you switch to their desired terminology? It may be a convention, be it dictated by legislation or otherwise, does not negate the term being offensive to some. In my case, I have a political and moral objection to the phrase ‘person with a disability.’ For me to bow to convention, then, would require me to break with my own morality. No matter the context, one should never surrender morals simply for convention’s sake. Just because South Africa’s legislation uses ‘person with disability’ does not mean that my moral objection to it is any less valid. While I can accept that some may accept this phrase by virtue of the fact that it is the legal construct, I am not one of them. More importantly, I will not allow its status as ‘the legal term’ to force me to back down from my beliefs.
Should we be precluded from identifying ourselves the way we see fit and for that identification to be recognised by others simply because it doesn’t align with a socio-legal construct? I think not. Do you?

Why I am Not ‘Differently-abled’

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.

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How Do You React to Disabled Parking?

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:

  1. 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?

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Parking Wars: The QASA Help Line

As I pointed out in an earlier post, these bays do matter and it shouldn’t be used without a legitimate reason regardless of how long it is being occupied for.

As you no doubt have noticed from earlier posts, I have a particular issue with people parking in Disabled Bays illegally. While the response to the issue is usually great, there are times when the response is… less than ideal. Helped in no small part by my obsessiveness, things can get pretty heated when these issues aren’t resolved. Naturally, this causes a lot of anxiety, (un)necessary agro, etc. Luckily, a friend suggested I contact the QuadPara Association’s Whatsapp Hotline.

The hotline was released in 2014 as a way to combat ‘the problem’ and, on the whole, has been working effectively – at least when I’ve used it. While dealing with these issues is never fun, the hotline at least becomes a vehicle (pun intended) to reduce the energy, anxiety, and stress that the other methods of reporting lead to. What’s more, the hotline provides a safer medium in which to challenge this problem of illegal parking.

Please don’t crucify me for this, other ‘Parking Warriors,’ but the parking is not the issue. Frankly, if you have a real, justifiable reason for parking in a Disabled Bay I’m not too fussed. My problem comes in with the sentiment that often goes hand-in-hand with it: ‘I’m only stopping a minute’ or ‘It doesn’t matter.’

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My ‘3 Buzzwords’ on Disability Sensitisation

**To my more regular readers: I know a lot of the ideas today have been mentioned before but, I think these issues bear repeating. All the same, enjoy the reading.

For those of you familiar with South Africa, you’d know our track record with regards to disability isn’t the greatest. That said, there are organisations like the Chaeli Campaign or the Altitude Group that strive to improve the lives of disabled people.

Yesterday, I found myself being taken to a school in Cape Town through work so as to help out with an introduction to ‘Disability Sensitivity Training.’ I think it went well (even if I do say so myself). I was caught relatively off-guard when work asked me to do this so a lot of the stuff I said I had to do off-the-cuff. Looking back at the hastely-sketched argument I made, some of the points I made I feel are worth repeating: my ‘3 Buzzwords on Disability in Society’ if you will.

1. Subjectivity

While the nature of a person’s disability is more-or-less unique, one should be aware of the basic characteristics (for want of a better word) of the common disabilities at the very least. That said, the way disability affects a person is largely subjective. Since a person’s life is highly subjective, we should not presume that all disabled people’s needs are identical. No two people are exactly alike, why should a disability remove our individuality?

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Does Being in a Wheelchair Deserve Pity?

With news of Jerry Lewis’s death flying around on Social Media, I became aware of his statement, “[If] you don’t want to be pitied as a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in ya home” through a tweet from Emma Ladau. Regardless of context, this kind of thinking makes me sadder than I can express.

I was born with a physical disability and have spent several years of my life in a wheelchair. Does that make me deserving of pity? Yes, disability has been a part of my life and will be forever. There’s nothing I can do to change that. While disability is part of my identity, it is not the only thing that makes me who I am.

When I think of what defines me, the first things that pop into my head is that I value friends and family above everything, I’m a Literature fan, and that I’m doing what I love. Only after all those things do ‘disabled’ or ‘wheelchair-user’ make an appearance. Yes, being a wheelchair-user comes with some challenges but life is full of them. Should one be pitied because they have challenges when, if we’re honest, everyone has challenges of their own? I think not.

Because of the fact that I was born with a disability, my disability and my wheelchair by extension, cannot be removed from my identity.  That said, it is true that some people do see disability (particularly physical ones as they are often the most visible) as ‘pitiful.’ Does that mean that my identity, either in part or as a whole, is pitiful?

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Disability Discrimination at UCT

So… Let’s hope I can make this a little less ranty than I have with my last few posts.

I’m not entirely too sure what it was exactly that pushed UCT’s Disability Service to publish this but I’m glad they did all the same. I’d like to think that it had something to do with my most recent FaceBook rant regarding the unreliable lifts but I’m not going to be cocky and think that I was the one to push them into making their post public.

The post was a stark awakening to the discrimination and other injustices UCT’s Disabled Community faces. Even as a member of the aforementioned population group, I was unaware of this. I knew there was discrimination to the disabled community, just not at this extent.

I hope that their post, coupled with the protestations of the Disabled Community, both in and outside of the university, raise the necessary awareness for something to be done about these despicable acts

-A.