Wednesday, 25 March 2015

National Disability Summit fails to provide access or inclusion for people with disability

The National Disability Summit has been the subject of a second round of negative social media attention after it was revealed that Deborah Haygarth, a speaker at the summit, who is a power-chair user had to be carried onto the stage as there was no ramp access. 
See later in this post for how people with disability were perviously excluded.

(Deborah Haygarth getting carried off the inaccessible stage. Photo credit: Jarrod Marrinon)

I was in the audience to witness this and as a wheelchair user myself I was appalled.

I watched as Deborah wheeled herself towards the stage and saw the four stairs up to the stage.  I expected a ramp to appear from somewhere. When one didn’t appear I waited for apologies from the summit organisers into the microphone. None were forthcoming.

Deborah was carried on stage by two people. She spoke eloquently about her experience of the NDIS in the Barwon trial site. Deborah was then carried off stage again at the end of the pannel.

Why was there no ramp access at a disability summit?!

This lack of access is a visual reminder that as people with disabilities we are not really thought of as important, that our needs are an after thought, which can be remedied by a ‘sorry we forgot’. This is not good enough.

There were 133 people who attended the summit this year.

7 of them were people with disability


5 were family members or carers 

12 people, 7 with disability, is not anywhere near an adequate amount of inclusion of people with disability as the issues which affect our lives are being discussed and decided upon.   

7 people with disability is not how many people Informa, the summit organisers promised would be allowed to attend.

Let me explain.

I was in the media in the lead up to the summit when I was denied attendance of the conference despite purchasing a ticket. 

My full post and outcome can be seen HERE

After my post gained some social media attention Informa released a statement saying:

''There is a limited number of tickets left, however the people with disabilities who have been placed on a 'waiting list' will receive tickets. The summit re-confirmed the attendance of speakers throughout the two days and some additional places have been made immediately available as a result. We are discussing options with the venue to increase the number of seats available.’’

I expected this to mean that more then 7 people with disability would get to attend. I thought we’d had a victory and would really be included both on and off stage.

I was to be disappointed.

The seating options for the people with disability at the summit were another area of exclusion, this was done so in such a way that we were made to feel as though we didn’t belong and were not part of the audience.

People with disabilities were seated off to the side at ‘special tables’ not with everyone else. When I pushed my way into the front row with everyone else, the organisers reluctantly removed chairs and looked uncomfortable.

The speakers might have to look at a person with a disability as they talk about people with disabilities.

Surely it is better for everyone if we are off to the side and out of the way?!

Other access issues which highlighted a lack of inclusion were:

The accessible toilet was filled with chairs and used as a storage space in the week leading up to the conference.

(photo credit: Jarrod Marrinon)

The food provided was up on really tall tables to us wheelchair users could not access it.

There was one speaker who has a disability, Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum AO as well as Deborah. 

No one else who lives the experience of disability directly was invited to give voice to our issues.

I am tired. 

I am tired of having to fight for my right to be able to have basic access and inclusion requirements met! That is occurred in 2015 at a disability summit is an outrage!

Its 2015. Its time for change.

Its suppose to be a new age of real inclusion for people with disability under the NDIS.  

I don’t want to hear your ‘we’re sorry, we forgot'. That’s just no longer good enough. I want to see action and real inclusion. This starts with being invited to attend and paid to speak at disability summits on issues which directly effect our lives as people with disability. It starts with ramp access to accessible stages!

It is these things which lead to a real change in attitudes towards people with disability.  We need to be included and provided full access to attend these important events! 

Nothing about us, without us!

What would an accessible and inclusive world for people with disability really look like?

Lets stop dreaming about it. Let’s demand it!

Disability rights means inclusion and access at every level. 

Its time for change. Its time for real inclusion. Not tomorrow. Now! 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The mark of a strong woman is a strong opinion!

I have a secret
I get turned on by intersections—
It’s not the flashing lights or
The little green and red men
The swish of fast cars,
Or the rhythmic beep, beep, beep,
Commanding me to cross.

No, it’s right under your feet.
You miss it, walk all over it
Oblivious to its eroticism.
It does nothing for bodies like yours
But mine…
It sends vibrations all over me,
Up and down my spine.

It’s for the blind they say, that’s the official line;
the little bumps, telling innocently of an intersection, a curb.
But us wheelchair using crips
know its erotic underside, 
why, it’s a federally-funded public vibrator,
a DIY sex toy just begging for use.

It takes all by self-control not to casually move
my chair back and forth beside you
Rolling myself ever so slowly over…
and over…
those little round raised circles,
As we wait like good upstanding citizens for the lights to change

Or on the platform for the train,
oh train stations were built just to titillate and tempt us
with their entire raised rows
circles of sensuality 
highlighted in yellow
just asking
to be taken
under my wheels.

You’ll never see a cripple crossing the road in the same way again
and feel compelled offer unsolicited assistance
knowing now what your surprise push from behind is really assisting in

It doesn’t take much to be seen as a misbehaving woman when you have a disability, anything which highlights sex and disability tends to make people uncomfortable and places me squarely outside of expectations.

The mark of a strong woman is a strong opinion!

I have been reflecting on this particularly over the last year, after having a few memorable public differences of opinion with the feminist, queer and disability communities.
It has taken me years to get to a point where I can hold a strong opinion which is at odds with someone publicly and not feel as though I am ‘wrong’ but instead see the value in debating and pulling apart what we think on a topic and why.

A strong opinion is an act of resistance in a society that tells women in a myriad of ways we are not entitled to have one, that we must be liked at all costs.

We have been indoctrinated as women, and particularly as women with disabilities, to be nice and polite, to not take up space with our ideas or our bodies.

We are discouraged from asserting what we think, what we need and want, as this is seen inconsiderate or selfish or rude, as women we must always put others needs above our own.

As a queer woman with a disability I know this all to well. It was drummed into my non-normative body and mind all through childhood that I must be nice, and nice meant agreeable.

Being different, standing out or up for myself was not encouraged by society.

It would mark me out as different even more and I would not be liked.

So now at 31 when I find myself in queer, feminist or disability circles and debating issues or exploring my lived experience which can be different to those around me I try to find the value in disagreement, the things we can learn from each other when we have the courage to take a stand, to know our own mind, to disagree passionately, and in so doing puzzle out why we hold our ideas more deeply.

I think as part of marginalised communities we can become frightened of appearing as disunited, of feeling more disconnected or alone then we already do that we can fail to really change others within our communities and really engage with opposing views.
See here is the thing. We don’t all have to agree.
We don’t even have to all be friends, or get along and we don’t have to be sweet and nice about it.

Just because we share an oppression doesn’t mean that we will like each other.
I don’t share the exact some experience as you and that’s ok. We are still both feminists, and have the experience of gendered oppression and a dive to over throw the patriarchy.
We must create time and spaces where when we have the energy we can debate with each other and explore the things which are outside of our own experience but intrinsic to the other person. 

So I’m practicing exercising my strong opinions and letting myself be challenged, and changed I am trying to be bold and brash, even a little rude and forthright.
I am trying to embody a sense self-confidence which is seen as assertiveness in men and rudeness in women.

I am becoming ok with speaking my truth, even if it renders me unintelligible to others because I am responding in a way that they weren’t expecting and don’t know how to comprehend.

So the next time a stranger asks ‘What is wrong with you?’ as an opening question in a conversation and you would be surprised how often this happens, I am going to use my favourite one-liner and say ‘I got whip lash…from my vibrator’ and wheel away.
Well behaved women seldom make history, but misbehaved women don’t always either
but we sure as hell have a lot more fun and lead interesting and challenging lives.

I am proud of my body and my strong opinions.

And I am not saying sorry for being who I am