I attended the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association awards of the Victorian branch on Saturday. As always it was a lavish affair and a great time was had by all. I am not much for the awards part, though I have enormous respect for all the winners, but I love the floor show and catching up with everyone. On Saturday there was an 8 inch comedienne telling disability jokes. OK! Stella Young is slightly taller than 8 inches but she is very short and gets about in a wheelchair. She also pokes fun at societies attitude towards disability. Some of us thought it was hilarious others cringed and let their jaws drop. In particular Ms Young poked fun at labels – you know special needs, differently-abled, handicapped – all these labels, largely made up by non disabled, that are designed to take the stigma out of disability and paradoxically do the exact opposite.
Ms Young told an hilarious story about how she had never been asked for a ticket on a bus or a train. She would get on trains and ticket inspectors would just walk past her. Being 8 inches tall and in a wheelchair it is very hard not to notice her. She claimed it was her lifelong ambition to get a fine. She wanted to be fined just like everyone else who gets caught for not buying a ticket. One day the inspector passed her by so she called out, hoping to draw attention to the fact, that she didn’t have a ticket. The inspector came back and gave her one. It is Ms Young’s ability to poke fun at society attitudes and her self that makes her so very funny. Incredibly UN-PC, but extremely funny.
For me the fascination with coming up with PC labels for disability groups is one of my pet gripes. If people spent half as much time focusing on changing perceptions, promoting the skill-set that people with a disability have or explaining just how much the disability economy contributes financially to Australia as they do trying to come up with a non-offensive labels then people with disabilities might make progress. Instead they debate, ad-infinitum, whether to put the person before the disability, or to take the dis out of disability, whether to say differently-abled or my all time un-favourite – people with differing abilities. These attempts at political correctness make me cringe.
I am reminded of a wonderful old man that had lost his hearing. A group of us were discussing whether to use the terms deaf, hearing impaired or hard of hearing. Of course we all know Deaf with a capital D refers to members of the Deaf community, which is fine as it refers to their identity. But what of the others who largely see their hearing loss as a pain in the proverbial. My view is pick one and be done with it. But of course people have different views. By and large, later deafened adults (another label) in Australia prefer the term hearing impaired. The Deaf community in Australia are trying to impose the term hard of hearing on them because this is what is recognised by the World federation of the Deaf. The old man who I referred to was having none of it – “Look!”, he said, “I don’t know about you but my hearing loss in no way arouses me.” There was a stunned silence as people in the room tried to make sense of what he had just said. The penny dropped and, as one, the room cracked up laughing . What this highlights is that one persons PC is often another’s UN-PC. It is an un-winnable debate and takes up far too much time and energy.
I am writing this because someone on Saturday, at the awards, described The Rebuttal as UN-PC. It made me wonder if we actually are. Is it UN-PC to want to create debate and challenge or institutions? Granted some of what we write has the potential to be divisive but is talking about it UN-PC? Is using humour and satire UN-PC? Should we worry too much about sensibilities and tone it down? Would doing so create as much discussion if we did? That is the crux of the matter, what we write, we write because we view what others are doing as being UN-PC. The hush, hush way things are done and the way decisions are made without community input is something WE view as UN-PC. But because we try, deliberately so, to be controversial and create debate it is us that is viewed as UN-PC. Confused? Me too!
Lets look at it this way. One of the most controversial articles we have written is From the Slums of Mumbiah. In this article we examined the charity mentality of fundraising. We described how a deafblind man was raising money for an organisation that supported the deaf. He was in a shopping centre, not really able to see anyone around him, just waving a huge cup hoping that people would drop money in his cup. We questioned whether this was a slur on his dignity and whether a deafblind man frantically waving a cup around to people he could not see or communicate with was an image that deaf or, indeed, Deafblind people wanted portrayed to the public.
The CEO of the organisation, who has since moved on, posted an angry response. He called the author of the article (me) arrogant and asked whether it was for us to tell the Deafblind person in question how he should use his time. It was, said the CEO – the Deafblind mans choice and that we were sensationalising the situation. It is debatable whether the Deafblind guy in question did, indeed, have a choice and we asked, and were not answered, about whether other options had been offered to him for employment. The CEO, in fact, wiped his hands of the matter saying that they actually contracted out their fundraising and were not responsible for how the Contractor chose to raise money for them. Were we UN-PC or was the method of fundraising UN-PC – It is a matter of conjunction. But certainly, judging by the responses to the article, most people thought the method of fundraising was offensive and abhorrent.
Recently we have had the Dimity debates. Dimity, of course, won Queenslander of the Year and her network of Hear Say Centres were granted $4 million from the Queensland Government to continue their method of education for the deaf. A method that explicitly forbids sign language. “Deaf is not deaf” any more she announced in an emotional acceptance speech. Referring to herself she made the astonishing claim, “I speak for all deaf children.” Predictably the Deaf community saw red.
CODA Australia President, Julie Judd, was particularly vocal. She wrote a stinging article challenging Dimity for having the arrogance to claim she spoke for all deaf children (click here to read article). Ms Judd used everything within her power to protest. She wrote and published numerous research quotes on Facebook, she encouraged the Deaf community and its advocates to respond. She made it clear that Dimity and her politics are wrong.
Of course in doing so she upset the people on the other side of the debate. She was fearless. The Deaf community and Ms Judd, who is a proud CODA, had been slurred, the public had been misinformed – and the world had to know. But was Ms Judd UN-PC? – Would it have been better to do things quietly, behind doors and in a less divisive way? My view is that the methods of Ms Judd were absolutely correct. The Dimity’s of the world have resources and contacts and they use the might of these resources to take the moral high-ground – they must be challenged. The truth is that it was Dimity who was UN-PC – But convincing the world, a world that seeks to fix, that she was misleading them is an uphill battle. To accept and be quiet would be to reinforce that all Dimity stands for is right – This is not an option.
To PC or not to PC ? It is not a question that can be answered. One persons PC is another’s not PC. But to remain silent and to not challenge is not an option. If we do, then we only have ourselves to blame when decisions are made that are not in our best interest. Silence and meekness is the real UN-PC!