Ability Abled

downloadThose ability people .. you know them, the ones with no legs and stuff … they people wif abilities ain’t they .. poor abilitied people … sad ain’t it … glad I ain’t a person with ability … that would be feckin orrible .. see .. right .. yeah!!

Bizarre huh? Cynical certainly, but oh my God political correctness surrounding disability is driving me and many others in the disability sector absolutely batty. You see organisations are beginning to position themselves to make money out of the NDIS. They are trying to come up with slick advertising and nice positive images. All they are succeeding in doing is the complete opposite.

For some reason using the term disability has become taboo. Stating the type of disability that a person has is also taboo. This is not new. For years our prim and proper non-disabled people have struggled with disability imagery. So instead of calling some one deaf it becomes someone with lesser hearing. Blind people become vision challenged. Anyone with a disability becomes differently abled. The word ability has now become the buzz word for people with a disability. Hence the cynical and nonsense opening to this article.

You think that I am overreacting? Well The former The Centre for Cerebral Palsy has suddenly seen fit to change its name to the Ability Centre. It’s where you go, you see, to miraculously become a person with ability. Take your choice – Go there and you get the ability to do … well whatever. Become a lawyer, professional soccer player – something like that I guess. But no – The former The Centre for Cerebral Palsy does nothing like that. It offers therapy, respite, recreation, employment support and so on. (Check out the new site – http://abilitycentre.com.au/ )

Now that’s just misleading advertising. Someone should challenge that under the Trades Practices Act or something. What is worse is that it promotes this idea that people with a disability are these hopeless no ability creatures who can only be saved – perhaps with a trip to the local ten pin bowling alley.

I for one have had a gut-full of the Abilityist people. Why can we not just look at a person with a disability and say- “That’s deaf Gary – he is a bloody good writer.” Look over there, “..that’s Blindy Pete – go see him and he will do you a great accounting program for your computer.” Or “…have you seen Tom, me mate with Down Syndrome, champion trick motorcyclist mate.” 

Ok – I would rather get to the point where people just say – “It’s Tom – Champion trick motorcyclist.” My point is that by avoiding the term disability and anything related to it you do no one any favours. You just further stigmatise disability and make it seem like it is a bad thing. Disability can be tragic, I know, but being a non-disabled person can be tragic too. It is not the sole domain of disability.

At the turn of the century I was the manager of a program that aimed to promote positive mental health for young people who are deaf or blind or deafblind. Central to this program was that they could go up to someone and just say things like- “Hi, I am deaf, you need to look at me when we communicate.” It’s a simple enough concept isn’t it? you are deaf, by nature you do things a bit differently. Let’s not hide this fact, lets get out there and tell people. Hell, if the person who is deaf is at ease about it you can bet others will be too. None of this hide your hearing aids under your hair nonsense, wear pink and orange ones. Make it obvious! What is there to be ashamed of?

That program was run entirely by people who had a disability. We even employed a young woman whose arms had not developed properly because of the drug Thalidomide. I do not know how many fingers she had, but there were a few missing. When I told her she had the job she showed me her hands and said, “How will I use sign language?” I looked her in the eye  and said we would find a way and we did. We taught our blind coordinator of blind services to sign a bit too. It wasn’t rocket science and we didn’t make these two any more able than they already were – they were just brilliant individuals with talent!

We had 30 mentors who were either deaf or blind. We had an administration officer who we plucked out of some obscure base grade clerks job at TAFE.  We gave her an opportunity to be the youth group leader and later a case manager. Last I heard she was studying for her masters in social work.  I take no credit for making her more ABLED,  she already had the talent, she just needed the opportunity. She got it, and she took it!

My favourite memory is taking the blind group rock climbing at an indoor rock climbing centre. They all walked to the centre, blind leading the blind so to speak. The blind acted as belayers for the blind climbers. No one died – No one fell on their head. Inspiring? Hell no, just a group of people going out and having fun developing a new skill and learning how other blind people get on with their life.

So enough with the ability crap. Yes, I know that personal services are important. Yes, I know without these services it would mean that many people with a disability would struggle just to get out of bed. The services are needed, no question. What is not needed is this half baked idea that these services somehow make people more ABLED – They do not! Ability is the talent that lies with in all of us. Enough with the twaddle!

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