Dancing with the Stars struggled with disability again. Paralympian, Kelly Cartwright, was dancing. Kelly had part of her leg amputated when she was 15 due to cancer. Keen on sport she continued her passion. She became an elite sportsperson competing at the Paralympics and world competitions in running and the long jump. She has broken numerous world records and won medals at competitions around the globe.
The reaction of the judges to her dancing was cringe-worthy.“You gutsy thing!!!” extolled Shane the host. Every third word that came out of judge Kym Johnson’s mouth was INSPIRATION!! – ” You are such an inspiration. It is inspirational watching you.”, she yawped. Helen Richie was only marginally better. Meanwhile Todd brought attention to everything but Kelly’s dancing by frequently expressing his fascination with her leg. Her dancing, which was of a very high calibre, became secondary.
We disability activist and members of the Deaf community do not like to focus on the negatives and what is missing. This is part of the reason we get so frustrated at how shows like Dancing with the Stars deal with disability. We like to focus on the positives and what we contribute to society. We like to focus on attributes and the value of diversity. But even so, I can tell you that there are times when being deaf or having any sort of disability just sucks – big time. There are times that if you could just wave a wand over me and make me hearing tomorrow I would take it in a flash.
Like trying to register for a conference. Emailing and asking if interpreters or captioning are to be provided. Like waiting four months for a response. Then to be told by a clueless organiser that no interpreters or captioning will be provided because, golly gosh, there will be a hearing loop available. Of course this necessitated me having to campaign so that the organisers would provide interpreters and captioning – AGAIN!
Sure I got them to provide. I did this by getting many of my disability activist colleagues to call them and request interpreters or captioning so that they were swamped with requests. In the end the demand was so great that they had no choice but to provide. Sometimes, no I lie – all the time, I wish I could just register and rock up without having to go through this charade over and over again.
But sometimes my reasons for wanting to hear are more profound. Last week I caught a tram to work. As I dismounted I saw a man in the distance. He was running frantically up the middle of the tram tracks. He was waving and screaming desperately for the tram to wait for him. As the man came closer I could see that he had Down Syndrome.
The driver could clearly see the man. How could he not when he was running up the middle of the tracks in his full view? Despite seeing the man and his obvious distress the driver closed his doors and began to drive off slowly. The man was not about to give up easily. He ran straight to the front of the tram and began to bang on the window. Despite this the driver still edged the tram forward.
The man ran along the side of the tram and began to bang on the sides, screaming to be let in. Passengers at the tram stop looked on in horror at the spectacle. There were railings that created a safety barrier between the stop and the tram tracks. The man ran between the railings and the tram, thumping the side of the tram in frustration. All the while he was screaming at the top of his voice to be let in.
I ran over to the man and leaned over the railings. I grabbed him in a massive bear hug and pulled him away from the tram. The tram pulled away and went off on its journey. Not stopping nor thinking of the safety and needs of the man. I held him tight until the tram was gone and he was safe. He looked at me and screamed. His anger and frustration were palpable. He was yelling at me and imploring to me to stop the tram but I could not.
I sat him down at the tram stop seat and held his shoulders for a moment. He was sobbing. I so wanted to be able to sit there and just talk to him and calm him down. I could not understand him. I could not lip-read him. At that moment in time I just wanted to be hearing.
I just wanted to sit there and talk to him to provide him with the comfort that he needed. Instead I just said another train would be along shortly and left. As I looked over my shoulder he was inconsolable. I felt completely useless. Sadly, not one other person sat with him or supported him.
So while I have spent a lifetime campaigning for a fairer society for people with a disability there are times that being deaf just sucks. While I have spent a life time imploring our society to be more inclusive for people with a disability, being deaf is often the crown of thorns that I wear.
I am sure it is the same for other people with a disability. The carer that does not arrive, the stairs that prevent access, the toilets used as store rooms, the lack of verbal announcements at train stations, Craptiview and attitudes – All of these things give people with a disability just cause just to sometimes just wish their disability away.
Some days …..