Ableism is defined simply in the dictionary as – “Discrimination in favour of able-bodied people” Sadly, I am often guilty of it too. I try my best to not be ableist but sometimes I fail spectacularly. This happened yesterday in a kind of reverse ableist way. There was an article about deaf cooking. In this article the author outlined a number of perils for the deaf cook. Most of them involved not hearing things. So you don’t hear the oven alarm and you burn the roast. You dont hear the microwave so your food stays in there all day cos you forgot you put it there. You don’t hear the sizzle in the pan so you burn your food because the oil was too hot and so on. You can read the article HERE
I rolled my eyes at this and fired off a cynical Facebook post. I posted the article with a sarcastic header “Woe is me” Cynically, I belittled the author because, paradoxically, I found her views ableist. To me anyway. You see whilst there are dangers in cooking, many deaf people have developed our own little life skills to deal with the dangers. Sometimes this is setting our watches so we get a vibrating alert. For me I check oil temperature with a cube of bread. You chuck a little cube in and watch it fry golden brown. You can tell this way, simply by the time it takes, whether the oil is too hot or not.
But anyway, this insensitive attempt at humour generated some interesting comments and reminded me that although I have learnt these skills and adjustments, not everyone has. For many it is a real issue and concern that causes them a great deal of anxiety. There were people that worried about things burning, boiling over, blowing up and so on. There were tales of pots and cookware that needed replacing because of other issues like ADHD where distractions led to lack of attention. Of course what I learnt from this is that everyone has a different deaf experience in life and have developed different skills. Indeed this experience can be different depending on when a person has acquired their hearing loss. I realised that I was being an ableist arsehole .. So to all of you that were offended by my post, I apologise.
My reaction was a defensive response to hearing people that believe hearing is everything. That if you cant hear that you are a danger to yourself and others. Indeed many policies exist that discriminate against deaf people based on hearing. In South Australia a deaf teacher of the deaf was once told she could only teach with a hearing person present lest she she didn’t hear a child in danger. Again in South Australia there is a law, and it still exists I believe, that deaf people cant be truck drivers. It is these ableist attitudes, based on imagined hearing superiority, that led to my response – That said it is not an excuse to be ableist and this innate ableism in me is something that I must constantly check.
But my ableism didn’t stop there. Indeed Friday was a day of faux pas for me. It started with this meme that was posted by a disabled friend of mine.
I jokingly told my friend that he had just upset a whole lot of the Deaf community. I then posted the meme asking what the PC Police would think of this. In my defence I think PC police are important. I am often pulled up by them for making ableist comments, sexist comments and so on. It’s important that they do so because thats how I learn. I am not perfect but I try to do the right thing.
I’ll be honest. I found the meme funny. It’s just the moment in time that the photo was taken. Of course its mid signing and we have no way of knowing what she was actually signing … But in that moment of time — It raised a chuckle in me. However, I should know better because such memes are a trigger for many Deaf people. Many Deaf people were oppressed and denied sign language. Usually because hearing people believed sign languages to be inferior. Apart from this there are others that take great pride in their sign languages and are constantly exposed to ridicule. I should know better. So again I apologise for allowing my innate ableism to get the better of me.
So Friday was a definite F for me. I am an experienced campaigner and I should be more aware and sensitive. Without reservation, I apologise to all I offended.
While we are on abelism let’s get stuck into Stuart Robert. Minister Robert is our erstwhile Minister for the NDIS. He took offence recently to the fact that the courts ruled that the NDIS had a role to play in allowing people with a disability to be active sexually and get support for issues around sex and intimate needs. You can read Mr Robert’s response HERE
Minister Robert is beside himself that people with a disability would like to have sex, would like to enjoy pleasures of sex, would like to express their sexuality or would like to be intimate with another. Ignorantly he says that people with a disability are welcome to do whatever they like, as long as they pay for it themselves. That delight of a person, Pauline Hanson, supports him and is on her high horse too. They both want the legislation changed so that issues around sex, sexuality and intimacy cannot be paid for under the NDIS.
To these two ignorant people the sexual needs of people with a disability are all about paying prostitutes. The reference to prostitutes is a cynical ploy to shock and narrow the focus of the debate to be all about paid sex. That is not to say that prostitutes do not have a place in assisting people with a disability to enjoy and experience sexual intimacy, but the prostitutes are among a whole range of sex workers and they are not all part of a seedy unlawful profession that the likes of Robert and Hanson want to portray.
The correct term to use is sex workers. This can include sex therapist, sexologist and specialist that can design aids and activities in a way that allows people with a disability to enjoy and experience sexual intimacy. Sex workers also can include professionals that assist people with a disability for the purpose of having children of their own. These valuable and necessary professionals have all been labelled by Robert and Hanson as “Prostitutes”
For whatever reason, Robert and Hanson fail to realise that there are many reasons why people with a disability find it difficult to engage in intimacy and sexual activity. This can be related to lack of mobility, lack of limbs, coordination and so on. Adjustments and supports are often needed and are a cost of disability. This is precisely why the NDIS was established, to meet the cost of disability. The NDIS will pay for adjustments to allow people to drive cars, get around their home and so on … But for some reason adjustments and support around sex are considered taboo by many.
The attitudes of Robert and Hanson are the worst kind of ableism. They seek to control and deny through the power that they hold. They, and people of their ilk, especially if they employed within the NDIS, need to be held to account.
But for me, to all those I offended through my innate ableism, I am sorry and I thank you for pulling me up on it. I, especially, should know better!