04 November, 2009

Positive Experiences with Disability Activism

I had some really positive experiences today with some disability activism that I would really like to share. The first two were at work and the third at an after-work conference for language development in the Middle Swan area.

I was having a Kindy staff meeting with the kindy qualified and the director, who each work a half day in the kindy room.The Qualified has been working full time, but has had some back issues so has dropped to part time.
Anyway, the meeting was to discuss programming, jobs, and get me up to speed with the running of the room, 'cause I'm new there.

We have decided to split the group into two for certain activities, and were working on the split. We didn't want Group 1 and Group 2 or Group A and Group B, because we don't want the children thinking Group 1/A is the "better" group, so we've decided to call them colours.
Director said, "Let's make it Red and Green." and Qualified agreed.
I said, "That's a bad idea for accessibility, because people who are red green colourblind will have trouble telling the difference" (this is assuming the children have a red or green dot on their work or something like that)
Director said, "I never would have thought of that. That's why we need you here, to bring it up."
The colours are now Red and Blue.

The second happened in the same staff meeting. I said I wanted to start introducing the children to some sign language. Not only were the staff positive and receptive, but they encouraged it and gave me ideas on how we could implement it.

Finally, at the mini-conference.
We were watching a short film called Gus's Story about a child with some language developmental delays. I was listening to the mother talking about her fears, and her fear that her child would never speak but instead use sign language or message boards.
I had mixed feelings about this film. On the one hand, I understand that the mother is scared and feeling alone. Her husband had also just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
On the other hand, the types of things she is worrying about bother me. She is worried that her son won't be "normal", and at the end relieved when he is.

I'm not bothered by her, per se, more about how society as a whole views disability as something broken, something needing to be fixed. And what the hell is wrong with sign language or message boards?

I wasn't going to say anything. I was already disturbed by the video, and it was a room full of people I don't know which can set off my anxiety. But then, in the comments and question session at the end, everyone kept talking about the mother. About her fear, about her openness to address the issue, about how to talk to her (and reassure her that it could be "fixed" :( )... No one had mentioned the child.

When she handed me the mike, I said something to the effect of (can't remember verbatim, I was a little emotional at the time): We need to realise that even if a child does have something like Autism or a language disorder, that they aren't less important, they are still whole children who need our love and support, they aren't something broken that needs to be fixed.
I was so close to tears by the end of that, less from the stress and more from just the emotion. Dealing with people who've held those attitudes, it really does affect me.

But after I said it? People clapped. The speaker thanked me for bringing it up and told everyone that it was vitally important that they all remember and act on that. After the talk, someone came up to me and thanked me again and said I was fantastic (no, I wasn't. I shouldn't have gotten that response). It makes me happy that something I've said might have some small effect on the people there, and hopefully on the children in their care.

What I want people to take away from this is not about me. Please do not thank me or congratulate me or anything like that, because honestly, that's not what this is about.

I want to stress that it is troublesome that I need to bring these things up. It shouldn't have to be done. But it does, and so long as I am in a position where I have the spoons to do it, I will, and I encourage people to do the same. Because there could be a person there who hasn't the spoons to deal with it.

The other thing I want you to take away from this is hope. Some things make a difference! Some things said in everyday interactions have an effect! And, for me today, that made all of the failed attempts just a little more bearable.

As I said to LM: I think I've thoroughly "outed" myself as a health-conscious disability activist greenie, how long before I "out" myself as a feminist too? :P
(Not too long, by the looks of things, but that's off topic)

The sign for today was Thank You.