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'Own It!'

Rerun (character from Charlie Brown)

I was talking to a friend and work colleague recently who also lives with a disability, hers sensory mine physical and we were discussing times when we had or hadn’t disclosed our disabilities.

We both had similar stories about when we felt there were times that we believed disclosing would be fine and easy and other times when we knew if we did, it could perhaps work against us. Not surprisingly some of our stories about not disclosing related to recruitment, interviews and employment. Both of us recounted times when we had entered an interview room we knew straight away that regardless of whether we were the best candidates for a job, we were not going to be offered a job. We also had similar stories of when we made it known during the recruitment process of our needs in relation to access for an interview, that suddenly our applications did not meet the standards of other applicants.

We both have experienced direct and indirect discrimination due to our disabilities throughout our lives and at times we have taken it, stood up for ourselves, shouted from the roof tops (albeit only the accessible ones) for change and acceptance. The reality is we will continue to experience discrimination.

So, what do we do about it? Well we have decided to ‘Own’ our disabilities, we have decided we believe that we should be ‘out’ and ‘proud’, I’m disabled and I don’t care who knows it!’ I’m not going anywhere so get used to it!’ You see we have tried to work within the system for change but the progress is slow. We have protested but it seems only the converted are willing to stand beside us. We have written policy and meet with politicians but the political will is subjective. We have taught the non-disabled in formal courses and structured workshops but the numbers are low. We want a change of attitude, a change of consciousness, a forward moving movement where people with disabilities expect acceptance and are not surprised by it when it happens. We believe by owning our disabilities in full voice, we can evoke well over-due change.

My friend and I are embarking on a project to secure funding so we can spread the word and so far things are looking good but we both realise that there is a little way to go. But if you are reading this, I will give you an idea of where perhaps you can join in the way forward.

I work in the disability field and have done so for many years. My University study is in ‘Disability Studies’ and I often attend many meetings, forums, conferences where people with disabilities are discussed. I’m increasingly finding these meetings harder to attend and I will give you examples of why.

The first involves a comment by a colleague working in the same area as I who stated that, and I’m paraphrasing “people with disabilities are just so much more work”. It had not dawned on them that much of the reason the work to support people with disabilities happened was due to services and facilities not catering for people with disabilities in the first place, thus creating an add on service, plus her job.

The second involves having a conversation about the language of disability and a bunch of able bodied individuals discussing what they should call people with disabilities and the services that work to support people with disabilities.

On this second occasion I took my service provider hat off and spoke as a person with a disability, a disabled person. I stated that how dare they think they can make decisions about me without me and that it is not them that will decide the language of disability and that this will be decided by us not them. I stated that you can call me or your service whatever you want but do not ignore me or decide for me. I explained, my disability, my language, my life! Well, at least I would have if I had the confidence to do so. You see I was too scared to own my disability, despite its obviousness. I was angry and upset and disappointed on the long drive home and for the rest of weekend for not speaking up for myself and my colleague. See we were the only 2 people in the room that lived with a disability and neither of us felt comfortable in stating our case.

We have both now decided to ‘Own It’ and to say at all times. We want to let others know, particularly younger people with disabilities to be proud of whom they are and to believe they have every right to disclose their disability at all times and they should do so without fear of recrimination or discrimination. I will now keep my disability at the forefront of my work and other aspects of my life, whether you like it or not.

My name is Rerun and I am disabled – deal with it or get out of my way!