Last week I asked the question ‘why is it that the voices of the disabled struggle to find audiences?’ at a national university political speech competition in Norwich of all places. And now I’m writing for the Hysteria Collective. I wish I could say that that was the end of the road, that ableism no longer exists. But I’d be just as effective claiming I’d solved world hunger by eating a sandwich. Nevertheless, it’s an important step, a rung on the ladder that the people at the top keep adding yet more rungs to before we too can reach them. I’m starting to think they almost don’t want equality.
So yeah, I am saying ‘wow’. I’m in awe. In awe of the fact that my voice might be heard, in awe of the idea of spreading my message. But most of all, I’m in awe of the strong people- women, non-binary, men and everyone else in between- who I am now writing for and with. So why am I writing? When I was seventeen, I was told A-Levels weren’t for me, that education wasn’t for me. I was told I was unable to concentrate for a period of time longer than 15 minutes and even then I would concentrate on colouring or the intellectual equivalent. I don’t believe in shaming people, and if this is you that I am describing please know that it wasn’t with these facts that I took issue, but the fact that they weren’t ‘facts’ at all.
Since then, I’ve been obsessed with truth. I have Asperger’s syndrome so obsessions and correctness are meant to come naturally to me, and God knows they do. It took me a long time to realise that ‘truth’ as I knew it just wasn’t true. No two people get the same truth from the same situation. I could have an heated argument with you tomorrow that you would walk away from enamoured by my skills at lighthearted debate. This opens up a whole world of problems, but the one I want to write about today is this; if we don’t listen to the truths of disabled people, how are we to grasp the truth of their experiences as fully as possible?
Because at the moment we are not. At the moment, because I am mentally ill and neurodivergent my truth will be put on a lower standing than that of my doctor, my old teachers, my parents and even my friends. Back when I was seventeen and given facts that blatantly were not, I was in Ticehurst Priory Psychiatric Hospital. There I was told persistent untruths about me. I was rude, ungrateful, an attention seeker (WHY OH WHY WOULD THAT BE SUCH A BAD THING ANYWAY?!), purely because no one listened to my truth. In ward rounds and handovers the focus was not on my frustration at the hospital school’s disinclination to provide me with suitable, A level standard work, but on the fact I had dared roll my eyes when presented with some painting to do instead.
All this grinds you down. As a disabled person constantly being told you won’t be successful at whatever you want to do means you start to think that that is the truth. But that is only one truth and it’s the truth of people who are too close minded to see you as you really are, to listen to you when you speak and to value you as a person in their society. All too often, we are burdens to society. I wonder how less burdensome we’d be if people stopped treating us like burdens and started letting us be people?