Disability Allyship #15
My limb difference is magic.
Hey folks! This newsletter is about all things disability and allyship, to give you a fresh perspective and advice that you can implement immediately to make your world more inclusive of disabled people. As a disabled woman myself, I am on my own allyship journey and I am excited to have you come along with me.
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Action of the week: Celebrate difference with children.
[Image: a young girl, wearing glasses, cups in her hands fairy lights. She has a soft smile on her face.]
On the weekend a friend, her partner and little boy came over for a catch up. We hadn’t seen them since before Christmas and I was particularly excited to see little K, because he is the most adorable, sweet two and a half year old. And for the first time, K really noticed my limb difference.
We were singing Baby Shark (I apologise if you now have that god-awful, wretched song in your head) and as I did the actions with my left hand and my right short arm, K told me “NO! Don’t use that arm.” He meant my short right arm, which was more than fine, who am I to argue with a two year old! A few moments later though, K came over to me and wanted to look at my left hand. I am missing a finger on my left hand and my thumb and one of my fingers are joined together. We compared how many hands each of us had and how many fingers. K then told me that my fingers, that are joined together, went - CRRRRAAAAASSSSHHHH!!!! He slammed the sides of his hands together. My housemate ask him if my fingers had crashed together like magic, and K agreed, with a big grin on his face.
So there you have it folks, I have a new mythology about my limb difference - it is magic that made me different, and to be honest, I couldn’t agree more.
Difference should be celebrated. Especially with children, and when celebrating, letting the discussion be child-led can reveal descriptors in the most imaginative and beautiful of ways. Difference isn’t something to be ashamed of, and if there is anything that toddlers and young children have taught me over the years is that difference does take on a magical quality for them, a moment to be curious and openhearted and ask questions and make up stories, etc.
So, if you have children in your life, whether your own, nieces/nephews, god children, friends children, etc., what do you do if they engage with a disabled person and start to ask questions or make statements etc?
Don’t panic! There are only two times you should ever stop them from engaging and that is if the disabled person asks for them to stop, or if they are using inappropriate language or making derogatory remarks about the disabled person. (Remember, children learn so much from others, including ableist language and behaviours, if they are being ableist, remove them from the situation and discuss with them why what they were saying is wrong).
Embrace their language, their thoughts, their curiosity and add to it positively. Just as my housemate told K that my fingers were magic, she stepped into his world of how he was seeing my difference and made it something positive (AKA, not scary! Too many responses to children talking about disability is to shut it down and not engage further, meaning that fear and shame becomes tied to disability and difference. Don’t be afraid to talk about disability with children).
Continue the child’s education and curious exploration of disability and difference after the event, by ensuring that you have books with positive representation of disability and watch movies and TV shows with positive representation of disability, my recommendations are: I Am Not A Label by Cerrie Burnell, Llama Llama on Netflix, and Luca on Disney.
Thought of the week: Trust Has to Come From Organisations.
[Image: a young white man sits in a booth in a cafe. He has staring at an open laptop, one of his hands on his forehead.]
On LinkedIn last week my friend, Fuchsia, wrote about the wonderful work that they were doing for their company AMS, as a candidate care consultant for HSBC. In their post they gave examples of how disabled people are too often rejected from work because they are disabled. Some of the comments they shared included: “no other company has asked this,” “I was at an interview yesterday and they only wanted to know about my disability and how I could possibly work”, and “Once they found out I was disabled they cancelled my interview.”
As I read Fuchsia’s post I wanted to celebrate them and the work they are doing. I also wanted to cry out of sheer frustration because disabled people are still having to deal with the same old (insert expletive of choice). And I also had a massive realisation about myself, ableism, and employment - it isn’t a lack of trust in myself I have, but a lack of trust in organisations and businesses who can’t see the ableism deeply entwined in their structures and systems. Ableism that instantly excludes disabled employees from either gaining work with them, or not feeling welcome once they are employed.
Why is this a massive realisation?
Since the industrial revolution, bodies that were born with or acquired impairments and/or conditions, were deemed worthless. If you couldn’t be productive, then what was your purpose in life? For many it was joining the burgeoning “Freak Shows,” where they could earn a meagre living by being exploited. For others it was relying on charity from churches to have a roof over their head and food in their bellies. Begging was another option, hoping upon hope that richer folks would feel enough pity to toss a few coins their way (this is literally where the term handicap comes from - hand-in-cap). And all of these options contributed to the entrenched ideas we still have today about disability - the tragedy of it all, that if you’re disabled you can’t do anything, the pity and the charity that is trotted out each year with events such as BBC’s Children in Need.
If we actually had organisations and businesses that were structured to be accessible and inclusive of disabled people, we would eliminate ableism and it’s harmful tropes of pity and worthlessness. But guess what? It isn’t on disabled people to actually make these changes. When I talk about trusting organisations, what I mean is seeing a culture of a company that is inclusive and welcoming of disabled employees, a company that acknowledge it’s disabled customers and clients, a company that is seeing it’s gaps in employment and actively seeking disabled candidates. This is what would give me trust, whether I gained a role or not.
And there are some companies and organisations out there doing wonderful work on this already. I recently did a disability allyship workshop with Menzies, one of the biggest accountancy firms in the UK, and their drive to be more accessible and inclusive is evident in their website accessibility audit, and addressing their recruitment processes. I have recently gained a short term contract with the ABC in Australia, where they include the inclusion manager in the interview calls, to discuss what access needs you might have, and they actively seek disabled people for particular roles, and they have embraced flexible working for all people.
I trust these two companies that they would have my welfare at heart. Whether I won a role with them or not, I would be able to trust that my limb difference has not negatively impacted my chances. So how can you build trust into your company culture, recruitment processes and outward, client facing, engagement? Because you have to remember, it isn’t up to disabled people to prove to you that they can work at your company, it is up to you to prove that you want disabled people to be a part of your team.
Wrap up of the week: Netflix, Books, and Articles.
[Image: a green Olympia typewriter sits on a marble desk top. In the typewriter is a piece of paper with News typed on it.]
I have started reading Emily Ladau’s book Demystifying Disability - What to Know, What to Say, and How to be an Ally. She does similar work to me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t read her work or listen to her voice, because we can all learn so much from each other. I am loving what I am reading, so much I know already, but hearing it from Emily’s perspective has been enlightening. Here is an affiliate link to purchase the book - Bookshop - or you can purchase from any good bookstore.
Imani Barbarin has started a hashtag - #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy - on social media, to draw attention to the disabled people who’s lives are at risk of Covid. Imani created the hashtag in response to the CDC’s Director, Dr Rochelle Walensky, who’s comments about how those dying from Covid were those with underlying conditions was “encouraging news”, has made many disabled and chronically ill people feel expendable in the pandemic. You can read more here - #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy highlights disability community's pandemic frustrations: 'We are seen as collateral damage'
We know how devastating and difficult the pandemic has been for many people, but there have been some lessons learnt, especially for disabled people. In this article (from Conscious Being - my own disability led magazine), Chloe Faulkner talks about the 8 lessons she has learnt in the past two years, especially around her self worth - 8 Important lessons learned from the pandemic. *Trigger Warning: Mentions of mental illness, suicide, anorexia nervosa.
Coming out on the 17th February is the Netflix film Forgive Us Our Trespasses. A film that feels of particular importance to me, it tells the story of a young boy with upper limb difference who is running for his life from the Nazis. In what is a little known part of disability history, Nazis did hunt down and murder disabled people. I first learnt about this history when I saw an exhibition about disability and the Nazis in Ottawa, Canada. I remember feeling shock, especially when I realised that my own life would’ve been in danger if I had been born then. Pop on over to Netflix here to add it to your reminder list - Forgive Us Our Trespasses.
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