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Saturday 4 December 2010
Welcome to Ramp Up!
Welcome to Ramp Up, the ABC's new website dedicated to all things disability - to ramp up the conversation about disability in Australia. It's a place for people with disabilities to have a say. This site is your space so shape it, feel empowered and to take your place in the disability community.
In 1981 the United Nations declared an International Year of Disabled Persons. Back in the early 80s this represented a major shift in the way we thought about disability. Previously, people had understood disability in terms of individual pathology. The problems lay with us; with our bodies that didn't always cooperate with us, with our brains that didn't think in the "right" way, with our senses that didn't, well, sense properly. The UN focus and declaration of International Year of Disabled Persons moved us to focus more on human rights, on removing the social and environmental barriers that prevented people with disabilities from participating in society, on being somewhat proud of these sometimes problematic bodies. That was the idea.
Eighteen years after International Year of Disabled Persons, when I was 17, I found myself in a courtyard full of other people I had come to understand, but not yet really accept, were "people like me". There were guide dogs and crutches, wheelchairs and prosthetics, people signing, people using little computers to talk, people with personal assistants, people with assistance animals... anyone would think it was some kind of disability event! Oh that's right, it was.
I was at an International Day of People with a Disability BBQ, where I was sure I didn't belong. It was fine for other disabled people. They could get together all in one place and celebrate this day I'd only just heard of and meant nothing to me if they wanted to, but I wanted no part in it. I wanted to be back in the town where I grew up, with my friends who didn't look at me as though I was diifferent. At the very least I wanted the friend who'd dragged me along to this dag-a-thon to suggest going somewhere else, where there wern't so many people who made me so uncomfortable. At the time, she was my only friend who also used a wheelchair. Her genetic condition was the same as mine, so I didn't think of her as being like the people at that BBQ. She was like me. We were girls in wheelchairs, yes. But we just lived normal lives, like normal people. She had a normal job. I went to a normal high school. We were just like everyone else. Everyone else except those people at that BBQ.
As we left, my friend asked me if I'd enjoyed myself. I nodded and gave a little fake smile. Sensing my discomfort, my friend reached into the bag mounted on the side of her wheelchair. She pulled out a paperback with a simple black and white cover.
"I think it's probably time for you to read this," she said.
I didn't. Not for months and months. She'd handed me a book called Pride Against Prejudice. It was about disabled people. People like at that BBQ. I'd rather read the Jane Austen version.
As it turns out, Pride Against Prejudice has nothing to do with Jane Austen. It's by a woman called Jenny Morris. She didn't talk at all about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. She talked about cultural prejudice, about the fact that disability had very little to do with the limitations of your body, about feeling good about yourself and proud of the package you came in. She told me that after all this time, I was allowed to acknowledge that after all my protesting and trying to be exactly the same as my friends at school, I was allowed to say I was different.
My parents instilled in me a sense of pride in who I am. But being my parents, and wanting me to get along as well as possible in the big bad world, they fought for me to fit in with my non-disabled peers. I'm eternally grateful for that. It meant that I went to mainstream school, and later to uni. My sense of pride in myself, my strength and personality as a 17-year-old meant that I had the confidence to take on this new part of my identity as an adult.
The language I've used to refer to myself has been a moving feast for the past 10 years and will continue to be so. I've been a person with a disability, a disabled person, a cripple, a freak, a short statured person, a wheelchair user. I've also been a student, a colleague, a friend, a lover, a sister, a daughter. I assume that my identity and my language will continue to evolve. Without Pride Against Prejudice, though, I may never have become unapologetic enough to own that first list. I may never have embraced my right to call myself what I choose. I may never have "come out".
In a lot of ways, International Day still doesn't mean a great deal to me. It's just a day. I'm proud of who I am every day, and I know dozens of other disabled people who feel exactly the same way. When I was 17, the people at that BBQ were unappealing strangers. Now, they're people with whom I have shared experience, people who I've learnt from, people who are a part of my community, and people who I'm enormously proud to call my friends.
This year however, International Day is a lot more important to me. It sees the launch of Ramp Up, the ABC's new website dedicated to all things disability. It's a place to share our stories, our truths, our resources - to ramp up the conversation about disability in Australia. It's a place for people with disabilities to have a say. This site is your space, and I encourage you to shape it.
Very soon, we'll be adding some new features to Ramp Up. Captioned video content is on it's way, as are threaded messageboards. In the interim, you can comment on our opinion pieces, follow us on twitter and keep up with the latest news in disability from across the ABC. You can also contact us to tell us what you'd like to see on the site, or to express your interest in being a contributor.
Pride Against Prejudice was one of the key resources that empowered me to take my place in the disability community. I hope that Ramp Up is one of yours.
Stella Young is the editor of Ramp Up
The above originally appeared here.
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