This is a guest post from my dear friend Gabbi Corbett, who has written for the blog previously. She is here with a bit of a philosophical post which falls into the category of disability advocacy. Happy reading, Jaidie.
Ain’t It Time For Change?
I bet a lot of you haven’t heard of Michel Foucault. He was a French philosopher and historian, with one of his most famous works being “Discipline and Punish” (1975). In that book, Foucault wrote about how society is controlled by its leaders in the form of segregation: segregating criminals from the good people of society, separating the sick from the well, and the disabled from the able-bodied majority of society. In these microcosmic societies that these people were separated into, there was a micro-form of surveillance and discipline, as the segregated people were always being watched. It was kind of like a book version of Big Brother, but written about actual events and phenomena in our history.
I only learnt about Foucault and his writings about segregation when I was studying at Uni. As a legally blind student, doing a double degree in Law and History was hard, but it gave me a wealth of knowledge, and a flame of righteous anger that is hard to stifle. Growing up, I moved around a lot, and went to two very different types of schools: state schools, where I was segregated from the main school kids into the “Special Education Unit” (SEU), and two Catholic schools where I wasn’t segregated, but still stood apart because the other kids didn’t know what to do with me. I was still very much an outsider to them. After reading about Foucault and the long, terrible history of society segregating and even trying to rid itself of disability, I was left furious and hankering to change things. I mean, come on@! The ancient Spartans would throw disabled babies off a cliff to their deaths, this practice of abandonment and infanticide also occurred in other ancient civilizations, Hitler performed experiments on disabled people, and many others decided to shove them in asylums. How can centuries’ worth of injustice not make you angry?
The really sad thing is, it’s still happening. Oh sure, an advocate for the deaf community will win the Australian of the Year award, will shake the hands of my country’s leaders, take a photo with them all grinning… but will the government even listen and try to implement anything that advocate has to say into its policies for the deaf? Nope. Organizations that say they want to help us charge crazy fees to do so and don’t help much at all… and we are segregated. We live in close-knit communities with other people like us, and the rest of the population avoids us all like the plague. When we try to break out into mainstream society, we’re treated like children. People talk to us like they would to a toddler, in that high-pitched tone of voice that is meant to be placating yet giving off an order, while their teeth bear in false smiles. Doctors refuse to talk about issues like sex and periods to disable women, like we’re not allowed to grow up and experience these things.
Teachers don’t listen to us. Employers won’t hire us because it takes too much money out of their salaries to put in some assistive technology. And when the rest of the world sees a Paralympic champion win a medal, or a disabled person do something great, they say “Oh, what an inspiration”, before forgetting about it five minutes later.
If studying history has taught me anything, is that when populations are put down like this for too long, something has to give. From that, you have movements of social change, or revolutions. I think we need some of that now. Change. Because I would love to see a world where other disabled kids get to go to school and interact with the mainstream kids, where they get to achieve their goals and dreams to the fullest of their potential. Where doctors will treat us as human beings, rather than oversized kids, where society won’t just turn the blind eye and segregate us away as they have for so many centuries… where the fake smiles can be real, and the tone of voice can be rich and genuine.
I would love for future generations of disabled Uni students to read about a new wave of philosophers, who talk about integration, inclusion and the amazing benefits that could have on the world. Just because a person lacks ability in something – sight, hearing, social skills, etc. does not mean that they lack the ability to achieve greatness. Society should stop discriminating against people for a lack of ability that they can’t control, and appreciate them for the abilities they have to give.
So… let’s change things, yeah?